Bikinis, Bug Spray, and Biodegradable Sunscreen: What to Pack (And Leave At Home) For a Cancun Vacation

Travel Tips — By Susan Vincil on July 21, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Photo by Pablo Lancaster-Jones

When packing for a trip, most of us tend to over-pack.  For that reason, and because airlines are charging an arm and a leg for checked baggage, I’m going to give you the low-down on what you need to pack for a trip to Cancun…and tell you what you should leave at home.

First of all, I’ll tell you what you should NOT bring…

Do not pack or wear expensive jewelry.  You could easily lose a valuable ring in the water, or things could be stolen.  Of course, most hotels have in-room safes but they aren’t exactly Fort Knox.  It’s better to be safe and just leave the good stuff at home.

Your hotel will have beach towels so don’t waste precious luggage space by packing your own.  And, if you happen to stay in a small hotel that doesn’t have beach towels, you can pick one up at Walmart, or at any of the malls.

Ladies, you do NOT need to pack 10 pairs of shoes.  I love shoes as much as anyone can possibly love shoes, but trust me on this.  You only need flip-flops, or comfortable sandals, and maybe one pair of high-heels, if you plan to hang around the resort and hit a few nightclubs.  If you plan to visit Chichen Itza, or other Mayan ruins, then you’ll need to pack some comfortable walking shoes.

Since most guys I know only own 2 or 3 pairs of shoes, the issue of which shoes to pack is rarely one they have to deal with.  However, I’d like to point out that some of the swankier all-inclusive hotels have dress codes in their restaurants.  They usually require men to wear long pants and NO open-toe shoes are allowed (so, no flip-flops or sandals at dinner, guys!).  You can usually find dress code information on hotel websites.

Of course, you will definitely need sunscreen and toiletries during your vacation but, since you can easily find shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, sunscreen, aloe vera gel, Solarcaine (for sunburn), etc., at Walmart, or any other supermarket in the area, you may opt to NOT pack them and just buy all of those items when you arrive in Cancun.   That will save lots of room in your suitcase and will keep the weight of the bag down too.  Hotels like Dreams Cancun Resort & Spa and Secrets Maroma Beach Rivera Cancun include full-size bottles of shampoo, shower gel, body lotion, and sunscreen in their in-room amenity kits.

Now, for the things you should definitely pack for your tropical getaway in Cancun…

Pack lightweight, breathable fabrics.  Ladies, you just need sundresses, shorts or capri pants, and some tank tops or lightweight, short-sleeved (or sleeveless) tops.  Guys, other than the long pants and dress shoes you may need for dining at your hotel, you’ll be fine in shorts and cotton shirts everywhere else.  Some of the nightclubs do no allow men to enter in t-shirts, so pack some short-sleeved shirts with collars and you should be all set.

Next, pack more underwear than you normally would.  It can be VERY hot and humid in Cancun…especially during the Summer months.  You’ll probably shower more often than you would at home, just to cool off.  And, in that case, you will likely use more underwear than you would on a normal day back at home.

Men and women should be sure to pack several swimsuits.  After a day at the beach, most people rinse out their suit and hang it to dry in their hotel room.  Due to the high humidity levels in Cancun, swimsuits might not dry overnight so, if you pack extra swimsuits, you’ll always have a dry one when you are getting dressed for a day of fun in the sun.  Also, during sea lice season (from March to August, but the worst months are April, May, June, & July), it’s a good idea to have several swimsuits on hand.

To avoid having a horribly itchy and painful vacation, as a result of an encounter with sea lice, rinse off immediately after getting out of the sea and change into a different bathing suit.  Rinse out the suit you wore into the ocean as well. Other than avoiding the sea altogether, this is one of the only ways to reduce your chances of being bothered by sea lice.  If you plan to travel to Cancun between March & August, it’s wise to pack Safe Sea.  This product protects the skin from sea lice and can be purchased with or without sunscreen.  I’m a “pool person” and don’t spend much time frolicking in the Caribbean Sea so I’ve never had a need for Safe Sea, however, I’ve heard rave reviews about the product.

For the beach, definitely pack sunscreen and reapply it often.  The sun is intense and it doesn’t take long to get a sunburn here.  Bring a beach bag to hold your sunscreen, hair clips/hair ties (It’s windy on the beach and, if you have long hair, you’ll need a hair tie.), a good book, and your camera.  I like to put my camera and cell phone inside a Ziplock bag so sand or water won’t ruin them.  Ziplock bags can also be used for packing wet swimsuits on the day you go home, or for holding shampoo bottles so they don’t leak all over your clothes.  I always pack Ziplock bags when I travel…and I always end up using them.

If you plan to visit Xcaret, Xel-Ha, or go snorkeling or diving in a protected area, you will only be allowed to use biodegradable sunscreen.  You can buy it here in Cancun, but you will probably find a better deal if you order it online, before your trip.

Bug spray is something you will need if you visit Coba, Chichen Itza, or any other sites in the jungle, but you might want to have it on hand, in case you visit after a rainy period, when mosquitoes are out everywhere, in full force.

Definitely bring your credit cards, ID,  and ATM card.  Some places ask to see an ID when you make a purchase with a credit card so make sure you carry your photo ID with you if you plan to go shopping.  Also, if you are traveling from the US, you will not need to exchange money before arriving in Cancun, because US Dollars are widely accepted here (don’t bring anything larger than $20s).

Bring lots of small bills for tipping (NOT coins…US coins can’t be exchanged here and will be useless to the person you tipped with the coins).  Keep in mind that, if you make a purchase with US Dollars, you will be given back change in Mexican Pesos.  The best way to get Pesos is by using the ATM.  You’ll get the best exchange rate and some banks don’t charge any fees if you use an ATM of one of their Mexican affiliates.

Something no visitor to Cancun or the Riviera Maya should be without is one (or all!) of MapChick’s Maps & Guides.  These are not plain old, run-of-the-mill maps, by any means.  In addition to giving you the lay of the land and listing the distance between certain points, MapChick’s maps also tell you taxi rates within Cancun’s hotel zone, and gives hotel and restaurant reviews.  It’s a small, family-owned company and MapChick (aka Laura), and her husband, Perry, do so much research to be able to put out a great product year after year.  I have the whole set of maps and love them.  Even after living in Cancun for 7 years, I still find MapChick’s guides to be quite helpful and handy.

For people staying in Cancun, be sure to order the Entertainment-Plus 2×1 Card before your trip.  This discount card allows you to get 2×1 meals at certain restaurants and that can add up to a substantial savings on food, throughout the course of your trip.  If you are staying outside of Cancun, the card really won’t be a bargain to you because all of the participating restaurants are in Cancun.

As a Cancun resident, I’m always wearing flip-flops and I don’t leave home without sunglasses, cash & coins for taxis and buses, eyedrops (It’s windy and dusty/sandy here & you never know when you might need eyedrops.), Band-Aids (even your favorite flip-flops sometimes cause a blister), hair clips, a small digital camera, or extra batteries for the camera.  One thing I still can’t seem to get used to is Winter in Cancun.  Yes, I know, this is supposed to be the land of the endless Summer….but it’s not.

If you visit Cancun in December, January, February, or March, the temperatures can be quite chilly, by Caribbean standards.  It’s not uncommon for evening temperatures to get down to the 50s…and sometimes low-50s! Brrrrr!!  When visiting during the Winter months, bring a jacket, long-sleeved shirts and/or light sweaters, long pants, and socks.  While 50s are probably much warmer than the Winter temps most of you battle each year in your hometowns, they can still be a bit of a shock when you aren’t properly dressed.

After you’ve got your bags all packed, remember to put a smile on your face, have a good attitude,  and keep an open mind.  We all tend to forget those things when we are traveling, from time to time, and it can really make a big difference in how much you enjoy your trip.

Tags: cancun, cancun packing list, cancun vacation, entertainment plus 2x1 card, mapchick's maps, safe sea


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