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8 Must-See Cancun Neighborhoods and How To Visit

Delve deeper into a city made famous by spring breakers, by exploring peaceful enclaves, luxurious beachfront stretches, and local culture.
Hi, I'm SJ!

SJ Armstrong is a travel writer and editor from London, currently found travelling overland from her home city to the Kazakh Steppe. Until recently she was a project editor at National Geographic Traveller and writes about her five years of full-time travel for a range of travel publications.

Best known for its lively hotel strip and clear Caribbean waters, Cancun is the first destination for many travelers heading to Mexico. This Yucatan Peninsula hub offers extensive natural landscapes, including mangroves and lagoons just outside the city and idyllic islands off the coast for visitors who want to escape the city rush. Discover its glamorous beachfront resorts, historic Mayan hubs, animated party areas, and high-end shopping districts on your next trip by heading to these top neighborhoods.

1. Zona Hotelera

beach hotels at sunset
Beach hotels in Cancun.Photo Credit: lunamarina / Shutterstock

The go-to tourist zone in Cancun.

Repurposing a stretch of peninsular sand into one of Mexico's busiest tourist hubs, Zona Hotelera is populated almost entirely by hotels and luxury resorts. Designed for visitors, its stretching white towers, upscale restaurants, and exclusive clubs line one of the best beaches in Cancun. It's not only modern resorts, though—it’s also home to the Mayan outpost El Rey, a significant archaeological site featuring dozens of ancient Mayan stone structures. Visit from the Zona Hotelera with a half-day guided tour of the ruins.

2. Punta Nizuc

people swimming under a bridge in Punta Nizuc
Swimming in Punta Nizuc.Photo Credit: Bruno_Doinel / Shutterstock

Home to an undisturbed coral reef.

Situated off the southern end of Zone Hotelera, Punta Nizuc is a tranquil haven home to one of the most extensive coral reefs in the world. Enjoy its clear waters and abundant marine life with prime snorkeling excursions, including ventures to its unique underwater museum or tours to the nearby jungle. Keep an eye out for the turtles, manatees, and hundreds of tropical fish breeds that navigate its crystal-clear waterways, too.

3. El Centro

city skyline in cancun
The skyline of El Centro.Photo Credit: Besides the Obvious / Shutterstock

A busy hub frequented by locals.

El Centro is the go-to spot for travelers seeking authenticity. It’s a more residential area characterized by smoky street food stands, elaborate street art, overflowing flea market stalls, and lively bars populated by locals and budget travelers. Exploring the city’s center offers an insight into the day-to-day life of Cancun locals, far from the luxury resorts. The parties here are no less wild, though—swap out the party zone’s expensive tequila shots for affordable bottles of mezcal shared with the new local friends.

4. Party Zone

The Party Zone is a must for night owls in Cancun.Photo Credit: Chad Zuber / Shutterstock

For some of the world’s wildest nightlife.

Cancun has more than earned its party reputation. Soak in all the action on the cacophonic central strip, where reggaeton pumps and debauchery ensues. Raucous around the clock, you can follow the tequila to one of the biggest clubs in Latin America, to all-day, all-night beach parties, or to mega clubs with circus-style acrobatics unfolding above the crowds. Lean into Cancun’s infamous party culture yourself, or just sit back and watch the spring break crowds let loose.

Related: Visiting Cancun for the First Time? Here’s What To See and Do

5. Playa Mujeres

beachside pool and jetty
The waterfront in Playa Mujeres.Photo Credit: Darren Tierney / Shutterstock

Where luxury resorts sit among sprawling nature.

Catering to foreign travelers in the same way as Zona Hotelera, the northern Playa Mujeres is slightly more detached from the central city life of Cancun. Embedded into the rugged peninsular landscape, the area’s luxury resorts are flanked by a marshland animal reserve and Caribbean reefs (perfect places for a snorkeling excursion). More integrated into the natural surroundings, eco-resorts are a particularly popular option here, catering to especially eco-conscious travelers.

6. Puerto Juarez

pool and lighthouse by harbor
The portside neighborhood of Puerto Juarez.Photo Credit: HTurner / Shutterstock

A popular portside region with peaceful beaches.

Occupying a quieter slice of the seaside than Zona Hotelera, Puerto Juarez is also home to world-class hotels and high-end restaurants, offering easy access to Cancun’s lively nightlife zone. It’s perfectly positioned for travelers planning to move to Isla Mujeres after a stay in Cancun—whether by local ferry, an adults-only booze cruise, or scenic sunset catamaran—or for sunseekers looking for a peaceful alternative to the famous hotel strip.

7. Puerto Cancun

boats along the beach in Puerto Cancun
Boats along the beach in Puerto Cancun.Photo Credit: Diego Prato / Shutterstock

A central section of the city full of shops and restaurants.

If picking up a new outfit for your evening on the strip is a part of your Cancun plan, Puerto Cancun should be your first stop. A luxury neighborhood largely comprised of shopping malls and high-end hotels, this seafront segment of the city offers shopping tours to help travelers find sophisticated styles at discounted rates. It’s close to the party and hotel areas, making it convenient while also providing a reprieve from Cancun’s busiest streets.

8. Isla Mujeres

beach with palm trees and loungers
The beach on Isla Mujeres.Photo Credit: Aleksandar Todorovic / Shutterstock

An idyllic island situated just off the city’s coast.

Take a short ferry ride from Puerto Juarez to reach a tropical Caribbean Island that boasts all the usual suspects—white-sand beaches, turquoise seas, and pristine coral reefs: Isla Mujeres. While not technically a part of the city, its close proximity to Cancun makes the island accessible via day trip. Or, stay longer so you have time for a full day snorkeling tour with an open bar or to whiz around the island for a golf cart bar crawl. It’s also possible to explore the diverse ecological reserves of nearby Isla Contoy, a lesser-visited island close to Mujeres.

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