I had never dreamt of travelling to Cancun. But our friends were getting married in Playa del Carmen and our trip to Mexico had to start in Cancun. Before my trip, I really wondered why Cancun is so popular. I was sure I was going to hate it. But I was surprised to have a great time in Cancun despite all the negative comments I initially heard about it.
So, why is Cancun so popular? Find out more about why I thought I’d hate it but ended up loving it!
Why I should have hated Cancun
1. Cancun is popular for its luxurious accommodations and all-inclusive resorts.
But they make Cancun an example of unsustainable tourism. I studied and always promote sustainable tourism, and Cancun is the opposite of it. When you look at the Yucatan Peninsula or even just Cancun, it was a stunning jungle before tourism exploded in the 80s. Nature got destroyed to build massive all-inclusive resorts along the coast. These all-inclusive resorts bring environmental challenges, but also social challenges. It’s hard to ensure they support the local economy and create good opportunities for local inhabitants.
I really do not like all-inclusive resorts. I feel like you lose a lot of freedom when you pay for everything in advance while travelling. It’s also so much better to spend money with various small businesses rather than all the holiday money going to one big hotel. I could not imagine travelling to a foreign country and not trying the local food in an authentic restaurant that locals visit too.
Responsible travel tip: Buy local where possible when you travel. It supports the local community and creates positive impacts from tourism. Plus, you often get a more authentic experience that will make your trip memorable.
2. Cancun is reputed for its parties.
For many people, Cancun = Spring Break.
It had been a while since we had gone to a nightclub, and we had no intention of going again soon. The only party we had planned during our holidays was our friends’ wedding night. So we were really not attracted to Cancun’s notorious nightlife reputation, on the contrary.
3. Visitors love Cancun beaches and the warm climate.
It’s not at all that I hate beaches and warm climate. That’s why I live in Brisbane, the capital of the Sunshine State in Australia, where we have some of the world’s most stunning beaches. But when most visitors talk about the beaches and the warm climate that make Cancun a popular destination, it wasn’t enough to make me excited to go there. I hate the idea of travelling far away from home to end up in a place that feels just like home.
4. You cannot always trust the police in Cancun.
When you drive in Cancun, you may get stopped by the police and given a fine… for no reason. They’d say you’re speeding or didn’t stop at a sign, but you know it’s not true. It’s happened to a few travellers I know, and it happened to us while we drove south of the Yucatan Peninsula. They often target rental cars going back to the airport. They know travellers can’t afford to miss their flight and become easy targets.
We were lucky to avoid having to pay the bribe. Thanks to our French passports, we could pretend we could not really speak English and could not understand what they wanted. Also, we could show we did not have cash (it helped to have a wallet with our coins and keep our notes somewhere else!). We also had all the time in the world when they stopped us, so it created memories but no real stress.
Why I loved Cancun
1. We stayed downtown and had an authentic local experience.
We decided to stay away from the most touristy spots in Cancun. We avoided the popular hotel area on the peninsula. Instead, we found an Airbnb downtown and got local advice to eat at local, small restaurants. It wasn’t easy to pick the right food as no one would speak English and our Spanish was rusty, but it was part of the experience. We shared a few laughs, had a few surprises and had a great, authentic dinner.
The next day, we had breakfast at Fresco Habito, a popular vegan restaurant with smoothies and bowls. Delicious.
2. I visited for the first time an underwater museum.
We didn’t stay in Cancun for the day and decided to enjoy its ecotourism attraction instead. The Cancun Underwater Museum (MUSA) is fun to visit and a great initiative to reduce visitors’ negative impacts on nearby corals.
3. The Cancun region offers many activities for nature lovers.
Except for the night of the wedding, our trip to Cancun was not about partying or staying on the beach at all. We found a lot of other activities to keep us busy. The richness of things to do in the Cancun region is impressive. By no doubt, it’s one of the main reasons why Cancun is so popular.
We spent two weeks around the Yucatan Peninsula and visited stunning places. A few of them can be done as a day trip from Cancun, but we preferred to leave the city behind and experience smaller towns too (Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Xcalac, Cozumel).
We particularly love outdoor adventures and the Cancun region had a lot to offer. From snorkelling in Tulum, diving cenotes, seeing a pink lake with flamingoes (Rio Largarto) and swimming with whale sharks, there’s really a lot to do for nature lovers in the Cancun Region.
3. There’s also a lot of cultural history in the Cancun region.
Some of the world’s most important archaeological sites are only a day trip from Cancun. It’s fascinating to explore Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza, Coba or Tulum (just to name a few) and imagine how life was back then.
If you prefer to stay in Cancun, the Museo Maya offers a great overview of Mayan history, Mayan art and Mayan archaeology. A short walk from the museum will lead you to the archaeological site of San Miguelito.
After experiencing so many different kinds of activities to please different types of travellers during my Cancun holidays, it’s no longer a surprise that Cancun is so popular.