Bryan Mullennix World View / Alamy
Laura Winfree
August 08, 2014

The city of Cancun is divided into two sections: the Hotel Zone island with the destination’s beaches and resorts, and Downtown Cancun where the locals live. Most tourists spend their entire vacation in the Hotel Zone, but more adventurous tourists know that Downtown Cancun has its own inviting attractions. After over a decade living in this city, I often prefer to spend my weekends in the Downtown area because of its fun social vibe. Some parts of Downtown Cancun have seen significant changes over the past few years with beautiful new buildings and unique scenery, and other areas like the famous Market 28 haven’t changed a bit. Located a quick bus ride from the beach, Downtown Cancun has great shopping, a fun community atmosphere, and some of the city’s best bars and restaurants. If you want to see the side of Cancun that the locals know, then hop on a city bus and explore the charms of Downtown with these five attractions, each located less than a five-minute taxi ride from the entrance to the Hotel Zone.

Parque Las Palapas

The city’s main park is a large plaza where you’ll find food carts, a small outdoor food court, local handicrafts and souvenirs, a playground, and a large stage. On weekend evenings, the park becomes a hotspot for local families to hang out and enjoy weekly events. For a taste of the real Cancun, I recommend a Saturday night at one of the nearby restaurants followed by a stroll through the park.

Market 28

Cancun’s top market offers a colorful maze of souvenir stands and jewelry shops that cover a full city block, with several small restaurants in the center so you can grab a quick lunch during a day of shopping. Market 28 is a fun way to get the real Mexican market experience, so be prepared to haggle with the vendors.

Malecon Tajamar

This waterfront neighborhood is one of Cancun’s newest and most beautiful areas—over the next few years, the city will add a large nature park, shopping, restaurants, and more. For now, Malecon Tajamar has a delightful walkway along the Nichupte Lagoon with amazing views of the Hotel Zone skyline.

Malecon Americas Shopping Center

Downtown’s main mall is where you’ll find most locals on any given weekend. Malecon Americas has a lovely and modern open-air atmosphere where you can grab an ice cream, browse beautiful department stores, and enjoy a meal at a variety of restaurants. Malecon Americas sits right across the avenue from Malecon Tajamar, so you can easily see both attractions in one outing.

Avenida Tulum and City Hall

The heart of Cancun recently got a facelift: Downtown Cancun’s main street, Avenida Tulum, was upgraded to feature wide pedestrian paths on either side, perfect for a leisurely stroll lined with shops, small markets, bars, and the City Hall building. You can expect this active neighborhood to become even more tourist-friendly over the next few years.

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