Mexico’s premier travel destination is quite easy to navigate, thanks to an excellent public transportation system geared to tourists who speak little or no Spanish.
However, there are certainly pitfalls to avoid, beginning the minute you arrive at the compact, well designed Cancun International Airport (CUN). Touts masquerading as shuttle or taxi drivers inside the terminal are usually time-share vendors, who you should avoid like the plague. (If they have free maps, however, you might want to grab those.)
Outside the terminal you’ll find airport colectivos, which leave when full and stop at several hotels before arriving at yours. Get pesos at an airport ATM to avoid being overcharged. Less expensive regular taxis will return you to the airport for about half the cost.
Many travelers reserve airport shuttles ahead of time, which is usually the cheapest, most convenient option. It’s often more expensive to book a shuttle through your hotel, so shop around online.
It’s possible (but not usually recommended) to rent a car in Cancun. If you rent at the airport, you’ll pay an extra fee; several companies have offices close by, and free airport shuttles that let you avoid the extra cost. You must purchase insurance, by law, even if you are covered by your credit card.
While having a car at your disposal is liberating, there are issues to keep in mind. Mexico is notorious for police officers demanding bribes for minor traffic infractions (particularly right before Easter and Christmas), so familiarize yourself with traffic laws beforehand. Your rental car company can help pay for tickets. Drunk driving is a crime, so take taxis out and about in the evening.
Cancun taxis are safe, clean, and can be found absolutely everywhere. They charge set fees to different “zones” within the city and region, so there’s no need to haggle. (Of course, if you’re taking a taxi further afield—say, to Chichen Itza or Playa del Carmen—you will need to negotiate.) They accept both pesos and US dollars, but as throughout Cancun, you’ll save money by paying in pesos.
Even if your Spanish is so-so, Cancun’s convenient bus system is worth a try. Buses are clean, frequent, and run 24hrs, and you just can’t beat the price—just 6.5 pesos anywhere in town. They accept dollar bills, but don’t give change. Drivers move fast, but just hang on tight and try not to get scared. When you see your stop, either pull the cord or yell, “Alto!” (This being Cancun, “Stop!” may also work.)
Ask at your hotel about buses to specific destinations, but you’ll probably use the R1, which runs from the hotel zone to downtown, Puerto Juarez (for boats to Isla Mujeres), and the main bus station. The R2 also connects the hotel zone with downtown. Secondary bus stations and other destinations may require different routes, so ask.