Cancun is a paradise, but paradise made easy! While I love the adventure and feeling you get while traveling around Asia, compared to the likes of Cancun, Mexico its hard work! Cancun is the perfect holiday if you want to just relax in pure luxury, soak up the sun (…and all inclusive cocktails!) and experience paradise! Many people assume that that’s all there is to Cancun though – drinking cocktails and lying in the sun – however there are actually plenty of activities and cultural sites to see for those looking for a bit more adventure to their holiday!
How to get there
There are lots of large travel companies offering packages to Cancun from Ireland & the UK. While I usually like to book our own trips and source our own flights and accommodation separately – in the case of Cancun its much cheaper to book through a travel company as they have charter flights. On both of our Cancun trips I booked with TUI UK online. You can also book a package with TUI flying from Dublin, but in both instances the package price from the UK was significantly cheaper. Of course booking from the UK means you’ll need to book your own flights separately from Cork or Dublin to Gatwick – and this means planning far in advance to get the cheapest flight. Ensure you allow yourself enough time for unexpected delays/cancellations – if you don’t show up on time for your Cancun flight you’ll have no recourse as it’s a separate booking to your Ireland-UK flight!
When to go
Our first visit to Cancun was for our honeymoon which was early July, our second visit was August – we found the weather much the same on both trips.
This is technically classed as the summer “rainy” season, from July through October, and you’ll see especially discounted prices in September, October, and November. This coincides with hurricane season, but hurricanes have only landed here twice in the past thirty years! The vast majority of days during the wet season are hot, dry, and humid, but with little rain in short bursts. On both trips we only experienced a few short showers. The humidity was intense, but in general heat doesn’t bother me on holidays and I’m not a big sunbather – I prefer to lay under an umbrella! For travelers who don’t mind the heat and occasional rain shower, this is the ideal time to travel.
The end of December through April are considered the best months to travel – with the least risk of rain showers and more comfortable temperatures, but you’ll notice prices are significantly higher and in my opinion I don’t think it’s justified as the weather is still mostly great in the summer. Cancun is always busy, but during December – April you might find attractions etc overly so.
The famous American holiday “spring break” is in March – and although this could be offputting , if you want to travel in March you still can by just avoiding the type of hotel that caters to “spring breakers”. Most of the luxury hotels on the hotel zone are couples only and don’t cater to large groups. Just do your research before choosing your hotel.
Where to stay
When booking a Cancun holiday the two main areas you’ll see offered are Zona Hotelera and Riveria Maya. Riveria Maya is a bit more tropical with more greenery, whereas the Zona Hotelera is what we typically envision of Cancun, a 24km stretch of beach.
Zona Hotelera (Hotel Zone) is the perfect place to be for first-timers in Cancun. This enormous stretch of coastline ( (24 km, to be more precise) is lined with beautiful all-inclusive hotels, white sand beaches and cool clubs. It’s also only 20 minutes from the airport so super convenient after the long flight! It’s a perfect base too to travel from, if you want to get out of the resort and go explore.
On our first trip we chose to stay at one of the Palace Resorts – Sun Palace. It was perfect for our honeymoon being not only an adults-only resort, but a couples-only resort. I would highly recommend it, and all of the staff went above and beyond to make our honeymoon memorable.
Our second trip we chose a Secrets Resort – Secrets The Vine, as it has always been exceptionally highly rated.
Both resorts were amazing and it would be difficult to choose between the two if I were to go again. In Sun Palace a big pro is that every room comes with a Jacuzzi bathtub overlooking the ocean & a fabulous 4 poster bed, whereas in Secrets The Vine only the higher class of rooms have a bathtub. Our original booking with TUI was just for a standard room as that’s all that TUI offered at the time – but I contacted the hotel directly after booking to request to upgrade my room. Secrets very kindly offered a collaboration, and we spent our first few nights in a magnificent Junior suite before being upgraded to their dreamy Honeymoon corner suite. Both suites were absolutely incredible, but the Honeymoon suite benefited from a huge wrap around balcony and a bath tub overlooking the ocean!
There is a lot more choice of restaurants in Secrets The Vine and the rooms have a more modern feel. Their area on the beach is relatively small and quite busy – Sun Palace have a larger beach area with more luxurious loungers – but in contrast then Secrets The Vine have larger pools and lounging areas on site.
In summary – both are amazing and I don’t think youd be disappointed by either!
If you’re staying in the hotel zone – transport couldn’t be easier. Just outside each hotel there is always a bus stop within sight, and the hotel zone bus literally runs the length of the zone each day. The cost is very cheap – less than a euro, and its great for getting up to the nearby shopping centers such as La Isla.
For going further afield and exploring – if you want to do excursions such as snorkeling trips – you have a few different options to book these, directly with hotel (who usually charge a premium but generally choose the best companies), vendors on the beach , or directly with the tour companies.
On our second trip to Cancun we decided to hire a car to visit some sites – the roads are very straightforward, you’ll be given a sat nav with most cars, and it meant that we could visit places for the day without time restrictions of a group tour. I would highly recommend doing this as this way YOU choose how long to spend at each site, and what else to do with your day.
We took the car for our visit to Coba, Tulum & to explore some Cenotes!
*A tip if driving to Coba. When we approached the entrance to the site, we were waved down by men in uniform, wearing tourist board id cards. They came to our window and asked us if we wanted entrance ticket & parking, or just parking or guided tour. I knew from research that the tickets at the gate were cheaper than the price he was giving – so I said just parking. He charged approx €20 and guided us to a space.
On walking to the gates of the site, I then spotted the official carpark – with FREE parking!! So, do not be fooled by these “officials” and ensure anywhere you plan on visiting that you’ve researched parking and tickets etc in advance!
Without an organized tour, you can choose to wander freely around the site or hire a guide. There are plenty of people offering guiding services as you come into the car park, but wait until you get inside the complex for the official guides and best rates.
Places we visited/activites
Isla Mujeres is an island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, located around 20 km from Cancun. In Mayan times the island served as the sanctuary for the goddess Ixchel, the Goddess of fertility, – which is where the island gets it’s name “Island of Women” – the island is full of incredible history – Famous pirates like Henry Morgan and Jean Lafitte walked the shores of Isla and as legend goes, buried their stolen treasure under the white sands.
It’s basically a separate haven where you can relax away from the hordes of tourists! The island has a length of 6 km and a width of 1 km, and it’s basically a small paradise on Earth! It’s an idyllic place full of palm trees, a beautiful beach with soft sand, and the bars and atmosphere have a real authentic Mexican feel!
One way to go solo and arrange your own day trip is to travel by ferry – this is located in Puerto Juarez, a few minutes from downtown Cancun. The ferry journey takes just 20 minutes. Alternatively, if you book any activities such as a snorkeling trip or basically any day trip activity on the water – most of them include a lunch-time stop at Isla Mujeres – however this way your time on the island is very limited and so I would recommend you go by ferry and spend the entire day exploring.
On arrival, I highly recommend hiring a golf cart – the easiest and most enjoyable way to get around the island & explore.
Coba Entry Fee: $242 MXN ($11 USD)
Opening Hours: 8am – 5pm
If you were to do only one activity during your time in Cancun, I would make it a visit to Chichen Itza!
an archaeological site in Yucatan. – Rich in history and the centre of pilgrimage for the ancient Maya civilization for over 1,000 years, Chichen Itza is classified as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and in 1988 was enlisted as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Many of the sites in Chichen Itza are known for their unusual sounds. If you clap once from one end of the Ball Court, it produces nine echoes in the middle of the court. Additionally, a clap in front of the Kukulkan Pyramid creates an echo resembling the serpent’s chirp.
- Every tour group arrives around 10am , so if going solo arrive before 8am for a less crowded experience. Alternatively arrive after 3pm, but be aware the site closes at 5pm.
- The main “attraction” at Chichen Itza is the spectacular El Castillo Pyramid. If you arrive early, visit this first to get photographs while it’s still quiet. Then, make sure you explore all of the areas, including the ball court, El Caracol observatory, the Bonehouse, sacred cenote, and Temple of the Warriors to get a true picture of the magnificent Mayan site.
- Unlike some other Mayan archaeological sites, you can’t climb up any of the pyramids. The cenotes at Chichen Itza were used as a site for religious ceremonies and human sacrifices, so even if the water at the sacred cenote was less green I still wouldn’t fancy taking a dip in it, knowing that hundreds of years ago people were thrown in! Still bring your swimsuit though, you can make use of many other cenotes nearby.
Coba Entry Fee: $65 MXN ($4 USD)
Opening Hours: 8am – 5pm
From the top of Coba’s ancient pyramid, the jungle looks like a living green carpet.
120 steps lead up to the top of the Nohoch Mul pyramid, and reaches 137 feet in height. This is the tallest temple pyramid on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Coba’s claim to fame is the largest network of stone causeways in the ancient Mayan world, called sacbes (white roads). Over 50 of these roads have been discovered at the site, with 16 of them open to the public. There are three ways to explore the ruins along these roads.
You can walk, hire a bici taxi, or like we did, rent a bike!
Because Coba doesn’t see as much tourism as places like Chichen Itza or the ruins of Tulum, you can actually still climb some of the structures including the tallest pyramid for a totally different and unique perspective. If you get the opportunity to do this, I advise you do, because in my opinion I don’t think this will be allowed for much longer – for 2 important reasons – wear and tear to the structure & safety. You do need to be a bit brave, climbing up you only have the assistance of a large rope, and if its crowded on the climb it can get a bit nervewracking. Be careful climbing down the pyramid, it’s more difficult than going up!
Tip: If the largest pyramid is too much for you to considering climbing, there are smaller ones like below scattered all around the site too.
Tulum Entry Fee: $70 MXN ($3.50 USD)
Opening Hours: 8am – 5pm
Tulum is about 40 minutes from Coba, so if you started early you could possibly do both in one day trip.
This ancient walled city perched on the edge of a cliff in Quintana Roo overlooking the Caribbean ocean in Mexico is quite a sight in person. Tulum’s original Maya name, Zamá translates as “place of the dawning sun.” This is because it has a perfect view of the rising sun!
Tulum is quite different from other Mayan sites in that the ruins are situated on 12-meter (39 ft) cliffs overlooking the ocean. At one time you could climb the pyramids, but that’s no longer the case.
There is a secret beach here too, right below the main pyramid structure. It is a secluded beach, so idyllic and you can actually swim here as the sea isn’t rough – so make sure to bring your swimsuit with you!
Theres a small wooden stair access down from the cliffs – keep an eye out for the many iguanas who call these cliffs home!!
Once upon a cenote….
No visit to Coba would be complete without taking a dip in the refreshing limestone cenotes nearby. Cenotes are underground sinkholes filled with fresh water, found all over and known as the best ruins in Yucatan. The cenote meaning to the Mayan people was so sacred that they believed that cenotes were the crossroads to the underworld. It is also believed that some Gods resided in these underwater caves. Cenotes were highly significant as they were one of the only sources of water, plus they were also used for sacrifices to please the Gods and bring good fortune. The Cenotes are still sacred to the Mayan people today, meaning most cenotes are closed off from public use.
The Gran Cenote entrance fee is MX$180 (or $10,
Gran Cenote is only 5 kilometres away from Tulum town centre, on the highway leading to Coba, making it the perfect day trip from Tulum.
8 am to 4.45 pm (the final entry is at 4.15 pm
- Gran Cenote is known to be one of the most expensive cenotes in the area
- Many visitors come to Gran Cenote, including tours, and it can get very crowded
It’s actually made of multiple cenote caves. But don’t expect something huge: the area that’s not underground is not that big, and I’m sure it quickly looks crowded.
Nicte-Ha is a lesser-known cenote and never gets overcrowded, but going early in the morning means you might actually be able to avoid any groups and have the cenote all for yourself – we did! Around the cenote is very lush, with tons of vegetation growing in and out the cenote, and somehow it seems like you’re swimming ina secret garden.
Swimming/Snorkeling: The oils from human hands and certain elements in lotions and repellents can severely damage this natural growth process and also harm the fish. Some cenotes will require you to shower before entering and you may also like to get a biodegradable sunscreen.
- Scuba Diving:You MUST dive with an experienced guide in the cenotes of Tulum so you don’t get lost. It’s quite dangerous; people have got lost in the many tunnels and drowned inside. You’ve been warned.
- Free Diving:Never lose sight of the cave entrance unless you are following a line. The complex cave systems of the cenotes are extremely easy to get lost in, it is not worth the risk.
With a lifespan of 70-100 years, the average adult size being almost ten meters long and weighing around nine tone – these majestic creatures truly are some of the most amazing animals you could encounter in the water.
Whale sharks range in size, with the average adult size being almost ten meters long and weighing around nine tonne! Their mouth, one of the most impressive features, can span almost 1.5m wide (5ft), containing up to 350 rows of teeth that work to filter plankton from the water. don’t let the ‘shark’ name put you off, whale sharks pose no threat to humans and feed almost strictly on plankton. They are docile, shy animals that are safe to swim with.
Whale sharks are found closer to the equator, as they prefer warmer, tropical waters.
Swimming with whale sharks is becoming an increasingly popular tourist activity around the world. Unfortunately, with the sudden rise in popularity, this often mean sustainable and ethical practices are bypassed in order to make a quick tourist dollar. Whale shark tours that involve feeding, touching or disturbingthe natural environment of these majestic animals means that whale shark populations around the world are suffering at the hands of tourists wanting to interact with them. Ecotourism in Mexico has been on the rise, with more and more companies prioritising animal welfare over profit.
The whale shark season in southern Mexico is between the months of June-August. During this time whale sharks migrate off the coast of Cancun near an island called Isla Mujeres. It’s an incredible experience and the whale sharks naturally come together along with manta rays. During this time of year there are hundreds in the area.
We booked our tour with a company called Cancun Adventures.
While we were being transported to the harbor, the tour guides took the time to educate the group on the whale shark and explained what makes them so special.
They expressed great respect for the animals and made it clear that rules and limits were in place to ensure that future generations would have the opportunity to experience this adventure.
The tour operators insisted that sunscreen was not allowed on the boat due to its contamination of the water and particularly plankton, the main food source for the whale sharks. They only allowed two people, plus one guide, in the water at a time.
*TOP TIPS FOR SIGHTSEEING : Go prepared! – the atmosphere here is very different to poolside at your hotel! It is intensely HUMID – ensure you bring an umbrella for shade, water, and plenty of mosquito repellant !