Walking in Cancun
With all the sunshine in Cancun, it's a shame to drive everywhere. Here are some tips for those of you who like to stroll around for sightseeing or exercise.
One thing you will find walking around Cancun, even in the hotel zone, is that there are a lot of holes in the ground -- jagged sewer openings, random pits, gaps in the sidewalk, and so on. So watch your feet, and keep hold of any small children.
There are practically no traffic lights. Traffic changes direction by circling around Y-shaped intersections that make it hard to keep track of what street you're on. You have to find a gap in the traffic and cross to an island in the middle of the street, and repeat once or twice until you reach the other side. Some of these islands have a long step down, so watch out when crossing them in the dark.
Along the main road downtown (Avenida Tulum), there are periodic speed bumps that are very high. Traffic must slow way down to get over them, so you can safely walk across them and the traffic will stop.
Because of the Y-shaped and multi-way intersections, it is easy to take an unintended detour. If the map shows you need to be on a certain side of the road, get to that side quickly and you'll have less chance of getting lost.
I didn't feel unsafe walking through any neighbourhoods (although being over 6 feet might help there). The seedier places were at either end of Avenida Tulum (past Uxmal, or back past where you get off the bus). There were no dubious characters at all in the less crowded southern part of the hotel zone (Plaza Kukulcan and south); lots of people walked by themselves at all times of night.
Distances along the hotel zone are marked in kilometers from downtown. A kilometer is a metric distance, approximately 0.6 miles. (Convert by multiplying by 6, then dividing by 10; or multiplying by 3, then dividing by 5.)
Each marker means "this is the end of kilometer #N, starting from downtown". So if you are unsure whether something is on one side of the marker or the other, chances are it is on the side closer to downtown.
Exploring on Foot
I consider these 3 areas in Cancun productive to explore on foot:
You can walk through each of these areas to find shops, restaurants, and marinas but they are separated widely enough that you should take the bus between them. (I covered the whole route to downtown on foot one morning and didn't find anything exciting in the stretches between the main areas.)
I discounted the southern part of the hotel zone because there doesn't appear to be much along that stretch other than the hotels, and the hotels are relatively widely separated. You could go for a morning walk or jog, play golf or rent a kayak, but not much else.
This zone starts about where I was staying (the Omni hotel) or maybe a couple of hotels down (Royal Mayan, Royal Carribean), and stretches north to Plaza Kukulcan. From one end to the other is about a 35-minute walk, fine in the early morning or evening but very sweaty at midday. Along the lagoon side (left as you go north) are a number of convenience stores, money exchange places, car rental agencies, restaurants, and the main AquaWorld facility. (See the map.)
I found this the ideal location to stay in the hotel zone: far enough from downtown to avoid a lot of traffic and crowds, close to restaurants for breakfast and 100% Natural for vegetarian dining, near Plaza Kukulcan which I found the best for shopping, close to AquaWorld which has the best reputation for boating activities, and a short bus ride from the main attractions farther north. In future trips, I would stay in the same location or maybe 1-2 hotels farther north.
On the way to the next area is another shopping mall. I don't count this as a separate "walking zone" because there is little in the area besides the mall and several hotels. I found this mall the worst in terms of shops, restaurants for breakfast, and being approached for time-sharing pitches. This is where the Planet Hollywood restaurant is located, in which I had my worst dining experience in Cancun and the worst margarita on Hollywood, Reebok, or any other planet.
So if you are staying at a hotel right across the street, I guess you will visit this mall, but I wouldn't recommend it for anyone else.
This is the crowded part of the hotel zone, with bars, restaurants, and shops lining the streets continuously. It starts at Senor Frog's restaurant and stretches north and west to the Plaza Caracol mall and the couple of smaller plazas just past it. If you were staying at a hotel a little farther on, you could walk back to this area. It is a good place to explore for the nightlife. You might want to stay here if you wanted to be within walking distance of the nightlife or the "boutique" shopping at Plaza Caracol. I found it a little crowded and noisy for my taste.
There is a biking/walking/rollerblading trail that runs next to the road through this area, going all the way to downtown. I saw bike and scooter rental places scattered along the way; I didn't see any rollerblade rental places and the only place I spotted them for sale was "Sybele" in the downtown area.
See Downtown Cancun.