South Africans are an adventurous and vibey bunch, particularly when it comes to holidays. Sure, we have those tried-and-tested, easy-to-reach beach destinations that will always have a special place in our hearts; but, we’re also game to venture a little out of our comfort zone (read: a little further afield) to explore new gems around the world. Cancún is one such place. While a little further for South Africans to reach, Cancún makes a very convincing argument on why more South Africans are making it their destination of choice.
Cancún is Mexico’s most popular resort area. It is located on the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo on what was previously a long strip of forest flanked by beaches. Cancún’s history as a tourist destination dates back to 1970 when the Mexican government chose the spot for development thanks to the area’s great weather, beautiful beaches, clear waters, and nearby coral reef. It’s now the biggest resort area in the country, with a population of around 600 000, and receiving over 3 million visitors annually.
Cancún has become synonymous with partying and the high life, but this part of Mexico is also home to some ancient ruins, beautiful beaches, and relaxing luxury resorts. If you’ve been toying with the idea of holidaying in Cancún but aren’t sure where to start, these handy tips should help get you started.
There are no direct flights from South Africa to Cancún, which allows you the opportunity to add a day or two in your connecting city (which we strongly recommend doing). Options include spending time in: Paris (if you fly Air France); Amsterdam (if you fly KLM); Sao Paolo (if you fly Latin America Airlines – LATAM); Atlanta (if you fly Delta Airlines); or London (if you fly Virgin Atlantic).
Cancún is seven hours behind South African time.
South Africans do need to apply for a tourist visa to travel to Mexico.
South Africans holding a valid multiple entry visa for the United States of America, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom or the Schengen Space countries do not need to apply for a tourist, business, or transit Mexican visa. More information can be found here.
When to visit
The best time to visit Cancún is between November and April – which is also peak season meaning larger crowds and slightly higher prices for airfare and hotels (unless you opt for all-inclusive, of course!)
Hurricane season technically lasts from June until the end of October, usually peaking in August and September, where you’ll find fewer people and cheaper prices.
Thanks to the Yucatán current continually bringing warm water from further south, the sea temperature is always very warm, with lows of 26 °C in winter and highs of 29 °C in summer.
Where to stay
Cancún is divided into two distinct areas: “Ciudad Cancún” which is also referred to in English as “downtown Cancún” and “Isla Cancún,” or “Cancún Island” in English. Downtown Cancún is a somewhat typical Mexican town on the mainland, where the majority of Cancún residents, most of whom work in the tourism industry, make their homes. There are economical hotels, markets, and restaurants in this area, but it is very different to Cancún Island, the main tourist area, known more commonly as the “Zona Hotelera” or “Hotel Zone”.
This Cancún hotel zone is located on a 24km-long sandbar in the shape of the number seven just off the mainland and connected by causeways on either end. Only one road, Kukulkan Boulevard, runs the length of the hotel zone. Tourist infrastructure such as restaurants, upscale shopping, and nightlife is concentrated in this area. The body of water between the hotel zone and the mainland is called the Nichupté Lagoon.
While largely an affordable destination, Cancún has (ultimately) been created as a tourist destination, so you can expect to fork out a bit when eating out and entertaining yourself. That is, of course, if you don’t opt for all-inclusive resorts, which is always a good idea, particularly if you’re looking for the most relaxing and stress-free type of holiday.
Club Med Cancún Yucatán is the ultimate all-inclusive family resort located at the tip of Mexico’s iconic Riviera Maya in the state of Quintana Roo. Alongside three white sand beaches and the world’s second largest coral reef, between the Caribbean Sea and the lagoon, Club Med Cancún Yucatán, offers an extensive array of water and land sports and easy access to the ancient Mayan wonders.
For transportation within the city, local public buses run frequently along Kukulcan Boulevard in the hotel zone and to downtown Cancún. They are convenient and economical. A one-way bus ticket (along Kukulcan Boulevard) will cost you 12 Pesos.
There are some important things to know about the bus system as a first-time visitor to Cancún:
- Bus stops are NOT marked with names and the bus does not notify passengers of what the next stop is, so you must know where you need to get to. That said, it’d be handy to download Google Maps offline for the Cancún area and track the bus’s movements on the app and when it stops near the destination you want to get to, be sure to signal to the driver that the next stop is yours, and hop off when you get there.
- If you get off at a stop and it’s not the right stop, you’ll need to pay another 12 Pesos to get onto the next bus.
- The buses and cars travel at quite a speed in the tourist area, so be careful when crossing the roads.
Spanish is the most widely spoken language in Mexico, but English is their second language (particularly in the main holiday areas which are frequented by English-speaking travellers).
Cancún might feel like a whole world away logistics-wise, but it is quite literally heaven on earth – and well worth the trip!