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Cancún Travel Guide

Everything to Know About Booking a Stay in Cancún’s Zona Hotelera

Cancún has all types of hotels and not just all-inclusive resorts.

Cancún is a tale of two cities. The jewel of the Mexican Caribbean is a Las Vegas-meets-Disneyland blend of nature, wildlife, and nightlife with a dazzling array of recognizable hotel names occupying desirable beachfront addresses. JW Marriott, Hyatt, Club Med, Iberostar, Riu, and Hard Rock can all be found there on an island strip known as the Zona Hotelera (the hotel zone). On the mainland, there is a residential area where those working in the tourism sector live called Ciudad Cancún (Cancún City), Downtown Cancún, or Centro.

Since the first hotels welcomed guests in 1974, Cancún has evolved into a sanctuary for beach enthusiasts, hedonists, luxury lovers, families, newlyweds, and, of course, spring breakers, but Cancún didn’t accidentally become a tourism powerhouse in Mexico. It was part of a calculated master plan in the late 1960s to create a tropical playground in a pristine, industry-free location with year-round fine weather that would entice tourists from the world over.

Architects, archaeologists, statisticians, sociologists, lawyers, government agencies, banks, and urban planners were involved in turning this deserted sandy strip into the sought-after sunny spot it has become five decades later. Today’s Zona Hotelera is a brochure-ready, high-rise haven with powder-soft ivory beaches and swimmable sapphire-blue waters. Here is everything you need to know about it.

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What Is Cancún’s Zona Hotelera?

Cancún’s heavily-developed Zona Hotelera goes by various names, including Zona Turística (Tourist Zone) and Isla Cancún (Cancún Island). Shaped like a number seven, it’s a slender 14-mile (22.5-kilometer) strip embraced by the Caribbean Sea and the Nichupte Lagoon.

Boulevard Kukulcán is the vein that runs through much of the island, and hotel addresses usually reference the kilometer number on this avenue. Most vacationers will typically stay within the confines of this Tourist Zone, which is replete with Mayan ruins, reefs (real and man-made), thatch-roofed bars, golf courses, shopping malls, and over 100 hotels.

The Hotel Zone can be partitioned into three parts. The North Hotel Zone is the horizontal bar of the number seven, which has calmer waters as it is shielded from strong tides by Isla Mujeres to the east. This is where you’ll find the nightlife zone, Punta Cancún, where both parts of the number seven meet. Here, day drinkers and night owls can flock to restaurants like Mandala and Señor Frogs that shapeshift into thumping party palaces after dark.

La Vaquita, Coco Bongo, and The City—the largest nightclub in Latin America—are also well-trammeled party haunts. Ear plugs might be in order if you’re staying near these hotspots. The Middle Hotel Zone and the South Hotel Zone are the top and bottom halves of the vertical part of the number seven. The beaches are dreamier with sugary white sand on this eastern shore.

Zona Hotelera has every type of hotel imaginable: some suit penny pinchers, others are pyramid-shaped dens of luxury, and many will help you harvest your next crop of Instagram likes. Amenities may include free museum passes, butler service, showstopper restaurants, plunge pools, hot tubs, and private balconies from which to admire the gently lapping turquoise waters. With some research, you can find the right place to match your taste, budget, or desired rowdiness level.

Courtesy of Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun

All-Inclusive Hotels in Zona Hotelera

All-inclusive hotels reign supreme in Cancún. These towering accommodations are the perfect elixir for vacationers who don’t wish to stray far from the resort or lift a finger.

For one fixed price, you can get your bottomless fix of white sand (and everything else your heart desires) at Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancún, Hotel Riu Caribe, and Hotel Riu Palace Peninsula on the north shore, and at Hard Rock Hotel Cancun, Le Blanc Spa Resort All Inclusive, and Golden Parnassus All Inclusive Resort & Spa in the Middle Hotel Zone.

In the South Hotel Zone, everything is also baked into the rate at Grand Oasis Cancún and ÓLEO Cancún Playa. Pleasant news for Marriott loyalists, Marriott Cancun Resort is undergoing transformations to become the brand’s first-ever all-inclusive property in early 2024.

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Zona Hotelera Hotels That Aren’t All-Inclusive

If you intend to spend part of your vacation off the resort property exploring further afield, a bed and breakfast or European Plan might be more suitable for you.

Staying on the north sandbar will situate you closer to Downtown Cancún should you wish to step out of the tourist bubble (Boulevard Kukulcán in Zona Hotelera becomes Avenida Cobá in Cancún City). North Hotel Zone properties to escape the all-inclusive crowd include Casa Tortugas Boutique Hotel, InterContinental Presidente Cancun Resort, and Aloft Cancun.

On the eastern shore, stay at Kempinski Hotel Cancún for European grandeur, at The Royal Islander for proximity to the Maya Museum of Cancún or at The Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort Villas & Spa to be within walking distance of La Isla (an open-air shopping complex). For an amenity-rich hotel where you can go all out, stay at JW Marriott Cancun, which has an on-site dive pool with an artificial reef and a lobby bar serving over 150 types of specially-crafted margaritas.

Courtesy of JW Marriott Cancun

Budget-Friendly Hostels and Hotels

Though Downtown Cancún is generally kinder to the wallet, some hostels and hotels in Zona Hotelera have palatable prices. Budget-savvy travelers stay at Mayan Monkey, Selina Cancun Laguna Hotel Zone, Hotel Flamingo Cancun Resort, Hostel Natura, Hotel Imperial Laguna, and Casa Maya.

The Best Hotels for Families

If a kids club is a requirement, family groups can make reservations at Seadust Cancun Family Resort, GR Solaris Cancun, Paradisus Cancún, Iberostar Selection Cancún, Beach Palace All Inclusive Resort, Wyndham Alltra Cancun, Grand Oasis Palm or The Royal Cancun All Suites Resort. Kids will enjoy the water play area at Royal Uno All Inclusive Resort, where there’s also a Cancool Family Room for board games, movies, and more.

Adults-Only Hotels

Should you desire some grown-up time away from little ones—yours or anyone else’s—make plans to stay at Coral Level at Iberostar Selection Cancún (South Hotel Zone) or Hyatt Zilara Cancun, Live Aqua Beach Resort or Sandos Cancun (Middle Hotel Zone). There will also be no kids, tweens, or teens frolicking poolside at North Hotel Zone properties Temptation Cancun Resort, Breathless Cancun Soul Resort & Spa, or Royalton CHIC Cancun, An Autograph Collection.

Courtesy of Royal Uno

Shopping in Zona Hotelera

With a captive audience of sun-seeking tourists, things are pricier in the Hotel Zone than they are in Cancún Centro. Keep this in mind when planning to buy souvenirs and gifts. Zona Hotelera is sprinkled with various commercial centers. You can get retail therapy at Kukulcán Plaza, Luxury Avenue Mall Cancún, or La Isla Shopping Village, which has indoor and outdoor shopping, entertainment, and a cinema.

If you visit a store that participates in the Tax Refund Program for foreign visitors, pay by card, and spend a minimum of 1,200 Mexican pesos, you can get a refund when leaving the country by air or sea.

How to Get Around the Zona Hotelera

Some hotels offer complimentary bikes, but cycling isn’t the best way to get around the Hotel Zone as the main avenue is often bustling. Inexpensive buses travel up and down Boulevard Kukulkán frequently. Look out for the R-1 or R-2 buses that say Hoteles in a bold font on the front of the bus.

Taxis are plentiful in the Hotel Zone, but note that you’ll have to pay in cash (dollars are accepted as well) and might be overcharged. Taxis are not metered in Cancún, so do negotiate rates before your journey. Rideshare app Uber has been legalized in Cancún though you may struggle to find rides due to the long-standing conflict between Uber and the taxi union.

Tips for Choosing a Hotel in the Zona Hotelera

When looking for your preferred beach idyll, consider your optimal location, desired activities (if any), and which amenities are important to you. It is prudent to also review a hotel’s hurricane policy to see how your vacation could be affected by a tropical storm (June to November is hurricane season in Cancún).

Sargassum, a foul-smelling seaweed, washes up on the beaches of the Mexican Caribbean between April and October. Some beaches are more affected than others, and certain hotels are proactive about clearing the piles daily. Where possible, check a hotel’s live feed to monitor the sargassum situation at the time of booking.