The Ultimate Survival Guide for Cancun

We just spent the last 16 days wandering the streets of downtown Cancun and we survived to tell our story.

Yeah, you heard me. Cancun, Mexico.

You know, that touristy city located in that big ol’ country that your co-workers have been telling you to avoid due to drugs, violence, lawless cartels and mass murders?

Let’s face it, I can’t sit here and deny that bad things happen in Mexico. They do.

That being said, bad things happen everywhere. I mean, look at Philly right now.

Do we need to look back on tragedies like Sandy Hook in order to remind ourselves that there are psychos sitting at home in the United States right now plotting to kill themselves and a list of others?

Too many people tend to use blanket statements these days when it comes to Mexico.

Those who generalize Mexico as being unsafe are the same ones who have either yet to travel here or those who believe every single word the U.S. Department of State has to say when they release their latest travel warnings.

Sure, read the warnings. But don’t forget to take them with a grain of salt.

No matter where you travel to in the world (including domestic travel),  there’s always a possibility that you’ll find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Okay, enough about the so-called dangers of Mexico. Let’s switch gears and talk about the best places to eat, stay and play in Cancun, shall we?

From transportation to the best places to eat, sunbathe, workout and shop, this Cancun travel guide covers it all.

Cancun Airport Transportation

Cancun Airport Transportation

When it comes to airport transportation in Cancun, getting from the airport to your hotel can be quite an expensive journey. 

Fortunately, you’ve got a few different options when you arrive at Cancun International Airport.

1. You can take a taxi (expensive)

2. You can take a professional round-trip transfer to your hotel in Cancun (cheap and reliable)

3. You could take the ADO bus (cheapest option)

Cancun Airport Taxis

As soon as you exit the terminal, it’s very likely you’ll see a swarm of taxi drivers looking at you as if you were a walking dollar sign.

Because, in fact, you are. These cabbies know gringos when they see them and they simply cannot wait to take you for a ride.

An expensive ride at that. From what I know, a taxi from Cancun airport to the “hotel zone” can run you somewhere between 600-800 pesos.

If you’re a master at negotiating, you might be able to get away with a fare of 600 pesos or so but good luck trying.

Private Shuttles are a good mid-range deal

Unfortunately, most hotels do not offer shuttle service between the airport and the hotel zone.

Fortunately though, there are reliable private shuttle options.

This company is highly recommended, well reviewed and a steal at just $31.99 for a round-trip transfer between the Cancun International Airport and the Hotel Zone.

Note: Most private shuttles from Cancun International Airport should be somewhere in the range of $45-$80 USD.

Take the ADO Bus

Got time, patience and don’t mind taking the adventurous route? If so, I have a really inexpensive transportation tip for you.

Here’s how it works:

1. Exit the terminal, turn right and make your way to a small kiosk that says “ADO” on it. ADO is the name of the bus company and it’s pronounced “ah-day-oh” in case you have to ask someone where it is.

2. Once you arrive at the kiosk, tell the attendant you want to buy tickets to the bus station in downtown Cancun (centro). They will sell you a ticket from Cancun Airport to the ADO bus station located in downtown Cancun. The price will be somewhere around the equivalent of $4 USD. There are no stops in between the airport and downtown so you won’t have to worry about missing your stop.

The next question is: Are you staying downtown or in the hotel zone?

I’m staying in downtown

If you’re staying in a hotel downtown you can either walk from the ADO bus station to your hotel (many are within walking distance) OR take a short taxi ride to your destination.

As far safety goes in downtown Cancun, I wouldn’t worry about walking the streets with luggage unless you arrive after dark.

We walked all over downtown with and without luggage and never felt unsafe at all.

I’m staying in the hotel zone

If you’re staying in the so called “hotel zone” where most tourists stay when they visit Cancun, you have two choices to get there.

1. You can grab a taxi from out front of the bus station. Don’t worry, there’s no shortage of taxi drivers screaming out “Taxi, amigo?” You will likely need to haggle to get a good deal on a taxi out to the hotel zone. If you decide to go the taxi route, be sure that you have the address of your hotel written down. Chances are your driver will know exactly where your hotel is but a good tip is to always have the phone number of your hotel handy just in case. If the driver appears to not know where your hotel is located, you could always pass him the phone number and he can make a quick call to find out exactly where you need to go.

2. If you want to go the cheap route, go ahead and exit the bus station, turn left, followed by a quick right on Tulum Av. and walk south a block or two. Keep an eye out for the public bus called the “R1, or R2”, you can’t miss these buses. If you don’t see one, simply ask someone where you can catch the R1 or R2 bus to the hotel zone. There’s two versions of this bus, an official city bus with air-conditioning and a much more local, no-frills type of bus that is usually filled with locals. Either way, it costs 9.50 pesos or roughly $0.70 cents to ride from downtown to anywhere in the entire hotel zone. All you need to do is hit the button or yell out to the driver when you want to get off.

Note: It would be helpful if you had an idea of where your hotel is so you don’t miss your stop. A lot of the time I take screen shots of my hotels location on GoogleMaps so that I have some sort of an idea of where it’s located, what hotels are nearby, etc.

In conclusion, if you have the time and you end up taking my advice, you can get yourself from the Cancun airport to your hotel for under $5.00 USD. Cha-ching!

Best Places to Eat in Cancun

Best Places to Eat in Cancun

We walked a hell of a lot in Cancun. I’m talking there were days that we arrived back at the hotel after walking anywhere from 6-10 miles.

I mean, realistically, the least we could do is walk our asses off considering that Mexican food accounted for at least two out of three of our meals each day.

RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATIONS FOR DOWNTOWN CANCUN

Las Quesadillas de las Palapas “D’Luis”

If you’re looking for top-notch quesadillas at a really cheap price, head over to Las Quesadillas de las Palapas “D’Luis” at the Parque del las Palapas, Cancun’s most popular public park.

It’s the last food stall on the right hand side of the strip of restaurants.

D’Luis serves hot, delicious and fresh chicken (or any other meat) quesadillas for a mere $1.20. They’re big, too!

Pik Nik

Pik Nik is incredible. No, really. In all seriousness, it’s hands down the best Mexican restaurant we have been to since we arrived in Mexico.

From the quality of the food to the friendly waitstaff, this little Mexican gem packs a serious punch.

We dined here approximately 10 times during our 16 day stay in Cancun. We literally couldn’t resist the place.

If you’re looking for a great place to kick back and people watch, head there around dinner time (6:30-7PM) and grab yourself a table out front.

Pik Nik is located on Calle Tulipanes, the main road that leads to Parque de las Palapas.

La Troje

We dined at La Troje twice during our time in Cancun and while I wasn’t too thrilled with the pizza the first time around, I did fall in love with the Pasta Carbonara the second time around.

La Troje has a huge list of incredible salads for all you salad lovers out there.

To top things off, the salads themselves are humongous and delicious.

Oh, and don’t forget to visit La Troje on Tuesdays to get 30% off the entire menu! How’s that for a discount?

100% Natural

A little on the pricier side of the spectrum but what do you expect of a place that is all about eating organic, whole foods?

100% Natural serves up delicious breakfasts, fresh salads, veggie shakes, yummy milkshakes and healthier authentic Mexican dishes.

Looking for Dessert?

No, it’s not a name of a restaurant. It’s a question that I already know the answer to.

Of course, you’re looking for dessert!

Some of the best desserts in Cancun can be found at the Parque de las Palapas, a local park located in downtown Cancun.

If you’re into doughy sweets, you’ll love the piping hot churros with sweet milk that can be found at one of the many food carts in the park.

Note: Parque de las Palapas is open all day but the dessert carts usually don’t arrive until after sunset.

Restaurant Recommendations in Hotel Zone

Dining in the hotel zone can be quite limited.

We’re assuming it’s partly due to the fact that the resorts don’t want to you leave and since most of them are all-inclusive, why would you leave in the first place, right?

Well, if you’re getting sick of that buffet of yours, and you’ve got some cash to burn, you’re in luck.

You’ll be happy to know that there are quite a few chain restaurants located in the hotel zone.

As for cheap food in the hotel zone, there isn’t much to choose from.

We did happen to find two road-side restaurants that we would recommend for cheap Mexican food.

Blue Gecko

The Blue Gecko is located in a small plaza on Kukulkan at km 16 on the opposite side of the road from the Oasis Cancun Hotel and the Grand Oasis.

The atmosphere is very beachy, they play good music and the staff is really friendly.

Liz went for the Taco salad and I ordered the Texas tacos.

We thorougly enjoyed our meals and went back a second time.

The Surfin Burrito

Looking for a nice, fat burrito after a long day at the beach?

If so, The Surfin Burrito is the place to be.

We dined at this hole in the wall twice during our stay.

The chicken burritos are thick and tasty and the fries (papas) w/ ranch dipping sauce are really good as well.

Best Beaches in Cancun

Best Beaches in Cancun

Everyone wants to know where the best beaches are in Cancun but to be honest, we believe it’s really a matter of opinion.

Do you like calm water or raging waves?

Do you like busy beaches or empty stretches of white sand?

Do you enjoy touts trying to sell you oversized sombreros or… nevermind.

Nobody likes to be sold things while trying to relax on the beach.

Alright, let’s get crackin’ on our favorite beaches in Cancun.

Playa Delfines 

If you’re looking for a beach with huge waves, Playa Delfines is your best bet.

We visited Playa Delfines twice during our stay and we loved it because of the size of the waves, the lack of touts trying to sell you crap and the fact that it was a hell of a lot less busy than some of the more well known beaches in the hotel zone.

One of the downsides to this beach is that the red flags get thrown up more often than not due to the riptide.

This usually happens later on in the day so get there early if you want to experience the awesomeness.

In conclusion, confident swimmers will enjoy riding the waves in at Playa Delfines while beginners will likely be horrified. You’ve been warned!

Playa Chac Mool

Looking for a secluded beach with not a soul in sight?

Hop on any bus heading down the hotel zone and tell the driver you want to go to Playa Chac Mool (km 10).

Once you arrive at the beach, hang a left and walk down the beach about a hundred yards or so.

Plop yourself down in front of the ocean front condos and enjoy an empty beach.

The water at Playa Chac Mool is very calm and perfect for those who want to relax and wade in the water without having to worry about getting pounded by big waves.

If you’re feeling hungry, you’re in for a real treat.

Exit the beach via the path towards the main road, turn right and you’ll see The Surfin Burrito not too far down the road on your right.

Read more about The Surfin Burrito in the “Best Places to Eat in Cancun” section above.

Playa Caracol

Playa Caracol is located at km 9 near Plaza Caracol.

The water at Playa Caracol is bright blue and relatively calm.

Swimming here is fun and if you’re into water sports (jet-skiing, parasailing, etc) you’re in the right place.

This place can get busy at times so your best bet is to turn left and head down to the quieter end of the beach.

If you’re interested in seeing a full blown list of every beach in Cancun, click here.

Best Places to Workout in Cancun

Best Places to Workout in Cancun

Call us crazy, but we love to workout when we’re on the road.

As a matter of fact, we have a growing list of travel workouts that we publish here from time to time so be sure to check those out if you’re looking for workout ideas for your next trip.

We worked out often during our time in Cancun, switching back and forth between a local gym near to our hotel and the outdoor fitness area located at km 0 at the beginning of the hotel zone.

Armor Factory Gym

This little gym was right across the road from our hotel so it was such a convenient place to spend an hour or two on a rainy day.

There wasn’t anything special about the place, just a solid gym to workout in when you’re in need of a good weight training session.

We really enjoy doing bodyweight workouts when we’re on the road but having access to a gym with weights, treadmills and machines is kind of nice from time to time.

The only problem we encountered was that the owner/manager at the Armor Factory seemed to always give us the cold shoulder.

We’re not sure why as we always made sure to put our equipment back where we found it, cleaned up after ourselves, etc.

We would always say hi and bye each time we came and went but we rarely got a response from him.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a cheap gym that gets the job done, check out the Armor Factory.

It’s located smack dab on the corner of Yaxchilan and Gladiolas.

Outdoor Fitness Park

The outdoor fitness park in Cancun is probably one of the coolest exercise parks that we’ve been to on our travels.

Well, second to the outdoor fitness areas located on South Beach in Miami, that is.

In order to find this place, you need to make your way to the beginning of Kukulkan Blvd.

Once you arrive at the zero kilometer mark or at the rotary where the road begins, you’ll see the fitness park located in the middle.

Trust me, you can’t miss it.

As you know, we love working out in the open air and having this park within 10 minutes walking distance from our hotel was the key to keeping us motivated during our time in Cancun.

If you’re a runner and you’re looking for the best place to run in Cancun, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a paved path that starts at the beginning of Kukulkan Blvd across from the fitness area.

I’m not sure exactly how far the path runs down into the hotel zone but what I can tell you is that Liz did a 6-mile (10k) run down into the hotel zone and back.

Best Places to Shop in Cancun

Best Places to Shop in Cancun

Shopping in Cancun can be as budget friendly or as lavish as you make it.

From so-called local markets to high end luxury shopping, Cancun covers the whole spectrum.

La Isla Shopping Village

La Isla is a trendy, venetian themed shopping plaza with over 150 different stores to choose from.

From stores to restaurants to a full fledged aquarium, La Isla is the best mall to visit in the hotel zone.

Hop on any bus in the hotel zone and tell the driver you want to go to La Isla.

Plaza Las Americas

Found in downtown Cancun, this shopping mall is filled with more stores than your brain can handle in one trip.

Department stores,  sporting goods stores, restuarants are just some of the things that you can find at Plaza Las Americas.

From the hotel zone, take any bus heading north that says “Plaza Las Americas” on it.

Paseo Cancun

If you’re looking for legitimate outlet stores, you have to check out Paseo Cancun.

While it’s a little bit off the beaten track, it’s definitely worth visiting.

I particularly enjoyed the Nike outlet there and I’ll definitely making a trip back there when I’m in need of some new kicks.

We walked to Paseo Cancun but you can get there with ease by simply taking a bus (towards the Walmart Supercenter) or a taxi.

Market 28

Market 28 is a giant market located in downtown Cancun, easily accessible by public transport.

The market is better known as Mercado 28 and is also known to be the best place to buy souvenirs, local Mexican handicrafts and more.

While it’s supposedly a great place to find local wares, I have a feeling it’s a hell of a lot more touristy than it’s made out to be.

We passed by Mercado 28 a few times but never poked our head in.

We rarely consider ourselves to be on “vacation” so we can’t find a reason to purchase souvenirs and a bunch of other things that will just sit on a mantlepiece somewhere collecting dust.

Getting to Mercado 28 is simple, every taxi driver in town knows where it is.

You can also take a public bus if that suits your fancy.

Cancun shopping photo credit: PriceTravel pictures via photopin cc

Conclusion

Well, that just about wraps up this in-depth survival guide for Cancun.

If you have anything you’d like to add to this article, feel free to leave a comment below!

One more thing I’d like to mention briefly is that you’ll notice that I didn’t speak about any of the major attractions or things to do in Cancun.

The reason I didn’t speak on these things is because we didn’t actually visit any tourist attractions during our time in Cancun and I wouldn’t be able to accurately review things without being there in person.

I hope you enjoyed this guide and if you found this to be helpful, I would ask you to please share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more!