Seemingly carved out of the jungle, Cancun sits at the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, twinkling with big resorts and a boisterous nightlife. Ancient Mayan ruins and beautiful palm-fringed beaches compete for your attention during the sun-soaked days. The nights steam up with delicious food, tantalizing cocktails and an array of clubs.
Before You Go: Need-to-know info
Entry requirement: Passport that’s valid for at least six months from the date of entry and a tourist card (usually included in the price of your flight)
Currency: The Mexican peso is the official currency, though US dollars are accepted at some places.
Flight time: 4 1/2 hours from New York City; 5 hours from LA; 4 hours from Chicago; 2 1/2 hours from Dallas
Getting around: Taxi and bus
When to Go: Cancun at its best
Best weather: Cancun is reputed to have an average of 253 sunny days a year. Trade winds temper the average 84-degree temperature. The rainy season runs from September through November, and hurricane season swirls from June to October.
Best prices: September to November (exact dates vary by hotel)
Festival highlights: Carnival rocks the city in February; the thee day Cancun Food & Wine Festival heats up March; Santo Christo de las Ampollas is celebrated with fireworks, dancing and music from late September to early October.
What to Do
Explore Mayan ruins: Cancun’s big resorts offer a comfortable nest from which to explore ancient Mayan ruins. The seaside Mayan city of Tulum is closest. Good day trips include Coba, a quiet site with towering temple pyramids, and Chichen Itza, a prominent city from the 8th to the 12th centuries. El Castillo, Chichen Itza’s pyramid centerpiece, is a must-see.
Cool beaches and hot nightlife: Masses of lively folks gather to soak up the sun on the ever-popular beaches along Cancun’s “Hotel Zone” — this is the place to grab a volleyball, learn to windsurf and browse the malls along the strip. For a more laid-back, oceanside experience, head over to the nearby beach at Akumal, a popular snorkel spot known for its cenotes (natural sinkholes), azure waters, and underwater caves and corals. When the sun slides out of sight, kick up your heels with the American party crowd at one of the many bars at the three-level Coco Bongo, or relax with cocktails and live music at Roots Jazz Club.
Go shopping: Colorful shopping stands can be found everywhere, but Ki Huic on Tulum Avenue in Cancun is the place to go for crafts. For silver, visit Flamingo Plaza and Plaza Caracol on Kukulcan Boulevard, Cancun’s main drag. Look for the “925” quality stamp, and don’t hesitate to bargain at outdoor markets.