The More Affordable Way to Experience Nightlife in Cancún

A strip of Cancún’s Boulevard Kukulcan is lined with nightclubs and bars on either side, including Mandala and Coco Bongo (Image:  Wikimedia Commons )

A strip of Cancún’s Boulevard Kukulcan is lined with nightclubs and bars on either side, including Mandala and Coco Bongo (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Cancún, like Vegas, is one of those places you go to have a wild and crazy time. It’s unclear if the city set out to become a hot party spot or if tourists projected that reality onto it and Cancún simply embraced it, but there’s no denying that its reputation very much precedes it these days. This in mind, it’s no wonder that affluent college kids regularly spend spring break south of the border.

Going out in Cancún’s Zona Hotelera, where all of its most well-known clubs and bars are conveniently located one after the other on a strip of Boulevard Kukulcan, is the typical playbook here, but there are some things you’ll want to know before choosing where to party your pants off for the night — especially if you’re not looking to blow upwards of $150 or so in a single evening. That dollar amount might be exaggerating things a little bit, but the cost of getting into some of Cancún’s clubs, combined with the amount of money you may spend once you’re inside, can add up pretty quickly.

Hit the aforementioned strip of Kukulcan referenced above and you’ll see lots of bright lights and plenty of marquees inviting you inside the likes of Coco Bongo, Mandala, The City, and La Vaquita Cancún. What you need to know about these spots, however, is that just getting in the door is going to cost you anywhere from $35 (USD) on the low end up to $85 and beyond, depending on what kind of perks you want to add. Even if you buy only the open bar ticket and forego everything else — the express entrance, reserving a table, purchasing access to unlimited premium drinks, and so on — it’s very likely that you’ll still end up adding to your tab inside.

Before traveling to Cancún, I read countless online reviews concerning the nightlife experience. While there were good things to be said about some of the clubs, negative refrains popped up again and again, as well. Critiques of Coco Bongo, for example, included one TripAdvisor reviewer’s comment that “…you must have to be a teenager to want to go here. Just lots of noise and far too many people packed into a small place.”

Maybe that person sounds like an old curmudgeon, but when walking down Boulevard Kukulcan with nighttime in Cancún at full froth, peering into a place like La Vaquita, which opens up to the street, might give you visions of sardines jammed into a large can. Do you really want to pay $35 to get in the door, another $200 or so for bottle service, and be practically required to provide your server with tips before they’ll even set the drinks you just paid handsomely for down in front of you? To me, it doesn’t sound like the wisest investment of your funds.

It’s easier to smile when you know you didn’t waste money at someplace like Coco Bongo or La Vaquita (Photo: Melissa Oliver)

It’s easier to smile when you know you didn’t waste money at someplace like Coco Bongo or La Vaquita (Photo: Melissa Oliver)

If you have money to blow, that’s another story I suppose, but there were other concerns I read about that made me want to steer clear of the larger nightclubs, as well — namely, the possibility that you could run into a drug dealer in the bathroom and potentially end up getting mugged. For women, an additional concern would be potential sexual harassment and groping, as some TripAdvisor contributors mentioned.

To avoid most of that and stick within a reasonable budget, there are a few places near the larger clubs that are better options. A good place to get the party started is at Carlos’n Charlie’s. Their prices may be a little on the high end, but there is no cover charge to worry about and they have live music on select nights, plus you can fill up with some food in case you didn’t get enough at dinner (or you’re a habitual fourth-mealer (we don’t judge around here)).

After you get the ball rolling over there, the next place on the list is Señor Frog’s, conveniently located right across the street. Yes, it’s a franchise, and yes, it seems like an obvious tourist trap, but they also have no cover (unless you feel inclined to pay $55 for the open bar) and you’ll likely have some breathing room as they don’t draw as big of a crowd as the other nightclubs I keep disparaging (sorry not sorry, other nightclubs). There’s no need to reserve anything online in advance, either — just show up and have a good time. Who knows, you may even end up taking part in some silly couples contest up on stage.

One other no-cover alternative is Fat Tuesday, a bar right next to Señor Frog’s. The Mardi Gras-themed chain has locations in the U.S. and in other parts of Mexico, and they specialize in selling a variety of frozen daiquiris. The Cancún location is admittedly not one of the franchise’s better ones, as more than a couple of its daiquiri machines always seem to be broken and it’s pretty common for the waitresses to try and force shots down your throat every few minutes, but if you enjoy old-school hip hop and a fairly laid back atmosphere, it can be a good option.

It’s definitely possible to have a great night out in Cancún without emptying your wallet. Stick to the places with no cover, refuse those “VIP upgrades,” swat away the servers forever offering expensive shots, and you won’t wake up the next morning wondering how in the hell you spent $200 or more on a single night out.