Best Time to Go to Cancun: 5 Helpful Tips
Finding the Right Months to Visit
Ah, Cancun. Fun, festive, and easy to reach by air from any parts of the U.S. and Mexico. It's a wonderfully convenient vacation destination, but it's one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean for other good reasons. The hotels are big and beautiful, the nightlife is as good as anywhere, and the outdoor restaurants are lively and authentic.
It also has one of the most popular attractions in the Caribbean at the world-famous Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza.
Visions of Cancun might automatically bring the impression to many people that it's warm and sunny throughout the year because of its location. But go at the wrong time of year and run the risk of water too cold for swimming or, even worse, torrential downpours of rain.
When is the best time to go to Cancun? A little information goes a long way in picking the right months to vacation there.
The Best Time to Visit Cancun
How can you avoid the hurricane season and the cooler winter weather but also avoid the crowds? Multiple visits and plenty of research provide some useful insights on both the best and worst months to go.
- The hottest months— when temperatures can reach above 90 degrees— are May through September. June is usually the hottest.
- The lowest temperatures are December through February (January is typically the coolest).
- The lowest rainfall is February through April. The rainiest months are September through November (the hurricane season).
- The peak tourist season is November through April; March sees a spike in visitors because of college spring breaks.
- Airline prices peak from mid-December to mid-January, and the cheapest tickets are usually available in September and October (the wettest months).
Read on to get the average rainfall and temperatures by month to help plan for the best possible vacation weather.
The Cheapest Time to Visit Cancun
The cheapest time to go to Cancun also is the least popular time— in September and October during the high point of the rainy season, when hotel prices drop and crowded beaches are non-existent.
Why would anyone go in September and October for low prices if it rains too much? The answer lies in last-minute vacations.
Tip: Check the weather forecast for the next seven to 10 days, especially in the east Atlantic, for approaching storms and hurricanes. If the forecast looks good, check major travel sites for last-minute deals.
Air and Water Temperatures in Cancun
Average air temperatures are plenty warm during the summer. High temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit from May through September, but winter is another story. High temperatures from December through February average in the low 80s.
Those temperatures sound comfortable enough, but another factor comes into play— cold trade winds that create a wind chill effect that cools the water and beach to uncomfortable temperatures. This is when resort guests often spend more time in heated pools than on the beach or in the seawater. Important tip: Anyone who plans to go during the winter should ask the resort or hotel if they heat their pool and how much.
Average low temperatures, which take place mainly at night, also have an impact. They lower the seawater temperatures, which tend to hover midway between the high and low of the day's air temperature.
The best swimming time during the winter is mid to late afternoon— if it's possible to swim at all. During the hot summer months, just about any time will do.
When did you go to Cancun? When would you like to go?
Cancun's Hurricane Season
The annual Caribbean hurricane season officially runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. Cancun usually experiences the worst of the hurricanes in September and October.
But the season is not as scary as it sounds. The average season experiences six to eight hurricanes and a small number of tropical storms, but because the region is so large, few Caribbean destinations get directly hit by hurricanes or tropical storms, although quite a few of them— including Cancun— experience plenty of rainfall as a result.
It is normal for most Caribbean destinations to have about eight to 10 rain days each month and see a climb during the fall, which is the peak of the Caribbean hurricane season.
For Cancun, 16+ days of rain in October is normal (and one of the highest in the region).
Most destinations also average about three or four inches of total rain each month, although it varies by season.
Cancun receives more than eight inches on average in September and October, again among the highest in the region.
But it is not as high as some of the rainforest destinations such as Dominica and Grenada.
One reason to consider going there in September or October is to take advantage of lower prices and smaller crowds. If that's tempting, try to make it a last-minute vacation and review the long-range weather forecast before buying tickets and booking your hotel.
Cancun's Busiest Months and Seasons
- Because of rain, it is no surprise that the least popular time to visit Cancun is during September and October.
- The three least favorite months are September through November, while the most popular months are December, March, and July followed by January and February.
- Visits spike in March partly because of college spring breaks. Families might prefer another month because of the party atmosphere.
- December through February are popular months throughout the region because people want to escape from winter. But that time has a downside because temperatures are not ideal.
- Visits drop during May even though the odds of rain in June are higher than May.
- Another spike takes place in July because children are out of school and families are more likely to visit.
Cancun in Winter
A popular time to visit Cancun is December through February because it is a quick and convenient getaway from the northern winter.
But as someone who visited there in late February, I can say from personal experience that the weather was cool enough to keep most people out of the water or from even sunning on the beaches. Strong trade winds made it feel even cooler.
That didn't stop us from finding other things to do. The best part: far fewer crowds than other months of the year.
Cancun Weather by Month
The average high temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit or 28 Celsius may sound good to a vacation planner. But the average low of 69 Fahrenheit or 21 Celsius brings the ocean water temperatures down to an uncomfortable level in January. Rainfall is moderate at nearly four inches.
Cancun temperatures in February increase about 1 degree but leave the ocean still cool for swimming. The dry season has arrived with average rainfall of less than two inches.
Beach lovers will find better temperatures for sunning and swimming. Rainfall still hovers about two inches. It rains only five days on average this month. The weather in March is one of the best of the year.
April is even better than March. It is the best month of the year for low rain and warm temperatures. It also has rain only four days on average.
It's still the dry season, but average rainfall increases to nearly four inches per month. It also is the first month when average high temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit or 32 Celsius.
The rainy season arrives in June with an average rainfall above five inches. The number of days with rain increases to 11. Temperatures stay hot.
It's even hotter with an average high of 92 Fahrenheit or 33 Celsius. Rainfall is usually lighter this month than in June.
The hottest month of the year often has a small increase in rain versus July. It is a good month for people who like their beaches steaming hot.
Some of the worst weather brings with it as much as 10 inches or more of rain. It also is the last month with temperatures above 90 Fahrenheit. Vacation planners should avoid Cancun in September unless it is a last-minute vacation with a clear weather forecast.
October is only slightly worse than September. Average rainfall still hovers around 10 inches for the month. It has the highest number of days with rain for the year at a total of 16. Like September, vacationers should avoid October unless the short-term forecast looks good.
The rainy season starts to decline in November with average rainfall of more than five inches per month. Average high temperatures are comfortable at 85 Fahrenheit or 29 Celsius.
Cooler with average highs of 83 Fahrenheit or 28 Celsius. Ocean temperatures are uncomfortable at times, especially on days with strong trade winds. Still, people flock to Cancun this month to escape from northern winters.
Why Location Matters
The map above shows that the real tourism area of Cancun is not in the city but along Boulevard Kukulkan on the outer edge of Nichupte Lagoon.
Many hotels and resorts lie along Kukulkan facing the waters that form the boundary between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. That narrow strip of land adds to the uniqueness of the resort area, but it also exposes the area to stronger trade winds and cooling sea temperatures during the winter.
© 2014 Scott Bateman