Taking Pictures in Cancun
Here are some tips to help you get the best memories of your vacation.
Although for the most part there is not much to photograph in the
downtown area, bring your camera anyway to take advantage of surprise
opportunities. Along Avenida Tulum, I missed chances to photograph:
- A man walking a chimpanzee.
- A striking Mayan woman street vendor in bright blue traditional dress.
Needless to say, they were there once and then no more.
For photos of Spanish-style architecture, stroll around the
eastern/southern part of the city, such as the area of
Avenida Coba just past the junction with Boulevard Kukulcan.
Although Xel-Ha is billed as a combination nature park and
snorkeling lagoon, I didn't find any good opportunities for
picture-taking except in and around the lagoon. You can take some
photos of the marine life from the shore, but you will really
want to use an underwater camera while snorkeling.
Get some pictures of the marine life and coral close to the shore, then
venture farther out to where the lagoon meets the sea for pictures of
some more exotic creatures.
Xcaret has many different opportunities for picture-taking.
Don't take too many pictures in one place; leave yourself enough film to
get some photos in each part of the park:
See farther down for places to take underwater photos
- Butterfly pavilion
- This is a very scenic and pleasant experience.
Take the trail up and around the upper level, where you will find
the best light and the most butterflies. The butterflies will approach
you very closely; try to get pictures with several in the same frame.
- Turtle pond
- The turtles swim in a few different water tanks and in a larger
lagoon. Wait until a turtle surfaces and the head is visible above
water before taking the picture.
- Dolphin area
- The dolphins are great subjects for pictures but the schedule
is confusing. If you sit in the audience area
when the sign says there is a performance, you may see people swimming
with the dolphins. But to get the best pictures, you should stand next to
the wooden fences on the other side of the dolphin area. Here you can
get photos of the dolphins jumping and performing tricks, although
I couldn't find the times of these shows printed anywhere.
While people are swimming with the dolphins, pelicans swoop past
looking for fish. You might get a good photograph if you didn't get
one in the bird sanctuary.
- Horse stables
- The best pictures are during the performances in the evening.
- You can take pictures of sea creatures from different parts of the
reef. Each part of the reef is represented by a small tank. You cannot use
a flash for these pictures. You can get a close-up view by looking through
a hand-held magnifying glass.
Towards the end of the aquarium, there are larger tanks connected to the
lagoon where you can get larger photos.
- Jaguar islands
- These are two islands enclosed by a fence. You may need to walk around
the perimeter to find jaguars to photograph. The ones I found looked
more like cougars. Your mileage may vary!
- Mayan village
- I did not find the Mayan village to be a good spot for photographs.
There were no people besides some vendors. Perhaps at other times
there are demonstrations with people in native costumes.
- Bird sanctuary
- Look for the pelicans, flamingos, and some other birds in their natural
environment on your left. Most of the other birds are caged and you will
need to shoot through the mesh of the cage.
- Underground river
- Most of this route is very dark and I did not find it good for
photography. You would need a waterproof camera to take pictures here.
There are places along the route where you can take a side passage
to the lagoon, where you could get underwater pictures in good light.
- Botanical garden
- This is mostly of interest to serious botany fans. There is not
much opportunity for photography.
- During the afternoon, there are performances by a group of Mayan
aerialists who work on a single tall pole.
- During the afternoon there is periodic singing and dancing in the
large amphitheatre. At night there is a very good show where you can
take good pictures. If you are with a tour, it will cost $5 US extra
to stay for the show, because it starts after the tour buses leave
and you take a different bus back to the hotels.
Photo gallery of Xcaret
If you want to bring a personal video recorder, there is an extra
Get the tour guide to pay it when he buys the
tickets for the group.
This fee does not apply for a regular camera.
Professional photographic equipment requires a hefty fee (in the thousands
Save most of your pictures for the free time after the tour guide
finishes showing you around. You will have a chance to come back and
get pictures without so many people in the foreground.
You might want to take composition shots of multiple buildings during
this first part of the tour, as you will have to stand way out in the
middle of the open areas, where you might not return later.
Several of the structures can be photographed from an elevated view
from the top of the main pyramid or the observatory.
Make sure you have plenty of film. You should be able to go through
2 rolls of film pretty easily.
The guide may tell you that it is a 15-minute walk to the sacred well.
It is actually around 5 minutes' brisk walk. It is hard to get a good
shot of the sacred well without a wide-angle lens or panoramic camera.
Photo gallery of Chichen Itza
Most of the good people photos you'll get will be of costumed performers.
There are shows at Xcaret, people in costume
at Chichen Itza, and dancers at many restaurants and shows in town.
The best over-all nature photos you will get are in
Xcaret (see above). The best jungle shots
are on the way to Chichen Itza and elevated
views within Chichen Itza. The jungle tours are picturesque but
everything looks the same -- it's tough to find a single good shot,
and (at least when I went) it's too tangled to see any wildlife.
Sunrise is over the ocean approximately 6-6:30 AM
and is more picturesque than sunset.
If you want to shoot it, see if your hotel has a public deck
facing east on the upper floors.
Beach and Ocean
The beach and ocean are so pretty, it's easy to take a whole roll of
film on slight variations of the same view. But don't -- you can't capture
the same panoramic view that makes it look so good.
Try to get shots with elements besides the water towards the corners of
the frame: rocks in the water, parasailers, boats, and so on.
If you go sightseeing, chances are you will get several chances to take
- On snorkeling tours. You will need an underwater camera ($20 US at
sightseeing places, $18 at shops downtown).
- On the AquaWorld "Subsee Explorer", which I recommend you try.
You will not need an underwater camera because you shoot through the
windows of a boat beneat the water level. Turn off your flash or, if
it cannot be turned off, hold the camera up against the glass.
Sit on the right-hand side, as most of the good shots are out the
right window. Also turn off any auto-focus, otherwise the camera
will focus too close (on the glass of the window).
- In Xcaret, where you may or may not want
an underwater camera:
- You can shoot marine life from different parts
of the reef environment in the aquarium with a regular camera
(no flash allowed).
You also photograph turtles and dolphins from dry land.
- You can use an underwater camera when you swim with the dolphins
(which costs around $30-80 dollars US extra depending on time).
However, I didn't see anybody using a mask or snorkel with the dolphins;
it is probably better for someone on land to photograph the swimmers
and dolphins together.
- There is snorkeling as you go through the underground river.
Here I found too dark for an underwater camera, as there are long unlighted
You do get the opportunity to divert out to the lagoon, where it is
sunny and you can get the usual sorts of underwater pictures.
I didn't go to the lagoon so I can't comment on the sightseeing there.
- In Xel-Ha, where there is a great big lagoon with plenty of
coral formations and marine life. Here is the place I wished I had
an underwater camera. You get great big colourful parrot fish,
schools of little yellow stripey fish, and all sorts of great coral.
Felipé from Los Angeles reports that you can even see
stingrays if you go out by the buoys where the lagoon meets the ocean.
- At Isla Mujeres, Cozumel, or at the public snorkeling down around
the Westin-Regina hotel at the bottom of the hotel zone.
I didn't get a chance to snorkel there and so can't comment on their
respective photo opportunities.
You will find basic photo equipment and developing services
at every mall, in many shops along the left side of Avenida Tulum,
and at each of the major sightseeing attractions.
The places that I saw with the best selections were the Kodak and
Foto Omega stores downtown. There is also an Agfa store downtown, not on
the main drag though, that I didn't have a chance to check out.
You can find cheap one-time use cameras with no flash for
about $12 US, with flash for $20, panoramic for $13, underwater for $18.
Buy them at one of the many small photo shops downtown.
They are a few dollars more at the sightseeing places.
I was unable to find any places that had anything for the
Advanced Photo System, either developing services or a new
battery for my camera.
These tutorials can help you improve your photography skills