Taking Pictures in Cancun

Here are some tips to help you get the best memories of your vacation.

Photo Opportunities


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.


You can get some shots of Mayan ruins here, but remember that there are much better photos to be taken at Chichen Itza, so don't use too much film here. The most distinctive aspect of Tulum is its position on the seacoast; get some photos of the sea from an elevated position and some pictures framing the ruins against the sea.

See Also

Photo gallery of Tulum



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 in Xcaret.

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.
See Also

Photo gallery of Xcaret


Chichen Itza

If you want to bring a personal video recorder, there is an extra 30-peso charge. 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 of dollars).

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.

See Also

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 underwater photos:

  • 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 passages. 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.

Photo Equipment

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.

Photography Tutorials

These tutorials can help you improve your photography skills