Cancún  is a planned tourist city on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. It is a popular vacation spot on the Caribbean coast. There is much to do in the city and, if you're willing to take an hour or two bus trip, there is more to explore than you could possibly fit into a single vacation.
Peak season in Cancun tends to run from December to April. Prices in both airfare and hotel increase dramatically during these times, while dropping in the summer and early fall months. Late June is especially hot, so come prepared or try the off season. Hurricanes can be a major threat in the summer and early fall.
Resting on the northeast corner of the Yucatan Peninsula, Cancun itself was built on a site selected as the ideal spot for a new tourist development by the Mexican government. The state of Quintana Roo was still a territory and this area had few inhabitants when Cancun was built. It is comprised of fourteen miles of pristine white beaches shaped like a number "7", home to Mayan archaeological wonders, turquoise seas, a bountiful underwater world, and world-class vacation amenities. It is still considered the gateway to the Mayan World ("El Mundo Maya"). Mayan temples and ritual sites are literally everywhere, some smothered by lush jungle, others easily accessible.
The Cancun hotel zone is almost entirely built around the tourist industry. It abounds with all-inclusive resort hotels. Stay here only if you don't mind spending your vacation with many other tourists.
Downtown Cancun, especially once you get away from the ADO bus station and nearby hostels and hotels, is a real Mexican city. There are many restaurants, shopping centers, markets and clubs in the downtown area that you can visit during your stay.
Those mostly seeking beaches, scuba diving, or who are a bit adventurous can easily find rooms on equally beautiful and less crowded beaches somewhere an hour or two drive south along the coast for much less than the cost of major Cancun hotels. Some Spanish language skills may aid in finding better deals. You can rent a car, or take the bus to Puerto Morelos (about 20 minutes) or Tulum (1 hour). Playa del Carmen (45 minutes, MXN$80) is between the two, but caters to the all-inclusive crowd. Taxis are also available.
Those looking for a base of operations who want good or luxury hotels and the advantages of urban life but prefer more local flavor may wish to stay in the Yucatan's main city of Mérida; many international flights in to Cancun continue on after a stop to Mérida's international airport.
One of Cancun's best features is its transport links, as most major air carriers in North, Central, and South America, have service to Cancun. There are some extremely cheap charter flight deals available from the UK (from around £100) as well as commercial flight deals from several European carriers.
The hardest part of the journey to Cancun (aside from your initial airport check-in) is getting from the luggage carousel to your transportation. Make sure you know who your transport is and find them on the outside, as that is where they will be! Unless you are looking for a timeshare, free meal or looking to burn time and money on your vacation don't stop to chit-chat about booking tours and such. There is plenty of time for that after you get settled in.
There are 2 companies officially licensed by Cancun Airport to provide the transfer service to the hotels in Cancun or the Riviera Maya. One is Gray Line and the other one is T.T.A. Both have a selling booth right after the Customs Service. Prices are fixed by the Airport and are not negotiable. The two companies offer shuttle service and also private transfer.
There are transportation firms that provide to and from the airport for a reasonable price. Beware of touts who surround the traveler when the traveler comes out of customs clearance. If you proceed straight, you will find the official information center who can guide you the options on transportation.
There is also a first class bus service from the airport to both the ADO bus station in Cancun and to the one in Playa del Carmen. If you are going to Puerto Morelos, you can arrange being dropped at the appropriate intersection on the way to Playa. To get to the buses, go outside the main building and turn right. Head up past the end of that building and find the appropriate bus for you.
Beware of leaving Mexico without enough money. The Mexican Government charges a travel tax of around 500 pesos/46 U.S. Dollars to leave the country from the airport. Most major air carriers may already have the travel tax charged to the price of the ticket; though it is highly recommended that travelers check this before leaving to/from Cancun.
Also beware of going through security too early. Food and drink prices almost double and you can't easily go back.
For safety purposes, it is not recommended that visitors rent a car (this may be something the taxi drivers have encouraged). However, this applies anywhere that you are not familiar with. Some of the roads are well maintained here, and others may be sand or have potholes big enough to swallow a VW. If you are driving during daylight hours, keep an eye out for the buses, trucks, people and shuttles on the main roads, the side roads are a little rougher, but traffic is far less distracting. Police officers may sometimes pull you over, even for a minor violation, and ask for a bribe to let you off the hook, this may apply more to younger visitors, than say, those over thirty. If you are pulled over, be respectful to the police officer and don't do anything that would worsen the situation. Unless you are planning to explore outside of the "Hotel Zone" or downtown, a car is not necessary and may be more of a burden than an asset. Alternative transportation is plentiful and inexpensive 24/7.
If you plan on parking in the nightlife area of Cancun or in downtown Cancun, it can be frustrating to find a parking spot.
A common rule of thumb for night driving is not to drive in the first place. Driving at night can be very dangerous especially in areas that are well away from the city. These areas may not be lit very well or may be completely unlit. Some of the common scenarios can be cars without their headlights on, robbery, potholes, and even jaywalkers among others.
A few recommendations for driving in Cancun: Get insurance... and then get some more insurance. Driving in Mexico is pretty crazy. It's not as bad as most Central American and Caribbean locations, but it is crazy all the same. Accidents happen, especially to tourists. Your personal insurance will probably (almost certainly) not cover you in Mexico, even if you were under the impression that they would. Be sure you check the deductible as well, because often the deductible is 10% of the value of the car - and rarely would repairs in Mexico cost anywhere near that.
Check and double check for dings and scratches.Even AVIS, Budget, Hertz, Europcar and the other big rental car companies will charge you for stuff that you didn't do. When you start your review of the car before you take it off the lot, mark every single ding, dent, and especially window crack. If you don't mark them, you will probably try to be charged for them.
It is common practice in Mexico for transit police to remove the front license plates from cars when they have a parking violation (and there are some weird rules that aren't posted). If this plate is taken you will have to go to the police department, pay your fine and then retrieve your plate - it's a real pain. Often, renters don't even notice that the plate has been removed and return their car to the rental company without the tag. The company will charge you a bunch of money to get it back. Some rental car companies are removing the front license plate and putting credentials on a piece of paper in the front window. You might ask if a car like that is available. Additionally some mount the license plates with one way screws (AVIS and Budget do this I think), but I don't know how effective that is.
Highway 307 out of Cancun is really a pretty good road. Try not to drive when it is raining - the road floods unexpectedly and is generally very slick. In towns, especially Cancun, there are pot holes everywhere. These are probably the most dangerous part of driving in Mexico and do the kind of damage that car rental companies will get you for.
Watch out for topes. These are speed bumps... or speed mountains might be a better word. They tend to crop up in the middle of the highways before you enter towns and occasionally have signs that warn you, but more often than not don't have them or they are obscured in some way. These are extremely good ways to maintain the speed limit and you will find that after hitting one going sixty, your eyes remain CONSTANTLY on the road and you watch your speed.
Unconventional bypasses - It is very common in Mexico for the highway to split into two different lanes in the same direction when passing through a town (Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos are two examples). The inner lane is for left turns and those people passing through town. The right lane is called the ejidal (community) road and is for access to any of the roads on the right side. If you get on the bypass, you CANNOT turn right and if you get on the ejidal, you CANNOT turn left. You also cannot change lanes through town, you have to make the decision where the road splits.
If you get in an accident with a taxi or bus, just know that it is ALWAYS your fault. Even if they run into you from behind, the taxi and drivers unions have a weird way of making sure that it is your fault if you are a tourist. NEVER EVER argue with a taxista or bus driver - they are union and really stick together. One call on their radio and there will be thirty of them standing around you in no time. Usually they will just accept a little cash for the damage and you can go on your way - this can be decided on your own (most taxi drivers speak at least a little English) or with a policeman present.
Often two lane roads will have huge shoulders on the right and left. These are for you to move to if a car comes up behind you. If a car comes up behind you on one these roads, simple pull over a little and they will pass. You can signal that it is safe for someone to pass by turning on your left turn signal (I know it sounds weird, but it's what they do). Additionally, if there are cars coming in the other direction, it is advisable to pull over a little onto the shoulder so that they can freely pass as well - they will assume that you are going to do so and start their pass even before you do.
Windshields - perhaps the most common type of problem that renters face is glass breaks. Trucks have virtually no laws that govern how they can carry materials and in the Peninsula there are lots and lots of limestone mines. You can watch these limestone pebbles bounce out of the back of dump trucks up and down 307, bounces 5 or 6 feet high even on the third or fourth bounces. Windshields getting broken is extremely common.
Gas stations. Occasionally gas station attendants will avoid resetting the gas pump after the last person and try to charge you for the last bill and yours. I have never actually experienced this, but do notice that attendants in the Mayan Riviera and Cancun are now showing you (and making sure that you look) that the pumps have zeroed out before they start pumping.
Cancun's bus station is located downtown on the corner of Uxmal Avenue and Tulum Avenue. Destinations served by bus include all attractions and towns along the coast (the Riviera Maya: Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Xel-Ha, etc.), and most destinations up to Mexico City (26 hrs.).
Companies serving the station include the Riviera Express for the Riviera Maya and ADO for the major national destinations. For some Riviera Maya destinations it's possible to stop the buses on the Tulum Avenue without having to go all the way to the station, however if you are unsure about where to catch the bus then it's best to go to the station.
The bus station is served by a taxi rank in front of the station. Local buses to the hotel zone pass regularly behind the station on the Tulum Avenue.
Cancun is very easy to navigate. To the South is the airport, to the North is the city and in between on the stretch of land between the sea and the Nichupte lagoon are all the hotels, beaches and bars: the hotel zone or Zona Hotelera. Downtown is where most residents live and it stretches in on the mainland behind the lagoon.
Bus is the preferred way of getting around. Buses are cheap and come frequently. Most bus drivers are very courteous and will stop for you even if you are not waiting at a bus stop. After paying the fare, which is on a per person basis, the driver will hand you a ticket/receipt which are usually printed with advertisements. Just so there are no surprises, do not expect buses to be have amenities such as air conditioning and seat cushions. Also, most bus drivers speak enough English just to help people visitors get around.
Buses head up and down the main thoroughfare, Blvd Kukulcan, named after the feather serpent which is the main Mayan deity, from the Mayan words kukul (bird) and can (snake). Buses pass constantly but be prepared for a cramped and rough ride.
When you are ready to get off, you can either push the button on top of the hand rail, or if you're not sure of your destination, tell the driver where you would like to get off or point to the destination using a bus map. Most bus drivers speak enough English to understand non-Spanish speakers.
Taxis are plentiful, a bit expensive for the hotel zone and airport, but cheap in the downtown. Fares for the hotel zone depend on how far along the Blvd Kukulcan you want to go (fares available at hotel receptions and shopping centres), while within the downtown there is a general fixed fare of about 15 to 20 Pesos per trip - always ask the driver upon boarding to avoid misunderstandings. By far, the best mode of transportation for the hotel zone is by bus. The bus fare is cheap and getting from Point A to Point B doesn't take very long.
Be very careful if you choose to drive in Cancun. The police seem to pull tourists over at the drop of a hat, during spring break. At night it looks like Christmas with all the red, blue, and yellow flashing lights. Enforcement is not usually as aggressive the remainder of the year. When you pick up a rental, check that all the lights work! Also when you are pulled over for a light violation do not be surprised if the police holds out an open palmed hand, while holding your drivers license hostage in the other. Most police officers are underpaid and will for the most part demand a small bribe to let you off the hook.
See the above section on getting around by car for additional information.
Tortas (Mexican sandwiches)
Cancun's nightlife is unlike any other destination on Earth! For some a day in Cancun doesn't start until tasks like an 11AM breakfast, nap on the beach and siesta are arduously completed. This is your place to shine.
Make sure to check out Carlos and Charlie's, Coronaville and Coco Bongo. Don't be surprised to find yourself dancing in a conga line, laughing your cares away and speaking whatever español you managed to pickup. A must for the first timers, and always good fun for returners also. Coco Bongo's entertainment includes a show, complete with girls swinging from the ceilings.
Señor Frogs is another destination you need to add to your nightlife to do list. A restaurant by day and a dance club by night, is one of the most popular spots for vacationers to visit. The restaurant opens up for lunch serves international types of food such as pasta, chicken and pizza as well as Mexican cuisine all day until midnight. A cover charge of five dollars will get you into the party after 8 pm and includes a souvenir yard glass which you can then pay to get filled with your drink of choice. One of Señor Frogs famous attractions is the water slide that leads from the club out into the lagoon, just for a little bit of fun!
For some deeper nightlife The City, O Ultra Lounge and Daddy'O are excellent. The City is a huge venue and gets top entertainers and DJs. Don't be surprised to see Vegas like shows spontaneously erupt while you are sipping your piña colada. O' Ultra Lounge is a very sleek NYC type club and can take some time getting in and out of, but has had some great acts like "Infected Mushroom" rock the crowd till the wee hours.
Also try the clubs at Yaxchilan Avenue, located in downtown Cancun, where all the locals hang out. Try the live music bar Los 4 Elementos inside Hotel Xbalamque (Av. Yaxchilan 31). They play live music from 9 p.m. till the last customer leaves! The music is great and prices are significantly lower than those found in the hotel zone clubs. Some other clubs worth visiting in Yaxchilan Avenue are La Taberna, 77 Sports Bar and El Pabilo Cafe.
The legal drinking age in Mexico is 18.
Cancún has a large range of 3 to 5 star hotels in the "hotel zone" and some more economical hotels in the city center.
It is highly recommended that you buy bottled water. Bottled water, depending on size, typically costs 30-50 pesos ($2.77-$4.62 USD). Otherwise, do not drink the water unless your hotel has a water purification system. Most of the resorts in Cancun have purified water at all of the facilities located inside the resorts including the bars and restaurants. The upper-scale restaurants usually have purified water as well, but the water outside of these areas is not safe to drink.