When talking about Cancun, it’s likely that the iconic, sun-drenched Hotel Zone will be the first thing to come to travelers’ minds.
Yet, for those seeking a unique and entirely distinct Cancun experience, the downtown area – the ‘real’ Cancun, if you will – holds a treasure trove of attractions waiting to be discovered, and no, we’re not talking about that one Walmart everyone goes to.
Although Cancun is a relatively young town, thus lacking colonial architecture and historical buildings found in older Mexican Caribbean cities like Mérida, the downtown area exudes a more authentic, local charm in stark contrast to the bustling Hotel Zone.
Traditionally ignored as a tourist attraction, the city’s center has experienced a revival in recent years, thanks to projects like “Downtown Cancún,” which seeks to revitalize the long-forgotten Yaxchilan Avenue.
Santiago Carrillo, the project director, is optimistic about the winter holiday season, expecting up to 4,500 daily visitors in the city center.
@touristtolocal This is how you see Cancun like a LOCAL 🙌🇲🇽 [SAVE & SHARE] 🌮 Food 〰️El Pocito 〰️ Tacos El Camarada 〰️Café de Gracias 〰️Pacho’s 🌊 Beaches 〰️Playa Delfines 〰️Playa Tortugas 〰️Playa Chac Mol 🌴Other things to do 〰️Get a massage at Bamboo Hair & Spa 〰️Visit the night market at Parque Las Palapas 〰️Take day trips to Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres, & more! Full video guide to Cancun and the surrounding areas over on our YT! #cancun #rivieramaya #traveldaily #travelguides #traveldestination #mexicotravel #travelmexico #visitmexico ♬ original sound – touristtolocal
This surprising figure only confirms the notion that Cancun has much more to offer beyond lavish resorts and spectacular beaches – and that’s saying a lot.
So, what exactly is there to be found in downtown Cancun, and why is it trending with travelers this winter season?
Let’s find out.
The Heart Of Cancun
To understand the significance of Yaxchilán Avenue’s revival, let’s first pinpoint its exact location.
If you travel from the Hotel Zone’s Boulevard Kukulcán to downtown Cancun, you’ll eventually reach the famous ‘Ceviche’ roundabout, designed by NY sculptor Lorraine Pinto and nicknamed so by locals for its seashell and starfish-themed sculptures.
@darreolahdz Glorieta El ceviche Cancun 🌴 . . . . . #cancun #elceviche #glorieta #djimini #dji #tiktok #noche #diciembre ♬ Tell Me Why – Twin
While starfish ceviche is yet to be discovered in Cancun, the ‘Ceviche’ name is a step up from ‘Insectronic,’ the moniker for the sculpture’s 80’s predecessor, due to its resemblance to a bug zapper (yes, Cancun folk hate when sculptures don’t have nicknames).
Following Cobá Avenue a few blocks from the ‘Ceviche’ roundabout will lead you to Yaxchilán Avenue, recognizable by its proximity to major stores like Wal-Mart and Costco, as well as the Ecological Kabah park.
Once a hub for vibrant nightlife and a thriving culinary scene, Yaxchilán Avenue experienced a decline, marked by the demolition of the iconic Perico’s restaurant (one of Cancun’s first) last November, signaling the end of an era.
@shlee.3 Mercado 23 was exactly what I was hoping for (and expecting) from a market in downtown Cancun! #mercado23 #mercado #downtowncancun #cancundowntown ♬ Tití Me Preguntó – Bad Bunny
But here’s where the ‘”Downtown Cancun” project comes in, as it aims to position Yaxchilán Avenue as a tourist and commercial corridor, offering new options for visitors exploring the city center.
Moreover, the project has its own security system to ensure the safety of tourists, deploying personnel to prevent encounters with pickpockets or assaults.
It’s Not Only About Yaxchilán Avenue
Even though Yaxchilán Avenue is at the heart of the project, the revitalization efforts extend beyond the avenue, encompassing blocks from the 25 to 28 ‘supermanzanas’ (larger city blocks).
Here, you’ll find a variety of clothing and souvenir shops, restaurants, hotels, plazas, local food stalls, and much more, all at much more reasonable prices compared to the Hotel Zone.
@cancun.explore Must visit place when in cancun🇲🇽✨ 📷:@MayraKCalderon via TT #mexicocheck #mexicolifestyle #cancunmexico2023 #CancunVacay #mercado28cancun #mercado ♬ original sound – Cancun
The 28 Market is the go-to for arts and crafts, souvenirs, and local delicacies, though prices have seen an uptick due to its rising popularity. The trick is to negotiate with vendors, as setting a higher initial price open to negotiation is a common practice.
And for a more upscale shopping experience, you might want to head to Malecon Americas on Bonampak Avenue, complete with a movie theater, food court, and many name-brand shops and boutiques.
Downtown Cancun: Nightlife & Dining
Cancun’s Hotel Zone sets a high standard for nightlife.
Downtown Cancun, however, holds its own with places like Disco Dallas on Yaxchilán Avenue and Route 666 Bikers Bar for a more laid-back vibe.
The Grand Mambo Café, in the Hong Kong Plaza, is the perfect place to flex your salsa dancing chops, while Cantina LA No. 20 has garnered acclaim for its modern twist on Mexican drinks and food.
In terms of dining, downtown Cancun truly excels with options like La Parrilla, a long favorite among both locals and tourists.
Brazilian Rodizio Bovino’s is a true meat-lover paradise, located right in front of Costco and hailed by locals as one of downtown Cancun’s top meat places.
For a more authentic touch, Los de Pescado, located on Tulum Avenue, serves some of the most delectable fish tacos known to Cancun locals. And, for arguably the best ‘carnitas’ tacos in town, check out ‘El Polilla’ on Nader Avenue.
These are just a handful of the experiences downtown Cancun has in store for visitors. So, if you’re embarking on a Mexican Caribbean getaway this winter, don’t miss out on visiting this underrated area.
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