Cancun is not a normal backpacker destination but it is a cheap place to fly into so if you are visiting southern Mexico or Central America you might end up here! It does have an awesome beach but the place is set up for tourists on packaged holidays and not for budget travellers. We found the place frustrating at first but slowly discovered how to do Cancun on the cheap. This is our guide on how to survive Cancun as a backpacker.
Getting from the airport
Unless you are going to an all-inclusive resort you are unlikely to have transport arranged to collect you. To avoid an over priced taxi ($25USD!) we suggest getting the bus.
Both Terminal 2 and 3 have an ADO bus departing to downtown Cancun every half hour. The bus costs $66pesos each way and takes about 30 mins to get to Downtown Cancun Bus Station. The bus departure point for Terminal 2 is located outside of Domestic Arrivals (not international). If arriving internationally come out of the terminal and head right until you find domestic arrivals. For Terminal 3 the bus leaves outside of arrivals.
Unless you are lucky enough to find a great deal at a resort on the beach you will likely be staying downtown. Most hostels and budget hotels are based downtown within walking distance of the bus station. Being located downtown you have easy access to supermarkets and more affordable bars and restaurants.
For our few days in Cancun we stayed at Hostal Orquideas located on Calle Orquideas which is about a 10min walk from the bus station (http://hostelorquideas.com/). We paid $525pesos for a private room with bathroom per night which included breakfast and dinner (winning). The hostel also offered dorm beds and all rooms having A/C. The hostel was social with the staff happy to provide advice on things to do and where to go.
The cheapest and easiest way to get around is the public bus system. Routes 1 and 2 both go from downtown to the beach (Hotel Zone) and charge a fixed fare of $10.50pesos. Buses are frequent but can get busy. We found the bus system easy to use and never found the need for a taxi.
The main reason to visit Cancun (other than to use the airport) is the amazing beach. Most of the beach is lined with hotels which reserves some of it for the use of guests only. The north end of the beach can get busy so we recommend that you head south to escape some of the crowds.
Towards the southern end of the beach is Playa Delfines which is a large public beach with no hotels in sight. The beach offers free shad and sun loungers and is accessible by bus routes 1 and 2. This beach is less busy as its further from town but its worth sitting on the bus that bit longer to get a bit of beach to yourself. Bring a picnic and a few beers and enjoy a day at the beach!
Going out in Cancun can be expensive. Most places along the strip by the beach require you to pay up to $70USD for an open bar and dance show. Trying just to buy a drink seemed hard but we did find a couple of places which would let us but they were the most expensive drinks of the trip.
If you are looking to save money then stick to downtown which has a number of bars which are more aimed at locals and are priced as such. We went to one place which had 2 for one drinks which was great, although the margarita was like drinking a straight cup of Tequila..
- Use the bus to get from the airport to downtown
- Use the bus to go to and from the beach
- Stay in a hostel downtown
- If visiting the beach, go to the southern end of the hotel zone (Playa Delfines)
- Go have a drink downtown and not the strip to save money