This is how to spend one night in Cancun on a budget. Well, two nights if you include the extra night taken to get over my Cancun nightlife induced hangover.
Cancun as a backpacker destination is very much a tale of two cities. I’d heard this a lot prior to my visit and after seeing the contrasting Zona Hotelera and Downtown Cancun I now fully understand the meaning.
You can do one night in Cancun on a limited budget, but there are a few tricks you’ll need to consider first.
Cancun on a budget
The words Cancun and budget aren’t always used together in the same sentence but it is definitely possible if you do your research and stay clear of those obviously obvious tourist traps.
Where is Cancun?
Cancun if you don’t already know is situated on Mexico’s Caribbean Yucatán Peninsula. It’s a year round popular tourist destination due to it’s climate and geography.
Cancun’s Caribbean appearance and Mexican spirit have been attracting North American and European tourists for decades.
Resorts in Cancun are usually considered on the luxury side and that’s why most people believe you can’t do Cancun on a budget.
We arrived in Cancun from Cuba. Regular flights from Havana arrive in Cancun on a weekly basis. If you are interested in figuring out some cheap routes through Central America this one is certainly worth considering. Flights cost between $90 – $150.
Travelling in Mexico
Mexico as a country is generally very cheap to travel. I spent 5 weeks in total in Mexico, but Cancun is one of the priciest and most popular of the famous Mexico beach resorts.
If you are clever in what you do, you can easily do Cancun on a budget and very happily enjoy Cancun for cheap. This is why we decided to spend one night in Cancun.
It’s hard to picture Cancun if you haven’t experienced it first hand. We had fresh eyes arriving from a country like Cuba that’s everything Cancun is not.
Our bus from the airport took us through this capitalist heaven as we passed advertisement after advertisement on the side of the road.
During this time I knew my experience with Cancun would be love and hate. As someone visiting Cancun on a budget I think I’ll definitely return on a seperate trip to experience Cancun without the budget backpacker status.
Cancun is very different to the rest of Mexico. But Cancun was my first stop in Mexico and I knew I’d be spending one or two nights before moving on to Merida and Chichen Itza.
Getting to and from Cancun
From the airport it is pretty easy to get to Cancun on a budget. Busses leave the airport regularly.
Most of these busses are heading to the main bus terminal in Downtown Cancun if you don’t have a transfer. Tickets are easily bought from any of the retailers in the airport.
You can also grab currency and other travel essentials here, perfect if you only plan to spend one night in Cancun before moving on.
Where to stay in Cancun on a budget
As backpackers visiting Cancun on a budget we chose to stay in Downtown Cancun in an Airbnb. This meant we got to experience Cancun on a budget and without the usual associated price tag.
We booked out Airbnb prior to arriving in Cancun and managed to make a major saving because of this. Our hosts are Cancun locals and as locals knew all the best budget tips for our time in Cancun.
The best types of budget accommodation in Cancun are the obvious ones. Look at older, dated hotels that may be offering cheaper rates against the bigger 5 star hotels.
The best option for budget accomodation in Cancun for us was using an AirBnB. Although it was basic we were able to stay in Cancun for two nights for very little. This meant wee could spend our budget on more important things aka. food and drink.
One of the joys of staying in an Airbnb with a host is that you have an unlimited resource of insider knowledge.
We found this to be essential to our budget stay in Cancun. If no Airbnb’s are available have a look for alternatives like couch surfing.
The Zona Hotelera, Cancun
If you know someone who’s been to Cancun then you have probably heard of The Zona Hotelera. The Zona Hotelera is a thin strip of jam-packed sand with the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Laguna de Nichupte on the other.
This is where you’ll find absolutely all of the famed 5 star boutique and luxury spa hotels that usually spring to mind when you think of Cancun.
The Zona Hotelera is not where you’ll be staying if you choose to visit Cancun on a budget.
As The Zona Hotelera and the resort of Cancun is Mexico’s oldest and most successful tourism project and easily one of Mexico’s biggest economic triumphs. This is due to the number of tourists that are attracted to this little spot.
If you want to visit Cancun and stay in one of these resorts that’s fine. You’ll have an incredible time, but you’ll need to be aware that you are part of Mexico’s little economic plan as prices within this area don’t reflect the rest of Mexico.
As mentioned Downtown Cancun, is where we stayed and as a budget traveller. It’s the only place you should consider when thinking about where to stay in Cancun.
The Downtown Cancun area is where I would recommend all budget travellers visiting Cancun to stay. Downtown Cancun is much less glamorous, but it is where the locals live and the real authentic Mexico exists.
From Downtown Cancun it’s only a short inexpensive bus ride to The Zona Hotelera but it worked out perfect for us spending a couple of nights in Cancun on budget.
Busses in the Downtown Cancun area run all night to the Zona Hotelera. If you don’t fancy that taxis are also cheap in Mexico generally and Cancun is no different.
Things to do in Cancun on a budget
Although you won’t be staying in The Zona Hotelera in Cancun it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit. Most of the best things to do in Cancun are located in this popular tourist area.
There are things you can do in Cancun on a budget and as a backpacker. As a lover of budget travel it’s always good to know where to find these budget activities in Cancun.
Whether you want to enjoy the beach or explore some of the city a little further there is something for even the most frugal backpacker in Cancun.
The best things to do in Cancun include;
- Hit the pristine beaches of the Zona Hotelera – take a bus from Downtown Cancun to this area and enjoy the fresfly cleaned beaches and incredible clear blue waters. There is public access to the beaches along this strip and once you have access to one beach you have access to them all.
- Nightlife and drinking – it’s Cancun, partying has to be incorporated into your trip and believe it or not there are budget options here for partying. Buy one of the all you can drink nightlife passes from one of the lesser known clubs for $30-$50 and drink the night away. (Stay clear of the bigger clubs such as Coco Bongo if you are on a strict budget).
- Eating traditional – Although most of the top restaurants in The Zona Hotelera are out of your price range this doesn’t mean you can’t eat traditional Mexican food. In Downtown Cancun you’ll find all the tacos you could ever eat in small typical Mexican restaurants and classic food stalls.
- Taking excursions – Maybe you don’t want to take an organised excursion to Playa del Carmen, Chichen Itza or Isla Cozumel but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take unorganised excursions. Utilise the amazing transport options in Cancun and use better value public transport to visit all the tourist favourites from Cancun.
- Explore by car – It might be worth checking out some budget car rental options in Cancun if you wish to do a little more exploring.
- Diving is a big one in Cancun, but it can be a little cheaper to travel to the nearby Playa del Carmen for diving and check out Halocline Divers.
The nightlife in Cancun is definitely something I would recommend all tourists spending one night in Cancun to experience. As mentioned earlier there are budget ways to enjoy the nightlife available to tourists in Cancun.
Most bars in Cancun have drinks offers and deals and all bars and restaurants have a happy hour. One of the best ways to enjoy Cancun on a budget especially when it comes to nightlife is by exploiting these offers.
The majority of bars offer all you can drink options and some even allow girls to drink for free on certain nights of the week (Ladies Night).
Ladies nights are very common across Latin America and as a budget traveller in Cancun it’s probably worth figuring out when the best nightlife promotions and deals are on ahead of your visit.
Safety in Cancun
Experience a Vegas style strip with all the novelty and fun you can dream off. Ibiza meets Vegas is what I kept thinking as I wandered the crowded drunken streets.
I didn’t feel unsafe in Cancun during the evenings. because I was always in a group of four. I can’t speak for all round safety in Cancun and the Zona Hotelera.
Like with any tourist resort in Latin America it is very easy to find drugs, prostitutes and trouble in a resort like Cancun.
It is also very easy to get arrested as Mexico’s stance on the war on drugs remains unchanged over the last few years.
Be wary of who you speak to in Cancun. If a friendly local wants to sell you drugs be cautious of your response. Generally speaking most of these people will be police officers.
Bribes and robbery do occur in Mexico and in Cancun too. It’s always advised when travelling this area that you take care of your valuables and stay cautious of trouble especially when you are drunk.
Where to eat and drink in Cancun on a budget
When you are visiting Cancun on a budget you will want to spend some time in The Zona Hotelera. This is where a lot of the budget eats and bars can be found believe it or not.
Within The Zona Hotelera in Cancun there’s bars and clubs, souvenir and clothing shops, hundreds of hotels. Basically every other possible convenience you would require.
Almost everything in The Zona Hotelera, Cancun is open 24 hours . This is for tourists convenience.
You’ll find loads of places to eat including McDonalds, Subway, KFC and some popular Tex-Mex fast food chains. These are always a good shout for eating on a budget.
You can also eat for very cheap in Downtown Cancun. There are a lot of traditional Mexican taco stands where you can grab a lot of food for a very low cost.
You will also find Oxxo’s everywhere in Mexico. Oxxo’s is a chain of petrol stations where you can grab cheap food and booze in Cancun and throughout Mexico.
A 20-something travel blogger based in Liverpool. Covering all things from Latin America to Liverpool local guides and everything in between.