Downtown Cancún– the Real Mexico!

Many visitors to Cancún think that this beautiful resort only consists of a sandy strip of hotels and shops between the Caribbean Sea and the Nichupté Lagoon. Read on to find out how much they miss by not hopping onto the Cancún Hotel Zone buses and exploring downtown Cancún.

Getting from the Hotel Zone to Downtown Cancún

If you are staying in a hotel at the south end of the Hotel Zone near the Bel Air Collection Resort Spa Cancún, for example, the journey to downtown Cancún takes less than 30 minutes. For those staying at the north end of the Hotel Zone, around the Hyatt Zilara Cancún – All Inclusive, the ride takes less than 20 minutes. Buses drop passengers near the main Plaza las Americas, close to the shops, restaurants, and markets.

Markets in Cancún

Market 28 (Mercado 28) on Xel-Ha Plaza is a wonderful area to explore. Rub shoulders with the locals as you search for souvenirs and haggle for bargains. It’s cheap, colorful, and it’s authentically Mexican, so remember to take your camera–you’ll get some lovely photos. You can find everything from hand-carved gourds to hats and jewelry. Once your shopping is finished, try one of the outdoor Mexican restaurants in this area.

Restaurants in Downtown Cancún

You’ll find dining out in downtown Cancún is much cheaper and far more authentic than in the Hotel Zone. Try La Parilla for wonderful food and great service. Entertainment is often provided by local mariachi bands – or by the waiter standing on a chair and pouring sparkling wine into a pyramid of glasses! The atmosphere is like a fiesta and the decor is bright, clean, and attractive.

Other popular places where locals hang out to eat include Los Pericos, Va que Va, and Los Arcos. You may need your Spanish phrase book, as most of these places only have the menu in their native language.

Parque de la Palapas

In the evening, you’ll find many Cancún residents gather in the Parque de la Palapas. This is the social hub of the “real Cancún,” where festivals, music, and events are always hosted. The palm trees provide shade for the stage, and seats are scattered around the park. After dark, it is a well-lit area and makes a great place to sit and people-watch. You’ll find a cluster of food carts and other small stalls selling local handicrafts at one end.

Festivals in Downtown Cancún

Flag Day in Mexico

Photo by Happy Wanderer via

Downtown Cancún is definitely the place to go on festival days such as Cinco de Mayo (May 5th), El Dia de Los Reyes (January 6th), Flag Day (February 24th), Mardi Gras/Carnivale, Semana Santa (Easter), Independence Day (September 16th), Dia de La Raza (mid-October), Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in early November, and the Viva Mexico Festival which takes place throughout September.

Next time you find cheap flights to Cancun, why not consider staying in one of the hotels in Cancun in the downtown area? You’ll find it’s a totally different vacation experience to the Hotel Zone, and the beautiful beach is only a short bus ride away. For an all-inclusive hotel option, consider the affordable Bel Air Cancun. Don’t forget to check out the tours to local attractions and Mayan sights for even more adventures.


About gillianbirch

Greetings from your international roving reporter! Based in beautiful Cornwall UK, I am a freelance travel writer and published author of several travel books. As the wife of a Master Mariner, I have travelled extensively and lived in exotic locations all over the world including the Far East, Europe, Australia and the Republic of Panama. I would describe myself as having “endless itchy feet and an insatiable wanderlust”, as I continue to explore Europe, Florida and further afield, writing about my experiences with humour and attention to detail. BTW, I have a Diploma from the British College of Journalism and am a member of the International Travel Writers’ Alliance and the Gulf Coast Writers’ Association.
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