Where to Stay in Cancún – Neighborhoods & Area Guide

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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The big, bright and bold holiday resort city of Cancún has experienced an overwhelming surge in popularity over the last 15 years. What was once a sacred Mayan city is now awash with holiday resorts and tourist-orientated entertainment outlets. This is no bad thing, however.

Despite the influx of tourism, Cancún’s natural beauty has remained largely unaffected. The crystal clear water offers travelers some of the best snorkeling experiences in the world, and the Mayan ruins scattered around Quintana Roo state offer an element of culture and context to this Mexican gem.

Much of Cancún city has become industrialized and is home to hundreds of big business high-rises. Functional? Yes. Dream vacation material? No.

There are two main neighborhoods in which to stay in Cancún as a tourist – traditional downtown ‘El Centro’ and Zona Hotelera. That said, up and coming neighborhoods that sit just outside of Cancún’s inner city limits offer breathtaking views, access to epic excursions, and of course, some incredible Mexican restaurants.

Whether you are seeking the ultimate resort experience, breathtaking beaches, or something a little more off the beaten track, we have just the neighborhood for you.

Let’s talk a look at where to stay in Cancún, on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis.

Zona Hotelera

Zona Hotelera, CancunSource: alexialex / shutterstock
Zona Hotelera

A hive of activity twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, Zona Hotelera is the most popular place to stay in Cancún. Designed exclusively with the modern holidaymaker in mind, the Zona Hotelera strip is the place to stay if you like to sink into holiday mode the moment you walk out of the office.

Zona Hotelera is one of the easiest and most convenient places to stay in Cancún. Every single hotel in the neighborhood offers rooms or suites, with views of the bright blue Caribbean Sea.

If you are seeking an ultra-lazy beach holiday, then Zona Hotelera is the place for you. Should you wish to be more active though, many resorts organize day trips to Mayan Cancún and beyond. El Rey is a highly significant Mayan site which is found just south of Zona Hotelera.

Good For: Beach Bums, Families, Couples, Novice Travelers

Neighborhood Highlights: El Rey, Playa Marlín, Museo Maya de Cancún y Zona Arqueológica de San Miguelito, La Isla Shopping Village, Playa Delfines, Cancún Golf Club at Pok Ta Pok.

Hotel Recommendations:

  • The Royal Sands – All-inclusive and consistently gaining rave reviews, The Royal Sands is one of the best hotels in Cancún. It sits on the beach front and offers guests access to multiple outdoor pools, a fitness center, tennis courts and more. There is a kids club facility and a nightly entertainment program.
  • Hard Rock Hotel Cancún – Everyone should stay at a Hard Rock Hotel once in their life, and HRH Cancún will not disappoint. This is an all-inclusive resort, including free WiFi and music streaming services and a mini bar and liquor dispenser in all rooms. There are five different restaurants on site, and room service is also available.
  • Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach – Offering 5-star luxury in the heart of Zona Hotelera, the property features a 40,000 square-foot spa complex. The premium suites all sport ocean views and a private balcony. Family-friendly, interconnecting rooms are available on request. There are six fine dining restaurants on site.

Downtown – El Centro

Marazul Hotel BoutiqueSource: booking.com
Marazul Hotel Boutique

This is the perfect part of town for travelers who want to have access to the beaches but wish to have more variety in their vacation. It is possible to reach the beaches from El Centro by bus.

Parque Las Palapas is a popular hangout spot for locals and adventurous tourists too. Busy over the weekend periods, it is the ideal place to get chatting with locals to discover their favorites bars, restaurants, and shops. Don’t fill up on your hotel’s all-inclusive breakfast buffet, as there is a plethora of food carts and stalls to try in Parque Las Palapas. Perfect for foodies who want to try real Mexican delicacies that are in high demand by locals.

Try your hand at haggling at Mercado 28. This open air market is filled with lovingly made handicrafts and souvenirs that are much more affordable than those found in Zona Hotelera.

Good For: Backpackers, Foodies, Like a Local Travelers, Young Travelers, Party Animals

Neighborhood Highlights: Parque Las Palapas, Mercado 28, Avenida Tulum, City Hall, Las Plazas Outlet, Sky Zone Cancún, Cinépolis VIP Cancún

Hotel Recommendations:

  • Hotel Kavia – Complete with outdoor swimming pool and hotel bar, this boutique 4-star hotel is a little gem. Rooms are cozy, comfortable, and all have air-conditioning – some have city views. Staff speak English and Spanish and are exceptionally helpful. They can help arrange tours, transport and more.
  • Ibis Cancún Centro – Uniform, functional, and fantastically affordable, Ibis Cancún Centro ticks all the boxes. Modern and stylish, each room has a private ensuite bathroom, work desk, and satellite TV. Free and unlimited WiFi is available throughout the property. The 24-hour snack bar is a treat – and all this only a 10-minute drive from the airport.
  • Marazul Hotel Boutique – Set in the heart of downtown, everything is within walking distance. All rooms have air-conditioning, cable TV and private ensuite bathroom. Basic, budget-friendly and more than comfortable, Marazul Hotel Boutique is great for fuss-free travelers. The onsite French restaurant serves up some lovely dishes.

Playa del Carmen

Playa del CarmenSource: Andrew F. Kazmierski / shutterstock
Playa Del Carmen

With a little less hustle and a little more coastal charm, Playa del Carmen is a beautiful beach town an hour south of Cancún city center. Mixing the relaxed vibes of Zona Hotelera and the authentic Mexican feels of downtown, Playa del Carmen is an idyllic Cancún neighborhood to explore.

Playa del Carmen is growing fast and won’t remain a sleeping seaside suburb for much longer. During your vacation days, you can catch a tan on the beach, swim in the sea, or jump on a boat and head out to some of the Yucatán Peninsula’s best snorkeling spots.

Playa del Carmen has grown in popularity when it comes to Spring Break too. There are some epic bars and clubs set back from the beach, and come March, things really get wild.

That said, Playa del Carmen will always be family-friendly and open to all.

Good For: Party Animals, Families, Young Travelers, Couples, Adventurous Travelers

Neighborhood Highlights: Xcaret Park, Point Esmeralda, Fundadores Park, 3D Museum of Wonders, Aquarium Beach, Museo Frida Kahlo Playa Del Carmen

Hotel Recommendations:

  • Magic Blue Boutique Hotel – Charming, classy and oozing charisma, Magic Blue is a fabulous hotel in Playa del Carmen. A matter of steps from the beach, guests have access to the hotel’s swimming pool and luxury spa complex. Rooms and suites are available – many have a private balcony and garden view.
  • The Reef Playacar – With all-inclusive packages available, you won’t need to lift a finger or even think too much during your stay. Totally relaxing and with next-level style and comfort, The Reef has an extensive activities and entertainment programming, including dance lessons and themed parties. It is family orientated, with a kids club available.
  • The Palm at Playa – A rooftop terrace complete with swimming pool and cocktail bar puts The Palm high on the popularity charts. There are multiple restaurants to choose from, which serve international and local dishes. Breakfast is included. The tropical gardens are beautiful and the rooms bright, spacious and comfortable. Some balcony terraces include a hammock.

Puerto Morelos

Puerto MorelosSource: Tono Balaguer / shutterstock
Puerto Morelos

Sandwiched between Zona Hotelera and Playa del Carmen, just 25-minutes from the international airport, Puerto Morelos is a real gem.

There is so much to see and do in this sleepy neighborhood that is abundant in culture and charm. A classic Mexican fishing village at heart, Puerto Morelos has not sold its soul to the tourism industry. Rich in boutique hotels run by local families, and awash with quaint souvenir shops that you just can’t say “no” to, Puertos Morelos is the stuff of dreams.

To put the icing on the cake, the beaches of Puerto Morelos are the breeding ground for three of the world’s seven species of turtle. Pretty incredible really. Critically endangered and growing ever more fragile, be sure to follow the conservation guidelines while in the ocean and on the beach.

Jardín Botanico Dr. Alfredo Barrera Marín is a wonderful place to explore during an afternoon, and features impressive Mayan ruins.

Good For: Off-the-Beaten-Track Travelers, Young Travelers, Wildlife Lovers, Active Travelers, Culture Vultures

Neighborhood Highlights: Croco Can Zoo, Jardín Botanico Dr. Alfredo Barrera Marín, Faro Inclinado, Bonanza Ranch, Teatro Cirque du Soleil

Hotel Recommendations:

  • Hotel Eden – Less than 300-meters from the beach and only 500-meters from the neighborhood’s central square, Hotel Eden has individual apartments that can sleep up to four people per night – ideal for families and groups. Each apartment has its own kitchen, complete with microwave, tea and coffee making facilities.
  • Ojo de Agua Beach Front Hotel – Only 50-meters from the beach, it truly is beach front. Many rooms offer sea views and have a balcony. All feature air conditioning, free WiFi ,and unlimited use of the resort’s pool. The onsite diving center offers great rates and an incredible selection of full day or half day diving excursions.
  • Arrecife Suites – Offering guests access to their own private beach, Arrecife Suites is a real gem. Featuring spacious suites complete with living-dining rooms, ensuite bathroom and a balcony. The garden is well kept and has hammocks strung up in quiet, shaded spots. Great for families.

Isla Mujeres

Isla MujeresSource: Fairy Lens / shutterstock
Isla Mujeres

You will find Isla Mujeres just eight miles off Cancún’s northern coast. If you squint, you can see it from the shore. Only four miles long and just half a mile wide, Isla Mujeres is the very definition of a paradise isle.

Gifted with beaches adorned with palm trees and crystal clear waters, Isla Mujeres is ideal for travelers who want the dreamy beach holiday without sharing your sandy spot with hundreds of thousands of other people.

Isla Mujeres’ downtown area is the perfect place to stock up on souvenirs and trinkets. Everything from traditional wood carvings and pottery to ornate rugs and silver jewelry can be bought in this quaint dockland.

Snorkeling, kayaking and zip lining can all be experienced at natural reef park Parque Garrafón in the heart of Isla Mujeres. A brilliant day out for all the family – swimming pool with a bar and loungers is also on site.

Good For: Families, Couples, Laid Back Travelers, Shopaholics, Beach Bums, Divers

Neighborhood Highlights: Parque Garrafón, Downtown Shops & Stalls, Parque de Los Sueños, Playa Sol, Punta Norte Lighthouse, Farito Snorkel Spot.

Hotel Recommendations:

  • Hotel La Joya – Chic and boutique, La Joya offers relaxed island vibes with just the right amount of luxury. Some rooms have their own private terrace and many offer sea views. Guests can relax on the beach, by the pool, or join one of the daily snorkeling trips. Adjacent to Parque Garrafón.
  • Casa Cural y Galería – Budget friendly, bright, and beachside, Casa Cural is a great option for fuss-free travelers. All rooms have a private ensuite, air conditioning and flat-screen TV. The American-style breakfast is included and not to be missed. The staff are lovely and will help you in any way they can.
  • Ixchel Beach Hotel – There is never a dull moment at Ixchel Beach Hotel. They have a comprehensive list of activities, including deep sea fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling. The onsite bar and grill have wonderful menu options and, as such, you need not leave the resort if you don’t want to.


Isla CozumelSource: Ramunas Bruzas / shutterstock
Isla Cozumel

This tropical paradise island sits 100-kilometers south of Cancún city center and is one of the most popular resort islands on the Yucatán Peninsula. Regularly visited by the cruise ships, Cozumel is literally the first port of call for many travelers heading to Cancún.

When you chat with travel agents or get lost in the travel chat forums, you will frequently find that Cozumel comes as expert traveler’s Cancún secret hotspot. Depending on your preference, Cozumel can be reached by a super short 20-minute flight or a relaxing 45-minute ferry ride.

Perfect for anyone who wants to experience authentic Mexico and get to grips with the rich history this nation proudly holds, Cozumel incorporates all the fun loving party vibes we seek in a vacation to Cancún, with the cultural embellishments that make travel all the more worthwhile.

Chankanaab eco-park is a marine enthusiast’s dream come true, with dolphins, manatees, turtles and more.

Good For: Adventurous Travelers, Wildlife Lovers, Beach Bums, Culture Vultures

Neighborhood Highlights: San Gervasio, Chankanaab Eco Park,, Palancar Beach, Playa Mia Water Park, Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, Faro Celarain Lighthouse, Punta Sur Beach

Hotel Recommendations:

  • The Westin Cozumel – Just a one-minute walk to the beach, you couldn’t sleep closer to the sea if you tried. Beautiful rooms and spacious suites are available, some with their own private hot tub and sea view balcony. The staff are attentive, caring and available at the 24-hour reception.
  • Grand Park Royal Cozumel – Perfect for adventurous travelers who want to dive, snorkel and swim throughout their time in and around Cancún. The hotel is suited just offshore amidst some of the most breathtaking coral in the area. There is plenty to do at the resort, including Spanish lessons and cooking classes. This place has a real family vibe.
  • Casa Mexicana Cozumel – Featuring bright and bold Mexican artwork throughout the property, Casa Mexicana helps you feel right at home. All rooms have super comfortable mattresses, air conditioning and cable TV. Breakfast, toiletries and WiFi are all complimentary. Rooms have either a terrace or a balcony, many with sea views.

Where to Stay in Cancún – Neighborhoods & Area Guide:

  • Zona Hotelera
  • Downtown - El Centro
  • Playa del Carmen
  • Puerto Morelos
  • Isla Mujeres
  • Cozumel