If you’ve never traveled to Cancun before, you may be wondering what are some do’s and don’t while you are there. To be honest, there isn’t much to worry about. Mexicans are generally extremely easy going, caring and helpful people. If you have any questions, a local or resort staff member will help you in any way they can. However, it is always helpful to have a few “insider tips” before you travel. Here are a few things I think you should know, in order to make your trip to Cancun even more enjoyable:
1. DON’T exchange your home currency for pesos at the airport
It is entirely OK to tip hotel employees and tour guides in dollars everywhere in Cancun. However, it is much better (and sometimes the only acceptable way) to pay for meals and souvenirs in pesos. Don’t get ripped off by exchanging currency at the airport. Instead, visit one of the local ATM’s in centro (Banamex, Santander, and Bancomer are most popular). You will get a much better exchange rate this way. ATM’s in the Hotel Zone (HZ) often only dispense dollars or have a very poor exchange rate, so avoid using these, if possible.
2. DON’T avoid using the Spanish you know
A few words and phrases in Spanish go a long way and locals appreciate your attempt to practice. Even simple words like, “gracias” and “por favor” go a long way. Knowing how to ask where something is and greetings are an added bonus. Simple phrases will help out a lot when shopping, ordering unfamiliar foods, trying to describe a dietary restriction, etc. No one will make fun of your pronunciation, so don’t be intimidated.
3. DON’T miss your chance at haggling for goods
When shopping in a local souvenir market, haggling is expected. A good rule of thumb is if the shop is open-air, haggling is acceptable. Inside the shops, don’t expect to be able to haggle down goods with a set price, like alcohol. Also, avoid haggling in a store selling name brand goods. ALWAYS haggle in jewelry stores. While haggling is expected, don’t go so low that you are insulting; many of these goods took time to make.
4. DON’T go to restaurants you have at home
I really should not have to say this but please do not visit chain restaurants such as Hooter’s, Chili’s, McDonald’s, Ruth’s Chris, etc. when you are in Cancun. You can get those foods at home and let’s be honest, they aren’t even that good there. Instead, try some local flavors. I understand that you might not be comfortable trying the street food on your first visit but there are plenty of clean and affordable restaurants in Cancun. HZ prices are much higher than in Centro but you can find some nice upscale restaurants, like Porfirio’s and Lorenzillo’s. Just outside of the HZ, Nomads, Du Mexique and Peter’s Restaurant also offer an upscale experience with slightly lower prices. Of course, there are PLENTY of casual restaurants throughout the city for those looking to venture further. Ask a local to make some recommendations.
5. DON’T flush your toilet paper
The plumbing here is not the same as at home and toilet paper should not be flushed. The only exceptions to this are most of the all-inclusive resorts in the HZ. Perfectly fine (and encouraged) to flush there. In any other local establishments, please use the waste-basket.
6. DON’T expect everything to be like your home country
Things are done differently in Mexico. Don’t be alarmed to find that the police officers carry machine guns. Don’t be surprised if lunch isn’t offered until 2 PM. Don’t be surprised if you see recycling thrown in the trash. Don’t be alarmed by the lack of lines on the road. Don’t be surprised if a party goes on until 5 AM. These are all common things here and just a few of the many examples. Be flexible and adaptable and just enjoy your time getting to know a new place 🙂
7. DON’T forget sunscreen
The sun is nothing to mess with year-round in Cancun. Even in the winter months, the sun is strong enough to cause a severe burn. Take extra precaution during May-September and don’t spend more than a few hours at a time by the pool. Use high SPF sunscreen and re-apply often. If you can, purchase “reef-friendly” sunscreen, as the regular stuff has recently been attributed to causing disease in and killing sea life.
8. DON’T sit at the resort all day
Many travelers to Cancun opt to stay in all-inclusive resorts. While these resorts are great for helping you truly relax, without having to spend a fortune on added expenses, there are so many things outside their doors that you should experience. Take the ferry to Isla Mujeres, visit an eco-adventure park like XPLOR, climb the ruins of Coba, take a dip in a cenote, ride ATV’s, swim with whale sharks, etc. There are so many amazing things to do in the area that you are truly missing out if you don’t leave resort property. You can coordinate all of these tours and more with a reputable tour company, like Olympus Tours.
9. DON’T travel without travel insurance
While this goes for anywhere in the world, you do not want to travel to Mexico without travel insurance. If you were to get hurt here without travel insurance, you would be expected to pay for all of your services upfront. If you are unable to do so, you either won’t be treated or transferred to the public hospital, a trip you don’t want to make. Additionally, there are so many fun adventure activities in Cancun/Riviera Maya, like ziplining, snorkeling, climbing ruins and all it takes is a small slip to ruin your vacation. Any travel agent can sell you an insurance plan from a reputable company and the price is negligible compared to a hospital visit.
10. DON’T bother to rent a car
Driving in Cancun is not an easy thing to do. The lack of lines on the road and overall aggressiveness of driver’s, make driving conditions stressful for tourists. Not only that, rental cars are often targeted by the police as a quick source of cash. Instead, use hired transportation and if necessary, taxis. It is much more cost effective to hire a transfer company, such as Olympus Tours, to drive you to your hotel or resort than taking a taxi from the airport. Taxi’s here are not metered, so taxistas can get away with charging you a lot more than they should. Within the HZ, it is perfectly fine to use the local R1 or R2 bus to get around. To get from Cancun to Playa del Carmen or Tulum, use the ADO bus, not the collectivos, which get into a lot of accidents. Outside of the HZ, using a taxi to get from point to point is your best option – just be sure to agree on a price first!