Playa Cancun – Image courtesy of houseoftravel.net
Cancun Beach Guide
Discover a choice of gorgeous beaches in and around Cancun.
Protected by the world's second-longest reef system, the Yucatán's Caribbean coast stretches 380km from Cancun to Chetumal, sharing a border with Belize. Here you can find numerous powder-white sandy beaches shelving into mainly shallow, crystal clear turquoise waters.
The best of these beaches include, Cancun Beach, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Xpu-Ha.
Choose your own spot to sunbathe on Cancun’s gorgeous, 22km-long ribbon of powdery white-sand beach that gently shelves into the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean Sea. The 40m-wide beach is divided into sections, each with a different name.
Swept clean daily, the beaches are lined with luxury beachfront hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs and offer a huge variety of water sport activities along the north and east coast of Cancun Island. Relax in the sun, go swimming or choose from a variety of watersports, including sail boarding, water skiing, catamaran sailing, water bikes, parasailing and kayaking. Beach sports include volleyball, soccer, badminton, jogging, Frisbee golf (also known as ‘frolf’) and horseback riding.
The northern beaches, which stretch from the Hotel Zone to Punta Cancun, face onto the tranquil Bahía de Mujeres and are Cancun’s best beaches for calm water swimming. Several offer water sport facilities as well as diving and snorkel tours and water taxis to Isla Mujeres.
Playa las Perlas is great for swimming and watersports, with a good selection of restaurants and bars; Playa Linda hosts dive tour operators; Playa Caracol is ideal for children with its shallow, flat, sandy sea bed; and Playa Tortugas is best for snorkelling and, together with Playa Langosta, fronts a wide range of hotels, bars and restaurants.
The eastern beaches face onto the unprotected Caribbean Sea and are great if you love swimming and diving into big waves or want to go jet skiing or sea kayaking. Playa Chac Mool and Playa Ballenas are probably Cancun’s most popular beaches as they offer good swimming and great people-watching, as well as variety of watersports and beachside bars and restaurants.
Playa Delfines is best for relaxing, swimming, surfing and perhaps spotting dolphins as they swim offshore, while nearby Playa Nizuc, located towards the southern end of the beach strip, offers many of Cancun’s most exclusive resorts and hotels.
For a secluded spot – without vendors, strollers, music or beach sports – try the beach at the Camino Real Hotel located at the southern tip of the peninsula; the beach is accessible only by walking through the Camino Real Hotel.
Cancun’s beaches are all public, so once you access one beach you can walk in any direction and freely access most beaches. The hotel-zone hotels all face beaches and provide guests with a variety of facilities, including beach waiters, palapa sun shelters, volleyball courts, aerobics classes, bars, restaurants, showers, toilets, towels and lifeguards.
Given the open sea conditions, Cancun’s eastern beaches operate a water safety flag system: white is excellent, green is safe to swim, yellow means use caution, red means it’s dangerous so use caution and black means it’s too dangerous, don’t swim. Beaches are routinely patrolled by lifeguards and are generally safe.
Playa Norte (Isla Mujeres, Cancun)
Sunbathe on the gorgeous, wide, powder-white sandy beach or swim in waist-deep, calm turquoise water on this tiny ‘Island of Women’ (Isla Mujeres).
A great family beach, Playa Norte (North Beach) offers diving on El Garrafón reef, offshore snorkelling and boat excursions to Isla Contoy’s national wildlife reserve. Facilities include bars and restaurants on the beach (some offer free lounge chairs and hammocks for their customers) and snorkelling equipment can be rented. Located just a 30-minute boat ride from Cancun.
Playa del Carmen (Riviera Maya)
Head to the hippest beach on the Caribbean Coast, a clean white-sand beach located just 64km south of Cancun. The beach flows south from the main beach fronting Playa del Carmen town into several beach areas named after beachside resorts.
Perhaps the most renowned of these is Maroma Beach, a manicured powder-white beach fronting the 5-star Maroma Hotel, which offers a variety of creature comforts. One of the best beaches for children is found at the northern end in front of the Porto Real resort. Here a section of coral runs for about 18m, forming numerous little rock pools that often trap little fish at low tide – lots of fun for the kids.
Playa offers a low-key, friendly, relaxing beach scene with great swimming and a wide choice of hotels, restaurants and bars. Go swimming, chill out under a straw parasol on the beach, discover craft and jewellery bargains in the alleyways of Playa, explore ancient Mayan ruins nearby or take a boat trip to Cozumel Island to swim with dolphins, snorkel and dive.
At night, stroll down the beachside, pedestrian-only Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), lined with restaurants, clubs, cafes and shops, while being entertained by enthusiastic street performers. Beach facilities here also include lifeguards.
Xpu-Ha (Riviera Maya)
Discover a stunningly soft, sugar-white sand beach stretching for several kilometres south of Play del Carmen and north of Tulum. The beach fronts a few hotels including the Copacabana and Xpu-Ha Palace. Go swimming, snorkel the inshore reef or just stroll along the gorgeous jungle-lined beach. At the northern end lies one of the largest natural sinkholes in the region – the Cenote Manati.
Kantenah (Riviera Maya)
This secluded white-sand beach shelves into Kantenah Bay and offers safe swimming, sailing and great snorkelling on the inshore reef with creature comforts supplied by two beachside resorts, the El Dorado Spa & Resort and the Kantenah Palladium resort.
Akumal (Riviera Maya)
This gorgeous palm-fringed beach stretches from cove to cove around Akumal Bay and is well catered for by numerous hotels and resorts, especially to the south end of the bay. The beach is renowned for its good diving and snorkelling at nearby Yal Ku Lagoon to the north. Look out for sea turtles at nearby Half Moon Bay.
Tulum (Riviera Maya)
Beneath the picturesque ruins of the Mayan Temple lies a beautiful, powder-soft, white-sand beach that stretches south, dipping between rocky headlands and offering a secluded escape away from the often crowded main beach beneath the ruins. Swim out from the beach into the warm, azure Caribbean Sea and look back at the ruins for an unforgettable memory.
Continuing past a rocky promontory, the beach emerges into a long and wide sweep of sugar-white sand at Tulum town. Known as Main Beach, this is lined with popular upmarket beach clubs and palapa hotels (open-sided, thatched-roof structures), where you can use the facilities for either a day, overnight or longer.