Best Cancun Beaches on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast

By Tee1

Cancun Beaches are Perfection

The Cancun beaches are 14 miles long. That is larger than life, like everything else in this Mexican wonderland. Most people have an opinion of Cancun beach vacations . Some love it and others not so much. That is a reflection of the party atmosphere and hype more than anything else. Everybody loves the beautiful Caribbean beaches of Cancun. This area has some of the most amazing water, you will ever find.

Cancun is blessed with perfect sunrises.

There are two types of beaches in Cancun, the Northside and Eastside. If you spend your beach vacation to Cancun on the Northside, expect calmer and more tranquil water. Visitors that opt for the Eastside beaches will find more excitement and waves. Typically speaking, the water color becomes more turquoise as you travel east in Cancun’s Hotel Zone. Almost all beach resorts in Cancun are located on the water, making access to the beach pretty simple.

Where is Cancun? 21°16′N 86°85′W

Cancun Beach Vacations : more than just a party

Cancún is on the northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in southeastern Mexico. The wonderful party beaches of Cancun are an important global tourist destination in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. The city of Cancun is one of the best beach vacation spots in Mexico and juts far out into the Caribbean Sea. The population of this resort city was 628,000 in 2010, having grown by an astounding 100,000 people in just 3 years. Cancun can be found a bit to the north of the Riviera Maya.

Over 5,000,000 tourists in 2015 can’t be wrong

In Mexico, all of the beaches are federal property, so you can wander to your hearts delight. However, for reasons beyond the scope of this simple beach vacation website, you may see the Mexican military with machine guns patrolling the beaches. No worries, its just how they do it. Obviously, Mexico has some serious issues, so exercise caution and don’t play the fool. However, looking at those military men with those guns, I wanted to purchase AR-15 magazines for myself.

Water Temperature in Cancun

Enjoy Cancun’s incredible water. With Caribbean water temps well over 80°F from June to November, its unlikely you know warmer water. In calm shallow water, it is rather like a bathtub. During the winter and spring months, the water cools off slightly. When the water cools off, the locals will not go anywhere near the water. Having lived for extended periods in the Virgin Islands, I get it. That said, the “touristas” will still appreciate the frigid 76F as well as the more civilized 84F. This part of Mexico has been blessed with beach weather all year round, so swimming in the Caribbean is quite pleasant.


By the reef, you can find good snorkeling as well as anywhere with calm water and rocks. Cancun may have a lot of accolades, but the best snorkeling in the world, isn’t one of them. A lot of people do hop in the water with a mask, fins, etc at the southern end of the Hotel Zone. You will see fish as the water is fairly calm. Additionally, by the piers and docks on the north side of the Hotel Zone you can see the pretty little fish in abundance. If you want to do it right, sign up and take a tour to the marine sanctuary in Puerto Morelos. A quick trip to Xcaret or the beaches of Cozumel or Playa del Carmen’s beaches are easy enough to arrange also.

[pullquote]Occasionally spelled “Cancoon” in older English language documents to phonetically display the city’s name.[/pullquote]

In the not so distant past, the Cancun beaches had the most glorious soft sand that rivaled the best beaches in the Virgin Islands. Things like that change from time to time. When the area got devastated by hurricane Wilma, the beaches had to be replenished. This was done with sand from the bottom of the ocean that wasn’t as silky smooth. With every year that passes, the sand gradually reverts to its pristine state.

Beaches in The Cancun Hotel Zone

Complimenting the 14 mile stretch of beautiful Cancun beaches is the hotel zone. It is one great stretch of glamorous beach resorts, cheap hotels, bars, nightclubs, malls and a couple golf courses. Cancun’s Blvd. Kukulkan has anything and everything tourists might want on vacation. 24 hours a day, buses operate in the hotel zone. They are a safe mode of transportation at any given point in the day. There are a ton of taxis that are probably a bit easier to use as well. Expect to be ripped off a bit. Its simple to get around the hotel zone, since everything is one this one road. It’s impossible to enjoy a beach vacation to Cancun without at least inquiring about the nightlife. The “Party Center” is found at kilometer market 9.5. This is where most of the bars and clubs are. I think its a fun spot. Even if you don’t party at all, it’s worth checking it out.

Does Cancun have any history?

The Maya inhabitants of the island of Cancun, called the future Mexican beach destination Nizuc. This information comes to us from the earliest colonial sources, which unfortunately are not able to provide an exact meaning for the term. It is thought to mean either “promontory” or “point of grass”, two not very similar terms.

In Cancun, like most other places, the native Mayan population died or fled to the jungle after contact with the Spaniards. Some of the causes include disease, piracy, famine, and war. In the region, Isla Mujeres and Cozumel were the only places that were not completely depopulated.

Similar to the name, Nizuc, the meaning of Cancun is not known either. Again, scholars are unable to decipher if the name Cancun is even Mayan. It is known however, that 18th-century maps first include one of the following: “Cancún, Cancum or Cankun”. Potential guesses for the meaning of the name Cancun are: “Place/Seat/Throne of the Snake” or “Enchanted Snake”. At the pre-Columbian site of Nizuc, snake iconography is widespread.

Boom Times in Cancun

Isla Cancun had 3 residents in January of 1970, when the area began to be developed. They were caretakers of a coconut plantation on Isla Mujeres. About 5 miles away in Puerto Juarez, there were a little more than 100 people in the fishing village which housed a few military personnel.

The Mexican government actually paid for the first nine hotels in Cancun. That is because nobody would risk investing in the tropical jungle beaches of an unknown area in Mexico. The Hyatt Cancun Caribe was the first hotel to be financed with state money. However, that was not the first hotel to be completed. The private sector managed to beat out the public sector in this race. Way back in the day, the exceptional quality of the beaches in Cancun was unheard of. Even today, the beauty of this beach spot automatically vaults it into the discussion for top vacation destinations. 

It’s difficult to believe that the city began as a tourism project in 1974. In the forty odd years since, this former fisherman’s island has become the face of mass tourism. Once home to virgin jungle and uncharted beaches, Cancun is now the most well known Mexican beach resort city. Cancun was awarded the Best of the Best award “for excellence and good governance” to the Trust for Tourism Promotion of Cancun in 2007 by the World Tourism Organization.

The Caribbean beaches in the city of Cancun are located in the Free and Sovereign State of Quintana Roo. Quintana Roo, is one of the 32 federal entities that make up Mexico. Bordered by Campeche to the west and Yucatán to the northwest, Quintana Roo also touches the country of Belize. The state of Quintana Roo has coastline on both the Caribbean as well as the Gulf of Mexico. The “he islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, and the towns of Bacalar, Playa del Carmen and Akumal, as well as the ancient Maya ruins of Chacchoben,  Cobá, Kohunlich, Muyil, Tulum, Xel-Há, and Xcaret. The Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve is also located in the state.”

Mexican State of Quintana Roo 

In 1974, Quintana Roo became the Mexican republic’s newest state. Today’s state of Quintana Roo, had historically been a part of Yucatan. All non-natives were expelled from the area in the 1840’s, during the Caste War. The independent Maya nation of Chan Santa Cruz was established and enjoyed a modicum of sovereignty. British Honduras , today’s Belize, entered into both trade and treaty relationships with the Mayan nation. In 1902, the Mexican president formally annexed the territory of Quintana Roo. Quintana Roo was the name of a proud Mexican patriot. Andrés Eligio Quintana Roo was a Mexican liberal politician, lawyer and author, and the husband of Leona Vicario. The majority of the Maya population was defeated by the Mexican military in the 1910s. The area was declared to be an integral part of Yucatán in 1915.

With nothing more than jungle and mosquitos just a few decades ago, it’s hard to picture how the transformation of Cancun took place. Initially, to reach the eastern part of the Yucatan peninsula a road needed to be cut through the dense jungle. It was a massive undertaking, probably a couple centuries later than it should have been. This part of Mexico had been completely ignored until then.

The president of Mexico decided to bet big on the ability of the gorgeous Caribbean beaches of Cancun to attract tourists. As we see now, his vision was extraordinary and Cancun is more successful than his wildest dreams. “Tourists, eccentric millionaires and explorers demanded a place to stay at in the first hotel that was finished.”

Cancun Beaches: the greatest destination

Today, Cancun is arguably the greatest destination for a beach vacation the world has ever seen. Formerly a forgotten jungle, now a paradise for Spring Break or just a cheap and easy weekend trip from the states. For all its woes, the Mexican government desires credit for pumping the incredible resources required to build the region out of nothing. As one would expect, the tropical beach resorts in Cancun have first world amenities like power, roads, and a water supply. 

[pullquote]A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Especially associated with the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings.[/pullquote]

Besides that, Cancun has one of the largest reef systems in the world and the region has many cenotes. All top attractions for scuba divers. Additionally, the people and the world class beaches and nightlife make for a very happy environment. By the way, the beaches of Cancun and the Riviera Maya come from coral. The wonderful sand does not originate from rock or silica which makes it softer and whiter, so that the sand reflects the sun. Visually this is stunning, but just as important to pleasure seekers the beach reflects the sun. This means unlike Florida, you can walk barefoot and not burn your feet.

Along Cancun’s 13 miles of Caribbean coast, there are a number of beaches each with soft white sand and gorgeous water straight from a Corona commercial. All of the beaches in the Hotel Zone are great for lying around and participating in as much or as little activity as suits your style. As expected, some beaches are a little better than others. They all have their own personality, so its relatively easy to match your ideal beach spot.

Cancun’s Northern Beaches

For calm water with practically no surf, you want to be on the northern beaches. Isla Mujeres protects the Northside beaches from the open ocean. The calm water is generally safe for everybody here. These beaches make the top of Cancun’s “7” shape. For relaxation, the deep blue Caribbean water is perfect over here. This is the spot for water sports, finding water taxis to Isla Mujeres or hopping on a day sail (booze cruises).

Playa Las Perlas

Found at the 2.5 km mark, Playa las Perlas is the beach closes to the city of Cancun. There is a water taxi to Isla Mujeres here. Typically, there are no waves and it is children friendly. If there is a downside, the water is not the same spectacular turquoise because of its protected location.

Playa Linda

Found at the 4 km mark in the Hotel Zone, this is not one of Cancun’s best beaches. It is however a good spot for watersports or jetski rentals. There is nothing bad about it, but you can do better.

Playa Langosta

Found at the 5 km mark in the Hotel Zone, Playa Langosta is popular with the locals. You’ll find good food, scuba diving/ snorkeling options and safe swimming for kids.

Playa Tortugas

Found at the 6 km mark in the Hotel Zone, Playa Tortugas is a great family beach. There are practically no waves. This beach is popular with both locals and tourists. This is a good spot for people watching, partying and playing around in general. It gets crowded, but it is fun.

Playa Caracol

Found at the 6 km mark in the Hotel Zone near Punta Cancun, this is a popular family place. The water is good for all ages and there are a number of restaurants and bars. It gets busy, but if thats a concern walk to the left for a gorgeous and less popular place on the sand. To the west of Playa Caracol, there are a number of water sport facilities.

Cancun’s Eastern Beaches

The aqua blue water of Cancun’s eastern beaches is part of the reason why people visit this world famous resort city. It’s truly a beautiful spectacle. The soft silky beaches are manicured every day and all ocean debris is removed. This area is not protected by Isla Mujeres, so there might be waves, strong winds, rips etc. Please keep your wits about you when you play in the water here. It’s not bad or dangerous like Tamarama Beach in Australia for example, its just not a lake. These are the beaches you want, if you want to play in the waves or body surf.

Playa Gaviota Azul

Found at the 9 km mark in the Hotel Zone is a popular place with beautiful water. It is in the middle of the Hotel Zone, so the people watching is the best here. Taking a long walk is definitely suggested here.

Playa Chac Mool

Found at the 10 km mark in the Hotel Zone, Chac Mool has lovely white sand and is found by the Playa Forum. It is not busy, but there are no lounge chairs and umbrellas.

Playa Marlin

Found at the 13 km mark in the Hotel Zone, Playa Marlin is spectacular. It might be crowded, but its worth it. The water is memorable and the waves are fun to play in.

Playa Ballenas

Found at the 14 km mark in the Hotel Zone, Playa Ballenas enjoys the same perfect water as Playa Marlin. This popular beach has parasailing and jetski rentals.

Playa San Miguelito

Found at the 16.5 km mark in the Hotel Zone, San Miguelito is has some Mayan ruins to investigate. Of course, the beach is great and the water beautiful too!

Playa Delfines

Found at the 18 km mark in the Hotel Zone, Playa Defines is very popular, but is large enough to comfortably accommodate everyone. It’s one of Cancun’s largest beaches. Playa Delfines has the brightest blue water in this Caribbean city. With no hotels in the immediate vicinity, the atmosphere is a bit more relaxed than most places.

Playa Punta Nizuc

Found at the 21 km mark in the Hotel Zone, Playa Punta Nizuc is at the end of the line. The water here has almost no waves, because its around the corner of the southern tip of the 7-shaped island of Cancun. This beach is not popular, and might even have seaweed! Its touching tropical jungle. By no means a bad place, there are just better options.

Muchas gracias to my Canadian friend Paul for the pictures. He is an accomplished landscape architect outside of Toronto and an old friend.