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The Other Cancún

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Whether you’ve been there before or not, most people know all about Cancún, referred to by some as “Miami south of the border,” albeit on steroids – chock-full of endless mega hotels and soaring condo buildings ranging from boutique to Vegas-esque, copious numbers of bars and nightclubs, and pristine beaches.

And although people from all over the world—including Mexicans from other parts of the country—come here for vacation, it is generally thought to be overrun with tourists from North America, including every American chain business one could possibly imagine.

Other than the pristine beaches and some lovely little entities in between, it is not at all my scene. No disrespect to the destination intended, it’s just not what floats my boat.

But what I didn’t know, however, is that there is a downtown completely separate from the frenetic coastal Hotel Zone, one that although only a short bus or taxi ride away, instantly immerses you into a different world – the real México.

Ciudad Cancun (20)

Cuidad Cancún

Cuidad Cancún (Downtown Cancún or “El Centro), is a thriving city of over 750,000 people encompassing everything you’d expect to find in a city of this size. And although you will also find here a plethora of American chains, from stores like Walmart to fast food like McDonalds, and everything in between, if you can get past that this in your consciousness what you’ll find is an energetic, bustling, and family-friendly city that has a great deal to offer.

The main street here is Avenida Tulum, which runs for miles and miles from the center of town into other parts of the Quintana Roo and Yucatan regions. Along it you will find all manner of resident and tourist entities from clothing shops and Outlet stores, to scores of both mom ‘n pop and full scale dining establishments, bars, shoe stores, hair salons, bookstores, health and wellness stores and centers, upscale movie theaters, and the like.

One of its most picturesque elements is its plazas and parks, including Parque Las Palapas, featuring local handicraft and souvenir shops, food carts, a playground and live music on the weekends.

If great music is what you’re after, then venture along Yaxchilan Avenue where you’ll find a vibrant scene of local musicians performing popular Latin and English speaking cover band songs, drawing a nice mix of residents and visitors alike, starting at, yes, around 11 pm and lasting into almost before the sun comes up.

Mercado 28 (2)

“Shop ‘til you drop” would be an understatement at Mercado 28. This twisting, turning, true Mexican flea market maze extending a full city block is a must experience, overflowing with vendors selling very reasonably priced jewelry, clothing, shoes, handcrafted pottery, furniture, home accessories, leather bags, hats, souvenir trinkets…anything you could possibly imagine.

Mercado 28 (7)

Negotiating with the vendors is part of the fun here, and in a much gentler way than in other tourist destinations where “haggling” would be a more appropriate description.

A little more formal shopping can be found at the indoor/outdoor Malecón Americas Shopping Center (a definite weekend hot spot for the locals) including department stores, well-known worldwide brands—both Latin American and North American (think Nike and Tommy Hilfiger)—plus entities like Starbucks, Chilis and the like.

Malecón Tajamar is the waterfront neighborhood offering spectacular vistas and peppered with oodles of restaurants, shopping, and more.

Ciudad Cancun (3)

 If your stomach is what drives your sense of adventure, Ciudad Cancún won’t disappoint, whether you stay close to the center and waterfront areas, or venture further “inland.” Again, you will find the real México from fresh seafood, to signature Mexican dishes, Italian, Chinese, Lebanese, vegetarian and vegan, steaks and so forth.

So much to tell, so little time. You just have to see for yourself! I’m not saying forget the Hotel Zone, rather enrich your Mexican vacation experience with a little venture into Cuidad Cancún.

Written by Lysa Allman-Baldwin

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