Without question, one of the main attractions for those who choose to visit Cancun is the beach. Many visitors are content to stay at their resort beach…relaxing under their personal palapa, having drinks delivered to them, and using the many other amenities available.
While that does sound pretty good, there are some who prefer to move around and see what other great beaches there are to be found! Resorts in the hotel zone are strung all along the giant “7” shaped peninsula, with gorgeous beaches on the northern and eastern coasts. If you feel like exploring, all the beaches are public, and you’ll see lifeguard stations periodically. You can walk the shoreline in either direction for hours!
Hotel Zone to Punta Cancun
These are the beaches that make up the top side of the “7”. The docks from which day cruises, shuttles, and water taxies depart for Isla Mujeres are located on this side. This stretch of beach hosts calm, tranquil waters with very little surf at all. Stunningly blue, the water is perfect for water sports, wading, and just relaxing. So you can make your way into waist-deep water, drink in hand, and enjoy a perfect day in paradise!
Playa Las Perlas Location: 2.5 km (at the beginning of the Hotel Zone) Swimming, relaxing, various water sports along with a selection of resturants & bars. Access to a water taxi to Isla Mujeres
Playa Linda Location: 4 km in the Hotel Zone Diving and snorkeling tours, the Submarine and water taxi to Isla Mujeres
Playa Langosta Location: km 5 in the Hotel Zone Swimming, water sports, restaurants & bar, dive/snorkel tours, water taxi to Isla Mujeres
Playa Tortugas Location: km 6 in the Hotel Zone Swimming, water sports, restaurants & bar, dive/snorkel tours, water taxi to Isla Mujeres
Playa Caracol Location: km 6 in the Hotel Zone near Punta Cancun This is a very popular beach, especially for families. The water is generally calm and excellent for children since it has a very shallow, flat sandy seabed. Resturants, bars, and various other activities are found at this beach also.
All of the beaches highlighted here are on the ocean side of the Hotel Zone. There are water views on both sides of the strip–with ocean to the east and lagoon and mangroves to the west. It is worth mentioning, although there is no beach on the lagoon side, there are several activities offered: jet skiing, kayaking, and other rentals for a fun-filled day.
The eastern beaches of Cancun are absolutely beautiful, with sparkling aqua-blue water as far as the eye can see! These beaches also have powdery soft white sand and are cleaned daily of ocean debris.
Unlike the northern beaches that are somewhat sheltered by Isla Mujeres, this strip of coastline is unprotected. This means that winds and currents can sometimes come roaring up and produce very wavy conditions. Caution is needed swimming here at times! Watch for the colored flags that proclaim the status of the water. With that being said, they really are no different than many Florida beaches. If you like body surfing and playing in the waves, than these are the beaches for you!
Gaviota Azul Location: 9 km in the Hotel Zone (near Punta Cancun) Great for relaxing, swimming, and water sports
Chac Mool Location: 10 km in the Hotel Zone (near Punta Cancun)
Playa Marlin Location: 13 km in the Hotel Zone in (between Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc) Great for relaxing, swimming, and water sports
Playa Ballenas Location: 14 km in the Hotel Zone in (between Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc) Popular beach, for relaxing, swimming, water sports; with restaurants & bars
San Miguelito Location: 16.5 km in the Hotel Zone Good for relaxing & swimming, there are also some Mayan ruins near this beach
Playa Delfines Location: 18 km in the Hotel Zone (near Punta Nizuc) Great for relaxing & swimming
Punta Nizuc Location: 21 km in the Hotel Zone Great for relaxing & swimming. (at the end of the strip, where more of the up-scale resorts are located)
Searching for a more secluded, private beach? Check out the beach at the Camino Real Hotel, located at the southern tip of the peninsula. The beach is accessible only by walking through the property of the Camino Real Hotel, but no worries there because the beach itself is public, federal property. It’s very peaceful and chill, with no vendors, strollers, blaring music or even volleyball. This small beach is manicured daily.
Depending on the weather, wind and waves, each section of the beach is marked with a flag indicating whether it is safe to swim or not:
Black Flag No Swimming Red Flag Use caution, conditions could be dangerous Yellow Flag Swim with caution. Green Flag Safe for swimming
The sand on Cancun beaches has transitioned a bit over the past few years. Pre-Hurricane Wilma, all Cancun’s beaches were gloriously soft, white sand. After thrashed the area, the beaches were rebuilt with dredged up seafloor sand, which consists of coarser grains. Now, 10 years later, the sand is pretty much back to being sugary soft, but still is a combination of sorts in certain beaches.
Snorkeling off the beaches of Cancun is not that good. It is mostly sand bottom rather than reef, which does not attract a large variety of fish. This does not mean that the odd ocean-going animal does not frequent close enough to delight a child snorkeling near the shore…but for the enthusiasts, you won’t find your ideal snorkel adventure along these beaches.
There are however excellent places to snorkel around Cancun (including caves and cenotes). If you do want to go off-the-beach instead of booking a tour, the best snorkeling around Cancun is the public area near the Westin Regina, at the southern tip of the hotel zone.
The ocean water temperature reaches its highest point in late August/early September. Some days it can be like swimming in a lukewarm bathtub! Even during the coolest times of the year (December-February), the water is still so pleasant to swim in. In Mexico, it’s nearly always hot outside, a dip in the Caribbean feels great.
Most Cancun beaches have lifeguards. Around the main beaches in Playa del Carmen and Akumal there are also lifeguards on duty and warning flags posted. Resorts often have their own lifeguards who double as dive instructors, etc.
Beaches in Cancun and around Playa del Carmen are also patrolled by the Mexican Navy, sporting crisp uniforms and toting submachine guns. How these guys handle the heat, we will never know. We assume as soon as they get out of visual range, they jump in the water to cool off! The local police also patrol the beaches to serve and protect; driving up and down the coast on 4-wheelers.
Your best bet for a swim-friendly, safe beach is on the northern side of Cancun’s Hotel Zone. The ocean waves and winds are buffered by the small island of Isla Mujeres which lies off the coast.
There are no nude beaches in Cancun, as the beaches are generally family-oriented. But since it’s an international tourist destination, you may come across an occasional topless sunbather. If you are staying somewhere else along the Mayan Riviera (outside of the Hotel Zone), it’s an entirely different story! We understand that some parents are concerned with the topless issue, but it’s really not as prevalent as you might think.
Cancun fashion has a distinct global flavor, with a wide variety of styles! You will see the hottest trends in beach-wear all along these beautiful beaches, and there are countless designer stores to get the latest goods and gear (with a considerable upcharge of course).
Up for a little people-watching? Pretty often you can tell where people are from by what they wear on the beach. Canadian and American guys wear board shorts, sunglasses and hats while Europeans typically wear short shorts or Speedos, jewelry and designer sunglasses. The Mexican men are usually pretty easy to spot with only their swimming shorts on. The most stylish beach apparel usually is awarded to the European ladies–they’re always at the top of their game!
Yes, there is such a thing! The Mayan Riviera is host to a huge cross-section of tourists, and that creates a unique ambiance. There are those that are enjoying their one annual vacation, party animals who can’t get enough, locals, and a small group of expat beach-bums who fly in from all points of the globe.
All sorts of people from all parts of Mexico and the world have made Quintana Roo their home. Attracted by Cancun’s glittering success, many of them earn their living by performing some unusual but entertaining feat on the beach. Many others find bilingual jobs in the tourist field. They’re a lively and colorful crowd!
The greatest concentration of beach-subculture can be found further south, in Tulum & Playa del Carmen. Just stroll the beach one evening and experience some of the tropical energy; with live music, fire dancers and beach performers!