Where to stay in Cancun first time? for couples, families, backpackers, aldults, nightlife, all-inclusive? In this blog post, I will go over the best areas to stay in Cancun for tourists (include map and video), the advantage and disadvantage of each area, and safest places.
Cancun is a vibrant resort on the Mexican state of Quintana Roo on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula has grown enormously over the last three decades.
Its population has grown almost fivefold to three-quarters of a million in that time because of the basics of lovely climate, beautiful sand, and warm Caribbean waters.
Cancun is home to Cancun International Airport, which is the second largest airport in Mexico after Mexico City Airport. It is the gate way to travel to Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and other surrounding areas like Bacalar, Holbox, and Valladolid.
Cancun is generally a safe city for tourist with lower crime rates than many other places in Mexico. But as you travel to any city, you should use common sense, stay alert, don’t wander around to unfamilar places at nigh.
Cancun Hotel Zone is the safest place to stay in Cancun because it is the most famous tourist area with plenty of police and security cameras. Avoid less touristy area and the area in the outskirts of Cancun to ensure your safety.
Where to Stay in Cancun First Time?
The best areas to stay in Cancun for tourists and first-timers are Zona Hotelera, El Centro (Downtown Cancun), Punta Cancún, Isla Mujeres, Playa Mujeres (Costa Mujeres), Puerto Juarez, Puerto Morelos.
If you want a lively beachfront vacation, the Hotel Zone is the top choice. If you prefer a more authentic or peaceful experience, consider El Centro and Isla Mujeres.
In general, Cancun Hotel Zone, or Zona Hotelera, is the best area to stay in Cancun for first-timers. It is the tourist hub of the city that is not only home to some of the best all-inclusive hotels in North America, but also white sandy beaches, excellent restaurants, nightlife, and iconic sights.
El Centro, or Downtown Cancun, is more traditional area where local live. Downtown is cheaper than Hotel Zone both accommodations, foods, and drinks. Downtown is around 20 minute drive by car from Hotel Zone and there are frequent buses run between these two areas.
Isla Mujeres is good for families and certainly more tranquil. If you want to stay there, you need to accept it will take longer to get to your accommodation from the airport, and also to get back there. If you don’t mind that, the Isla is a good choice.
|💖 Best Area for first-timers:||Zona Hotelera|
|💎 Best luxury hotel:||Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun – All Inclusive|
|🏨 Best mid-range hotel:||Hyatt Ziva Cancun|
|💰 Best budget hotel:||Mayan Monkey Hotel & Hostel Cancun|
Overviews of best areas to stay in Cancun for tourists
Here is an overview of recommended areas in Cancun for first-time visitors:
|Best areas in Cancun for tourists||Why should you stay in this area?|
|Zona Hotelera||Pros: This is the most popular area for tourists. It’s a long strip of beachfront hotels, resorts, restaurants, and nightlife. The beaches are beautiful, and you’ll have easy access to water sports and activities.|
Cons: It can be crowded and more expensive than other areas. If you’re looking for a more authentic Mexican experience, you might find it lacking.
|El Centro (Downtown)||Pros: Staying in downtown Cancún allows you to experience local culture, markets, and authentic Mexican cuisine. It’s generally more budget-friendly than the Hotel Zone.|
Cons: You’ll need to take transportation to reach the beaches, and it’s not as luxurious as the Hotel Zone.
|Punta Cancún||Pros: This is the northernmost tip of the Hotel Zone and offers easy access to the nightlife and entertainment in the Hotel Zone. It’s a great location if you want to be close to the action.|
Cons: Prices can be higher, and it can get noisy due to the nightlife.
|Isla Mujeres||Pros: This is a peaceful and scenic island just a short ferry ride away from Cancún. It’s known for its beautiful beaches, clear waters, and relaxed atmosphere.|
Cons: Accommodations on the island can be limited and more expensive, and it’s not as convenient if you want to explore Cancún’s mainland.
|Playa Mujeres (Costa Mujeres)||Pros: This is a quieter area located north of the Hotel Zone. It’s home to luxury resorts and golf courses, making it a great choice for a tranquil and upscale getaway.|
Cons: It’s farther from the city center and may not have as many dining and entertainment options within walking distance.
|Puerto Juarez||Pros: This is a quieter and more local area in Cancún. It’s known for its seafood restaurants and proximity to the Isla Mujeres ferry terminal.|
Cons: It’s not as touristy, so you may have to rely on transportation to reach other attractions.
|Puerto Morelos||Pros: A charming coastal town located between Cancún and Playa del Carmen. It offers a laid-back atmosphere, a beautiful reef for snorkeling, and a quaint town center.|
Cons: It’s further from the Cancún airport and nightlife options can be limited.
Map of best areas and neighborhoods in Cancun for tourists:
Best Areas to Stay in Cancun for first-time tourists are:
1. Zona Hotelera
Zona Hotelera is the best place to stay in Cancun for tourist because it is the heart and soul of Cancun tourism, where you can find picture-postcard beaches, all inclusive luxury rerorts, as well as a fantastic array of restaurants, beach clubs, bars, cafés and shops. It is better to stay in Cancun Hotel Zone than Downtown if you want a tourist style resort with lots luxury hotels and fine dining.
Zona Hotelera is also best area to stay in Cancun all-inclusive because it has the highest concentrations of exclusive resorts and all-inclusive hotels in Cancun. All the hotels are new and their facilities are all that any guest would want.
Cancun Hotel Zone is without doubt the safest neighborhood in Cancun for tourist because it regularly patrolled by tourist police as well as it is populated with tourist by day and well-lit with bars and clubs by night. Violent crime are very low, but as in any tourist area, there is street crime, you should stay alert and keep value belongings at the hotel’s safe.
The Hotel zone is located between 10km to 25km from Cancun International Airport depend on where your hotel is located. it is around 12 to 25 minutes on a taxi ride.
Cancun Hotel Zone is a 22.5km long thin island with a “7” shape, that is faced the Caribbean Sea in one side and Nichupté Lagoon on another side. The Hotel Zone is packed with luxury all-inclusive hotels, fine dining restaurants, excellent nightclubs, golf courses, shopping malls, as well as white sand and turquoise waters beaches.
The North Hotel Zone is the top part of 7 and on Mujeres Bay. It is the closest part of the Hotel Zone to El Centro and the nightlife area of Punta Cancún. The beaches in the north have calm water and soft sand, good for families with small children.
Middle Hotel Zone is the busiest, with nightclubs, malls, and family-friendly attractions; and the South Hotel Zone is the most peaceful area near the Punta Nizuc and Cancun International Airport. South Hotel Zone is more relaxed are as it further away from nigthlife area of the north, the beach is safe to swim in parts, and in some part it has good wave for surfing.
Each hotel sits on the beach with crystal clear, turquoise, warm water, and white sand just a few steps away. By day, guests can enjoy a range of water sports while the clear blue water is great for snorkeling and scuba diving. Popular beaches are Dolphin Beach (Playa Delfines), Playa Marlin, Playa Ballenas, Playa Tortugas, and Playa Caracol.
Apart from virbant nightlife, Hotel Zone offer good shopping opportunity. There are several shopping centers such as La Isla Shopping Village, Luxury Avenue Boutique Mall, and Kukulcan Plaza, Marina Town Center.
Hotel Zone also boats the El Rey Archaeological Zone, Museo Maya de Cancún y Zona Arqueológica de San Miguelito, Interactive Aquarium Cancún, Cancún Underwater Museum, Cancun Golf Club at Pok Ta Pok, and Iberostar Cancun Golf Club.
The hotel zone is connected with to Downtown Cancun by Blvd. Kukulkan (Kukulkan Boulevard). To get to Hotel Zone from downtown you can take a taxi and bus. If you use taxi, you should be aware of the rates at taxi stands. There are two buses connecting with downtown Cancun including R1 route link to Avenue Tulum, the ADO bus station and R2 is the loop route on Avenues Coba, Xcaret, and the Hotel Zone.
Stay in Zona Hotelera if you are a first-time traveler to Cancun; you want vibrant nightlife; you want a wide range of tourist amenities; you love beautiful beaches; you want a safe neighborhood; you want all inclusive area.
Best places to stay in Cancun Hotel Zone:
- luxury ($$$): Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun – All Inclusive
- luxury ($$$): Nizuc Resort & Spa
- mid-range ($$): Hyatt Ziva Cancun
- budget ($): Mayan Monkey Hotel & Hostel Cancun
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2. El Centro (Downtown)
El Centro, or Downtown Cancun is located only 20 minute drive by car from Cancun Hotel Zone. Cancun Downtown is best place to book a hotel if you want the authentic feel of Mexico, and you travel on a budget.
Downtown is home to the locals, more of whom are directly employed in tourism than anything else. There are plenty of restaurants serving local Mexican cuisine as they have for years. It is a place with plenty of variety with artisan crafts and clothing that will remind tourists of their holiday. Plenty of bars are found in El Centro as well.
Downtown along with Cancun Hotel Zone is one of safest neigborhoods in Cancun because it is populated by tourist. The streets are patrolled by security guard, and the beaches are also patrolled by lifeguards.
Cancun Downtown is home to Parque las Palapas. It is the main square in the city where locals and tourists hang out. You will find many food stalls that sell local cuisines like homemade ice cream, marquesitas, chicarones, and churros. The park is more lively on weekend. Take a stroll along the park, or grab a meal at one of its surrounding area.
If you walk from Parque las Palapas, you will reach Tulum Avenue, Avenida Yaxchilan, and Mercado 28 (Market 28). Avenida Tulum is the main street of Downtown Cancun. It is home to some shopping center like Plaza Las Americas Mall, Puerto Cancun Marina Town Center, Shops Cancun, Hallmark Shop, and Skills Grafitti Shop. There are also numerous of cultural and historical attractions on this street including the Monumento a la Historia de México, the Fuente del Ceviche, City Hall, and the Palacio Municipal.
The lively street of Yaxchilan Avenue offers a great nightlife scene. It is lined with Karaoke joints, sports bars, bars with live music, and traditional Mexican restaurants. You can have your dinner at La Parrilla or Los Arcos, and some beers at La Taberna.
If you want to grab some Cancun souvenirs, head to Mercado 28, a long-running flea market located at Plaza San Miguel. There are also a bunch of restaurants and street-food vendors for traditional Yucatan meals.
Another place of interest is the beautiful waterfront neighborhood of Malecon Tajamar. You can take a stroll along an amazing walkway along the Nichupte Lagoon. In addition, Malecon Americas Shopping Center offer a modern open-air vibe where shoppers can grab an ice cream or a meal at one of its many eateries.
Downtown Cancun is ideal location for budget travelers and backpackers because it offers much cheaper accommodations, restaurants, and bars, than in Hotel Zone.
There are buses and taxis to take anyone using El Centro as a base to the nearest beaches. With the ADO bus station, you can easily travel to Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Chichén Itzá in colonial Valladolid.
Stay in El Centro if you want a real feel of Mexico; you travel on a budget; this is you first time visiting Cancun;
Best places to stay in Cancun downtown:
- luxury ($$$): Capital O Cancun Ocean View, Cancún
- mid-range ($$): Adhara Hacienda Cancun
- budget ($): Nomads Hotel & Rooftop Pool Cancun
3. Punta Cancún
Basically part of North Hotel Zone, Punta Cancun, is the best area to stay in Cancun for nightlife because it seems to never sleep! The neighborhood is packed with wild bars, exciting clubs, thrilling entertainment, and restaurants. Here, you will find famous clubs at Forum by the Sea like Coco Bongo, Mandala, Senor Frog’s, Cabana Beach, and The City.
It would be wrong to sleep all day in Punta, even with a spot on the beach. This is the best place for windsurfing. As many as 15 reefs in its waters make it also a great place for snorkeling. Those reefs are filled with colorful marine life to please your eye.
Here, you will find public beaches like Gaviota Azul Beach, Chac Mool Beach, and Tortugas Beach. Also close to La Isla Shopping Village, Plaza Kukulkan, and Plaza Forum Mall.
Stay in Punta Cancún if you are a party animal, into great nightlife, you want to be close to plenty of bars and restaurants, you enjoy windsurfing and snorkeling.
Best places to stay in Cancun in Punta:
- luxury ($$$): Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun
- mid-range ($$): Canopy By Hilton Cancun La Isla, Aloft Cancun
- budget ($): Beachscape Kin Ha Villas & Suites
4. Isla Mujeres
Located a 15-minute boat ride from Cancun, this offshore island is a fourth alternative if you decide on a holiday in Cancun. It is about 12 miles out into the Caribbean. Not surprisingly, it is not as busy as the Hotel Zone so is a good choice for a relaxing holiday.
Isla Mujeres is about 4 miles long and half a mile wide. It has beautiful turquoise blue waters, white-sand beaches, plenty of palm trees, and the chance to snorkel or zipline. Playa Norte (North Beach) is one of the best beaches in Mexico.
This island is a great place for families, especially those wanting to avoid the crowds who can tend to be noisy, especially at night. Isla Mujeres lacks for nothing. Its shopping developed with tourism in mind but it is still good.
On the southernmost part of the island, you will find Punta Sur Park where you can find Mayan ruins at Ruins of Ixchel Temple, trails, cliffs, and iguanas; and the Garrafon National Reef Park to explore the natural reefs.
Tortugranja turtle conservation center, MUSA Underwater Sculpture Museum, Hacienda Mundaca, Dolphin Discovery, and Parque de Los Sueños are also the must-see attractions in Isla Mujeres.
Local cuisine is readily available with seafood, caught that day, an obvious favorite. You will find some good pubs and clubs to try each night.
Stay in Isla Mujeres if you prefer a quiet location with sightseeing, you are traveling as a family, local cuisine, especially seafood, is a ‘’must’’ on holiday, you still want plenty of choice at night, you don’t mind a longer transfer than other districts as long as the final base is good.
Best places to stay in Cancun Isla Mujeres:
- luxury ($$$): Izla Beach Front Hotel
- luxury ($$$): Ixchel Beach Hotel
- mid-range ($$): Privilege Aluxes Adults Only
- budget ($): Nomads Hotel & Beachclub
5. Playa Mujeres (Costa Mujeres)
Located only 20 minutes north of Cancun and in front of Isla Mujeres, Playa Mujeres (also known as Costa Mujeres) is both luxurious and exclusive. The whole setting is exotic and ideal for a relaxing time during which your every need will be satisfied. The resorts all take advantage of the clear blue waters, lovely climate, and equally impressive white sandy beaches.
Only the finest chefs can compete in this competitive atmosphere as clients only expect the best. This is in terms not only of cuisine but recreational facilities, golf, and water-based, spa and leisure amenities, and shopping.
If you are interested in history and archaeology, the Yucatan Peninsula has all you could want but back at base on a resort in Playa Mujeres, just relax and enjoy.
Playa Mujeres boasts a Punta Sam ferry terminal where you can catch the ferry to Isla Mujeres with several trips throughout the day. There is also an academy Rafa Nadal Tennis Center for tennis lovers and Playa Mujeres Golf Club for golf enthusiastic.
Playa Mujeres is also close to El Meco Archaeological Site, Isla Blanca, and Puerto Juárez
Stay in Playa Mujeres if your expectation is that your every need is satisfied, you’re looking for a romantic holiday, you want fine cuisine and are happy to pay for it, your budget allows you to choose the best local resorts.
Best places to stay in Cancun in Playa Mujeres:
- luxury ($$$): Atelier Playa Mujeres-All Inclusive Resort
- mid-range ($$): 2 Bedroom Condo with beach club at The Amada
- budget ($): Sea by C Apartments
6. Puerto Juarez
If you like the idea of Cancun but prefer to avoid the worst crowds, take a look at Puerto Juarez. It is just 2 miles to the north of the action on the road to Punta Sam. It is the place where you can take a ferry to Isla Mujeres but it is much more than that.
Puerto Juarez has a good choice of cheap accommodation while the rustic restaurants fit in well with the relatively quiet beaches and relaxed atmosphere. The seafood is probably the first thing you should look at on local menus.
The medium-sized marina has mega-yachts, standard yachts, and boats. If you want to enjoy time in the Caribbean as well as water sports, Puerto Juarez gives you the opportunity.
Stay in Puerto Juarez if You want to avoid the busiest crowds, A relaxed atmosphere is a priority, You have a love of fresh seafood, Time on the sea appeals to you.
Best places to stay in Cancun near Puerto Juarez:
- luxury ($$$): Dreams Vista Cancun Golf & Spa Resort
- mid-range ($$): Tu Casa en el Caribe
- budget ($) Lenderman B&B
7. Puerto Morelos
Puerto Morelos is a small town, just 20 minutes south of Cancun International Airport. Its beaches are very good and it is the same clear and warm Caribbean Sea. One advantage it has over Cancun’s most popular district, the Hotel Zone, is that it is quieter. There are still quality hotels and everything a tourist might want on their holiday.
Another advantage is its proximity to Mayan ruins. The Botanical Gardens and a number of cenotes are other attractions. Several of the cenotes are suitable for swimming. Puerto Morelos National Park has an offshore reef filled with colorful marine life.
Puerto Morelos can claim to still be a fishing village so there are no prizes for guessing what you should eat when you sit down for dinner.
Stay in Puerto Morelos if you want a feel of local life in Mexico, you enjoy local cuisine, especially seafood, you want to avoid busy and noisy districts, you are comfortable with a longer transfer than other districts if the place is right.
Best places to stay in Cancun in Puerto Morelos:
- luxury ($$$): Catalonia Playa Maroma – All Inclusive
- luxury ($$$): Now Jade Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa – All Inclusive
- mid-range ($$): Vela’s Condos Ocean Front
- budget ($): Casa Boutique Hokhmah
Check out my virtual tour about the best areas to stay in Cancun:
Where should I stay in Cancun Downtown or Hotel Zone?
Stay in Hotel Zone is you are first-timers, you want a tourist style area with lots of all-inclusive hotels, white sandy beaches, high-end shopping, fine dining, and vibrant nightlife. Stay in Downtown Cancun if you want more of a authentic local experience and you are travel on a budget.
What is safest area to stay in Cancun?
Hotel Zone is the safest area to stay in Cancun because it is the tourist hub of the city that is always populated with tourist by day and well-lit by night. In addition, it is regularly patrolled by tourist police.
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In conclusion, Zona Hotelera, El Centro (Downtown), Punta Cancún, Isla Mujeres, Playa Mujeres (Costa Mujeres), Puerto Juarez, Puerto Morelos are the best places to stay in Cancun for tourists and first-time travelers.
Overall, Zona Hotelera is the best and safest area to stay in Cancun for first-timers. It is the tourist hub of the city, offering plenty of all-inclusive hotels, white sandy beaches, high-end shopping, fine dining, and virbant nightlife.
Meanwhile, if you want more of a authentic local experience and you are travel on a budget, it’s best to stick to Downtown Cancun. Downtown offers cheaper accommodation, foods, and drinks compared with Hotel Zone.