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. As Cancun backpackers visiting Cancun on a budget we chose to stay in Downtown Cancun in an Airbnb which meant we got to experience Cancun on a budget and without the usual associated price tag and as budget backpackers heading to Cancun for one night that was always our intention.
HOW TO SPEND ONE NIGHT IN CANCUN ON A BUDGET
HOW TO DO 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.
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. My advice to anyone hoping to visit Cancun on a budget would be to not let it’s pricey reputation and 5 star exterior but you off.
If you are clever in what you do, you can easily do Cancun on a budget and very happily enjoy Cancun for cheap.
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 and 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.
AN INTRODUCTION TO BUDGET TRAVEL TO CANCUN
Cancun if you don’t already know is situated on Mexico’s Caribbean Yucatán Peninsula. Cancun’s Caribbean appearance and Mexican spirit have been attracting North American and European tourists for decades.
Cancun is usually considered one of the more luxury holiday destination, in North America and initially I was unsure that you could do Cancun on a backpacker budget. But after booking our Airbnb and getting to know our local hosts we realised you can in fact visit one of the world’s premier resorts on a budget.
By using a little intelligence and some backpacker savvy we arrived in Cancun from Cuba on a flight that cost around $90. Regular flights from Cuba 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.
HACKING CANCUN – WHERE TO STAY IN CANCUN ON A BUDGET
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. Here’s why;
The Zona Hotelera was created on this picturesque strip of Mexican Caribbean solely for tourism. 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, but that’s 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 and 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.
Downtown Cancun, on the other hand is where we stayed and as a budget traveller 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.
Looking for an amazing dive school in Playa del Carmen? Check out Halocline Divers
THINGS TO DO IN CANCUN ON A BUDGET
Although as previously mentioned The Zona Hotelera isn’t somewhere you’ll want to book your accommodation if you are travelling to Cancun on a budget, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend some time here.
BUDGET ACTIVITIES IN CANCUN
There are things you can do in Cancun on a budget and as a backpacker and 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.
- Hit the pristine beaches of the Zona Hotelera – take a bus from Downtown Cancun to this area and enjoy the resfly 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.
EXPLORING THE ZONA HOTELERA, CANCUN, MEXICO
|Every morning the hotels send someone out to scrape the seaweed into piles to make the beach more attractive|
Discover more from my On the road series
WHERE TO STAY IN CANCUN ON A BUDGET
The best types of budget accomodation in Cancun are the obvious ones. Look at older, dated hotels that may be offering cheaper rates against the bigger 5 star hotels. Also check out hostels as there are some available in Downtown Cancun.
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 meaning we 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 and local secrets. We found this to be essential to our budget stay in Cancun. If no Airbnb’s are available have a look for alternatives and house sitting/couchsurfing options.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM CANCUN’S NIGHTLIFE – SAFETY IN CANCUN
|One night in Cancun with our Airbnb hosts – Thanks!|
Getting to and from Cancun
Busses leave the airport regularly. Many 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. Busses in the Downtown Cancun area run all night to the Zona Hotelera but if you don’t fancy that taxis are also cheap in Mexico generally and Cancun is no different.
Sleeping in Cancun on a budget
Airbnb was our best choice for Cancun especially considering we were only spending one night. We didn’t have the budget to stay at a 5 star in the Zona Hotelera, check on Airbnb for a Cancun steal. If you plan on staying for one or two nights an Airbnb is probably the most budget friendly option.
Things to avoid in Cancun
‘Book now, we only have one seat left’ type scams. Everybody is going to Chichen Itza or Playa del Carmen. Everyone is going to try and get you to buy a ticket. Be smart and be savvy if it seems overpriced that’s because it is. Most things are in Cancun. Save Chichen Itza for Merida.