Cancun, and the rest of the Riviera Maya region, offers everything from relaxing poolside settings to ancient Mayan ruins to mysterious cenotes and underwater caves to fun evenings full of nightlife.
With such a diverse list of activities and attractions, you really have to plan what you are going to pack so that you can be prepared for every situation. Your packing list could vary depending on what activities you plan to conquer, but we have covered all of the essentials. Here is our ultimate packing checklist for Cancun.
Passport & a copy of passport
Cash - There are atm machines everywhere here, but the fees are very high. It is also smart to bring lots of $1 bills for tipping.
A pen to fill out all the customs paperwork on the plane.
Bandaids and Neosporin - In case you get blisters
Tide stick, Downy spray and travel detergent - These items have been lifesavers when traveling pretty much anywhere.
Wet wipes and hand sanitizer
Snack bars, nuts or any other snack easy to throw into a pack. Make sure to choose something that can hold up well in the heat. (Avoid melt-able things like chocolate).
Medicine - Any prescription medicine, ibuprofen, nausea and anti-diarrhea meds.
Extra contacts and eyeglasses if needed - you will be spending a lot of time in the water and sun.
Packing cubes or extra ziplock bags.
Gopro with underwater case - There are lots of underwater shots to take in Cancun.
A selfie stick - Important: do not pack a selfie stick in your carry on when leaving Mexico. Security is taking them away claiming they are too big. We have only experienced this problem in Mexico.
A Fedora Hat - A hat is necessary all year round in Cancun. I absolutely love my fedora hats and wear them everywhere.
Sunglasses - If you are like me and lose sunglasses like crazy, I recommend packing a couple pairs. Bring a cheap pair for when you are doing any adventure activities and a nicer pair to wear poolside.
Swimsuit - You will live in a swimsuit so pack several. I usually bring 3-4.
Swimsuit cover up - I usually bring a couple
Sundresses - 3-4 casual sundresses. These are versatile clothing options: you can wear down to the pool, out for lunch or even to dress up for dinner.
Evening dresses - While the Riviera Maya is a casual destination, you may want to bring a couple of cocktail dresses for more formal evenings out. Even then, high heels are not recommended.
Sandals - Pack a couple pairs so that you can switch it up.
Tennis shoes - You should bring one pair of comfortable shoes. You will need them to visit ruins and for any other daylong adventure activities.
Shorts - 2-3 pairs of shorts
Tank tops - 3-4 tanktops
Workout clothes (yoga pants, sports bras) - Whether you work out on vacation or not, we highly recommend packing a couple workout outfits. They will come in handy if you choose to do any adventure activities.
Swim trunks - 2 to 3 pairs
Flip Flops - My husband always packs a couple pairs of Rainbow Flip Flops.
Sunglasses - Bring two pairs just in case you lose one.
Shorts -3-4 pairs
T Shirts - Plan on 1-2 shirts per day
Button up shirts (for going out)
What to Know:
The Bathrooms - The Riviera Maya - which includes Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Isla Holbox, Cozumel, Merida and Tulum - does not have a plumbing system like the U.S. You cannot flush toilet paper down the toilets anywhere in this region of Mexico, not even the five star hotels.
The Bugs can be really bad in areas like Tulum, so be sure to have bug spray with you at all times. Bring small travel size as well as larger bottles. The bug spray and sunscreen can be very expensive in Cancun, so make sure not to forget to pack these items.
Weather - It can get extremely hot so make sure to stay hydrated and always carry a bottle of water with you everywhere. The best time to visit Riviera Maya is when the weather cools down a bit is between October and May. It's beautiful all year round, but can be scorching hot in the summer months.
Phones - Make sure to add an international data plan on your phone if your carrier does not already include one. Also, if you like to have music while you travel, dont forget to download it before you leave. Remember, Pandora does not work in Mexico. You can also download Jango, which works in Mexico and is pretty similar to Pandora.
To save on data, download WhatsApp for free texting and calls when connected to WiFi.
Things to Do:
Visit the Mayan Ruins: Chichen Itza, Tulum and Coba are all close to Cancun. The Tulum ruins are a great choice when the weather is really warm because they are on the beach. You can also visit both the town of Tulum and the ruins at the same time, so this is a great day trip.
Tulum - Tulum is just over an hour's drive from Cancun. It's a very easy trip, so renting a car is highly recommended. With a vehicle, you can explore this chic little beach town on your own. Tulum is a small place, but it is full of boutique hotels, cool restaurants, uber chic shops and, best of all, a white sand beach. You can check out our guide to Tulum here.
Make a visit to Merida - This small historical town, just a couple hours inland from Cancun, is full of colonial buildings, traditional hacienda style homes, a central square, and traditional restaurants and shops. Merida is very colorful and vibrant, so be ready to load up your Instagram feed.
Swim in the Cenotes - There are 100’s of cenotes throughout the Riviera Maya. These can be visited solo or with a tour group. You can just drive down the streets and see signs for cenotes. Be sure to bring your underwater camera because there will be many great photo ops. Also, bring some sort of bag or waterproof case for your valuables so they don't get wet if you wade or swim into the cenotes.
Water activities: Swim with turtles, go snorkeling and relax by the beach.
Xcaret - The underground rivers here run through vibrant caves. You can float and snorkel through the tunnels that are illuminated by natural light. This is a must see when in the Riviera Maya area.
Go off the beaten path - Take a ferry over to Cozumel for the day or take a boat to the always-uncrowded Isla Holbox.
Have you been to Cancun. Do you have a tip about what to pack? Share your travel essentials in the comments below.