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Cancun, Mexico, specifically the bustling Cancun Hotel Zone, is one of the most popular tourist resort destinations in the world. Visiting is easily one of the best things to do in Mexico. That’s because not only is it home to some of the biggest and best all-inclusive hotels in North America, but it also has epic white sandy beaches, a cool Museum of Underwater Art, and the family-friendly Interactive Aquarium Cancun.
As well as that, there are tons of water sports on offer here. I promise that once you see the sparkling blue water in the Cancun Hotel Zone, you will just be itching to get in!
However, with so much going on visiting the Cancun Hotel Zone can be a little overwhelming. I mean there’s so much around you, so where do you spend your time?
To help plan your upcoming trip, in this blog, I’ll share everything you need to know about visiting the Cancun Hotel Zone. This includes the best things to do in Cancun (in both the Cancun Hotel Zone and the nearby surrounding area) as well as details on the best hotels, restaurants, and how to get around.
It’s the ultimate guide to the fun and vibrant Cancun Hotel Zone!
- About the Cancun Hotel Zone
- Getting around Cancun’s Hotel Zone
- 14 Best Things to do in the Cancun Hotel Zone
- 1. Party at Coco Bongo
- 2. Relax at one of the best beaches
- 3. Go shopping
- 4. Visit the Museo Maya de Cancún y Zona Arqueológica de San Miguelito
- 5. Interactive Aquarium Cancún
- 6. Take in the views from the Cancun Scenic Tower
- 7. Take a photo with the Cancun Sign
- 8. Stand up paddleboarding
- 9. Participate in a turtle release
- 10. Enjoy some water sports
- 11. Explore Nichupte Lagoon
- 12. Captain Hook Dinner Cruise & Show
- 13. Enjoy a romantic dinner on the beach
- 14. Explore El Rey Archaeological Zone
- 12 best day trips from the Cancun Hotel Zone
- 1. Swim with whale sharks
- 2. Go on a sailing trip
- 3. Take a trip to the Cancun Underwater Museum
- 4. Rio Secreto Underground River
- 5. Visit Tulum
- 6. See the talented Cirque du Soleil JOYÀ
- 7. Spend the day at Xcaret
- 8. Swim in cenotes
- 9. Visit Chichen Itza
- 10. Go scuba diving
- 11. Isla Mujeres day trip
- 12. Enjoy a dining experience at Xoximilco Theme Park
- Best Restaurants in the Cancun Hotel Zone
- Where to Stay in the Cancun Hotel Zone
- Thanks for reading!
About the Cancun Hotel Zone
The Cancun Hotel Zone, also known as Zona Hotelera, is home to all-inclusive resorts, massive international hotels, excellent restaurants, and white sandy beaches. It is where most tourists to Cancun opt to stay.
The area itself is 22.5 kilometers (14 miles long), and it’s not to be confused with downtown Cancun (aka Cancun Centro), which is a more traditional Mexican city and is where most locals live and hang out. The Cancun Hotel Zone is a 20-minute drive from Cancun Centro, and numerous buses run this route. In fact, a bus runs this route every 5 minutes, 24 hours a day.
Would you believe there are over 70 hotels in the Cancun Hotel Zone? Most of these hotels are luxurious all-inclusive hotels that tend to be quite pricey. As a result, this area attracts travelers who are looking for a luxurious vacation, with couples and families particularly loving this area. I should note that if you’re a budget traveler, the Cancun Centro area will be more suitable for you!
There are also dozens of restaurants in this area, most of the restaurants are located inside the hotels and can be pricey, but there are also more casual taco and burrito restaurants here too.
The great thing about the Cancun Hotel Zone is that it offers tourists a safe place to relax and hang out. Most people speak English here as well. On top of that, there are a ton of attractions in the hotel zone including ancient Mayan ruins and beautiful sprawling beaches.
If you’re interested in booking tours in Cancun, the Hotel Zone is also a convenient place where many tours will pick you up from and drop you back off at after.
Those visiting this area should try to spend at least a week here. That way, you can relax, unwind as well as explore!
Getting around Cancun’s Hotel Zone
As mentioned earlier, the bus system in Cancun Hotel Zone is great, with buses running 24 hours into Cancun Centro, stopping various times along the way so you can, of course, hop off where you want on the route.
There is a bus stop outside most of the hotels in the Cancun Hotel Zone, and the bus stop is clearly marked with a sign. The most common buses are the R1 and R2 routes, but there are also the less-regular R15 and R27 routes.
The R1 will take you to downtown Cancun or to the bus station. I should also mention Bus One, which is a white bus that runs the length of the Cancun Hotel Zone only. This is perfect for exploring the activities in the blog without taking a taxi.
A one-way ticket costs just 10 pesos (50 cents) which is really great value. The buses are modern but don’t have air conditioning (an exception to this is Bus One). The buses in Cancun are also considered safe and I take them all the time.
Alternatively, taxis are readily available in Cancun – your hotel can call you one, you can hail one on the street, or you can use Whatsapp (which seems to be the most popular method). You will also notice numerous taxi ranks along the Hotel Zone and in downtown Cancun. Taxis can be expensive, so it’s best to negotiate your rate before you hop in.
A more affordable alternative to taxis is Uber which is available in Cancun through the Uber app. Although, I should mention there is some controversy surrounding Uber in Cancun. Local taxi drivers have been fighting to get rid of Uber since 2016, and as a result, it can be difficult to get an Uber here.
For example, your Uber driver likely can’t pull up outside your hotel or at the bus station. Instead, they will pick you up around the corner, or they may walk into your hotel to meet you and walk you to their car. They may also ask one passenger to sit in the front seat in order to disguise themselves.
14 Best Things to do in the Cancun Hotel Zone
1. Party at Coco Bongo
You may already know that the Cancun Hotel Zone is one of the best party destinations in the world, especially in the months of February and March when thousands of spring breakers descend upon the city! The hottest nightspot in Cancun is Coco Bongo.
This popular club features live music, acrobats, and a party atmosphere that will keep you dancing all night long! In fact, Coco Bongo regularly changes their shows, so although I have been multiple times, I continue to visit every year!
Coco Bongo is insanely popular, and lines can get pretty long, so be sure to arrive early and book your tickets in advance. If you’re not keen on waiting in line, you can purchase a gold member ticket that gives you VIP access and 15 free drinks. I think it’s great value for money as it includes pick up and drop off at your hotel.
Coco Bongo is open every day from 8:00 pm until 3:00 am. Admission starts at $150 USD per person for the most basic entry. Guests must be 18 years or older to enter the club.
2. Relax at one of the best beaches
One of the first things every tourist does in the Cancun Hotel Zone is hit the beach! That’s because there are loads of stunning beaches within easy reach of your hotel – most are within walking distance, and some are a short bus ride away!
My favorite Cancun beaches include:
Playa Tortugas is one of the most fun beaches in the Cancun Hotel Zone, and there are serious party vibes here – think loud music and crowds of people. It’s a safe beach to swim at because the water is calm, and you can also try out snorkeling and diving here, which I recommend because the water is so clear!
There are a couple of food vendors and restaurants along the beach. It’s important to note that most places don’t take credit cards, so be sure to bring some cash.
Despite Playa Chacmool being located in the heart of the hotel zone, many locals describe this beach as a “hidden gem .”It’s a relaxing place to chill out for the day and has complimentary public showers and a lovely palapa area.
There are no restaurants or food stalls here, so be sure to pack some snacks in your beach bag!
Playa Delfines is, without a doubt, one of the most popular beaches in Mexico. Translated from Spanish, the beach means ‘Dolphin Beach,’ and you can actually see dolphins frolicking in the water here.
This beach is huge, and it’s also where you’ll find the famous Cancun sign. There are lots of shade (palapas) set up on the beach to hide from the sun, and although the waves can be strong, there’s a lifeguard on duty.
Playa Gaviota Azul
Playa Gaviota Azul is located smack bang in the middle of the hotel zone, and as you can imagine, it’s very popular. The entrance to this beach is next to Mandala Beach Club.
You can pay for a beach bed at the beach club here or just lay your towel on the sand – there are designated areas you can do this. The water here is calm and shallow and is safe for swimming. Be sure to check out the Cubos area of the beach, which is a man-made sea barrier constructed out of huge concrete cubes.
You can take food and drinks with you to this beach, but no glass is allowed.
3. Go shopping
Now, onto one of my favorite activities – shopping! The Cancun Hotel Zone is full of stores, specifically luxury stores, which are great if you want to splurge! If you want to use the tax-free benefit when buying luxury items here, I would recommend visiting La Isla Shopping Mall, located in the hotel zone.
The application process for tax-free benefits can be a bit bothersome, but taxes in Mexico are 16%, so you would end up saving a lot by applying for this.
The Cancun Hotel Zone is also full of small souvenir shops like Plaza Party or Mercado Negro Mall. You could find various things like tequila, colorful Mexican blankets, small presents like keyholders, chocolates, and other Mexican candies.
For more unique souvenirs, check out the Mercado 28 in downtown Cancun. I recommend taking a taxi here from the hotel zone, it is a bit pricey, but it would save you a lot of hassle.
4. Visit the Museo Maya de Cancún y Zona Arqueológica de San Miguelito
The Museo Maya archeological museum is conveniently located in Cancun’s Hotel Zone. The museum houses lots of ancient artifacts from the Mayan era, and there are even artifacts from the famed Chichen Itza here. If you’re a history lover, this museum is a must-visit!
The San Miguelito Ruins are located next to the museum and take up over 80 hectares! Here you can see preserved ancient buildings and get a true insight into Mayan culture.
The entrance fee to the museum is only 85 pesos (USD not excepted) and includes access to San Miguelito archeological zone. The museum is open from 9 am to 4 pm, and the archeological zone is open from 9 am to 4 pm.
You can hop on one of the red buses down the strip to get to the museum – it’s very cheap and costs just one dollar, and you get off in front of the Emporio Hotel. Or, just grab a taxi from your hotel.
5. Interactive Aquarium Cancún
Located inside La Isla Shopping Mall is the Cancun Interactive Aquarium. This huge aquarium is home to lots of marine life and is conveniently located in the heart of the Cancun Hotel Zone.
Visiting the Interactive Aquarium is a cheap activity in Cancun’s Hotel Zone, and the basic entrance fee is only 300 pesos ($15 USD). This allows you to get up close to the many colorful fishes housed here. Alternatively, you can book one of the interactive services available here, such as swimming with dolphins (though I personally do not support this.)
The Interactive Museum is open from 9 am to 8 pm every day.
6. Take in the views from the Cancun Scenic Tower
Easily one of the best views in all of Cancun can be viewed from the Cancun Scenic Tower, which is a whopping 260 feet (80 meters) tall! You will be spoiled with a stunning vista of the bright blue waters of the Mexican Caribbean.
What’s great about this tower is that you don’t have to climb all the way to the top. In fact, the entire viewing deck is lowered and lifts guests to the top, so there is no walking required!
The entrance fee is only $20 USD, and business hours are from 9 am to 9 pm. In my opinion, sunset would be a great time to go!
Hot Tip: If you visited one of the nine parks by Xcaret (Xcaret, Xel-Há, Xenotes), don’t remove your bracelet right away. You can use that bracelet to access the scenic tower in Cancun for free the following days after your visit to those parks. Most people don’t know this!
7. Take a photo with the Cancun Sign
Playa Delfines, as mentioned earlier, is home to the big and colorful Cancun sign!
The Cancun sign is the perfect spot to take some photos. In fact, I bet you have seen pictures of the sign on your social media feed!
Be prepared to wait in line here, though. Everybody wants to take a picture with the sign. My top tip is to get here early in the morning when it’s at its quietest.
8. Stand up paddleboarding
You can rent SUPs from most beaches in the hotel zone for around $20 USD. If you’ve not tried this fun activity before, I will say that it’s harder than it looks, but it’s a great workout.
Alternatively, there is a laguna paddling tour that includes some instructions on how to master the paddle board. To join this tour, you must go to Marina Kaybal. On the tour, you can enjoy the local wildlife while paddling on Laguna Nichtupe and taking in the breathtaking scenery.
For a unique experience, you can also do SUP yoga tours which are super unique and I have yet to try! This tour in Cancun provides you with all the necessary equipment and an instructor. To join this tour, you will need to head to Playa Caracol. The entrance to the beach is next to the RIU hotel.
9. Participate in a turtle release
One of the most unique things to do from Cancun’s Hotel Zone is to take part in a turtle release. During this amazing event, you can watch baby turtles hatch on the beach and then slowly make their way into the sea. It can be witnessed on full moon nights from May to September, at around midnight. But sometimes you can see them during the day too.
Some hotels, such as Omni Hotels, offer this experience along the hotel zone. Another popular place is out the front of the Sun Palace on Playa Delfines.
It can be hard to see them without knowing where to look, but we got lucky!
10. Enjoy some water sports
Water sports are a fun way to spend a few hours in Cancun. Parasailing, jet skiing, and flyboarding (water jets on your feet) are just a few of the activities you can take part in.
To join in the fun, simply visit your preferred vendor at the beach – no reservations are typically required, and most operate on a first-come-first-serve basis. You may even be able to negotiate a good deal if you’re a good haggler. Alternatively, your hotel may offer water sports which are typically discounted for guests, just check with your concierge for availability and prices.
Parasailing tours are a very popular activity at the Cancun shore. Even kids can participate in it accompanied by an adult. The view from above is totally breathtaking. Jet skiing is also available at this beach. If you don’t have any experience, don’t worry, a life vest and short instructions course are included. Both services start at $63 USD for a 30 min trip.
Flyboarding is one of the most extreme yet memorable water sports you can experience in Cancun. The most popular spot for flyboard is in Marina Chac Chi. Services start from $119 USD for a 45 min ride. For a memorable experience, get the picture package. This way, you will get the best snaps of yourself while flying 10 meters (33 ft) over the water!
11. Explore Nichupte Lagoon
Located on the northern end of Cancun, Nichupte Lagoon is a natural paradise filled with mangroves. In fact, here, you can see seven lagoons that meet with the sea, and each lagoon has a beautiful color that’s thanks to the mix of fresh and saltwater.
The best way to explore the lagoon is on a kayak, as it allows you to get up close to the many species of fish and birds that call this unique area home. You may even spot a crocodile!
This guided kayaking tour is one of the best! It is a half-day guided kayaking tour with all safety equipment required, and hotel pick-up can easily be arranged.
If you choose the sunrise tour, you will see crocodiles lying on the shores taking the morning sun. They are harmless as long as you don’t approach them!
If you’re not confident in a kayak, then this boat tour is a great option. It includes an English-speaking guide and sets sail at 5 pm – the perfect time to catch an epic sunset!
12. Captain Hook Dinner Cruise & Show
If you want to try something different in Cancun, then a Captain Hook Cruise is a fun way to spend an evening. Ride the Captain Hook Dinner Cruiser, a replica of a Spanish galleon, with a pirate show included!
This fun activity starts at 6:30 pm, departing in the hotel area. Expect the loud and talented cast to tell the story of Captain Hook while you enjoy a delicious dinner and open bar. Mojitos won’t stop following through the night, and the fun host will take the party to the next level.
One of the things that I love about this tour in Cancun is that it is fun for everybody, even families! Children love the pirate entertainment as much as adults!
13. Enjoy a romantic dinner on the beach
One of the most romantic and memorable things you can do as a couple in Cancun is to enjoy a delicious meal on the beach while watching the sunset. Most all-inclusive hotels in the hotel zone offer this activity for their guests (sometimes for an additional fee), but if you’re not staying at an all-inclusive hotel, you can still book this romantic experience.
This tour is a romantic package with dinner at Playa Ancha. They set up a table on the sand with a pathway of rose petals lined with candles to light the way. The dinner includes 4 courses, an excellent waiter or waitress, music, and transport. You won’t find this service anywhere else in Cancun!
Of course, you don’t need to book a tour to enjoy a romantic dinner. Just head to one of the best beachside restaurants in Cancun. You should organize the dinner with them in advance as the best tables usually need to be reserved.
14. Explore El Rey Archaeological Zone
El Rey is one of three important Mayan sites in this region. It is conveniently located in the Cancun hotel zone. It is a very small archaeological site, but it’s ideal for those with an interest in history who don’t fancy making the journey to the more famous Chichen Itza.
The red buses in the hotel zone will get you to El Rey. The entrance can be found on Kukulcan Avenue. It’s well-signposted and hard to miss.
Opening hours are from 9 am to 4:30 pm, and the access ticket is very cheap at only 65 pesos ($3.25 USD).
Hot Tip: Combine your visit to El Rey with Playa Delfines since they are located so close to each other! Visit the ruins early in the morning and later spend your day under a palapa on the beach.
12 best day trips from the Cancun Hotel Zone
1. Swim with whale sharks
This is definitely one for the bucket list, and I bet you didn’t know that you could go swimming with whale sharks in Cancun. Whale sharks are known as the world’s biggest fish and, despite their name, aren’t technically part of the shark family.
Whale sharks can only be found in deep water, so the only way to reach them is by boat. There are a few different boat tour options that will take you to the whale sharks. This full-day whale shark tour picks you up at your hotel, whether you’re in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or anywhere on the Rivera Maya. The tour includes an expert biologist guide who speaks both English and Spanish – it’s the perfect way to interact with whale sharks and learn about them!
On top of that, you’ll get a delicious lunch which is served in a spectacular location just off the coast of Isla Mujeres. All snorkeling equipment is included.
Whale shark season in Cancun runs from the 15th of May until the 17th of September. During these months, whale sharks gather on the northern coasts of the Yucatan. If you are lucky, you could also catch a glimpse of a Manta ray swimming along with the whale sharks.
Be sure to book your whale shark tour in advance, as spaces are limited!
2. Go on a sailing trip
A sailing trip is a very popular activity here in Cancun, that’s because these tours typically include unlimited drinks and lunch, and you can even go snorkeling! Most tourists tend to book their tour through their hotel, but it comes at a cost as the hotels charge a commission.
There are other ways to book a sailing tour here in Cancun. For example, this specific half-day sailing tour (which costs just $80 USD per person) offers you the chance to sail out to Isla Mujeres and snorkel with turtles at the same time. Isla Mujeres has breathtaking azure waters, full of colorful fishes and lots of turtles. Swimming there is like swimming in a pool! It’s one of the best things to do in Mexico.
All snorkeling equipment is included as well as an open bar and snacks. You’ll also get to take a trip to downtown Isla Mujeres, where you can experience true Mexican island life. What a fun way to spend the day, am I right?!
3. Take a trip to the Cancun Underwater Museum
One of the more quirky things to do in the Cancun Hotel Zone is to head underwater and explore the Museo Subacuatico de Art, aka the Underwater Museum.
The museum began taking shape in 2009 to help save some of the reef life near Cancun. Since the project started, over 500 sculptures have been placed under the water to create this unique reef.
You can do lots of different tours to the museum, including this snorkeling tour or this scuba diving tour to the reef from Cancun, and over 100,000 people visit every year. Thankfully, this has led to a reduction in visitors to natural reefs, helping them survive.
This is the largest underwater museum in Mexico and a must-visit, in my opinion!
4. Rio Secreto Underground River
Just an hour from Cancun in Playa del Carmen, Rio Secreto is a protected natural reserve of caves and underground rivers. There are so many caves and passages here that many of them haven’t even been explored by humans yet. There are also some interesting insects here, like some uniquely shaped spiders, which I thought were pretty cool!
You need to walk (or wade) through the shallow waters of the cave. It’s pretty dark in the caves, but you will still be able to see the beautiful rock formations here. This is an especially popular activity with families, as kids love feeling like Indiana Jones exploring the cave system. It’s also a great rainy day activity as it can be done in any weather!
You can drive to Rio Secreto yourself from the hotel zone or book a tour with transport from Cancun. This specific tour offers both options, with the ticket-only tour costing $86 USD and with transport from Cancun option costing $109 USD. The latter option departs at 8:15 am and is in an air-conditioned vehicle.
It’s important to note that when visiting Rio Secreto, don’t wear any sunscreen or mosquito repellent as these products pollute the water.
5. Visit Tulum
The small town of Tulum is one of the most popular places to visit in Mexico. There are loads of things to do in Tulum, from visiting cenotes to exploring the stunning Tulum Ruins, one of the most important archaeological sites in the area.
Some of the best cenotes in Tulum are Dos Ojos, Cenote Calavera, and Cenote Zacil-Ha. Other awesome things to do in Tulum include drinking craft beer at Cervecería Tulum, and exploring Laguna Kaan Luum.
If you don’t have a rental car, you have two options to get to Tulum. The first is this full-day tour to the Tulum ruins, Tulum Beach, and a cenote. The tour includes lunch, snorkeling equipment, and an expert guide. It’s worth noting the distance from Cancun to Tulum is 131 km (81 miles) and will take between 1.5 to 2 hours.
You can also take the bus all the way to Tulum from downtown Cancun. From the hotel zone, you will need to take a bus to Cancun downtown, then get off at Ado Bus Station. The bus costs just $9 USD, and although cheap, this is a lot more time-consuming since the buses stop frequently.
Related Read: If you’re feeling even more adventurous, keep driving and check out Bacalar, Mexico.
6. See the talented Cirque du Soleil JOYÀ
Almost everybody has heard about Cirque du Soleil, the world-famous entertainment company that produces amazing shows around the world. The Cancun show, JOYÀ, is the only Cirque du Soleil dinner theater in production.
This production wants to appeal to all five senses by offering several amenities with the show. Dinner, aperitif, and champagne are all part of it. This whole dinner entertainment option is a memorable activity for couples.
This show takes place in the Vidanta theater, between Playa del Carmen and Cancun, which is only 40 minutes from Cancun. If you don’t have a rental car, be sure to organize transport and book your tickets in advance! There are several options, including VIP, dinner only, drinks only, and both. I didn’t think VIP was worth the price, but dinner and drinks are a must!
7. Spend the day at Xcaret
Xcaret is an archeological eco-water amusement park. This eco-water park is over an hour’s drive from the Cancun Hotel Zone and offers a wide array of activities like snorkeling, swimming at the Caleta, visiting Mayan pyramids, enjoying live performances, an aquarium, and an aquatic park.
You can even swim with dolphins, manta rays, or sharks for a surcharge.
Suppose you don’t feel like spending all day long doing water activities? In that case, you can visit the Mayan Pyramids located inside the park or enjoy one of the performances available all day long.
There are many ways to get to Xcaret from the Cancun Hotel Zone area. The easiest way is on this full-day tour that offers transportation from your hotel to the park with all the amenities included.
I recommend booking the Xcaret Plus service since it includes access to the lunch buffet and other amenities like lockers, dressing rooms, and snorkeling equipment. You’ll need to eat while you’re there, and you save money by booking it together online in advance.
There is also a unique evening option where admission to Xcaret doesn’t begin until 5 pm. In this session, you can also do a variety of unique nighttime-related activities like ziplining by fire, lava river swimming, a challenging obstacle course, and underground cave rafting to name a few.
If you’re more adventurous by nature this one is definitely something you’ll want to check out!
8. Swim in cenotes
If you didn’t already know – cenotes are a system of underground rivers, caves, and sinkholes that flow through the Yucatan Peninsula. This system is unique since the rivers are connected to the sea.
There are loads of cenotes within easy reach of the Cancun hotel zone. In fact, just an hour’s drive away in Puerto Morelos is the famed La Ruta del Cenote, an area filled with hundreds of Cenotes. A great way to spend a full day would be to explore some of the cenotes here, including Cenote La Noria, Verde Lucero, and Cenote Mojarras.
To get to La Ruta del Cenote, you would need to rent a car or book a tour – there is no public transportation available. Depending on the season, there is a small fee to visit each cenote of around 200 to 400 Mexican pesos ($10-$20 USD), and they are all open from 11 am to 4 pm. Another option is to book a tour or drive down to Tulum and see some of the most famous cenotes in Mexico. These include Cenote Calavera, Dos Ojos, Zacil-Ha Cenote, Gran Cenote, and Cenote Azul.
However, if you don’t want to travel too far, there are a few cenotes really close to Cancun. These include:
Cenote La Noria is a partially open cenote, so you are essentially swimming inside a cavern. It’s a hidden gem and is located in the jungle, so there are fewer crowds, and it’s actually quite relaxing! You can see some small birds and bats flying around you while you swim. This cenote costs 250 pesos (12.50 USD) to visit.
Verde Lucero is a medium size open cenote. It has hammocks, rope swings, and some small zip lines. It can get pretty busy here, though, so aim to arrive as soon as it opens or before closing time to avoid the crowds. What’s cool, too, is that you can enjoy a Temazcal – a traditional Mexican sauna here. For a surcharge, you can experience the pre-Hispanic method of the sauna. It costs 200 pesos ($10 USD) to visit.
Cenote Mojarras is a big open cenote with a long zipline over it. In my opinion, it’s the least beautiful but the most fun – especially for kids (did I mention it has a big zipline!). There are also hammocks and a picnic area here. One of the downsides is the water can become murky because the cenote is so big.
9. Visit Chichen Itza
Without a doubt, the most popular Mayan site in Mexico is Chichen Itza. This UNESCO world heritage site is also one of the Wonders of the World and, in my opinion, is an absolute must-visit when in Cancun. It’s certainly a place to add to your bucket list!
This epic Mayan archeological site is most well known as the home of El Castillo – the main temple at the site. This ‘castle’ gives an insight into the Mayan peoples’ knowledge of the earth and planets. Chichen Itza is also home to The Great Ball Court. This is the largest in Mesoamerica and is 168 by 70 meters (551 by 230 feet.) The game played here was called Pitz.
Getting to Chichen Itza is best done either with a rental car or on an organized tour. If you can drive yourself, it’s around a 2.5-hour drive each way, so be prepared for a long day! The entrance fee is 571 MXN for adults ($28.44 USD), and the site is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm. Right now, it’s best to book your tickets in advance as they have a cap on visitors of 3,000 per day.
For those without a rental car or who don’t want the hassle of driving so far, consider booking an organized tour that includes transport from the Cancun Hotel Zone. There are a few different tours from Cancun to Chichen Itza to choose from.
This specific tour is what I did, and I booked it because of all the fantastic reviews. The full-day tour departs very early in the morning before dawn; this way, you can make the most of the day while in Chichen Itza. Several meeting points are located throughout the hotel zone.
10. Go scuba diving
Scuba diving in Cancun is awesome and is considered by many to be one of the best places in the world to go scuba diving. That’s thanks to the crystal clear waters here! We are both certified divers, and we really enjoyed this two-dive tour in Cancun. We got to dive at the Underwater Museum before heading to a nearby reef to dive with fish, turtles, and more!
You can also dive at some other unique sites, such as this wreck dive, which is next on my bucket list.
In most places around the world, you need to be certified to dive. Well, in Cancun, you don’t need to worry! Here, you can book this beginner scuba diving tour and get the chance to admire the beauty of the colorful sea fishes and visit the most popular diving spots with a pro diver.
Even without any diving experience, you can try this tour. You will get professional instruction with a two-hour lesson at a pool before departing for your sea adventure. You won’t dive deep, but you’ll still get to enjoy breathing underwater in a safe environment. The tour visits the underwater reefs of Manchones as well as the Cancun Underwater Museum.
11. Isla Mujeres day trip
One of the best day trips from Cancun is to the island of Isla Mujeres. Isla Mujeres is one of the most beautiful islands in the Mexican Caribbean. It’s famous for its white-sand beaches and calm, crystal-clear waters. So, if you’re a beach lover, this is the place for you! The island is just a 15-minute ferry ride away from Cancun and makes for a fantastic day or overnight trip.
There are a few ferry ports with trips departing to the island, such as Playa Tortugas and Playa Caracol. However, I myself got there with a company called Ultramar from the Puerto Juarez ferry terminal, only minutes from the hotel zone. Ferry tickets to Isla Mujeres are only around 450 MXN ($22 USD) for a round trip, and departures run every 30 minutes from 5:30 am to 11 pm. The schedule is similar on the way back.
Playa Centro is the most accessible beach on the island and is just a few meters away from the ferry port. Here, you can rent a deckchair by the beach for only 250 pesos ($12.50 USD) and enjoy a fresh coconut (or ice-cold beer) under the palm trees.
Renting a golf cart is the best way to explore the remote beaches on the island, like Na Balan beach. If your itinerary allows spending the night on Isla Mujeres is a great idea. There are various accommodations you can check out here. You won’t find massive hotels as you do in Cancun. Most of them are small, family-owned businesses, each with its unique aesthetic. Be sure to make reservations in advance since availability is limited.
12. Enjoy a dining experience at Xoximilco Theme Park
Xoximilco is a park with water canals with magnificent and colorful boats called trajineras. This attraction in Cancun is actually a replica of the Xochimilco Canals in Mexico City.
The boats here are equipped for a party, with a big table that seats up to 20 people! This experience is a gastronomic tour while riding the trajineras. The tour includes tequila tasting, dinner, traditional Mexican candy tasting, and snacks. While you cruise the canals and eat, live bands perform. Enjoy Mariachi, Norteno, and other traditional Mexican music styles while sipping tequila under the stars as you sail down the canals.
You can expect to try traditional food from all over Mexico, including chapulines (grasshopper) – they are surprisingly very tasty, full of protein, and go well with tequila. Cochinita (pork), mole, and tamarindo shrimps, among other traditional Mexican dishes, will be served during dinner.
The last part of the tasting includes a tray of bite-size Mexican candies like chocolate, coconut, and milk candy.
The tour begins at 7 pm, but transport is not included. So, you’ll need to get a taxi there, which takes around 25 to 30 minutes from the Cancun hotel zone. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance to ensure you get a seat.
Best Restaurants in the Cancun Hotel Zone
The Cancun Hotel Zone is home to lots of awesome restaurants, serving up a variety of cuisines from Mexican to Japanese, and even a steakhouse. Foodies will be spoiled for choice here! Some of my favorite places to eat in the Cancun Hotel Zone are:
Careyes – one of the best restaurants in Cancun, this classy spot serves up Mexican fusion dishes but specializes in fresh seafood. Try to grab a seat on the lovely outdoor terrace and try their Tuna Steak or Octopus – both are delicious!
Harry’s Steakhouse & Raw Bar – if you love steak, this is the restaurant for you! Serving up some of the best cuts of meat from around the world, including Kobe from Japan, Black Onyx from Australia, and USDA Prime from the Midwest of the United States! If you don’t fancy steak, then their seafood dishes are great too!
Restaurante Chianti – arguably the best Italian restaurant in Cancun, Restaurante Chianti is a stylish but inviting eatery in the NYX Hotel. It serves up authentic Italian dishes, and their cocktails are great – I loved their Amaretto Sour!
Umami – I just love fresh sushi on vacation, and one of the best places to try sushi and Japanese dishes is at Umami, also located within the NYX Hotel. In fact, this is one of the most highly-rated restaurants in Cancun! The dishes are a feast for the eyes, and the service is excellent too!
Taco y Tequila – as the name suggests, Taco y Tequila specializes in some of the best Mexican food and drinks in Cancun. Located within the La Isla Mall and with a lovely view of the lagoon, this casual eatery specializes in el pastor-style tacos as well as awesome cocktails.
The Surfin Burrito – a chilled-out burrito shop that has been featured in numerous TV shows like Diners Drive-ins and Dives with Guy Fieri. The portions are huge, the ingredients are fresh, and it’s a great cheap eats option in the Hotel Zone!
El Granero Grill Steak & Lobster House – here at El Granero, they specialize in steaks and seafood dishes like lobster. It’s a more casual vibe than some of the others on the list and also serves up burritos, tacos, and nachos if you still want your Mexican fix. I should note the margaritas here are awesome!
Related Read: Love authentic Mexican food? Check out the best Mexican restaurants in Cancun!
Where to Stay in the Cancun Hotel Zone
There are over 70 accommodation options in the huge Cancun Hotel Zone, and there’s something for every type of traveler and budget in this popular vacation spot! From the best resorts in Cancun to beautiful hostels, here are the best places to stay:
Mayan Monkey Cancun – $
Mayan Monkey is one of the best options in the Hotel Zone for budget-savvy backpackers who appreciate a nice space. It in the middle of the Hotel Zone and the property overlooks the lagoon and just across the street from a gorgeous white sand beach. Rooms here range from private rooms with a private or shared bathroom to dorm rooms that can accommodate up to 12 people. You can book this hostel on Hostelworld or Booking.com.
Selina Cancun Laguna Hotel Zone – $
For budget travelers, the Selina Cancun Laguna Hotel Zone is a great choice. It doesn’t have the greatest reviews, but I really enjoyed my stay, and for the price and fun atmosphere, you can’t go wrong! You can book this hostel on Hostelword or Booking.com.
Marriott Cancun Resort – $$
If you prefer something a little nicer, I love the Marriott Cancun Resort. It’s not all-inclusive, which I enjoy because there is so much delicious food nearby! The hotel is located right on the beach and has a huge pool. The best part is that rooms can cost less than $195 USD per night!
The Royal Islander – $$
The Royal Islander is a 4-star, family-friendly resort in the heart of the Hotel Zone. It offers villas or large suites which are tastefully decorated as well as that it boasts lovely green areas, pools, restaurants and bars, a sun deck, and a grocery store.
Presidente InterContinental Cancun Resort – $$
Situated on the beachfront, the Presidente Intercontinental Cancun Resort has outdoor pools, tennis courts, and rooms with a view of the Caribbean Sea and Nichupté Lagoon. It even offers a complimentary shuttle service between its sister resorts. What’s cool is that it offers free boat hire and sailing classes on the lagoon.
Turquoize at Hyatt Ziva Cancun – Adults Only – $$$
The luxurious adults-only Turquoise at Hyatt Ziva Cancun is certainly a splurge in Cancun. The suites here feature balconies with private hot tubs with sea views. You can even add on a butler service and VIP access. This is an all-inclusive resort and also features a tennis court, fitness center, and pool.
Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun – $$$
We all love an all-inclusive luxury stay, and for that, I always book the Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun. It’s not cheap, but it’s luxurious with fantastic oceanfront locations, delicious food, quality alcohol, and more.
Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun Adults Only – $$$
Le Blanc is rated among the top 100 hotels and resorts in the world. This all-inclusive property is set on 5 acres and has its own private beach. There are a few restaurants on-site, as well as a sauna, pool, steam room, and state-of-the-art gym.
Renting a Car in Mexico
Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get around Mexico is in a rental car.
I struggled to get around by bus and taxi for the longest time. But after renting a car in Mexico in 2019, I never looked back. It allowed me to explore the country without worrying about tours or taxis. It was why I fell in love with Mexico and eventually decided to live here periodically.
I refuse to use local services whenever I rent a car in Mexico. The truth is they sometimes can’t be trusted or come with hidden fees (or costly insurance that doesn’t make sense.) There are even rental car scams! So instead, I use Discover Cars, the company most experienced travelers or ex-pats in Mexico recommend.
The rates on Discover Cars are cheap, too, with the average rental costing around $25 USD per day. Full coverage insurance can be added for an extra $10 USD a day too.
Driving in Mexico also only requires a driver’s license using the Roman alphabet. If yours uses another like Japan and China, you simply need an international driving permit.
Insurance is required, but if you book with Discover Cars and get the full coverage, that’s all you need! Oh, and being over 18 is required, and if you’re over 25, your rental will be much cheaper!
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $42 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
Cancun Hotel Zone is one of the most popular vacation destinations in Mexico, and it’s no wonder this area attracts thousands of visitors every year! I mean, there’s so much to do here, plenty of amazing places to stay and eat, and of course, it’s easy to get around with a great public bus system and taxis/uber are plenty! You definitely won’t be bored on your vacation to Cancun’s Hotel Zone!
Thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed this incredibly detailed blog post on the Cancun Hotel Zone. If you did, then keep planning and check out more of our great guides to other destinations in Mexico, such as: