Cancún is a beach lover’s paradise: miles and miles of white sand beaches lapped by turquoise waters. Most of the city’s best beaches are found in the Zona Hotelera; a good reason to consider staying at one of the many high-rise hotels or all-inclusive resorts there. But even if that’s not your style (or budget), you can still easily enjoy Cancún’s beaches, which are as varied as the visitors who come here. Explore a bit and you’ll find everything from beach clubs with thumping-bumping music to palm tree lined beaches with not a soul in sight. 

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Beautiful beach on the Caribbean coast. Zona hotelera, Playa Delfines, Cancun, Mexico
For all around beach fun check out Playa Delfines© Iren_Key / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Playa Delfines 

Best All Around Beach 

Playa Delfines is a sloping, expansive beach on the southern end of the Zona Hotelera; a gorgeous place, and one of the only beaches in town without the backdrop of a towering hotel. It’s a great spot for playing in the waves and boogie boarding – though heed the water condition flags, the undertow can be especially strong here. Popular with both locals and visitors, Playa Delfines has amenities that most beaches are missing in Cancún: rows of free thatch-roofed palapas, public restrooms, even a playground and life guards. It also is one of the only beaches with a car park and a public bus stop. If you need a mid-day break from sand and surf, Cancún’s most visited archaeological site – El Rey – is just across the street.

Playa Pez Volador 

Best Quiet Beach

Playa Pez Volador is a hidden gem on a small bay in the Zona Hotelera. Locals come here for the calm turquoise waters and laid back vibe – sand castle-making is the most action you’ll find here. Amenities are scarce, so be sure to bring your beach blanket, umbrella and plenty of water and snacks. You’ll probably want a good book or gossip mag too. Minimal signage keeps the spot gloriously off the radar; to find it, look for the public access path across from the supersized Mexican flag on the north end of the main drag. 

Victoria's Secret PINK Nation Hosts Spring Break Beach Party in Cancun, Mexico
For DJs and beach clubs head to Playa Forum © Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images 

Playa Forum (aka Playa Gaviota Azul) 

Best Party Beach

Playa Forum is a curving stretch of white sand beach in the heart of the Zona Hotelera. This is literally where people come to get their groove on – most of Cancún’s famous nightclubs open directly on or near this section of sand. By day, beach clubs do their best to recreate the nighttime scene, with DJs and pumping music, scantily clad folks and bottles galore. Mandala Beach Club is the hot-spot here with pool parties and Jacuzzi mixers, beach beds and VIP beach access. Public access to the beach itself is just south of the club – a good way to soak up the party vibe without having to shell out for admission.

Vacation Lifestyles-Triumphant Boy at Beach
Your kids will celebrate at Playa Langosta ©avid_creative / Getty Images

Playa Langosta 

Best Family Friendly Beach

For families with kids, Playa Langosta in the Zona Hotelera is a welcome sight. Facing Bahía de Mujeres, the beach is wide, the water shallow, and ropes and buoys keep boat traffic from the onsite pier at a distance – perfect for little ones. In the water beyond the swimming area, a huge inflatable park (a floating obstacle course, basically) will keep kids and kids-at-heart running, climbing, and sliding for hours. On shore, beach chair rentals, oceanfront restaurants and a playground make it easy for everybody in the fam to enjoy a day on the beach. 

Isla Blanca

Best Off-the-Beaten-Track Beach

Isla Blanca is a sublime untouched peninsula, just north of downtown Cancún. It’s a thin strip of land with sand roads, white sand beaches on one side, a saltwater lagoon on the other. This is the place to get away from the hubbub of town, to beachcomb, and to get a glimpse of what the Zona Hotelera was once like. There are no amenities or life guards, just occasional fruit vendors  and a few rustic beach clubs offering palapas, beach chairs, grilled fish and cold beer (then again, what more could you want?) – Cabañas Playa Blanca is the best of this little pack. The lagoon-side, known for its steady winds and shallow waters, draws kiteboarders almost year round; they appear like a pop of color, giant birds in the sky, eliciting unexpected ‘oohs ahhs’ as you explore this hidden corner of Cancún.

Parasailing, Cancun, Mexico
Playa Marlin is the best beach for active beach goers© Brand X Images / Getty Images

Playa Marlin

Best Watersports Beach

A long, lovely stretch of sand with lifeguards on duty, Playa Marlin is an excellent spot for beach-goers who need more to do than just soak up the sun. Vendors here set up in small tents with boogie boards and jet skis for rent, while parasailing crews attract thrill seekers with their huge colorful parachutes dancing in the wind. Surf schools often give lessons nearby too. Beach chairs and umbrellas are for rent here, though you’re on your own for food and drinks. If you’re hankering for a sit-down meal and a blast of A/C, the neighboring mall, Plaza Kukulkán, has a handful of restaurants. 

Playa Norte

Best Classic Caribbean Beach

A short ferry ride from Cancún, Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres is a like a dream: a wide undulating beach, stretching across the northern edge of the island, with water that’s impossibly blue, like blue raspberry syrup. It’s remarkably shallow too – even far from shore, the water is no more than chest deep – perfect for swimming and water play. The sand, soft and talcum white, is shaded by towering palms, many strung with hammocks. People of all ages and types congregate here on blankets and lounge chairs, at beach clubs and restaurants, all sharing in Playa Norte’s dreamy beauty.

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