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How to Choose Where to Stay in Cancun, Mexico

Much of the area around Cancun was developed just for tourists. Therefore, it’s no surprise there are so many fabulous hotels, resorts, and Airbnbs in Cancun to choose from. So, the question is how do you decide where to stay in Cancun, Mexico?

With so many options you want to be sure to select accommodations that meet all of your wants and needs. A poor accommodation choice can make or break a vacation and lodging in Mexico is definitely not one size fits all.

After traveling full-time for years we have learned through trial and error the importance of research and planning. Based on our many visits to the Cancun area of the Yucatan we will now describe the different areas to stay in Cancun plus we’ll provide tips and top questions to ask yourself when planning your ultimate Cancun vacation!

An Explantion of the Areas of Cancun

Cancun accommodations are geographically quite spread out meaning that you should put some thought into where you want to be. Cancun itself is split into two areas: the downtown (el Centro) and the hotel zone (Zona Hotelera). However, many people also include the outlying strips of beach north and south of Cancun.

Downtown Cancun is very different from the hotel zone which focuses solely on tourism. In el Centro you will see a much more traditional Mexico with restaurants and shops catering to locals as much as tourists. Even if you don’t stay here it’s worth a visit to get a taste of real authentic Mexico. El Centro also offers more choice of budget accommodations.

Most people will opt to stay in the hotel zone for its proximity to Cancun beaches, restaurants, tourist attractions, and nightlife. But, the strip of resorts in this area stretches for 15 miles so you might want to narrow it down even further.

Cancun’s Hotel Zone is shaped like the number 7. The upper part of the 7 runs east to west with beautiful beaches and calmer water. For young kids or weak swimmers who love the beach this area may be best although beaches tend to be busier than further south. The lower part of the 7 runs north to south and also has lovely beaches but the water can get a bit rougher and is not always good for swimming.

The busiest part of the hotel zone, known as Punta Cancun, is where the upper and lower stretches of the 7 meet. If you want to be in the heart of the action, within walking distance to hundreds of bars, parties, restaurants and shopping then pick a resort at the northern end. If you want more peace and quiet with less of a party crowd then choose a resort further south.

Continue even further south and you’ll find yourself in the small fishing village of Puerto Morelos. This suburb of Cancun is a good choice for a quieter Cancun experience with beautiful beaches. Go north of Cancun and you’ll find some beautiful resorts in Playa Mujeres.

Wherever you decide to stay you will have no problem catching a bus, taxi or collectivo to the other areas of Cancun. Also, there are many excursions out of Cancun that will pick you up at your hotel.

Questions to Ask When Deciding Where to Stay in Cancun:

What’s Your Budget for Cancun accommodations?

Cancun budget

For most of us cost is a prime factor when choosing accommodations. Luckily, Mexico, although not as cheap as it used to be, is still good value compared to many other vacation spots. Plus, since Cancun’s whole purpose is to attract tourists there is a great variety of hotels and resorts. This means there’s something for every budget.

Write out a budget plan for your Cancun, Mexico vacation which covers at least the transportation, accommodation, food and drink and activities you definitely want to do. Once you have an idea of how much you plan to spend on each thing you can filter your resort search based on price.

If you’re on a tight budget then el Centro will have more option in the way of hostels, Airbnb rooms and lower cost hotels.

Family Friendly or Adults Only Resorts in Cancun?

Where to stay in Cancun

Cancun has all the bases covered when it comes to offering a wide variety of accommodations.

There are family friendly resorts where your kids will have an abundance of activities and events catering just to them. Many family resorts even have special pools and day camps for the kids. This means that you’ll have more time to relax because you won’t have to be the one keeping them entertained all day. You’ll also usually find baby sitting services for the little ones so mom and dad can have a romantic dinner.

On the other hand, if you aren’t traveling with kids you may want to consider an adults only resort. For obvious reasons these resorts are normally quieter, especially around the pool and in the restaurants. What may not be as obvious is that they are usually more luxurious and offer an upscale array of activities and dining options. Of course, this also means that they are at a higher price point so question #1 may also factor in your decision.

Learn more about this amazing country with these 80+ Fun Facts About Mexico

Romance & Relaxation or Party, Party, Party in Cancun?

Where to stay in Cancun

If you’re planning on a romantic vacation then an adults-only resort is probably a given. However, that does not necessarily mean that romance is the main focus at the resort. There are plenty of adults-only resorts that cater to other adult activities. This may mean lively bars, loud music and more focus on parties and group gatherings. Some resorts are even known for being the spot for groups of singles to go and socialize. This is after all one of the top party cities in Mexico.

If romance is your priority then you’d be best to look for a smaller, more secluded hotel or a chain resort like Secrets that gear their amenities and atmosphere towards couples. Here you’ll find plenty of quiet spots, sexy lounges and romantic tables for two in the restaurants.

What Cancun Activities Interest You?

Parasailing in cancun

Although Cancun is famous for being a top beach destination there is far more to Cancun than laying on the sand.

If you like to be active and adventurous there are dozens of water-sports to choose from as well as nearby mystical Mayan Riviera cenotes. If this is a big draw for you then it’s a good idea to research the best beaches and areas for whatever water activity you favor.

Plus, some all-inclusive resorts include water-sports so that may be a deciding factor. If you plan to spend more than a day at one of the awesome Xcaret adventure eco-parks you may want to consider a resort further south and closer to the many adventure theme parks.

If partying, shopping and socializing are your game then look for a resort in the middle of the party zone of Punta Cancun. Do you want rest and relaxation? Look for an adult-only resort further south. Do you want to explore Mayan ruins? A hotel furthest south will be that much closer to ruins like Tulum.

Maybe you’re a foodie? Dig deep into the restaurant options in Cancun and choose a place central to those. Alternately, if you’re going with an all-inclusive make sure the resort is noted for their restaurants and isn’t just basic buffets.

Cancun All-Inclusive or Pay as You Go?

Cancun is definitely one of the worlds top destinations for an abundance of all-inclusive resorts. But it’s not the way to go for everyone.

If you are the type of traveler who likes to venture out and explore all the sights, restaurants, bars, and activities in the surrounding area then all-inclusive may not be for you. This is becasue you’ll feel tied to eating at and spending most of your time at the resort to get your money’s worth.

However, if your dream vacation involves relaxing at the pool every day and not having to venture far then an all-inclusive can be a great option as well as a money saver.

When choosing an all-inclusive, keep in mind all of the tips above but also take a good look at what is actually included. There is a wide range of all-inclusive resorts and although the price point usually reflects the quality and quantity of what is included that is not always the case.

Some questions to ask of the all-inclusive Cancun package:

  • What type of food is included? If you are a foodie this will be an important factor. Some all-inclusives offer mainly buffet meals whereas others have several a la carte restaurants on site. Having said that, there are some resorts that will charge an additional fee for a la carte so that’s another thing to check.
  • What activities are included? Many all-inclusive resorts will include all water-sports, where others will not or will only include non-motorized activities. Also, there may be charges for things like the kids club or other events. If there is something that is important to you make sure you know the regulations.
  • What drinks are included? Usually alcoholic drinks are included to a degree but they can be limited to just beer and wine or just local spirits. They may also have a set time where drinks are included. Other resorts will have unlimited international drinks 24 hours a day. If drinking is a big part of your vacation this could be a deal-breaker.

What Amenities are Important to You?

Where to stay in Cancun

If you plan to spend a lot of time at your resort you will want to be sure they have amenities to complete your perfect vacation.

Although most resorts have both a beach and a pool it’s a good idea to check them out. If you prefer not to swim in the ocean then picking a place with a nice big, beautiful pool should be a priority. Are you a gym rat? Make sure the resort has a fitness center to keep up your routine.

Does your idea of a perfect vacation include plenty of spa treatments? It’s probably best to make sure the resort has its own spa so you don’t have to leave for your daily massage. Do you want to dance the night away without having to hit up the party zone? Find a resort with a lively dance club on site. Traveling with kids? Make sure there are plenty of activities, events and services catering to children.

These are just a few of the things to think about when looking at amenities. You can also consider amenities like an in room mini bar, a tour planning desk, poolside activity directors, live entertainment etc.

TIP: Ready to pack for your beach vacation? Click here for the ultimate packing guide for Cancun and the Yucatan, Mexico

Some of the Best Cancun Resorts

Now that you have your list of must-haves let’s take a look at some favorite Cancun resorts to get you started:

Le Blanc Spa Resort

Highlights: Adult-only, luxury, all-inclusive, beautiful beach

Cancun Le Blanc spa & resort
Image from Le Blanc Spa & Resort

This resort is considered as one of the top resorts in all of Cancun. Le Blanc Spa Resort is an all-inclusive and adult-only resort which tends to be a bit pricey for some visitors, but many guest reviews claim it’s worth every penny.

Le Blanc is located in the heart of the Hotel Zone, which means it has arguably some of the best beaches on its doorstep. The service is here is unmatched. Each member of the staff is dedicated to taking care of your needs from start to finish. The resort has 260 rooms, all of which are perfectly suited for both couples and single travelers. Many of the rooms allow for sweeping views of the nearby lagoon.

Excellence Playa Mujeres

Highlights: Adult-only, all-inclusive, romantic, luxury

Cancun Excellence Playa Mujeres
Image from Excellence Playa Mujeres

The Excellence resort is a great option for those seeking a romantic getaway to Cancun. The rooms themselves are one of the best things about it, as they’re quite spacious and nicely decorated. That’s not to say that this all-inclusive resort lacks in any department.

The rooms have every kind of amenity necessary, like Jacuzzis and flat screen TVs. The rest of the resort is also fully equipped with anything a visitor might need. There are several pools on the resort’s grounds, as well as spas and all sorts of activities.

Many of their rooms have access to a rooftop terrace. There you can find a private plunge pool, from where you can easily see the ocean in all its splendor.

Beloved Playa Mujeres

Highlights: All-inclusive, adult-only, boutique

Beloved Isla Mujeres
Image from Beloved Isla Mujeres

Many of the resorts found on Playa Mujeres are excellent, and the Beloved is definitely one of the best. It’s an adult-only all-inclusive resort, and it’s located on a perfect stretch of white sand beach.

The rooms are very spacious, elegant and sleek in their design, and each of one has its own private pool. Many, though not all, of the rooms have direct views of the sea. The outdoor pools are also a great spot to spend the day on the resort’s grounds, as it has great food and drinks service.

The Beloved has a lot of different amenities and services, too, and all of them are of excellent quality. Here you can find a fitness center, an enormous spa, as well as a world-class four-star restaurant. Reservations aren’t required for dining here, and the food is absolutely delicious. On top of that, they have a 24-hour room service.

While it’s not the grandest of all the resorts, there’s a unique intimate feeling in the Beloved which sets it apart from other resorts in the area.

Hyatt Zilara Cancun

Highlights: Adult-only, all-inclusive, stylish rooms, tranquil

Hyatt Zilara Cancun
Image from Hyatt Zilara Cancun

This resort is one of the most popular and most visited in the region. There’s a certain level of quality that’s to be expected of Hyatt Zilara, which is why it’s regularly on any list of best resorts in Cancun.

Its rooms and suites have quality furniture, sleek design, and spacious balconies. One of the best things about its rooms are the panoramic views of the beach and the sea.

Food in the Hyatt Zilara is also very good, and there is a great variety in course options. It also has a 24 hour VIP lounge, with its own bar, a concierge desk, service, and private check-ins.

However, due to its popularity it does tend to get crowded. There are also plenty of daily fitness options available in Hyatt Zilara. Everything from yoga classes to beach volleyball is readily available.

Hyatt Ziva Cancun

Highlights: Family friendly, all-inclusive, walking distance to nightlife

Hyatt Ziva Cancun
Image from Hyatt Ziva Cancun

This massive all-inclusive resort is the only resort in Cancun that’s almost completely surrounded by the sea. The waters of the Caribbean surround Hyatt Ziva from three sides. The white sand beaches and the pristine environment are only a few of the many great things about Hyatt Ziva.

It’s a luxurious resort that’s suited for visitors of all types. It’s a family-friendly spot with numerous quality services, like infinity pools, spas, and a lot of different dining options.

Hyatt Ziva is a preferred resort for those that seek Cancun’s nightlife, because the best bars and clubs are within walking distance of the resort. It has over 500 rooms, each more elegant than the next. The rooms are quite large and have their own balconies or terraces which overlook the beachfront in the front of the resort.

Moon Palace

Highlights: Family friendly, all-inclusive, golf course on site

Moon Palace Cancun
Image from Moon Palace Cancun

This is the largest of all the Palace resorts around the world so it may not be the first choice if you want boutique and peaceful. However, if you’re on a family or group vacation the Moon Palace is a great choice. Plus, with all the activities and amenities on-site you will never be bored.

The gigantic resort has a Jack Niklaus Signature golf course, a massive pool and spa, 15 restaurants, a nightclub, a teens lounge and a kids playroom. In other words there is something for everyone.

Airbnbs in Cancun

If you prefer having your own kitchen and more privacy over big resort amenities then you may want to consider renting an Airbnb. We have written an article on why you should consider an Airbnb rental in Cancun along with some of our top picks. But here are a couple that really stand out:

Ocean View Modern Condo

Highlights: Beachfront, view, luxury couple getaway

Cancun Airbnb apartment with ocean view
Image from Airbnb

Beautiful, bright,1 bedroom apartment with a stunning view from every room. It has an open plan with a full kitchen, breakfast bar, dining room for six and comfy living room with big screen TV. If you have small kids there’s also a pull out sofa-bed.

The apartment is in a hotel complex and guests have access to the pools, beach, volleyball, tennis and other amenities.

Caribbean Ocean Front

Highlights: On the beach, private, romantic

Cancun Caribbean Oceanfront on Airbnb
Image from Airbnb

Perfect for a romantic getaway beach vacation. This studio suite is directly on a quiet beach where you’ll find your own private sun loungers. It comes with a small kitchen and eating area, a king sized bed with a view, a deck off the bedroom with a hammock and a private rooftop with a plunge pool overlooking the Caribbean.

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Where to Stay in Cancun
Where to Stay in Cancun

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