Last Updated on November 30, 2022 by Janine
Wondering what to pack for Cancun or the Riviera Maya? This packing list breaks down what to wear for a comfortable trip to Mexico’s best beach region.
When you’re jetting off to somewhere for the first time it can be difficult to know what to pack. Some people solve this problem by bringing a massive suitcase and throwing everything in it.
Personally, I’d much rather put that $30 checked bag fee towards my margarita fund, and I’m sure you would too! That’s why I’ve put together this handy list of exactly what to pack for Cancun and the Riviera Maya!
For those of us that are devout carry-on travelers, packing light is a delicate art form that involves carefully planning exactly which items are absolutely necessary for your trip.
The selection process can become complicated once you start anticipating all the different types of activities and locations that you intend to visit. You might begin asking yourself questions like…
“Can’t these running shorts can be dressed up with the right top?”
Trust me, I’ve been there. They cannot.
The good news is Cancun is a pretty easy destination to pack for in a carry-on. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind before you start filling your suitcase…
Riviera Maya Climate
Generally speaking, the climate in Cancun and the Riviera Maya is exactly what my Canadian dreams were made of. Hot, humid (but not too humid), with just enough breeze for the palm tree fronds to rustle and create a delightful tropical soundtrack to the beach.
There are really only two seasons in Cancun: wet and dry. The wet season lasts from May to October and the dry season from November to April.
The wet season just so happens to be the hottest time of year, with temperatures averaging in the 80s, even when it rains. And when it rains, it pours. Often the showers last only 20 minutes, but sometimes they can last for an hour or more.
Occasionally a rainstorm will persist for days on end. …Like when my bestie visited from LA and we had to stay inside watching Backstreet Boys documentaries …er… I think I’ve said too much.
Visiting during the rainy season does mean you run the risk of having your beach days interrupted by showers, but it also means that crowds (and prices) are much lower.
In the dry season (November through April), the average is a little lower, usually in the mid-70s, though it can drop to the high 60s at night. While this is basically still a summer day for us Canadians, it may not be what you’re expecting in Cancun!
Definitely pack a sweater if you’re visiting in the dry season!
Traveling soon? Don’t forget to buy travel insurance for Mexico. Insurance gives you peace of mind knowing you can get the help you need if anything goes wrong. SafetyWing is the provider that I recommend.
Activities in Riviera Maya & Cancun
Another important factor to consider is what types of activities you’re planning to do while visiting Cancun.
If you’re planning to scale any Mayan ruins, you’ll want to be sure to bring sensible shoes. If you’re hoping to partake in a snorkel trip you may want to pack a rash guard to protect you from sunburn.
If you’re planning to spend your vacation sampling Cancun’s fine dining options or nightclubs, you’ll need to pack a dressy outfit or two. By the way, if you’re headed to an all-inclusive in Cancun, check out my guide to packing for a Mexico resort!
You might find these posts helpful as you continue planning your Riviera Maya trip:
- Tips For Your First Trip To Mexico
- How to Get From Cancun to Playa del Carmen and Tulum
- The Perfect 5-Day Playa del Carmen Itinerary
- 18 Incredible Things to do in Riviera Maya, Mexico
What to Wear in Cancun & Riviera Maya
A comfortable pair of quick-dry board shorts is a must on your Cancun packing list. These are perfect for active days, like exploring Mayan ruins, visiting an eco-park, or even just a day at the beach.
Even if you have to throw them on over your wet swimsuit they’ll still be dry within an hour. You can easily wash them in your bathroom sink and have them be good as new for the next day!
You’ll want to also bring a pair of more stylish shorts to wear in the evenings or during days spent firmly on land when you might want to dress your look up a little bit. You know, for dreamy vacation photos and such! If you pick a pair with a material like linen, or soft cotton they’ll feel really nice against your (likely) sun and salt-starched skin.
Putting on a wet swimsuit is literally one of the worst feelings in the world, so it’s always best to travel with two.
Pro Tip: If you’re a big sunbather, take swimsuits with different strap styles so you can avoid prominent tan lines as much as possible!
I like to take one swimsuit that is more of an athletic style (like this one from Athleta), for days when I’m planning to be really active — like on snorkel trips, or cenote swimming. This helps prevent unfortunate incidents like having your top ripped off by rogue waves as you return to the beach (awkward)!
For the second swimsuit, I usually take one with minimal straps so I can lay in the sun without getting weird tan lines.
Related Reading: The Best Swimsuits for a Mexico Vacation
When it comes to tops, try to take a variety of styles. I like to take one standard t-shirt or tank-top that will go with just about everything.
Then I choose an athletic type top, for active days. These dry quickly and usually wick sweat from your body. Some are even smell-resistant, which is a nice bonus!
Next, I recommended taking a couple of cute, lightweight tops that will create the illusion that you’ve put a lot of effort into your appearance, regardless of whether you have or not!
A sundress is a no-brainer for a trip to Cancun. The best pick is one that is casual enough for daytime but can be dressed up for evenings out! The easiest way to achieve this is by choosing a black one, but there are plenty of colorful options that will work as well. Choose a comfy, flattering cut that pairs well with a dressy pair of sandals, and you’re all set!
One Maxi Dress
A maxi dress is perfect for days when you want to keep the sun off your skin a little. Plus, how else are you going to take those majestic Instagram photos that are all the rage right now?
One Pair Leggings/Pants
This might seem like a weird addition to the list, but sometimes it actually gets cold in Cancun. Plus, planes and buses are always air-conditioned, so you’ll be comfier if you have something warmer for travel days. I love Athleta’s leggings because they aren’t too thick, and the high-rise waist means they’re super comfy and flattering.
It’s always a good idea to bring a sweater or jacket. After all, you never know when you’ll be trapped in an air-conditioned building! If it’s too hot to wear, you can always use it as a pillow on the plane!
ACCESSORIES TO BRING TO CANCUN
No packing list for Mexico would be complete without a pair of flip-flops. I don’t know about you, but wearing shoes when it’s hot out feels suffocating. I love being able to slip my flip-flops on as soon as I get to the beach!
Sneakers are a good idea for days where you expect to do a lot of walking. Unless you’re a total flip-flop veteran like me, it’s a good idea to give yourself proper arch support. However, practical sandals would work too, like these Tevas.
I’ve hiked 100’s of miles through California’s mountains, Costa Rica’s jungles, and everywhere in between in my Nike runners and can’t recommend them enough.
When you’re next to the ocean the glare of the sun is only amplified. Make sure you protect your eyes with a pair of stylish shades!
The most essential toiletries to pack for Mexico are sunscreen and your toothbrush. Though, if you’re tight on space, you can skip them and buy them here!
If you do pack sunscreen, make sure to get a reef-safe brand, as many of the attractions don’t permit you to wear ANY unless it’s biodegradable.
Related Reading: 7 Best Biodegradable Sunscreen Brands for Mexico
OTHER ITEMS TO PACK FOR CANCUN
If you’re planning to any water sports, you’ll want to consider bringing a waterproof camera. It’s magical to be able to snap photos and videos of all of the colorful fish and turtles when you’re snorkeling! There’s a lot to see down there!
I have an older GoPro Hero and a selfie stick, and it’s the best! If you don’t already have a waterproof action camera, definitely consider one! If a GoPro isn’t in your budget, check out this more economical option.
Beach reading is soooo much easier with a Kindle. The wind doesn’t tear the pages, it’s light and compact, so you don’t have to dread carrying it around in your purse all day, and it can fit every book you could ever want to read, so you don’t have to choose between your favorites when you’re packing!
I love my Kindle. Plus, with average use (about an hour a day) I only have to charge it once every 3 weeks or so. If you’re on a short trip you won’t even need to pack a charger!
Waterproof Phone Pouch
This waterproof pouch is fantastic for protecting your phone. You can operate the touch screen (clumsily) and take underwater photos! Or, you can just wear it as a necklace and rest easy knowing that nobody will walk off with your phone while you’re swimming! It’s a win/win!
A sarong is one of the best and most versatile items you can pack on any vacation! It can be used as a beach towel, or worn as a dress or skirt, and even as a scarf! Sarongs also make great souvenirs, so if you don’t already have one, pick one up on your trip!
And finally, the most important part of the entire list: You need luggage! If you’re looking for a carry-on approved piece of luggage, I can’t say enough of the Farpoint 40 by Osprey.
I’m in love with this pack. It expands enough to fit all of the items above with ease, and it’s super light because it doesn’t have a metal frame. The straps are comfortably cushioned, so it doesn’t hurt to pack it around on your back. I bought a shoulder strap for mine because it’s easier than putting the full pack on and off all the time.
The best part about the Farpoint is that when it’s empty it squishes down into a totally reasonable size to store in your closet!
And, it comes in Caribbean blue! Do you need more convincing?
Continue Planning Your Trip!
Mexico Guide Books
This Mexico phrasebook will help you communicate, even if your Spanish skills are lacking.
This Mexico travel guide is packed with all the info you could ever need.
I use a combination of Booking, Airbnb, and VRBO to find accommodation throughout Mexico.
Some cities in Mexico have more listings on VRBO than Airbnb (or vice versa), so it’s best to check both to find the perfect place!
Rental cars add tons of flexibility to your travel plans. If you opt to rent one, I recommend using Discover Cars to find the best rates!
Skyscanner is my favorite tool for finding the best deals on airfare.
Never leave home without travel insurance.
SafetyWing offers super-affordable policies that cover things like medical expenses, trip interruption, and lost luggage. They even offer coverage for some expenses related to COVID-19. Their policies are particularly great for long-term travelers, making them a great option for Mexico.
There’s no question that knowing basic Spanish is wildly beneficial in Mexico. It helps you stay aware of your surroundings, solve problems, and make friends!
RocketSpanish has a well-structured program that will take you from bumbling to conversational in just a few modules. Start your free trial today!
Still have questions?
Join my Female Travelers in Mexico Facebook group, a supportive community of fellow Mexico travel enthusiasts, where you can find answers to all your travel questions!