Cancún International Airport (CUN/MMUN) is Mexico’s second busiest and largest airport, behind Mexico City’s Benito Juárez International. Cancun holds this position in terms of aircraft movements and passenger traffic, in addition to ranking 5th for cargo operations. Cancun, as we all know, is the go-to destination in Mexico for holiday-maker. The beautiful beach, plenty of hotels and warm climate makes it popular for Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and Mexicans of course. In fact, the most popular flights from CUN are Mexico City-bound flights, followed by Monterrey. Finally, also popular are water parks near Cancun as well as cenotes in the Mayan region. This is the reason why CUN handled 12,6 million passengers back in 2019.
The airport can be found southwest of Cancun the city itsself, around 20km from downtown and the infamous hotel zone which is where most tourists typically flock to. Its location is rather remote, and is situated roughly 20-25 minutes from most hotels. The airport is within a forrest and surrounded by trees, making plane-spotting very difficult.
Given Cancun is an important Mexican airport, it receives all main carriers in Mexico: Aeromexico (787, 737 MAX and -800) Volaris, VivaAerobus, (Interjet in the past) as well as MagniCharters (737-500.) As a fun fact, CUN had the first A380 arrival in Mexico. But apart from this, there are many European carriers serving CUN from all various destinations in Europe, in addition a few of the outh American and North American giants (no real small airlines). Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can also catch a Mexican police aircraft like their B727, B737 or a business jet run by them.
If you look on popular databases for aviation photos at CUN, you will probably see pictures of aircraft crossing a bridge over a highway (such as in Leipzig Airport), pictures from a birds-eye view (tower) or, from really close to the planes. However, these are photos from people with private access. Thus, for the general public, these spots are not available and cannot be added to the guide. In this piece we want to present you the public spots, spotters use these days around CUN.
Written by Severin Hackenberger in cooperation with Rurik Enriquez D, Ricardo Mungarro and Santiago Méndez with support of Ángel. Pictures by Pepe Ancira and Ángel Garcia Hernández. Last Update: Summer 2021
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|12L/30R||2,800m / 9,186ft – Asphalt|
|12R/30L||3,500m / 11,483ft – Asphalt|
|T1||Fbo Private Flights, Mayair, Tropic Air|
|T2||Aeromar, Avianca, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Alaskan Airlines, Copa Airlines, Conviasa, Cubana De Aviación, Estelar, Gol, Jetair, Lan Chile, Lasser, Latam Airlines, Magnicharters, Rutaca, Skyservice Airlines, Sunwing Airlines, Swoop Airlines, Thomson, Tui Fly, Turpial, Tag, Tailwind Airlines, Venezolana, Viva Aerobus, Viva Colombia, Volaris, Wingo, World2fly|
|T3||Air Canada, American Airlines, Allegiant, British Airways, Delta Airlines, Iberojet, Jetblue Airways, LOT, Spirit Airlines, United Airlines, Wamos Air|
|T4||Aeromexico, Air Europa, Air France, Air Transat, Azur Air Condor, Edelweiss Air, Eurowings, Frontier Airlines, Interjet, Jetblue, Lufthansa, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, TAP, Turkish Airlines, Westjet|
|Ladder||Not needed at any spot.|
|Car/Public Transport||A private car is highly recommended, hotels normally have taxi service to the airport at very high rates, and public transport isn’t the best, especially for Avenida Huayacán where a private vehicle is a must. And DO NOT GET INTO ANY CAB outside terminals, THEY ARE PIRATE CABS AND WILL RIP YOU OFF.|
|Drinks/Food||For the spot inside Terminal 4, you will have anything you might need a few steps away, even the duty free with plenty of things to purchase.
Outside the airport there are 3 gas stations with Oxxos or Go-Marts where you can purchase food, water etc and even a “La Europea” (Alcohol store.)
|Hotels||Near the airport there are very few hotels since the demand is at the hotel zone further away. However, you will find approx 3 near the “Universidad La Salle” Cancún, at 5km (or a 5min by car) from the airport: Comfort Inn, Courtyard by Marriott and Fairfield Inn.|
|Season||You will have enough traffic here all year around, but best from October until April to avoid heat haze and to enjoy the smoother light. Due to the tropical weather – it may rain at any month of the year, but similar to Mexico City – the rain season is from May to October. However, it is quite warm here all year around – so it is important to STAY HYDRATED!|
|Security||Spotting is not prohibited, although the polices sometimes intends to avoid your activity. If they get rude, take some photographs of them and tell them that you contacted airport authorities for help. They need to take you to DGAC Civil aviation authorities in the airport, not the police’s business. But in order to avoid these problems, try not to show your camera!
But also keep in mind that unless you are inside the airport, your security could potentially be at risk. The area around the airport is far away from the “touristic” hotel zone and situated at a rather desolate location with no public transport to the spots nor proper parking. To avoid problems, always be aware of your surroundings and only take the camera out whenever you plan on taking a picture. Most importantly, don´t go alone, plus it is much better to have a vehicle to drive off with if needed. There have been no known incidents of mugging within the community, but it is always better to be cautious. There is also no proper place to park at Avenida Huayacán, and you will be right next to a road with vehicles passing nearby.
|General Info||12 is the preferred direction. 30s are used whenever the weather is not as favourable and thus spotting will probably be affected as well due to the (likely) overcast conditions, mostly the case in the months from December to February.|
|12L/30R||Most of the arrivals are on 12L (80% to 90%), and thus practically no takeoffs on 12L.|
|12R/30L||12R is mostly used for takeoffs. Normally only some nationals or hevaies may land here, depending on possible traffic jam in the air.|
|Spot #1 – Avenida Huayacán – 12R/L Arrivals|
|WHERE||Avenida Huayacan is a long road perpendicular to highway 180 at the west of the airport. It’s the closest public place under the runways although the road is very lonely and far away from hotels (around 25km or 30 min by car to the hotel zone). There is no public transport, so you need a personal vehicle. Please read he security message before attempting to go.
You can place yourself on the side of the road near the threshold of 12L or, if you feel safer, you can stay at the gas station (Gulf) parking lot where Huayacán meets the highway and catch arrivals on 12R (much less frequent.)
|WHAT||All 12R/L Arrivals, you can move along the street and thus get both runways.
If you are lucky enough such that 12R is being used for landings, you will be able to spot everything from the gas station instead of the road-side, that’s easier/better.
|TIME||North of runway axis: In winter only backlit, in summer good in the morning, backlit in the afternoon.
South of runway axis: In winter all day, in summer only in the afternoon, but not real nice light.
|MISC.||There is a convenience store within a gas station about 1.6 km from the spot under 12L. Since there are no sidewalks, it’s highly recommended to bring water and food before arriving. Wear sunglasses and use sunscreen.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||Depends on your posiotion, but 50-300mm should cover everything:
Side shot A333 = 65mm / Front Close-up 787 = 250mm
All taken south of the runway axis:
|Spot #2 – FBO Cancun – 12R Departures|
|WHERE||This position is located east of the GAT/FBO Cancun facility on the parking lot and is easy to reach. You can either drive here by car as you just need to turn off the airport driveway “Carr. A Aeropuerto Cancún” to the south, before you reach the terminal facilities. Or you can also take the free shuttle, which is running all day from 7 to 22 o’clock.|
|WHAT||This spot is good for 12R Departures. Some helicopters at view, but if you reach the fence, police will appear.|
|TIME||Spot has only good light from April to September in the morning hours.|
|MISC.||Security all time trying to avoid spotting activity, so keep a low profile and keep away from the fence! Just stay in the back on the parking area. Nothing around here.|
A321 = 200mm
|Spot #3 – Highway 307 – 30L Arrivals|
|WHERE||This spot is located along highway 307 on the southwards side just before highway 180 turns off with a bridge. You need to drive here from the north as the highway cannot be crossed due to a middle wall.
But you can get to this place by public vans, therefore you need to explain/aniticipate your stop in advance. Otherwise you can use a car, but parking is only by the roadside and thus tricky.
|WHAT||This spot offers nice views onto 30L Arrivals, which happens a lot from December to February – then ~95% take 30L.|
|TIME||In winter all day, in summer only in the afternoon, but not real nice light.|
|MISC.||Spotting is not prohibited, although the polices sometimes intends to avoid your activity. If they get rude, take some photographs of them and tell them that you contacted airport authorities for help. They need to take you to DGAC Civil aviation authorities in the airport, not the police’s business. But in order to avoid these problems, try not to show your camera!
South of the bridge you will find gasoline and a grocery store. It is the main road to Playa del carmen, so you will always get something there. But be careful when walking along the highway!
|Spot #4 – Highway 180 – 12R Departures|
|WHERE||Just before the Highway 180 ends up in Highway 307, you will find a gravel road southwest of the highway. You can stand/stop there and shoot from here.|
|WHAT||From here you can only see the heavy take-offs from runway 12R nicely. Smaller aircraft will be too high already mostly.|
|TIME||In winter all day, in summer only in the afternoon, but not real nice light.|
|MISC.||Nothing around except for some local workers, so do not wonder if people look at you strangely.|
180mm = A340s / B788 = 220mm
|Spot #5 – Terminal 4 – Nearby Apron/Taxiway movements|
|WHERE||At any gate inside terminal 4 -through the clear glass windows. But note: despite this being a great spot, it can only be reached WITH A VALID BOARDING PASS. It’s located AIRSIDE, so AFTER SECURITY CHECK. So you need to be booked on an outbound flight with an airline that operates from T4 to be at this location.|
|WHAT||There are 12 gates and you will see any aircraft heading towards runway 12R through the taxiway in front. You can also make nice nightshots/long exposure from here.|
|TIME||From sunrise till midday all year round, and any time of the night for long exposure.|
|MISC.||Keep in mind you are inside a terminal with a camera, so only take it out whenever you plan on snapping a picture just in case. From previous experiences, I have never been told anything and security seems chill but it’s always better to be cautious to avoid problems as people are not used to spotters with big cameras inside the terminal.
Also note that the windows have a slight blue tint, so this must be corrected in post (white balance).
Finally, tips for night shots and shooting through windows (mostly): Make sure you have a cloth or sweatshirt to cover the lens and avoid reflections and set a timer to avoid moving the camera when pressing the shutter.
B737 = 55mm