17 Top Cancun Packing List Items + What NOT to Bring (2018 Update)

Updated on April 2, 2018 by Asher Fergusson

What should I bring on my Cancun trip?

When it comes to a tropical location, Cancun has it all! Beaches, reefs, hiking, caves, shopping… You can’t get bored here.

With so many things to do, you’ll really need to be careful about how you pack. I’ve put together a list of top items to pack for Cancun, along with what NOT to bring, how to dress, and some FAQs.

Most importantly, be prepared for fun in the sun and sand, and bring a smile and a sense of adventure!

1) LifeStraw Water Bottle – When traveling anywhere in Mexico it’s very important to be careful about drinking water. It’s not too hard to find drinkable water in touristy parts of Cancun, but it can be dangerous to drink water anywhere outside of those areas. This LifeStraw bottle filters water through layers that remove bacteria and other microbes plus any other contaminants, and it’s as easy to use as drinking from a regular water bottle.
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2) Universal Waterproof Phone Case – This case is waterproof, dust-proof, shock-resistant, and all-around awesome. It protects your phone while still allowing you to use the touchscreen and camera, and the inexpensive price tag helps you stick to your budget.
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3) Activated charcoal – Activated charcoal is one of the coolest products I’ve come across for traveling. It’s a safe and effective way to rid your body of any toxins that may be causing your traveler’s diarrhea or stomach upset. It can quickly get your digestion back on track so you can get back to enjoying your trip!
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4) Travel Insurance – I never like thinking about the things that could go wrong on any trip, but having travel insurance always puts my mind at ease. A good plan can ensure that emergencies that come up – medical trouble, thieves, damage to your belongings, etc. – are easier to handle, and at little to no extra expense to you. Plans aren’t very expensive – I highly recommend checking out World Nomads before you travel – it’s also rated extremely well by other frequent travelers.
View their plans at WorldNomads.com ➜

5) Lipstick-sized portable charger – You’ll be out and about for most of each day in Cancun, but you can’t expect your devices to stay charged that long if you’re going to be looking up maps and taking pictures. This portable charger will ensure that you can recharge your items on the go so you won’t have to worry about being cut off from your travel group or other information! It uses a standard USB port so most charger cables will fit.
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cellphone charger

6) Virtual Private Network (VPN) – A Virtual Private Network is an excellent way to achieve two crucial goals.

First, it will allow you to use available internet without any country-specific censorship or blocks.

Second (and probably the most important), it will allow you to use wifi without fear of being hacked. It does this by adding an extra layer of encryption to your data to prevent cyber-thieves from stealing your personal data. Trust me, you don’t want to learn the hard way what it feels like to have your credit card information stolen by someone in a foreign country! NordVPN is what I highly recommended and it’s popular amongst many other experienced travelers as well.
View NordVPN.com Options ➜

7) Reef-Safe Sunscreen – With the snorkeling and other ocean-based opportunities Cancun has to offer, you should use a sunscreen that’s ocean-safe. Standard sunscreens contain chemicals that have been proven to cause severe damage to aquatic ecosystems like coral and fish, but this sunscreen and others like it are made without the damaging chemicals. They’re also still good for sun protection, and that’s something you’ll definitely need in Cancun! Bring aloe gel as well – trust me, almost no one visits Mexico without getting at least one sunburn.
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8) Deet-Free Mosquito Repellent Bracelets – Mosquitoes will be an issue in certain parts of Cancun and the surrounding areas. These wristbands make mosquito-protection effortless. Just put one on before you set out and you’ll be protected during the day! No hazardous sprays or DEET to worry about.
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9) Affordable Underwater Camera – You’ll want to seriously consider bringing a waterproof camera like this one on your trip to Mexico. Most activities you do will involve water, and you don’t want to risk damaging your regular digital camera or your phone. This one is lightweight and versatile, and pretty hardy so you won’t have to worry about damaging it while adventuring, plus it’s a less expensive option if you don’t want to go all-in for a GoPro or a DSLR camera.
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10) Leave-in hair conditioner – Mexican sun and heat can take quite a toll on your hair. My recommendation is to avoid hot styling tools and to use leave-in hair conditioner to protect and condition your hair each day, especially if you’ve been in the water. This spray smells great and will reinvigorate your locks so you don’t end up with long-term damage when you head home.
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11) Mesh Slip On Water Shoes: Women’s and Men’s – These amphibious shoes will protect your feet both in and out of the water. This is extremely handy when you’ll be traversing land and sea areas frequently, and often back-to-back. You don’t want to have to carry extra shoes with you if you can avoid it.
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12) Female Urination Device and Travel Toilet Paper – This sounds pretty weird if you’re not accustomed to foreign toilets, but many toilets you’ll encounter on your trip will either be pretty sub-standard compared to what you’re used to back home, or may not be very well stocked. The female urination device allows you much more flexibility when it comes to toilets that you just don’t want to mess with. Bringing a pack of travel toilet paper will also ensure that you have what you need should you find the bathroom ill-equipped.
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13) Swimsuit Cover Up – You’ll likely be on the beach a lot so you’ll spend a lot of time in your swim suit. Often just a cover up will do if you’re hanging poolside or beachside and enjoying a snack or a meal, so opt for a nice-looking one for that purpose. Plus, it’s always more fun to feel like you look especially good while you’re on vacation!
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14) Packable Sunhat and Sunglasses – The sun and heat can be oppressive in Mexico, and the water near the coasts will reflect that back at you even more. A quality, packable (meaning it won’t become crushed or misshapen by packing it in your suitcase) sun hat and some good sunglasses are incredibly important for sun safety on your trip.
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15) Travel First Aid Kit – I never travel without my first aid kit, especially to places with questionable water quality. It’s too easy to get an infection from a minor cut or abrasion, so having a way to immediately treat basic wounds is crucial.
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16) Backpack or daybag – A daypack is a must-have in Cancun since many activities will take you some distance away from your accommodations. You’ll want to have everything you need with you, and you’ll want the bag you use to hold those items to be sturdy but lightweight and easy to carry. This bag is great, and folds up for easy storage when you’re not using it. This also makes it a pretty good beach bag – it can zip closed to keep sand out as well.
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17) Sarong – It always amazes me how many uses I can find for my sarong when I travel. When I need a makeshift privacy screen, airplane blanket, or pillow case, it’s there and performs admirably. I can also use it for a beach blanket and a swimsuit cover-up if needed, of course! I highly recommend bringing one.
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Other things to take on your trip


What to Wear in Cancun

Cancun is fairly warm all year round with certain months bringing higher heat.

You’ll always want to bring a swimsuit and other appropriate beach items, of course. You’ll also need to be sure to bring good walking or hiking shoes and adequate sun gear like a hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from the harsh sun.

Always remember rain gear, too – you never know when a coastal storm may pop up, and you don’t want to end up soaking wet!

Along those same lines, avoid heavy fabrics like cotton and denim, as they take ages to dry and aren’t the most comfortable in the Mexican heat. One exception is linen – this fabric is perfect, and lightweight!

What NOT to take to Cancun

1) 🚫 DON’T BRING heavy books – Books take up a lot of luggage space and are usually heavy. Consider how much you are going to read and if it justifies the space. Better yet, opt for a Kindle that will take up much less space, and can be protected with a waterproof case.
2) 🚫 DON’T TAKE lots of cash – Cancun has many ATMs, so don’t risk taking lots of cash with you. There is no need to risk losing a large amount of money. Many shops, restaurants, and bars also take credit cards so you will be fine with smaller quantities of cash.
3) 🚫 DON’T PACK expensive jewelry – Expensive jewelry can make you a target for pickpockets and scammers. It can also very easily get lost, damaged, or broken. Leave these items at home so you won’t need to worry about them while you are on your trip.
4) 🚫 DON’T TAKE warm, bulky clothing – The majority of the time in Cancun it’s hot. Even when it’s wet, it’s still warm. Pack for hot weather with a chance of rain – leave the cold weather gear at home! Go for lighter, quick-dry items instead.
5) 🚫 DON’T BRING fruits – It is illegal to bring many types of fruits into Mexico. If you are going to pack food for the flight, make sure you do not have any fruits when entering Mexico as you could face a large fine from customs. Besides, fresh fruit is pretty yummy in Cancun!
6) 🚫 DON’T PACK items that won’t dry well – In this hot, humid climate, you don’t want to bring anything that won’t dry quickly or that will become burdensome once it’s wet. Leave heavy cotton items especially – think jeans, towels, sweaters – at home.

Frequently Asked Questions

1) Do many people speak English in Cancun?

Many of the local people working in hotels, tour agencies, bars, and restaurants in the tourist area of Cancun will speak English.

It’s still very likely that you’ll run into people who do not speak English, so be prepared to use a Spanish/English dictionary and your patience. People are friendly and willing to help.

Also, many taxi drivers will only know basic English so knowing a little Spanish may help.

2) Can I spend US Dollars in Cancun?

Many hotels or businesses will accept USD in Cancun, although it is not recommended to spend in USD. You will almost always get an unfavorable rate or simply be ripped off. Try to always deal in the local currency if you can help it, and familiarize yourself with the appropriate prices before making big purchases.

3) Do I need to tip in Cancun?

Tips are expected in Mexico, similar to the US. 15% is a good standard tip.

Many places add on the tip automatically so it’s best to check your bill – the Spanish word for tip is “propina.” If a tip has already been added, it is certainly not necessary to add more.

Baggers in supermarkets expect a small change tip, and musicians in bars usually walk around with a jar expecting a few pesos.

4) Can I drink the Cancun water?

Most visitors to Cancun cannot handle the local water very well. It’s advised that you drink only bottled or filtered water. Bottled water can be purchased inexpensively, or you can bring your own filtered water bottle that can remove microbes and bacteria so you always have a safe supply of water on-hand. (Many filtered bottles do not remove certain contaminants – this one is a good option for Cancun)

5) Is it safe to leave the resort/tourist area?

Many people travel to Cancun and are unsure about leaving the resort. The tourist area is more than safe for visitors, although you should always be vigilant for pickpockets.

Cancun outside the tourist area is also relatively safe, though there’s not too much to see for tourists in the immediate vicinity – you have a to travel a little to get to the attractions. If you are the more independent traveler type, you can save money on tours by going to places like Chichen Itza yourself from the bus station.

6) Do I need vaccinations to visit Cancun?

No specific vaccinations are typically required for Cancun, but check the CDC website to be sure. It is always a good idea to be up to date with all the standard travel vaccinations anyway. (MMR, Typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis A)

7) Do I need a plug adapter for Cancun?

You won’t need an adapter for US two-pronged cords, but any electronics which have a grounding wire (US three-pronged cords) may need an adapter. Many outlets in Mexico are two-prong only, and an adapter is the only way to plug in, say, your laptop if you’re bringing it.

8) What is the best time of year to visit Cancun?

Travel to Cancun should be planned using many factors, but the two most important to most travelers are weather and prices. Prices peak during the winter months – December through March – and they fall again on the off- and shoulder-seasons.

Weather affects this drastically. May through November tends to be the off-season when prices are lowest, but that’s because it’s the rainiest time of year. Shoulder-seasons – the times when prices and weather balance out a bit – are early December and April.

9) What about the recent safety concerns in Cancun (2018)?

There have been some recent crimes in Cancun which have sparked media coverage. These issues are nerve-wracking for any traveler. The best way to make an informed decision when traveling is to read up on government travel warnings for any destination you travel to. Otherwise, if you follow basic safety precautions and are cautious with your after-dark whereabouts, you’ll likely never run into any trouble.

10) Do I need a Passport to travel to Cancun?

Yes. You will need a passport of some sort – if you’re flying in, it’ll need to be a book-style passport (the standard option).

However, if you’re arriving from the US by boat or driving you can use a PASS passport card, which is a sophisticated wallet card that’s the size of your Driver’s License or ID.

Your passport should be valid for a minimum of six months – the period that a US citizen can stay without a Visa.


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Author: Lee Carter

Lee Carter is a writer and Web Designer from Accrington, U.K. He has been traveling since 2009 throughout North America, South America, Central America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Lee and his partner Kelly like to blog about working and traveling the world.