Cancún’s beaches are the stuff of dreams.

Here, swathes of wide, windswept strands alternate with ivory sand spits and remote sandbanks along the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Such natural treasures mean it’s no wonder Cancún has grown from a sleepy fishing village into one of North America’s most popular beach destinations.

The best beaches stretch along the Zona Hotelera, a 21km (13-mile) strip of land lined with all-inclusive resorts, glittery malls and nightclubs.

On one side of the narrow strip lie the dark marshes of Laguna Nichupté; on the other sprawls the spearmint-colored water of the Caribbean Sea –  home of the most sublime sandy stretches in Cancún.

Like the rest of Mexico’s Caribbean coast, Cancún has been affected by sargassum seaweed since 2008. Even though many resorts clean up the sargassum on a daily basis, the algae washes up again fast.

The Cancun Hotel Association provides daily updates on the state of the beaches on social media, so check the latest for the beach you want to visit in advance.

Whether you're looking for a castaway strand with not a single soul in sight or an adrenaline-pumping surf spot, Cancún has a beach to match your mood. To fulfill your beachcombing dreams, here’s our lineup of the very best. 

Palapas (beach umbrellas) on Playa Defines, Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Lie under a palapa on Playa Delfines to enjoy the people-watching – or a nap © Francisco J Ramos Gallego / Shutterstock

1. Playa Delfines

Best local beach

Ask any local about the best beach in Cancún, and you’re sure to hear about Playa Delfines. Running south of the Zona Hotelera across the street from Cancún’s most important ancient archaeological site – El Rey – Playa Delfines is one of the few beaches in Cancún not dominated by an imposing resort. 

You certainly won’t be alone here as it’s hugely popular with both locals and tourists – but it’s a large place, and there’s plenty of powdery sand for everyone to spread out. This sweeping beach is one of the rare surfing spots in Cancún, so bring your board or simply play in the waves. 

A longtime local favorite, Playa Delfines sits at the bottom of a gentle slope, where you’ll find the parking lot, bus stop and colorful letters spelling out Cancún (pure Insta bait). 

It also has facilities that are missing from most beaches in Cancún: public restrooms, lifeguards, rows of thatch-roofed palapas that are free to use, and even a playground. 

Planning tip: There are no snack bars here, but you’ll find vendors selling churros and mango-on-a-stick.

Beautiful young couple enjoying the beach, Cancún, Quintana, Roo, Mexico
It’s not hard to find a relaxing stretch of sand in and around Cancún © Guajillo studio / Shutterstock

2. Playa San Miguelito

Best quiet beach

While the crowds flock to the surf of Playa Delfines, you can escape them by making your way a few miles north to the quieter, more secluded Playa San Miguelito.

Backed by low-lying villas, San Miguelito has the same sugar-powdered sand, electric-blue water and gentle surf – with a fraction of the visitors Playa Delfines receives. 

This beach is an excellent spot for a refreshing dip after visiting the Museo Maya de Cancún, just south of the strand. You won’t find any amenities or palapas here – just pristine white sand to stretch out on. 

If you’re feeling peckish, the beach is just a few minutes' walk from the lagoon-facing La Torta Brava, which has affordable sandwiches, and the swanky, Tulum-style Taboo, a more upscale restaurant. 

Planning tip: All of Mexico’s beaches are public, including those dominated by mega-resorts. While the hotels’ sundecks and benches are off-limits, anyone is free to lie on the sand and enjoy the crystalline waters next to such developments.

Rocks on the beach with sailboats in the distance, Playa Tortugas, Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Playa Tortugas is wonderfully seaweed-free © dotmiller1986 / Shutterstock

3. Playa Tortugas

Best sargassum-free beach

Running almost perpendicular to the Cancún coastline, this glorious comma of sand in the northern end of Zona Hotelera receives less sargassum seaweed than other beaches in the area. 

If you’re visiting during the sargassum season, which runs roughly between April and August, this is your best shot at swimming in seaweed-free water.

Poised next to the ferry terminal, Playa Tortugas can get crowded with passengers waiting for their ride to Isla Mujeres.

Unlike the usual expansive sandy beach you’ll find in Cancún, Playa Tortugas is rimmed with rocky outcrops that make neat spots for poking around, especially for anyone traveling with children.

A woman walks on a sandy beach in the sunshine at the Playa Mujeres Beach in Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Playa Mujeres appeals to a sophisticated adult crowd © Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock

4. Playa Mujeres

Best beach for couples

A decade ago, Playa Mujeres to the north of the Zona Hotelera was a secret spot only whispered about by locals and residents in the know. 

Today, the area is home to more than a handful of adults-only resorts and the Playa Mujeres Golf Club. The beach tends to appeal to a mature, well-heeled crowd looking to unwind.

While it’s no longer a secret, it remains relatively quiet and unvisited. You won’t find thumping beach clubs or imposing mega-resorts here – just elegant boutique hotels and miles and miles of pristine sand.

People wade in the shallow sea at sunset at Isla Blanca, near Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico
An easy drive north of Cancún, Isla Blanca feels hundreds of miles away © Jakub Zajic / Shutterstock

5. Isla Blanca

Best beach off the beaten path 

To the north of Cancún lies the sublime sandbank of Isla Blanca – which is remote enough to feel hundreds miles away from the city. Yet the skinny, virtually untouched peninsula is a mere 23km (14 miles) away. 

You can reach this beach with an easy drive past Playa Mujeres, until you spot the spearmint Caribbean Sea on your right and the glimmering Laguna Chacmochuk on your left.

This hidden part of Cancún is well worth the drive – and you’ll most likely have it all to yourself. Backed by mangroves and soaring palm trees, this wild powder-puff-white sand spit is one of the few remaining patches of wilderness in and around Cancún. 

Planning tip: There are no restaurants or vendors on the beach, so bring snacks and drinks with you. It’s worth packing a mat and hat, as the sun can get overpowering on this shade-less beach.

Drone view of Playa Langosta, Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Shallow water and plenty of amenities make Playa Langosta a favorite for families © Getty Images

6. Playa Langosta

Best family-friendly beach

On the north shore of the Zona Hotelera lies the curved bay of Playa Langosta, which overlooks the Bahía de Mujeres. What makes this spot such a big hit with families is the shallow, crystalline water that’s safe and plenty of fun for the little ones.

In between splashing in the water, families can enjoy shrimp tacos at one of the waterfront restaurants. This beach also has a parking area, lifeguards, restrooms and a playground.

A family walks along the beach past the seaweed at Playa Forum, Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Before the party gets going, families can enjoy Playa Gaviota Azul, too © Jorge A. Delgado / Shutterstock

7. Playa Gaviota Azul

Best party beach

Thumping techno music, swimsuit-clad dancers and bottles galore: Playa Gaviota Azul (also known as Playa Forum) is party central for spring breakers. Located on the busiest stretch of Zona Hotelera, this curved bay is where people go to let their hair down and party all day and night.

Many of Cancún’s biggest nightclubs – including The City, Coco Bongo and Mandala – are located here. 

Planning tip: If you’re not prepared to shell out for admission to the dance floor, you can still enjoy the beach for free through the public-access point just south of the nightclubs. 

This article was first published June 2021 and updated February 2024

Explore related stories

Three friends jumping with happiness next to their car with palm trees in the background


The 10 best graduation trips to take in 2024

Feb 19, 2024 • 7 min read