Believe it or not, Cancun, Mexico is a great place to take a beach vacation on a budget.
Despite the abundance of luxurious all-inclusive resorts, famous night clubs, overpriced souvenirs, and costly admission fees to popular attractions, Cancun provides excellent value if you know where to look. The public beaches are free, public transportation rarely costs more than $1, and the truly local spots won’t try to charge you $15 for fish tacos.
With low-cost flights from major cities like New York and Miami available every day, there’s never been a better time to visit Cancun. Read our budget travel guide below for our top tips on living it up without going broke in Cancun.
Free and cheap things to do in Cancun
Head to the beach
Or should we say ‘vaya a la playa’?
Cancun’s coastline is dotted with countless gorgeous beaches that are completely free to visit.
Playa Delfines is Cancun’s largest, and possibly most beautiful, public beach. It sits on a quiet stretch of beach amongst the resort-laden Hotel Zone (Zona Hotelera) and offers plenty of room to kick back and sink your toes in the powder-soft white sand. The beach also offers public toilets, rinsing areas, umbrellas, thatched palapas for shade, and even local vendors selling fresh fruit and snacks.
Playa Langosta is another highly popular public beach in Cancun, especially with locals. In addition to free beach access, parking is also free. The crystal clear water here is shallow and usually quite calm, making it a popular spot for families. Despite not being a part of any resorts, there are still ample facilities and amenities including public bathrooms, restaurants, and beach chair rentals.
Explore ancient Maya ruins without leaving Cancun
If you want to avoid the high tour costs and the 2.5-hour drive out to Chichen Itza, you can still explore ancient ruins right in the heart of Cancun.
Hiding amongst the towering resorts and hotels of Cancun’s Hotel Zone, the El Rey Ruins – also known as the El Rey Archaeological Zone – allow visitors a convenient way to experience Maya Ruins. Visitors will quickly notice that the ruins are absolutely teeming with hundreds of iguanas, most of whom seem unbothered by human presence. Still, be sure not to feed or touch them.
The ruins cost just a budget friendly 55 Pesos (approx. $2.50) to visit and are located within walking distance from Playa Delfines.
Maya Museum of Cancun
Also located right in the heart of the Hotel Zone, admission to the Museo Maya de Canun provides access to both the museum and the connected San Miguelito Ruins, making it an excellent two-for-one budget choice.
The museum is filled with approximately 400 of the Yucatan’s most important Maya artifacts, including some from Chichen Itza and other Maya sites. The spacious outdoor section almost feels like a jungle, providing protection from the harsh sun as you tour the well-kept ruins and temples.
A visit to the Maya Museum and Cancun and the San Miguelito Ruins costs 80 Pesos (approx. $3.60).
Take a day trip to Isla Mujeres
Of all the incredible day trips that you can take from Cancun, a trip to Isla Mujeres is the most budget-friendly.
Isla Mujeres is a small island off the coast of Cancun. The name translates to the Island of Women, a reference to the island’s Temple of Ixchel, a Maya goddess. Isla Mujeres boasts breathtaking beaches and exhilarating activities like snorkeling, kayaking, and zip-lining. Many people choose to get around Isla Mujeres by renting a golf cart or bicycle.
The island is a short ferry ride from Cancun’s hotel zone. The ferry to Isla Mujeres costs between $7 to $15 depending on where you depart from.
Hunt for bargains at Mercado 28
Mercado 28 is a popular open-air market in downtown Cancun. At this long-standing flea market, vendors sell everything from local crafts and textiles to tourist t-shirts and souvenirs for your friends back home. Whatever you decide to buy, do as the locals do and try your hand at bargaining. Once the seller quotes a price, counter with a significantly lower offer. More than likely, they’ll respond with a reduced price and you’ll score a great deal on that leather bag. Just remember to have fun with it.
Where to stay on a budget in Cancun
Hostel Natura is a casual hostel that provides guests with a rustic, homey vibe without the feeling of roughing it.
The location of Hostel Natura simply cannot be beaten. The hostel is located right in the bustling Hotel Zone, close to beaches, shopping, and nightlife. If you choose to hang back at the hostel, there’s an excellent rooftop bar and a restaurant downstairs where hostel guests receive a discount. Guests also receive free breakfast.
Selina Hotels - 3 Locations
Over the last few years, Selina has become incredibly popular not only with everyday travelers but with digital nomads especially, thanks to their affordable rooms, ample coworking spaces, and heavy presence in popular digital nomad cities around the world.
Selina has 3 excellent locations to choose from in Cancun, depending on what kind of traveler you are. At the Selina Laguna Hotel Zone, guests absolutely love being right in the middle of the action, with close to access to vibrant nightclubs and party yachts on the lagoon. True beach bums will feel right at home at Selina’s location on the tiny island of Isla Mujeres, just a short ferry ride from mainland Cancun. Finally, Selina Cancun Downtown provides a welcome respite from the tourist-laden resorts without sending you too far from the action.
Nomads Hotel & Rooftop Pool
Despite the name, Nomads is actually an adults-only hostel and bar. But this isn’t your typical backpacker budget hostel.
This modern, trendy spot is like the backpacker’s alternative to overpriced resorts. The rooftop pool and bar, complete with a chic lounge and sundeck, provide a luxurious upgrade to your usual hostel social area. The rooms – available in mixed dorm, female-only dorm, or private with en suite bathroom – are bright, clean, and colorful with wood accents.
Nomads Hotel & Rooftop Pool is incredibly budget-friendly, offering free breakfast, dinner, and even occasional free yoga classes.
How to find cheap flights to Cancun
In the last few months, Dollar Flight Club members have saved between 70-90% on cheap flights to Cancun, Mexico. On average, our members spent $191 on their tickets to Cancun and saved $293 per ticket.
Here are a few samples of cheap flight deals that our members have received recently.
- Newark (EWR) to Cancun (CUN)
- Price with Dollar Flight Club: $172
- Average Price: $447
- Chicago (ORD) to Cancun (CUN)
- Price with Dollar Flight Club: $158
- Average Price: $498
- Denver (DEN) to Cancun (CUN)
- Price with Dollar Flight Club: $197
- Average Price: $541
- Toronto (YYZ) to Cancun (CUN)
- Price with Dollar Flight Club: $267
- Average Price: $625
- Los Angeles (LAX) to Cancun (CUN)
- Price with Dollar Flight Club: $274
- Average Price: $526
Where to find cheap eats in Cancun
Parque de las Palapas
This city park is the place to go if you want to get your hands on some real Mexican street food.
With just a handful of vendors open, this park is pretty quiet during the day time. Come nightfall, Parque de las Palapas completely transforms into a bustling local hangout spot. There are live music performances, entertainers, and rows upon rows of street vendors serving up delicious Mexican favorites like empanadas, tacos, tostadas, marquesitas and so much more.
In the section above, we told you the Mercado 28 was one of Cancun’s best places for shopping on a budget. What we didn’t mention is that it’s also one of the city’s best places to get delicious, cheap eats.
Once you’re done haggling over souvenirs, find your way to the food stalls of Mercado 28 and take your pick of tasty tacos, fresh seafood, or just a place serving ice-cold local beers. If you love seafood dishes like fresh ceviche, try the always popular El Cejas. For some of Cancun’s best cochinita pibil, a local style of slow-roasted pork, be sure to visit Restaurante Atotonilco.
Blue Gecko Cantina
If Buffalo shrimp, Texas brisket, and Korean barbecue sound like your kind of taco flavors, Blue Gecko Cantina is the spot for you.
This quaint little spot packs a big punch when it comes to flavor. The menu here feels like an American bar and grill meets beachfront taqueria. It features an eclectic mix of tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, as well as assorted bar classics like jalapeno poppers and nachos. And because they know you’re on vacation, the drink menu is equally impressive, boasting plenty of frozen cocktails, margaritas, and local beers.
Start planning your visit to Cancun
There’s so much more to Cancun than overpriced margaritas and expensive resorts. Cancun is a world-class city that truly has something for the foodie traveler, the history buff, the life-of-the-party night owl, and everyone in between.
So whether you’ve always wanted to dance at the world-famous Coco Bongo nightclub or you’re finally ready to cross the Maya ruins of Tulum off of your bucket list, be sure to save this budget travel guide, sign up for cheap flight alerts, and start planning your Cancun vacation.
BY: ZACH ANDERSON, CONTENT MARKETING & FLIGHT EXPERT
Zach is a digital marketer, copywriter, and flight deal expert at Dollar Flight Club where he helps 1 million people travel more. As a digital nomad, he is deeply passionate about location independence, Thai food, and helping others see the world affordably.