The Ultimate Packing CheckList for a Cancun Vacation  (+ PACKING TIPS & Top Things to Do)

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on some of the links in this post and purchase something, I might receive a commission (a good thing)! There is no additional cost to you and this is how I help support creating free content for you!

Cancun is the most popular Mexico vacation spot for Americans. It’s not surprising why so many people visit Cancun and keep coming back to this Caribbean location. Cancun has so much to offer; beaches, snorkeling, famous nightlife, a wide variety of resorts and all-inclusive hotels, shopping as well as nearby islands, cenotes, Mayan ruins, and even theme parks. Cancun is a great launching point to explore the Yucatan Peninsula and many additional resort areas such as Playa Mujeres and Riviera Maya.

Cancun offers options for families as well as those looking for a romantic getaway. They have also become quite a popular destination for spring breakers!  

There are so many options when traveling to Cancun, you’ll want to make sure you pack the essentials! Below you’ll find my travel packing list including clothes, medications you should always have when traveling to Mexico, as well as my favorite beach necessities. You’ll also find additional information about Cancun as well as ideas for day trips and excursions as well as Mexico travel tips. 

Are you ready for some fun in the Mexican Caribbean? 

Where is Cancun?

Map of Cancun, Mexico

Cancún is located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatán Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea. Cancun is known for its gorgeous beaches, a multitude of resorts and it’s club and nightlife scene. It’s composed of 2 distinct areas: the more traditional downtown area, El Centro, and Zona Hotelera, a long, beachfront strip of high-rise hotels, nightclubs, shops and restaurants.

Casa Magna Hotel in Cancun, Mexico

The Yucatán Peninsula separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea, encompassing 3 Mexican states, plus portions of Belize and Guatemala. Mexico’s Riviera Maya is bookended by 2 popular destinations: Cancún, with its high-rise hotels and nightlife, and, down the coast, the quieter Tulum which has a fun hippy beach town vibe as well as Mayan ruins.

Cancun Vacation Packing List

Cancun Vacation Packing List

1) Anti-Diarrhea Medicine 

Travelan is my #1 must-pack item for Cancun or anywhere in Mexico. Travelan prevents travelers’ diarrhea before it starts, so you can enjoy every minute of your trip! The last thing you want to happen on your beautiful Mexican Caribbean vacation is to be stuck in your hotel room because of diarrhea (known as Montezuma’s revenge in Mexico).

Montezuma’s revenge can happen, as it does in many locations such as Bali, Indonesia (Bali Belly) or Delhi, India (Delhi Belly) because there are different bacteria strains you’ll encounter. For some, it will cause travelers’ diarrhea. The best way I have found to combat travelers’ diarrhea is being proactive by taking one Travelan caplet immediately before every meal.

Diarrhea Story #1 

The first time I visited Cancun was on a family trip when I was in high school. This was a multi-generational trip with my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and my sister. The day we had booked a tour to visit Chichen Itza (the most famous of the ancient Mayan archeological sites in the Yucatan), I woke up with a questionable stomach. I was terrified to leave the hotel, let alone get on a bus for a full day tour. Can you imagine?!

I ended up not going on the Chichen Itza tour and sitting alone in the hotel all day on my own. Well, that isn’t entirely true. I wasn’t just sitting in the room; I was making a lot of trips to the toilet. It was not a fun day of vacation in Cancun.  

It took me about 30 years to finally make my way back to Chichen Itza on a summer trip with my son. Traveler’s diarrhea can literally make you miss the most important day or days of your trip. It is not worth taking the chance, so I always bring and use Travelan when I travel to Mexico and India. When I finally make it to Bali, I’ll use it there as well!

 

2) Travel Insurance

World Nomad Travel InsuranceJust like the thought of getting sick on vacation, it’s never enjoyable to think about things that could go wrong on trip. Just like Travelan helps prevent diarrhea, travel insurance can also put your mind at ease. A good plan can ensure that emergencies that may come up – medical trouble, stolen items, damage to your belongings, etc. – are easier to handle, and at little to no extra expense to you. Plans aren’t very expensive – I highly recommend checking out World Nomads before you travel. World Nomads travel insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, to cover your trip essentials.

Learn More about WorldNomads.com ➜

 

3) Bring a GRAYL Ultralight Water Purifier Bottle

https://52perfectdays.com/travel-tips/52-tips-traveling-northern-india/When traveling anywhere in Mexico it’s very important to be careful about drinking water. The GRAYL water bottle comes with three optional filters; a tap filter for everyday water, an international travel filter which I take when I travel to Mexico and a hiking trail filter. The filters can be interchanged and all you do is pop on the filter of your choice, fill the empty outer cup with water and then push the inner cup with filter down so water passes through as filtered clean water (think French press). The bottles are BPA-free plastic. 

View on Amazon.com ➜

 


4) Waterproof Case for Your Smartphone

DryCASE waterproof phone caseA waterproof phone case is a must in Cancun. Whether you are snorkeling or simply enjoying the pool the waterproof vacuum seal on the DryCASE will keep your phone safe and dry. DryCASE is a flexible, crystal clear waterproof case that allows complete use of your phone or camera while keeping it dry and clean. Crystal Clear for taking Photos. Works with any Phone or MP3. Tested to 100 Feet for 1 Hour.

View on Amazon.com ➜

 
 

5)  Snorkel Gear

snorkel gearThere are plenty of snorkeling opportunities in Cancun. Traveling with your own mask and snorkel can save you quite a bit of money if you plan to do this activity several times on your vacation. I tend to leave my fins at home as they are so bulky, but always try to bring my own mask when I travel somewhere tropical. The ProDive mask also comes with a waterproof bag, which is great for holding everything you might need on a boating excursion. 

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6) Biodegradable SPF 50 Sunscreen

biodegradable sunscreenThis sunscreen is 50 SPF and coral safe as well as biodegradable. There is a huge problem occurring in parts of the world with coral reefs. With so many people wearing sunscreen with chemicals, it is killing the coral. Wearing a sunscreen that is reef-safe is the best solution. Some of the snorkeling boat excursions won’t allow you to wear regular sunscreen in the water, and that means a sunburn. So, do yourself and the coral a favor by choosing biodegradable sunscreen!

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7) Water Shoes

Wonesion aqua sockWater shoes always make it into my suitcase for beachy vacations. In Cancun, they are great for visiting cenotes, snorkeling, beaches with rocky water and boat trips.  

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8) Beach Bag

holly life mesh travel bagA large beach bag really does make days around the pool or beach easier. This is one item, I tend to forget and regret not having with me. It’s so nice to be able to throw a book, sunglasses, sunscreen, a bottle of water into one bag instead of carrying it to the pool or beach. I like the Holly life Pro bag because it keeps your items separated and also has an inside zippered pocket The bag is collapsible and mesh, so you can easily shake the sand out after a day at the beach.

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9) Swimsuit Cover-Up

Chalier Womens Striped Chiffon Swimwear cover upA cover-up is great on vacation. If you are simply headed down to the pool or beach, a coverup cute and comfortable. This one is soft and lightweight and will keep you cool on hot Cancun days.

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10) Sunhat and Polarized Sunglasses 

 WOWSUN Polarized SunglassesIt can be quite hot in Cancun, especially in the summer months. Even in the cooler months, if you are spending time at the pool or beach, you’ll want to protect yourself from the glare of the water. A packable sun hat (that doesn’t crush in your suitcase) and a good pair sunglasses are incredibly important to protect yourself from the heat and sun. 

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What to Wear in Cancun

 

Packing CheckList for a Cancun Vacation

It’s more than likely you’ll be spending most of your time in a swimsuit and flip flops, which is great news for your packing.

But there are a few essentials you will also want to bring on your Cancun vacation. For women, sundresses or shorts are perfect day time wear. Resort wear like maxi dresses with sandals are a perfect evening look. For men, shorts or lightweight pants and a t-shirt are great for day time and a chino or linen pant with button down are an ideal choice for the evening.

Some of the luxury resorts have dress codes and don’t permit sandals of any kind for dinner. Restaurants in town range from very casual to a dress code. While sandals are essential for a trip to Cancun, you’ll also want to make sure you have one pair of dressier shoes for dinner. If you enjoy outdoor activities such as zip lining or visiting the Mayan ruins, you’ll want to be sure to pack a pair of sneakers.

You might think it’s warm year-round in Cancun, but the temperature does fluctuate. Even in the warmest months, you’ll want to pack a light jacket or sweater. Last time I visited was January of this year and out of a week, we had 5 beautiful warm days, one chilly day and one day of rain. 

So, mix up a Margarita and grab a pen and start planning your vacation packing list for Cancun!

Clothing:

  • Underwear (nude and black)
  • Bras (beige and black)
  • Bathing suit
  • Bathing suit cover-up
  • Tank tops (white & black)
  • Tops (you can interchange with pants & skirts)
  • Shorts
  • Capri pants
  • Dresses
  • Skirts
  • White jeans
  • Jacket or Sweater
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • Workout gear
  • Pajamas

Shoes:

  • Sandals
  • Flip flops
  • Water shoes
  • Hiking shoes – I love my Keen sandals and closed in Merrell hiking shoes.
  • Exercise shoes
  • Evening wear shoes

Accessories & Necessities for Mexico Travel

  • Packing cubes – the perfect way to keep an organized suitcase. Makes it so easy to find what you want and eliminate chaos.
  • Hanging Jewellery organizer can change your life! I love the Tidybagz Jewelry Roll Bag that hangs so I can easily choose jewelry to match my outfit.
  • Swimsuit bag – Super useful on a beach vacation. Even if you only use it on the last day packing to go home. There is nothing worse than a wet bathing suit getting the rest of your suitcase wet!
  • Toiletry bag 
  • Silicone Collapsible Travel Cup
  • A book or Kindle
  • Journal
  • Scarf
  • Sun Hat
  • Polarized sunglasses
  • Evening purse
  • A purse that can double as beach or pool bag
  • Cross-body day bag for excursions and shopping.  I like the Baggalini, which stays secure to your body.
  • Jewelry
  • Rain jacket (if you visit in the rainy season)

Cosmetics & Toiletries

Most hotels will provide shampoo, body lotion, soap, and a hair-dryer. Check in advance to see if they also provide conditioner or other toiletries. Many of the luxury resorts provide a considerable amount of extra toiletries. 

  • Sunscreen
  • Bug Spray 
  • Conditioner
  • Hairbrush
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Body lotion
  • Face wash
  • Face serum
  • Face lotion
  • Eye cream
  • Lip Balm
  • Makeup
  • Makeup remover
  • Makeup bag
  • Hair straightener/curling iron
  • Hair ties and accessories
  • Vitamins

Packing Tip: Pack all toiletries that can spill or leak in a Ziploc bag. Unpacking to find toothpaste on your black skirt or pants is never fun!

Documents

  • Passport
  • Government issued ID or drivers license
  • Credit/debit card
  • Travel insurance policies
  • Documents for visas if you need them
  • Hotel booking information
  • Pre-booked tour information

The gadgets (non-clothing items):

  • Laptop, mouse & cord
  • Kindle
  • Iphone
  • USB
  • Camera (I use a Sony Mirrorless.. A great mid-range camera for a good price!)
  • Tripod (I like the Gorilla Pod)
  • Selfie Sticks 
  • Binoculars
  • Charging cords & USB cords
  • Electronics / Camera Bag for Charger and cable bags
  • Snorkel & Mask

First Aid & Medications

  • Mosquito/Bug repellent
  • Sunscreen or spray
  • First Aid Kit
  • Medications – carry any required medications
  • Aspirin / Ibuprofen
  • Hangover Cure
  • Seasickness prevention (I like Bonine)
  • Probiotics – the number one best thing you can do for your health, especially when you travel, is to take probiotics. When you travel Internationally, especially to countries like Indonesia, India, and Mexico I recommend  Travelan

My simple Cancun packing checklist  (which you can download a free printable copy of below) will help you.


 

What To Do in Cancun Including Day Trips & Excursions 

rappelling with AllTourNative in Cancun

In Cancun and it’s nearby towns you will find everything from cenotes to ruins to adventure theme parks. You could easily spend weeks, if not a month exploring the Mexican Yucatan area. Here are a few highlights of how you might want to spend your time in Cancun.  

Beach or Pool Day – Beach and pool time is a huge reason many people vacation in Cancun. Let’s face it, if you are heading to Cancun in January from Wisconsin or Nebraska, you’ll want to soak in the sunshine (and who can blame you)! Make sure to plan for at least a day or two to decompress and relax poolside or at the beach. 

Water Activities – ​You’ll find everything from snorkeling, jet skiing, scuba diving, parasailing, stand up paddle board, banana boats and even swimming in cenotes in the Cancun area. 

Cancun Hotel Zone District​ – You’ll find lots of shops, restaurants, night clubs and activities here. This area is what most tourists may assume is downtown Cancun. The traditional downtown area is El Centro and can be reached by taxi or bus. The Zona Hotelera exists for tourists. 

Downtown Cancun​ – Just a few miles from Cancun’s hotel zone is El Centro, otherwise known as downtown Cancun. Adventurous tourists know that Downtown Cancun has some great markets, restaurants, and shops. It’s a much more authentic Mexico experience. 

Market 28 – (Mercado 28) is a huge shopping center in downtown Cancun. This isn’t your typical mall, instead, at this giant flea-market, you’ll find 600+ vendors who sell pretty much everything. Bring cash, as most vendors here don’t accept credit cards. 

Archaeological Sites​​ – Chichén Itzá is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico and is just over two hours from Cancun.  Chichén Itzá is a must, but know there are additional Mayan ruins that can be visited including El Rey (ancient Mayan city), Tulum (Mayan ruin), Coba (ancient Mayan city) and Ek Balam (pre-Hispanic Mayan city).

There is limited shade to be found at most of the ruin sites, and it can be very hot. Most importantly, bring plenty of water and stay hydrated! 

Nightlife​ – Cancun’s nightlife is composed of everything from beach bars to nightclubs, such as the infamous Coco Bongo, Senor Frogs and. Bars are very casual, but most nightclubs require dressy attire such as a dress and heels for women and for men, a collared shirt, slacks, and dress shoes.


FAQs about traveling to Cancun

1) DEALING WITH Montezuma’s Revenge

Diarrhea is the leading health issue for international travel 

I know… it’s not a fun subject and it’s a situation we hope never happens, but the truth is statistics show that diarrhea is a leading health problem for international travel affecting up to 70% of travelers.

I travel to Mexico quite often. In the past, I would bring Pepto Bismol and a grapefruit seed extract supplement. If my stomach starts to feel funny I’d start popping Pepto and cross my fingers. For my first trip to India, I decided to take it a step further based on a suggestion from the Passport Health Clinic and take a preventative supplement called Travelan. It is a dietary supplement high in antibodies that help prevent diarrhea. Simply take one pill before each meal. There is so much more peace of mind knowing you are helping to prevent diarrhea rather than trying to fix it if it happens!

Diarrhea Story #2

Beyond my Cancun diarrhea issue (when I missed visiting Chichen Itza with my family and spent a day stuck in my hotel room so I could be close to the toilet), I also had an even more serious gastrointestinal issue when traveling in Turkey after college. I was traveling with a friend on an extended trip through Europe and on our last day Kusadasi, Turkey we ate lunch at a small restaurant.

Oddly enough, I had a cheese pizza, which I never thought could get me sick. In the middle of the night, I woke up with severe diarrhea and throwing up. It wasn’t good!

The next morning my friend found a doctor to come to our hotel to see me and said I had severe travelers diarrhea. He prescribed a few medications and recommended we not travel for a few days. Unfortunately, we were supposed to be taking a bus to Istanbul that day. We had planned to spend a few days there before we had to catch a flight we had already booked to Munich, Germany.

As you might guess, I really didn’t want to be on a bus in Turkey that didn’t have a bathroom and in a situation where we didn’t speak the local language. So, we ended up postponing our trip to Istanbul. This meant we had less than one full day in the city before catching our flight to Germany. This was a serious bummer!

Why I recommend Travelan:

  • My personal experience! It is NOT fun to be sick on vacation and Travelan worked for me traveling in India and Mexico.
  • Travelan reduces the risk of occasional diarrhea and helps to neutralize gastrointestinal issues before they begin.
  • Uniquely formulated to be high in antibodies which target bacteria such as Enterotoxigenic E.coli (ETEC), and can help support and maintain your gastrointestinal and digestive function and health.
  • Take one or two caplets of Travelan before each meal, and the anti-ETEC antibodies in the product lay in wait in the gastrointestinal tract. If you consume food or drinks that are contaminated with diarrhea-causing bacteria such as ETEC, Travelan antibodies will bind to these bacteria, neutralizing them and inhibiting their attachment to the intestinal wall.
  • Travelan is recommended to be taken in high-risk environments where food and water sanitation is uncertain, including popular holiday destinations like Mexico, Bali and India.

2) Do I need to speak Spanish in Cancun?

Most of the hotels, tour agencies, bars, and restaurants in the tourist area of Cancun will speak English. If you stay at smaller hotels, you may find less of the staff speak English. Whenever I travel to a foreign country, I look for common phrases in the language and print it out and carry it with me. It’s also great to pick up a book with Everyday Spanish Phrases.

Mexican people are very friendly, kind and willing to help. As long as you try (even in broken Spanish, they will appreciate the effort). 

2) Can I spend US Dollars in Cancun?

Everyone will accept USD in Cancun. But, beware that you will most likely receive your change in Pesos. So, it’s important to know the current exchange rate.  Also, it is customary to barter in Mexico. The first price a vendor gives you is not expected to be paid. They are expecting you to haggle. 

3) Do I need to tip in Cancun?

La Parrilla Margarita in Cancun

Tips are expected in Mexico, similar to the US. 15% is a good standard tip. Some restaurants will add the tip to the check, so make sure to check your bill, so you don’t tip twice.  

Speaking of tipping; in many of the restaurants, you will see mariachi bands. They usually charge a fee per song. Make sure to ask the cost before and not after!  

4) Can I drink the Cancun water?

Do not drink tap water in Mexico. You also should be careful about ice in your drinks at remote or smaller restaurants. All of the big hotels and resorts will have filtered water and ice. I prefer to brush my teeth with bottled water as a precaution. Bottled water can be purchased inexpensively, or you can bring your own water bottle with filter.  

Casa Magna Hotel in Cancun, Mexico

5) Is it safe to leave the Resort?

In Cancun, try to stick to the tourist areas and take organized tours. Use your common sense. You can get yourself into trouble anywhere! Don’t walk around alone at night, stay near the tourist zone restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Keep your eyes peeled for pickpockets.

6) How do I know if it’s safe to travel to Cancun?

You can easily verify current travel warnings for your trip by visiting the US Department of State website (if you’re based in the US).

7) Do I need vaccinations to visit Cancun?

No specific vaccinations are required for Cancun or Mexico in general, but check the CDC website to be sure. It is always a good idea to be up to date with all the standard travel vaccinations.

8) Do I need a plug adapter for Cancun?

You won’t need an adapter for US two-pronged cords, but any electronics which have a grounding wire (US three-pronged cords) may need an adapter. Many outlets in Mexico are two-prong only, and an adapter is the only way to plug in, say, your laptop if you’re bringing it.

9) What is the best time of year to visit Cancun?

Cancun is becoming more and more popular. The slow season is getting shorter and shorter. But, in general, prices peak late December through – April. 

May through early November tends to be the off-season when prices can be the lowest. Cancun does have a rainy season and can get hit by hurricanes (tends to be late summer). Check historical weather patterns to get a good idea of when to visit based on your comfort levels. I’ve visited for Spring break, in August (during the hurricane season) and in January (higher chance of cooler weather). I have enjoyed all three and had beautiful weather during all my visits. I saw the most rain during my January visit.  

10) Do I need a Passport to travel to Cancun?

Yes. You will need a passport.

Tip: Your passport should be valid for a minimum of six months at the time of travel.


Nearby Towns & Areas Worth a Visit (Or even a 1-2 night stay)

riviera Maya, mexicoRiviera Maya

The Riviera Maya is a stretch of Caribbean coastline on Mexico’s northeastern Yucatán Peninsula. It’s known for its numerous all-inclusive resorts, such as those in the town of Playa del Carmen, and its long beaches.

Costa Mujeres 

Located just to the north of Cancun, this is the newest area to be developed. You’ll find a variety of resorts here, that tend to be a bit quieter than the 

Tulum

To the south, Tulum is home to yoga retreats and the preserved ruins of an ancient Mayan port city, perched on an outcrop above a white-sand beach.

Merida

Mérida is the capital of the Yucatán. It has a rich Mayan and colonial heritage. The city’s focal point is Plaza de la Independencia, bordered by the fortresslike Mérida Cathedral and white limestone Iglesia de la Tercera Orden, both colonial-era churches built using relics from ancient Mayan temples. The Casa de Montejo, a 16th-century mansion, is a landmark of colonial plateresque architecture.

Valladolid 

Valladolid is west of Cancun and the halfway point to the Mayan site of Chichén Itzá. Valladolid is a colonial city with sites including the 16th-century Convent of San Bernardino of Siena, with an ornate wooden altarpiece, and baroque-style San Gervasio Cathedral. Casa de los Venados has Mexican folk art and furnishings. Cenote Zací is a sinkhole pool with stalactites. The underground cenotes of Samulá and X’Kekén lie southwest. 

Nearby Islands

Isla Mujeres, MexicoHolbox

Isla Holbox is an island north Cancun. It’s part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve and separated from the mainland by the Yalahau Lagoon, which is home to flamingos and pelicans. The car-free island, between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, is rich in marine life such as sea turtles and whale sharks. Highlights include laid-back Holbox Village and Punta Coco Beach.

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is a quick boat ride from Cancun; just 13 kilometers and there are daily boats to the island. It’s a vacation destination known for beaches such as northern Playa Norte, resort hotels and for snorkeling and scuba diving on the surrounding coral reefs. At Punta Sur, the southern tip, there’s a lighthouse, the remains of a Mayan temple and a sanctuary for sea turtles.

Cozumel

Cozumel is a popular cruise ship port of call famed for its scuba diving. At Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, you’ll find diving spots around a section of the Mesoamerican Reef and the Museo Subacuático de Arte’s submerged sculptures. Chankanaab is an eco-park surrounding a lagoon with underwater caverns, home to dolphins, manatees and sea turtles.

Thanks for sticking with me to the end and have an amazing time in Cancun.

 

 


This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on some of the links in this post and purchase something, I might receive a commission (a good thing)! There is no additional cost to you and this is how I help support creating free content for you!