I have been visiting Cancun for 20 years and stayed almost everywhere from south in Tulum and Playa de Carmen, all the way up to the Hotel Zone, and out to Isla Mujeres. I have even explored the downtown area enough to show you all of the tricks to hacking Cancun, Here are a few money and time saving tips you need to know before you go.
Getting there – There are many ways to get around but most are pretty expensive. First time visitors end up cab riding everywhere but this really isn’t necessary and costs too much. Try this instead;
Before you go to the airport do a quick google search and check if your airport offers prepaid parking discounts. For Instance DFW offers 50% off parking if you go online and book at least 4 hours before your flight. That is a huge savings on a 5 day trip! Avoid the Uber and cab fares and try for discount parking.
Getting to your hotel when you get to Cancun International Airport. Before your flight you need to contact an online shuttle service 6 hours ahead of time to take you to your hotel for $9 a person. After you land and go through customs, you will be exiting the airport into a long hallway and out into a large bus and taxi stand parking area full of intimidating, loud, shouting drivers, tour operators and hustlers wanting your business to take you to your hotel at unfair prices. They are persistent as you exit the terminal, but just be cool and keep walking past them like you know what you are doing, because now you do! Walk to station #41 and tell them your name and reservation. They will escort you to your shuttle and put your bags up in the back. Now you are on your way!
While you are at the beach and resort you may want to venture out but don’t know how or where to go. Get $13 Pesos per person and simply walk out front of your resort to the main street and wait for a bus or white van and jump on. Seriously, it sounds really weird to most people but the drivers pick up tourists and locals alike taking them up and down the road all day and night. Because there is only 1 major road in the hotel zone and from Cancun to Tulum its pretty easy to ride up and back to your hotel as needed. Rides come every 2-5 minutes, usually and at all times of day and night. Its cheap and fun plus you get quite an adventure just jumping on. Go out for an evening or early morning while its still cooler/ish outside and explore downtown Cancun or Playa del Carmen or isla Mujeres little town if you aren’t staying too far away. Take an R1 or R2 bus up or down to Sedona Grill and go eat brunch if your in the hotel zone. This is the real Mexico and it should make your entire trip more authentic, fun, and exciting. Not to mention it only cost about $1.30 roundtrip to go check out a new town for a few hours.
Eating out – You are in the Yucatan. The cost of living is incredibly cheap here there should be many options around you to try the local food from the local people. I always try to venture into the local Mercado and look for street food stands or Loncherias nearby the markets and anything that draws crowds of locals. Usually street tacos and empanada stands are found on the edges of public parks or central basketball fields, opposite the beach side of each city, where its more local and less touristy.
Don’t ruin your trip with sunburn! Remember your sunscreen, at least spf 50 or even 70 is wise. It sounds like common sense but just be careful because you burn real quick down south of the border. Avoid peak hours of the sun if you aren’t use to it. Monitor your group for sunburn and reapply every few hours. Closer to the equator, the intense sun can burn you quicker than you might expect.