Cancún, a Mexican city on the Yucatán Peninsula bordering the Caribbean Sea, is known for its beaches, numerous resorts and nightlife. It’s composed of 2 distinct areas: the more traditional downtown area, El Centro, and Zona Hotelera, a long, beachfront strip of high-rise hotels, nightclubs, shops and restaurants. Cancun is also a famed destination for students during universities’ spring break period. My advice-don't go at Spring Break-Cancun is perched in a way that seems to allow it to hide from summer storms, too, so fall is really a great time to go even if the rest of the ocean islands seem under siege.
I send so many clients to Cancun, I had to check it out for myself-FINALLY! Cancun is an easy 3-hour nonstop flight from Denver, and boasts one of the largest selections of all-inclusive resorts on the planet. For landlocked Coloradoans, this is a big benefit for a quick beach getaway as long as you have a valid passport to travel to Mexico. While Mexico is full of beautiful places from the Yucatan to Cozumel, it seems most visitors choose the ease of an all-inclusive resort to make multi-generation families happy and party the night away. On this note, I should mention the stories you hear in the news about tainted alcohol and drunken mishaps leading to accidents and sometimes death are pretty rare in the grand scope of Mexican resort culture.
(Having said that, it is not easy as a tourist to access medical care while you are in Mexico, and even if you have insurance, plan to pay up with cash or credit card to get service even in the emergency room.)
Now, about Cancun-flying into the airport is really easy, and leaving the airport through the "timeshare sales tunnel" is also pretty easy-keep your head down and walk on to the outside curb area to find your van/shuttle/driver. If you've hooked up with transportation as part of your resort package, you'll have detailed instructions to access your driver.
Our agent group was sponsored by the Karisma Resort brands featuring multiple options for adults-only and family resorts, From their luxury adults-only El Dorado Maroma, Royale and Seaside Suites to their Generations and Azul properties. There is something for everyone at great price points. Karisma is also focused on the gourmet dining experience, so expect to dine well at on-site restaurants featuring everything from the expected multi-cuisine gourmet buffet to El Dorado Royale's Fuentes Culinary Theatre-like Iron Chef in action right to your plate.
Resort grounds, particularly the El Dorado resorts, are beyond amazing and lush with beautiful amenities and generally beautiful beaches. Beach size and quality varies with seaweed management frequently occurring on all beaches without protected reef barriers nearby to catch the water plants before they get to your toes. Activities on all resorts feature included non-motorized sports, but to se the sites beyond the resort wall (and literally there are sometimes barbed chain fences and high rock walls to prohibit criminal entry and activity) most tourists hook up with a tour provider like Amstar or Lomas Travel. For most first-time travelers, I never suggest renting a car in Mexico-let the guides do the driving. However, this is also a limiting factor as they are really only aligned with the biggest-still wonderful-tourist attractions, so if you are looking for a quiet off-the-beaten-path cenote pool in the middle of a jungle, find a car and take your chances as it's probably worth the experience!
There are multiple tours to multi-activity water parks like Xel-Ha, ancient Mayan ruins in Chichen-Itza, and day tours to outer islands to allow the full Cancun-and-surrounds experience. I would caution travelers to pay careful attention to tour descriptions, as some tours require you to find your own transportation (use your resort concierge to find a trusted taxi service) to the port of departure. If you really want to dive a little deeper into the local culture, try visiting Playa del Carmen, the local Riviera Maya town about an hour from Cancun to find local eateries and a party scene off the resort campus.
I plan to go back someday and dive deeper into the local culture and off-resort, and now I have plenty of first-hand options for my next stay-and yours!
Deirdre Oss is a veteran city planner, mother of two awesome teenagers, and wife to an amazing husband and travel partner. A city girl for generations, her home and heart are in Denver, Colorado with family and friends across the country and the pond. Over two decades working in city planning provided the foundation for her to explore different cities through the lens of community planning to create places for people to thrive in daily life and beyond. This perspective allows her to travel with an eye toward local economy, transit, and special neighborhoods that appeal to both residents and tourists.