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), Punta Cancún, Isla Mujeres, Playa 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:
|💎 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
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. 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.
This is also an all-inclusive area due to its high concentrations of exclusive resorts and hotels. All the hotels are new and their facilities are all that any guest would want.
It is also one of safest neighborhood in Cancun for tourists. It regularly patrolled by polices, populated with tourist by day and well-lit with bars and clubs by night. 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. it is pacjed with luxury hotels, fine dining restaurants, nightclubs, golf courses, malls, as well as white sand and turquoise waters beaches.
The North Hotel Zone is the closest part of the Hotel Zone to El Centro and the nightlife area of Punta Cancún. The beacheshave 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 that is close to the Punta Nizuc and the 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.
By day, guests can enjoy a range of water sports, 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.
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 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.
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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- Best Cheap Hotels In Cancun
2. El Centro (Downtown)
El Centro, or Downtown is located only 20 minute drive by car from Hotel Zone. Downtown is best place to book a hotel if you want the authentic feel of Mexico, and budget friendly accommodation.
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 is one of safest neigborhoods in Cancun. It is populated by tourist. The streets are patrolled by security guard, and the beaches are also patrolled by lifeguards.
You can explore the Parque las Palapas, the city’s main square where locals and tourists hang out. You will find many food stalls that sell homemade ice cream, marquesitas, chicarones, and churros.
Avenida Tulum is the main street of Downtown where you can find many malls such as the Plaza Las Americas Mall, Puerto Cancun Marina Town Center, Shops Cancun.
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 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 Malecon Tajamar. You can take a stroll 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 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.
Best places to stay in Cancun downtown:
- luxury ($$$): Capital O Cancun Ocean View, Cancún
- mid-range ($$): Adhara Hacienda Cancun
- budget ($): Nomads Hotel & Rooftop Pool Cancun
3. Punta Cancún
Basically part of North Hotel Zone, Punta Cancun, is the best area to stay in Cancun for nightlife. The area is packed with bars, clubs, and restaurants. Here, you will find famous clubs at Forum by the Sea like Coco Bongo, Mandala, Senor Frog’s, Cabana Beach, and The City.
This areas is the best place for windsurfing. As many as 15 reefs in its waters make it also a great place for snorkeling. Those reefs are filled with colorful marine life to please your eye.
Here, you will find public beaches like Gaviota Azul Beach, Chac Mool Beach, and Tortugas Beach. Also close to La Isla Shopping Village, Plaza Kukulkan, and Plaza Forum Mall.
Best places to stay in Cancun in Punta:
- luxury ($$$): Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun
- mid-range ($$): Canopy By Hilton Cancun La Isla, Aloft Cancun
- budget ($): Beachscape Kin Ha Villas & Suites
4. Isla Mujeres
Located a 15-minute boat ride from Cancun, this offshore island is a fourth alternative if you decide on a holiday in Cancun. It is about 12 miles out into the Caribbean. Not surprisingly, it is not as busy as the Hotel Zone so is a good choice for a relaxing holiday.
Isla Mujeres is about 4 miles long and half a mile wide. It has beautiful turquoise blue waters, white-sand beaches, plenty of palm trees, and the chance to snorkel or zipline. Playa Norte (North Beach) is one of the best beaches in Mexico.
This island is a great place for families, especially those wanting to avoid the crowds. Isla Mujeres lacks for nothing. Its shopping developed with tourism in mind but it is still good.
On the southernmost part of the island, you will find Punta Sur Park where you can find Mayan ruins at Ruins of Ixchel Temple, trails, cliffs, and iguanas; and the Garrafon National Reef Park to explore the natural reefs.
Tortugranja turtle conservation center, MUSA Underwater Sculpture Museum, Hacienda Mundaca, Dolphin Discovery, and Parque de Los Sueños are also the must-see attractions in Isla Mujeres.
Local cuisine is readily available with seafood, caught that day, an obvious favorite. You will find some good pubs and clubs to try each night.
Best places to stay in Cancun Isla Mujeres:
- luxury ($$$): 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 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
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.
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 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.
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.