age fotostock Spain, S.L. / Alamy
Laura Winfree
October 02, 2014

Cancun isn’t just about the sunshine and beaches.  It’s also a beautiful city filled with cultural sites and urban haunts. You can easily spend an entire Cancun vacation tucked into the all-inclusive restaurants or activity center at the luxury resort, but to truly experience the city, leave behind the gated community and visit Downtown after dark. At night, this beach city offers diverse attractions for a one-of-a-kind evening that is distinctly Cancun in style and energy. With the stars blooming over Cancun’s neon-lit boulevards, a new vibe grips the city. I recommend setting aside at least two evenings to spend out on the town. After several years living in this favorite tourist destination, I’ve discovered numerous ways to occupy your evening other than passing it at the hotel bar. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly recreation, or a perspective-changing moonlit tour of Mexico’s wilder side, this city’s nightlife is guaranteed to keep you entertained. 

Party Center

Even if you don’t plan on entering any of the nightclubs in Cancun’s main party district, I still recommend a walk through the infamous Party Center after 11pm. Post up at an outdoor café to people-watch as the revelers in day-glow line up at the city’s famous clubs and bars. Pass the warm evening with a cup of Mayan coffee spoked with xtabentún, a local anise liqueur. 

La Isla Shopping Village

Cancun’s beautiful outdoor shopping mall straddles inland water channels, and is easily recognizable for its white, modern buildings and decorative palms. Take a break from shopping (look for hand-hammered silver bracelets; Frida Kahlo-inspired filigree earrings) and stop for frozen margaritas at Blu’s patio and traditional poblano peppers simmered in cream.  

Xoximilco

This park is inspired by the famous Xochimilco area of Mexico City, featuring colorful 20-person boats known as trajineras that take you on a four-hour jungle canal tour. Along the way, you’ll get to sample all kinds of Mexican cuisine, learn local legends, and hear a variety of traditional Mexican musical genres. I recommend Xoximilco for groups and families in search of a true Mexican fiesta.

The Beach

With the moonlight shining on the water and the evening’s breezes filtering through the palms, Cancun’s beaches are transformed into the most romantic stretches this side of the Caribbean. Take your partner on stroll or unfurl on lounges under the stars with your friends. Sift the cool, white sand beneath your toes, or find a free resort fire pit for late-night smores. 

Captain Hook Pirate Ship

While it may sound cheesy, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve taken this entertaining tour on a number of occasions. Captain Hook is Cancun’s most famous boat ride, taking you onto a Caribbean pirate ship where you’ll have a blast with games, shows, dancing, and a buffet dinner. Captain Hook is best enjoyed by families and large groups.  

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