The Cancun hotel zone is often referred to as a ‘7’ this is because a plan view of the hotel zone looks very much like a figure 7. Places are often referred to as being “on top of the 7” i.e. the North facing side, or on the “side of the 7” i.e. the east facing side.
Km 0 to Km 7.5 or so is the short end (or top) of the ‘7’, this stretch of the hotel zone has hotels on either side, those on the South face the lagoon with those on the North facing the bay area and offering views of Isla Mujeres.
Kilometers are measured from the downtown end so Km 0 is where Avenida Kukulcan meets downtown. Km 25 is where Kukulcan meets the airport turn off and highway 307, which leads south to Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
There really is no need to rent a car if all you want to do is stay within the confines of the hotel zone. Taxis and buses are cheap, safe and run 24 hours, 7 days a week. Kukulcan Avenue is 25km long with each km and half km marked at the side of the road by small tombstone shaped markers.
The bay area is the area sheltered from the open ocean by Isla Mujeres. As a consequence the sea here is usually calm and safe and very suitable for swimming, although the beaches tend not to be as nice as those on the long edge of the ‘7’. Public beaches include Playa Las Perlas and Playa Langosta.
Punta Cancun is located at Km 7.5, this is the corner of the ‘7’ and is where most of the big nightclubs such as Coco Bongo, The City and Dady O are located. This is the area where people flock to at night. This area is also home to Plaza Caracol and Plaza Forum, both shopping malls with plenty of restaurants.
From Km 8 to Km 20 along the eastern side is where the ocean side hotels are located, with mainly restaurants and commercial properties on the west hand side facing the lagoon. Public beaches here include Playa Delfines, Playa Ballenas and Playa Marlin. Plaza Kukulcan and La Isla are the main shopping areas here and there is also a smaller mall at Plaza Flamingo.
The beaches and ocean along this Eastern stretch of coastline are what you will typically associate with Cancun. Vivid turquoise blue seas and pure white sand. Although often safe swimming in this area can be dangerous with large waves and strong currents. Always observe the safety flags on the beach.
Km 20 to 25 is largely undeveloped at the present time and provides access to the airport and the highway which leads to resorts further south such as Playa del Carmen.