The Ultimate Wheelchair User’s Guide to Cancun
Ah, Cancun. Even for those who have never been, the word conjures up images of white sand beaches, drinks, and sun. Being a newer, more modern city, Cancun offers some of the best accessibility in Mexico for wheelchair users. This guide will give you a great jumpstart in planning your accessible Cancun vacation.
General wheelchair accessibility in Cancun
No doubt, this has to do with Cancun being one of the newest cities in Mexico. The Mexican government began developing it in 1970.
In order to better understand Cancun and its accessibility, it’s important to know that there are two main districts that people refer to when talking about Cancun- the Centro (downtown Cancun) and the Zona Hotelera (Hotel Zone).
Let’s take a look at the differences between these two areas.
Downtown Cancun is where most locals live. Accommodation is cheaper, taco stands and other local food abounds, and it has the overall feel of a more typical Mexican city.
If you enjoy culture and won’t be visiting other parts of Mexico that are richer in culture than Cancun, then taking a trip into downtown Cancun is worth your time.
However, we recommend going by car since sidewalks typically aren’t as wide or well maintained for long-distance exploration.
Places of interest in downtown Cancun include a large market called Mercado 28 and Las Palapas Park, which is known for its food stands.
However, you really only need to allot a couple of hours, at most, in downtown Cancun. Las Palapas Park and Mercado 28 are close together and wandering outside of these areas could land you in some less-than-ideal situations, in terms of both accessibility and safety.
When people think of Cancun, it’s the Zona Hotelera that they’re thinking about. In fact, most people don’t even venture into downtown Cancun.
Given that the Hotel Zone is where far more attractions are, and it’s much more accessible, the remainder of this post will focus entirely on the Zona Hotelera.
The Hotel Zone is a narrow strip of land that circles around mainland Mexico. The circular strip forms a lagoon on the inner side and sandy beaches facing the Caribbean Sea on the outer side.
A single road runs through the Hotel Zone, and as its name implies, there are a lot of hotels.
Nearly all hotels face the beach, primarily because most of the route is only wide enough for there to be hotels on one side.
Lagoon side of the Zona Hotelera
Although you’ll likely find yourself spending the majority of your time on the Caribbean side of the Hotel Zone, taking a stroll along the lagoon is an excellent option.
A wide sidewalk with dropdown curbs, where needed, runs along both sides of the main road through the Zona Hotelera. This makes it easy to enjoy views of the lagoon. Furthermore, the road is entirely flat.
Some parts of the sidewalk run more closely to the lagoon than other areas, but regardless, there are periodic, accessible lagoon viewing areas.
You’ll likely encounter wildlife along the way. Iguanas, in particular, graced us with their presence on the paths both along the lagoon and beach.
Wheelchair accessible beach access in Cancun
Despite being a narrow strip of land, the beaches along the Hotel Zone have notable differences.
The area called “Punta Cancun”, which is the widest part of the strip of land, tends to offer flatter beach access and calmer water.
As you head down the road away from downtown Cancun, you’ll come across steeper, sandy slopes leading to the shore and rougher waves, relatively speaking.
Hotels are packed side by side in the Hotel Zone, creating their own kind of semi-private beach in the sense that people who aren’t guests can’t enter from the road.
However, throughout the Hotel Zone there are periodic beach access areas, with wooden or cement ramps leading from the parking lot to the entrance to the sand.
We feel quite comfortable saying that you can expect to have wheelchair accessible parking options for any official public Cancun beach access area, as we never came across one that didn’t.
Travel Tip: Although there are public beach entrances, it’ll be less of a hassle for you to access the beach directly from your beachfront hotel.
Cancun has some of the whitest and cleanest sand we’ve ever seen. However, there are areas where the sand gets rather deep. Therefore, we recommend using a beach chair.
A company called Mobility Equipment Hire Direct.com offers beach wheelchair rentals. Simply fill out their online form with your travel dates and where you’ll be staying, and they’ll bring the chair directly to you.
Playa Delfines (El Mirador)
For the most part, when it comes to beaches in Cancun, the advice is simple- just relax and enjoy. However, there’s one place along the beach we highly recommend you visit, which is the Playa Delfines viewpoint, referred to as “El Mirador”.
The traditional viewing area is uncharacteristically inaccessible for Cancun. However, head down a handful of meters to the right and you’ll come across to a small, and typically vacant, balcony.
El Mirador sits on a high, sandy hill. The shades of blue from this viewpoint will surely take your breath away.
Never in our lives have we seen so many tourist signs for a destination.
You know the ones. The huge, colorful letters that in today’s Instagram world is pretty much a requirement for a destination to be taken seriously.
However, instead of having a single sign somewhere, Cancun has these signs everywhere. In fact, many private businesses, such as hotels and restaurants, have their own version of the sign for only their guests to use.
Although we’re the type that can do without a photo of a destination’s sign, we couldn’t help but be impressed with the sign at Playa Delfines.
Not only can you roll right up to the sign, but they have an accessible platform in front of the sign so that you can take photos of your loved ones. It also offers different photo angle, since it’ll put you level with the letters.
Coco Bongo is one of the hottest nightclubs in Cancun.
In fact, they proudly display CNN’s review on their billboard- “Puts Vegas nightlife to shame!”
Need we say more?
We didn’t attend a night out at Coco Bongo ourselves but had a chat with the manager to talk about accessibility. He was very helpful and explained the following:
- The main entrance to Coco Bongo is via stairs. Therefore, the Coco Bongo staff managing the stair entrance will escort you to the elevator.
- Arrive early so they can position you close to the performance stage and an emergency exit door.
- Wheelchair users need to sign a waiver form. Able-bodied people do not sign a form.
- It’s recommended that wheelchair users visit Coco Bongo on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, as this is when there are fewer crowds. Therefore, it’ll be easier for you to see the performances.
Keeping wheelchair users safe was clearly their number one priority when we spoke with the Coco Bongo manager. He stressed that the club can get very crowded.
Therefore, arriving early and avoiding more crowded nights (especially Fridays and Saturdays) will both help you to have a more enjoyable experience and will help the Coco Bongo staff to get you in a prime area that’s also near an emergency exit.
Forum By The Sea
Coco Bongo is located beside Forum By The Sea. This is a shopping center where you can purchase brand name clothes and (extra expensive) souvenirs.
To us, there’s nothing really spectacular about Forum…except the food court located on the top floor.
They have indoor and outdoor cafeteria-style seating with a 5-star view of the beach. Definitely worth stopping by, if only just to eat some ice cream there.
Travel Tip: Pop into Señor Frog’s souvenir shop. The items are fun to look and laugh at.
Mercado Coral Negro
If fancy shopping malls aren’t your thing, Mercado Coral Negro is just around the corner. This large, outdoor market is a one-stop-shop for loading up on souvenirs to take home.
Ramps lead up to the market. From there, the best accessibility is by rolling around the outside of the shops, as space is usually tight for entering. However, you’ll be able to see just about everything from the outside since most shops are small.
As you pass by the shops, the owners will encourage you to look at their items. It can be a little overwhelming if you’re not used to it, so be prepared.
Cancun is a great area to seek out street art. Parking lots at public beach access areas and side streets are some of the best areas to find it.
One of our favorites we came across was this ship in a bottle. In fact, it’s a small piece of a much larger mural.
Wheelchair accessible restrooms in Cancun
In a country where public restrooms can seem more numerous than taco stands, but almost none that are accessible, Cancun restored our accessible restroom faith.
An accessible restroom option was present whenever we came across public restrooms by the beach. The restrooms are typically located by the parking lot.
Furthermore, many restaurants and shopping centers, such as Forum, also offered accessible restrooms.
In regards to restaurants, there are many American chain options in Cancun. This no doubt gives Cancun a boost in the overall feel of its accessibility.
Wheelchair accessible parking in Cancun
We’ve touched on accessible parking a bit but really wanted to drive this message home.
Wheelchair accessible parking spaces are readily available in Cancun. This is the case in both the Hotel Zone and downtown Cancun.
Furthermore, the accessible parking spaces oftentimes go the extra mile to offer personal curb ramps beside the parking spot. These are most commonly found in the hotel zone. Below is an example.
Wheeling Around the Yucatán?
If so, good news!
We’ve put together a number of other accessible blog posts on destinations around Mexico’s stunning Caribbean peninsula. Check them out below:
Cancun may have not been our favorite spot in Mexico culture-wise, but its wheelchair accessibility is good compared to other destinations in the country. Have you been to Cancun as a wheelchair user? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section. Similarly, drop us a comment if you have any questions about accessibility in Cancun.
Laura’s love for traveling started with a trip to Jamaica. Since then, she’s spent over five years living in Latin America and four years wandering the globe. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.