Cancun’s airport is the gateway to the Yucatan Peninsula. But before you arrive at your Caribbean resort, it’s important to familiarize yourself with Cancun International Airport’s four terminals and how to stay safe.
I’ve flown into and out of Cancun over a dozen times. I’ll share the top things you need to know to ensure a smooth and safe experience.
About The Cancun International Airport
The Cancun International Airport debuted in Quintana Roo state in 1974, corresponding with the year when Cancun's first hotel opened. Nowadays, hotels in Cancun abound — as does the traffic around the airport — with tourists coming and going from their vacations.
Unless you’re staying in Cozumel, Cancun International is the best airport to fly into for beach destinations. Below is an estimate of how long it will take you to travel from the Cancun airport to popular beach towns in the Yucatan:
- Cancun’s Hotel Zone: 20 – 30 minutes
- Playa del Carmen: 50 – 60 minutes
- Akumal: 1 hour
- Tulum’s Hotel Zone: 1.5 hours
Keep in mind that these times assume you travel by private transfer. Heading to your destination by bus will take longer but save you pesos.
Is The Cancun Airport Safe?
The Cancun airport is a safe place to fly into, as the U.S. Department of State (DOS) doesn’t currently list travel restrictions for Quintana Roo state on their Mexico travel advisory page. Nevertheless, like any airport, you should keep your valuables in your carry-on bags and never leave your luggage unattended.
It’s also wise to secure your checked bags with a TSA-approved lock. While this may help reduce petty theft, the bigger reason is that there are stories of drug smugglers in Mexico using travelers’ luggage to move their products.
Thankfully, I’ve never experienced this situation despite leaving my checked bags unlocked before I was in the know. But as the saying goes, “Better to be safe than sorry.” This bag-locking recommendation holds true if you also travel on buses in Mexico.
Getting Around The Cancun International Airport
The Cancun airport has four terminals. Therefore, checking which terminal you'll arrive at and depart from is crucial if you book your transportation in advance.
Not all of the terminals serve the general public. The breakdown of these terminals is as follows:
- Terminal 1: Fixed Base Operator (FBO) for private flights
- Terminal 2: Domestic flights and some international flights (mostly from the U.S. and Europe)
- Terminal 3: Main international terminal
- Terminal 4: The newest international terminal
You can technically walk between the terminals if you arrive at the wrong one and have a lot of time on your hands. But it’s often faster — and more comfortable — to take the airport's free shuttle bus. The shuttle runs every 30 minutes.
Regardless of the terminal, I've always found navigating the Cancun International Airport easy once I'm inside. The airport is well-marked with English translations on all signs. Many airport staff also speak fluent English.
The Cancun airport also has many accessible facilities that you’d expect from an airport in the U.S. for people with special needs.
Transportation Must-knows at The Cancun International Airport
I’ve experienced the Cancun airport in both sleepy and zoo-like states. From my experience, the chances of the airport being packed to the brim with tourists boasting palm tree button-up shirts and brightly colored tank tops are far more likely than having lots of space at the pick-up area.
So, what does that mean for you? You need a plan for getting to your long-awaited beach resort.
Cancun Airport Transportation Methods
You have several options for traveling to and from the Cancun airport. They include:
- Taxi inside the airport
- Taxi outside the airport
- Pre-arranged transfer
- Car rental
- ADO bus
Let’s explore some of these transport methods in more detail.
Taxis Inside and Outside The Airport
You can book a private taxi transfer on the spot when arriving at any of the commercial airline terminals in Cancun. But if you choose to take a taxi, book one inside the airport.
Taking a taxi outside of the Cancun airport isn’t safe. In the worst-case scenario, there’s a higher risk of the taxis being pirate cabs. In less threatening scenarios, the drivers often charge more money, may give you a terrible exchange rate, or refuse to give back change when you pay with cash.
It’s wise to book a taxi inside the airport at any other Mexican destination you travel to as well. Whether you're weighing the safety in Cabo San Lucas or Mexico City, preventing issues while on vacation often boils down to making informed choices.
Arranging an airport transfer online in advance has several advantages. You’ll pay in advance, bypassing the possibility of your bank flagging your credit or debit card when they see a Mexico transaction. You also won’t have to wait for a taxi, a common occurrence at peak arrival hours at the Cancun International Airport.
It's common for a hotel to include an airport transfer for all-inclusive resort packages.
Regardless of how you arrange your pre-booked transfer, ask the company how they’ll identify you. Typically, the driver will hold a sign with your group's name in the exit area of the airport.
However, in rare cases, imposters may copy the sign, hoping you’ll see them first. So, it's best to ask the driver to give you details about your booking that the imposter can't possibly know, such as your full name. Alternatively, you can ask for the driver's name in advance and have them share it before you get into the vehicle.
Taking an ADO bus is an economical way to travel from the Cancun airport to many destinations around the Yucatan. Some places you can travel to by ADO from the airport include:
- Downtown Cancun*
- Playa del Carmen
*ADO doesn’t pass through Cancun’s Hotel Zone. If you’ll be staying in the Hotel Zone, it’s better to take a private transfer from the airport; the little bit of money you may save by taking the bus into downtown Cancun isn’t worth the time spent changing transportation.
ADO operates from terminals 2, 3, and 4. While booking your bus ticket in advance is possible, I don’t recommend it. Should your flight get delayed, you won’t receive a refund for your missed ride.
The good news is that all three terminals have an ADO kiosk where you can buy a ticket for the next departing bus.
I’ve booked an ADO bus on the spot many times upon arriving at the Cancun airport and have never had an issue with availability. The buses frequently run to popular destinations, so it’s unlikely you’ll have to wait long for the next departure.
Does Uber Operate at The Cancun Airport?
Uber doesn’t operate at the Cancun airport. Rideshare apps like Uber made negative international headlines in January 2023 because traditional taxi drivers were attacking Ubers, creating a dangerous situation for drivers and passengers.
The fact that travelers can’t safely use rideshare apps in the Cancun region is among the notable safety issues in Quintana Roo state.
That said, there’s little need to shy away from using Uber in other parts of Mexico. Uber has an excellent reputation in the neighboring Yucatan state, and I frequently use it when traveling around Merida.
Cancun Safety Tips
The Cancun International Airport has a high level of security, likely similar to the airport security in your home country. You’ll need to pass through a metal detector when checking in for a flight, and you may encounter police dogs sniffing luggage for drugs and other illegal items.
Assuming you’ve used a TSA-approved lock for your checked luggage, there’s little you need to worry about safety-wise inside the Cancun airport as long as you keep an eye on your valuables.
However, below are some best practice tips to ensure your trip starts and ends on a positive note:
- Take out cash at ATMs inside the airport or inside banks
- Keep your passport locked in a safe
- Carry a copy of your passport when exploring
- Use a money belt
Personally, I’ve never been stopped by police asking for my passport when roaming around the streets of Cancun. However, I’ve encountered police checks several times when traveling outside Cancun, where showing my physical passport or a copy of it was mandatory.
As for using ATMs, like in many destinations, some bad apples in Cancun install card readers on ATMs. The chances of this significantly decrease if you use an ATM inside a secure building, such as at the Cancun airport or a bank. If you’re American and don’t already have a Schwab card for travel, I recommend looking into it; you’ll pay $0 in ATM fees in Cancun and in over 200 countries.
Despite Mexico’s rocky reputation for safety, Cancun remains a popular beach destination. With a bit of advanced planning to get to your accommodation upon arrival from the Cancun International Airport, you can expect a safe start to your tropical getaway.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.