Cancun, Mexico – City Guide for Nomads and Expats

Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico.

This is where it all started. Cancun is the OG town in the Riviera Maya. Prior to the early 1970s there was no town here at all, and now (50 years later) there’s over 1 million people in the metro area. For context, the city was centrally planned as a development project by the Mexican government. The government actually built the first dozen hotels themselves. Once the Cancun airport was built, the town began growing at a very rapid pace. Prior to the development of Cancun, the city of Merida was the only significant population center on the Yucatan peninsula. Today, Cancun is a world famous tourist destination, known for its beaches, Mayan ruins, and partying. Cancun also serves as the gateway to the rest of the Yucatan peninsula.

POPULATION: 900,000


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NOMAD & EXPAT COMMUNITY IN CANCUN

Cancun is a touristy city, no doubt. What’s interesting is Cancun probably retains only a small percentage of the tourists that arrive at Cancun International Airport. Sure, the hotels in the hotel zone are probably mostly full. But most tourist arrivals tend to skip over Cancun entirely, in favor of places like Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Bacalar, and Holbox. If you go to a coffee shop in Cancun, you will most likely see some gringos working on laptops.

By the way – to exchange your crypto / digital assets for cash in Playa del Carmen you can hit up @sudo338 or @exchangeinmexico on telegram. Haven’t used them personally but they come recommended. 

Lots of nomads flock to Cancun but just a heads up – most prefer Playa del Carmen for long term stays. PDC is going to be way cheaper and more walkable. Cancun is more for tourism and short term stays. 

 

WHERE TO STAY IN CANCUN

The best area of Cancun is probably the hotel zone. This is where all the action is. The hotel zone is actually quite lengthy and spread out, but the action is centered around Punta Cancun (near the lighthouse). If you want to be close to the bars, this is where you will want to be. 

Cancun Hotel Zone Map
Cancun Hotel Zone Map

An alternative to staying in the hotel zone is to stay near Plaza Las Americas. This area is great because if it’s hot outside you can go for walks indoors in the mall. You can also eat in the mall, do banking, and lots of other daily tasks. What makes this area great is you are also close to Malecón Tajamar, a nice waterfront boardwalk area that is fun to walk or bicycle along. Anything far from the water is to be avoided.

Cancun Plaza Las Americas Map

 

WHEN TO VISIT CANCUN

The best time of year to visit is between late October and early April. During this time you will experience drier, cooler weather that is much more tolerable. You will also be avoiding hurricane season. December to March is high season in Cancun. The busiest weeks of the year are Christmas to NYE and Spring Break. Cancun weather is best from early December to late February, when temperatures are most moderate.

 

DAY TRIPS & THINGS TO DO IN CANCUN

Visit the Mercado 28. It’s a flea market with tasty food stalls & lots of stores. The Mercado is a great place to get a meal, pick up gear you need (i.e. a bathing suit or snorkle).

Visit the Plaza Las Americas. This is the upscale mall alternative to Mercado 28. This mall is very Americanized. You’ll see a much richer clientele here.

Go to the Museo Maya de Cancún y Zona Arqueológica de San Miguelito.

 

BEST CAFES & COWORKING IN CANCUN

Cancun has less good coffee shops than you might expect. They’re also spread out so if you find one with good wifi and a good vibe, you should just keep going there. Cancun is more tailored to the tourist crowd than the digital nomad crowd, which is probably one of the reasons there aren’t too many good cafes for remote work. 

Tradiciones Art Latte Cafe: Decent coffee shop, good prices, pretty close to Plaza Las Americas mall. 

Café del Profesor: Great sandwiches and wifi. Popular but a bit far from the centro.

 

BEST BARS & NIGHTLIFE IN CANCUN

Cancun is a great place to party. The only downside is logistics. Uber is inconsistent. Many of our digital nomad friends in Playa del Carmen will go for weekend trips to party in Cancun. Cancun is probably 10-20x as big as Playa del Carmen. If you want to meet locals (or at least other Mexicans), Cancun is the best place in Quintana Roo to do it. 

Bars in Cancun that My Latin Life recommends:

Selina Hotel: Great bar to meet other digital nomads.

Mayan Monkey: The ultimate party hostel. Not sure if it’s still open to the public. 

Mandala Cancun: The ultimate nightclub. Mandala is actually a chain of nightclubs with locations in Playa del Carmen, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas.

La Vaquita Cancun: Less fancy than Mandala and right across the street. The drinks will cost about the same but the vibe will be less serious.

 

BEST RESTAURANTS IN CANCUN

The food in Cancun is not as good are the food is in Playa del Carmen and Merida. In Cancun, the best and most authentic restaurants are very far from the beach. There are lots of fancy restaurants in the hotel zone, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Los Tarascos: The quality is high and the prices are great. When you go here you’ll mostly see locals and Mexicans.

El Nero Tacos: One of the best taquerias in the city. It’s quite deep into the city and very popular among locals. You won’t be disappointed.

Restaurante Natura: Decent spot in the hotel zone for healthy food at a reasonable price.

 

COST OF LIVING IN CANCUN FOR NOMADS AND EXPATS

Cancun is significantly cheaper than Tulum and marginally cheaper than Playa del Carmen. Your biggest variable expense in Cancun is going to be accommodation. You could stay deep in the city, far from the beach, and your rent/Airbnb is going to be much cheaper. The setup of Cancun is such that staying far from the beach is not a total loss. 

 

IS CANCUN SAFE FOR NOMADS AND EXPATS?

Despite all the news, Cancun is pretty safe. If you are staying in the hotel zone, nothing bad is going to happen. If you are staying in the centro, you can walk around during the day no problem. You can look at your phone, wear your Airpods, etc and you’ll be fine. At night you’ll want to be more careful. The further from the beach, the rougher the neighborhood. 

 

HOW TO GET TO CANCUN

One of the best things about Cancun is how easy it is to get here. The Cancun Airport is an excellent airport in terms of direct flights to Canada, the USA, and Latin America. There are less direct flights from Europe. Most European flights come with a connection through the United States or Mexico City. Overall, it’s very easy to get here. Expect direct flights at good prices. Puerto Morelos is a 30 minute drive away.

 

IS CANCUN OVERRATED?

You might be surprised to read this, but Cancun is probably underrated. Most people skip Cancun entirely, or only use it as a ‘layover’ destination for a night or two on the way to other parts of the Yucatan peninsula. Cancun sees lots of tourists of course, but it’s also a fairly large city. Many of our digital nomad friends in Playa del Carmen will go for weekend trips to party in Cancun. Cancun is probably 10-20x as big as Playa del Carmen. If you want to meet locals (or at least other Mexicans), Cancun is the best place in Quintana Roo to do it. 

 

FINAL THOUGHTS ON CANCUN

Cancun is an ideal location for digital nomads and expats to spend their winters. The thing about Cancun is it’s not really a year-round destination. In the summer it’s simply too hot and humid, and in the fall the hurricane season can be a bit scary. Cancun works best as a place to base up for the winter. Cancun is an excellent destination for snowbirds and people that want an easy 2nd base. 

 

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10


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