Cancún is a big, beautiful, contradictory place. For many people, it is the ultimate vacation destination, with five-star hotels, white sand, impossibly blue waters, and a nightlife that never stops.
Others dismiss Cancún as “inauthentic,” a place where you can spend a week and never speak Spanish, never convert your dollars into pesos, and never eat at a restaurant you don’t recognize from malls back home.
Both perspectives are true, but one-sided. It’s hard not to cringe at those loud tourists who don’t bother to explore—or even care about—any part of Mexico beyond their beach chairs. Yet those who pooh-pooh Cancún are also selling the city short.
Cancún makes no apologies for being a megadestination, for bending over backward to please travelers, no matter how obtuse. At the same time, Cancún is a working, breathing city with a fascinating history and plenty of “real” Mexican culture: a popular central plaza, friendly hardworking residents, and quesadilla stands you wish you could resist.
Why not take advantage of both sides of Cancún? The beaches and nightclubs will blow your mind—don’t miss them! But be sure not to overlook Cancún’s more subtle side, from live music in a bohemian downtown café to munching on elote (corn on the cob) sold from a cart on the street.
And when you need to, just get away. A 15-minute ferry ride delivers you to the slow-paced island of Isla Mujeres , a sliver of sand surrounded by breathtaking blue waters. Farther north and even more laid-back is Isla Holbox ; no cars, no banks, no post office, it’s a world away from Cancún yet reachable in a morning.
By Air: The Cancún International Airport (CUN, tel. 998/848-7200, www.cancun-airport.com ) is 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Cancún. Most international flights arrive and depart from the airport’s Terminal 3, which also has airline, taxi, bus, and car rental desks, as well as ATMs. In general, Terminal 2 is used for domestic flights with some overflow international flights; Terminal 1 is reserved for charter flights. A free shuttle ferries travelers between Terminal 2 and 3 only.
By Bus: Buses leave Cancún’s clean and modern bus terminal (Av. Tulum at Av. Uxmal) for destinations in the Yucatán Peninsula and throughout the interior of Mexico.
By Combi: Combis, public shuttle vans, run between Cancún and Playa del Carmen . They queue up directly across Avenida Tulum from the bus terminal, near the Comercial Mexicana, and depart every 10–15 minutes 24 hours a day. The fare is US$2 to Puerto Morelos and US$3 to Playa del Carmen.