Let’s face it, sitting at the airport during a long Cancun layover in Mexico is torture. Turquoise waves, warm sand, and palm trees are just minutes from the terminal, but you’re stuck waiting in the lobby for your next flight—or are you? When you’ve got 24 hours to spare until your boarding time, leave the airport for a while and escape to the seaside.
How to get around
Your flight to Cancun will land at Cancun International Airport (CUN), which is just 4 miles west of the Caribbean coast. For one of the quickest ways to make a splash in the sea, rent a car in Cancun at the airport counters and drive yourself to the shore. You can also arrange for shuttle service in advance, but reserve one through the airport to ensure you ride with a reputable company. Don’t hold off and expect to hail a cab at the terminal, because taxis aren’t allowed to service the airport.
Best spots in Cancun
It won’t take long to realize why sun worshippers flock to this tropical destination; the sunshine beats down on wide stretches of white sand beaches as transparent waves lap against the shore. The average summer temperature lingers around 82 degrees F, while winter temperatures only drop to 72 degrees F, so we hope you packed your swimsuit in your carry-on bag.
With only 24 hours to spare, choose a beach to bask on, and let your only worry be whether to ride the waves or sip a margarita from the shore. Join the masses at Playa Forum, or go the more remote route at the low-key Playa Chac Mool stretch. If you’re looking to catch a glimpse of the tropical fish without going on a tour, snorkel at Puerto Morelos or the southern shoreline of the Hotel Zone. Want to go a little more extreme? Parasail along Playa Delfines, scuba dive at the Cenotes, or windsurf off the coast of Playa Langosta. From lounging under a grass umbrella to playing volleyball in the Caribbean Sea, this is one layover you won’t forget.
However, as incredible as the beaches may be, we won’t judge you if you don’t want to board your next flight with salty hair and sandy toes. Instead of spending your flash vacation at the seaside, check out the ruins at Chichen Itza. It takes roughly two hours to arrive at the site in Yucatan, but the journey will be worth it as you’re standing before the towering steps of El Castillo. Enter the fascinating world of this pre-Columbian city to discover ancient Mesoamerica’s largest ball court, and to take a peek at the jarring Skull Platform. While it’s easy to lose track of time at this ancient site, keep an eye on the clock to avoid missing your connecting flight.
If you do happen to miss your next plane—intentionally or unintentionally—you can always score a hotel in Cancun at the last minute. Staying an extra day in paradise wouldn’t be so bad after all!
What other attractions belong on your 24-hour itinerary?
Viewfinder Tip: The ocean currents can be dangerous, so keep an eye on flags and signs posted at the beach.