Naturally, the beaches are the biggest draw in Cancun with their soft, white sand and brilliant turquoise-blue water. Cancun’s Hotel Zone is really just one long beach separated from the mainland by a system of lagoons. The dazzling white sand of Cancun’s beaches is light in weight and cool underfoot even in the blazing sun. That’s because it is composed not of silica but rather of microscopic plankton fossils called disco-aster (a tiny star-shaped creature). The coolness of the sand has not been lost on Cancun’s ingenious promoters, who have dubbed it “air-conditioned.”
All of these delightful beaches are open to you because all Mexican beaches are public property. Several of Cancun’s beaches are set aside for easy public access, but you should know that you have the right to walk and swim on any beach at all. In practice it may be difficult to approach certain stretches of beach without going through a hotel’s property, but few hotels will notice you walking through to the beach in any case.
Cancun’s hotel zone is shaped like the number seven, as you can see from the small map below.
At the top of the “7″ is the Bahia de Mujeres – the northern end of the hotel zone. Beaches here are beautiful turquoise-blue with white sand, shallow for some distance out, and have little or no surf, making them great for swimming, snorkeling and other water sports.
To the right of the “7″ is the Caribbean sea. The beaches here also have beautiful turquoise waters and white sand, and also have surf. Be especially careful on these beaches fronting the open Caribbean, where the undertow can be quite dangerous at times. In general, the best Caribbean-side beaches are found from the Sheraton and south.
To the left of the “7″ is the Nichupte Lagoon. It is a salt-water lagoon, and is generally not good for swimming. During the day, the Nichupté becomes a water sports haven, and many marinas offer jet skiing, sailing, kayaking, parasailing, windsurfing, water-skiing, and jungle tours.
Yes, there are even crocodiles in parts of the lagoon! However, Cancun’s crocodiles are non-aggressive species that feed on fish and other small wildlife. It is estimated that no more than twenty-five adult crocodiles live in the 5,000-hectare-lagoon system, most of them in areas distant from tourist activities except where they are fed by restaurants as a tourist attraction.
Public Beach Access
While all beaches in Cancun are technically public (owned by the government), you may not be able to access the beach by walking through a hotel, which is private property. Visitors staying in hotels that are not on the beach can access the beaches at any of the 10 public-access entries to the beach.
Playa Ballenas – Public entrance is a sidewalk along the Meridien Hotel wall fence. Incredible views, and peaceful sunbathing. Keep an eye on the warning flags, however, as the currents can be quite dangerous any time of the year. At kilometer 14 in the Hotel Zone, in between Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc.
Playa Caracol/Playa Las Palmas - Entrance is hard to locate. Go through the small wood gate next to Fiesta Americana Coral Beach. Also accessible through Xcaret bus terminal. Near Punta Cancun, ideal for children or beginner swimmers. One of the nicer beaches because of its flat shallow sand bed. Located at 8.5 km in the Hotel Zone.
Playa Chac Mool – Public entrance is across the street from Señor Frog’s. Public beach with changing area, handy restaurants. Be advised however that the currents are strong and it’s tempting to wade too far out into the shallow water. Good water sports area – sail-boarding, water skiing and parasailing. Located kilometer 10 in the Hotel Zone, near Punta Cancun.
Playa Delfines – Peaceful sunbathing and breathtaking views. However it also offers dangerous swimming conditions in the strong surf and sometimes treacherous currents. There are some stone benches for sitting and contemplating the sea, but no other facilities. At kilometer 18 in the Hotel Zone, near Punta Nizuc.
Playa Juventud – Here is a nice place for swimming and a good place for water sports. Located off of Kukulcán Boulevard at km. 3 in the Hotel Zone.
Playa Langosta – Excellent swimming. Situated in the middle of the north end of the Hotel Zone and facing Bahia de Mujeres, you can find some of the best swimming that Cancun has to offer at Playa Langosta. Lots of beach restaurants and bars. Located at km. 5 of the Hotel Zone. A dock with shuttles to Isla Mujeres and other tours located here too
Playa Tortugas - Public entrance is next to Fat Tuesday’s. Good swimming here, and perfect for water sports. A number of restaurants and refreshment bars located here too. Located at kilometer 6.5 in the Hotel Zone. Dock offering shuttles to Isla Mujeres and other tours
Playa Las Perlas – Another nice place for swimming and a good place for water sports. There are restaurants and bars on the beach. It is located at kilometer 2.5 in the Hotel Zone.
Playa Linda – Excellent swimming. Close to downtown and facing Bahia de Mujeres. Some of the best swimming in all of Cancun. Restaurants, changing rooms. Playa Linda’s dock is the departure point for submarine and dive tours. Located at kilometer 4 in the Hotel Zone.
Playa Marlin – Public entrance behind Kukulcán Plaza. Sunbather’s delight. Well known for its incredible, expansive views and peaceful sunbathing. Keep an eye on the warning flags however, as the currents can be dangerous. Located at kilometer 13 in the Hotel Zone, in between Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc.