Downtown Cancun is often bypassed by visitors in favor of the beaches and stunning resorts of the Zona Hotelera. But give downtown a chance and you’ll see there’s plenty going on to keep you entertained.
Cancun is only 50 years old, and its downtown was built as a permanent residential area for locals. Because of this, it’s often assumed downtown Cancun has no culture – but it does. It’s a vibrant and safe place, where you’ll get closer to authentic Mexican living by exploring the many activities enjoyed by Quintana Roo locals.
Parque las Palapas
A hub of downtown Cancun activity, you’ll always find something interesting to watch at the central ‘Palapas Park’. Offering an easy way to experience a traditional Mexican way of life, at the heart of the park is a pyramid-shaped stage that hosts regular, free entertainment.
Local families fill the area, sampling tasty treats from the street food vendors, enjoying the live music, playing with their kids, or just watching the world go by. In the evenings, local artists also sell handicrafts on the stalls lining the park.
Although Mercado 28 is well-known to Cancun visitors, Mercado 23 offers something a little more authentic. The oldest of Cancun’s markets, it stocks the usual souvenirs and clothes, but as you explore, you’ll come across its real selling point – the food. Mercado 23 has it all, from food court fayre to street food stalls, as well as beautifully fresh ingredients, if you’d like to prepare your own meal.
Vendors are friendly and you’re likely to find souvenirs at a better price than in other markets and stores. Bright, colorful, and an assault on the senses, you won’t forget a visit to this downtown Cancun institution.
Lucha Libre Wrestling
For a true adrenaline hit, there’s little more exciting than catching a Lucha Libre show in downtown Cancun. A traditional Mexican sport, this form of wrestling, known for its colorful masks and charismatic luchadores, has become super popular in recent years, thanks in part to films like ‘Nacho Libre’ bringing it into the mainstream.
The Arena Cancun hosts shows multiple times each week and you can join a group on a tour like this one, where tacos, beer, and your transport are also provided.
La Habichuela Restaurant
This restaurant is a Cancun institution. Opened over 40 years ago, it serves a combination of Mexican and Caribbean food, with a focus on creating Mayan-inspired dishes offering visitors the chance to experience some of this ancient civilization’s truly unique food.
The facade of the restaurant is based on Mayan architecture, with diners surrounded in the gardens by sculptures of gods and goddesses. Filled with plants, lights, and decorations, it’s a love-it or hate-it place, which could equally be described as kitschy or inspired. But whatever your take on it, you’ll remember a visit to this downtown Cancun favorite.
Cancun street art
A little-known – but rapidly growing – part of downtown Cancun’s scene is its street art. As part of an urban art project, local and international artists were commissioned to create beautiful displays of Yucatan-influenced art pieces that can be enjoyed by all for free. You can appreciate some of these one-off murals by exploring the area just off Avenida Bonampak, where you’ll find apartment blocks vibrantly decorated with paintings of sharks, seabirds, and other marine life.
If you’d rather not go it alone, you can join a street art tour such as this one, where you’ll have a private guide helping you explore some of the best street art downtown Cancun has to offer.
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