8 Best Things to Do in Downtown Cancun

A local's guide to the more traditional El Centro area of the Mexican destination.

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Photo: Azucena Morales/EyeEm/Getty Images

The city of Cancun is divided into two sections: the Hotel Zone 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 of living in this city, I often prefer to spend my weekends in the Downtown area because of its fun social vibe. 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 eight attractions.

1. Street Art

Spend a day walking the streets of Downtown for some of the best views in the city. Downtown Cancun is literally awash in color thanks to its vibrant Mexican street. Experience the murals on your own, or sign up for a walking tour to learn about the art from a local guide. There are even street art tours that come with a side of tacos for a full afternoon of local culture.

2. 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.

3. Market 28 and Market 23

Downtown Cancun has a number of local markets which are perfect for tourists looking to soak up the culture while also picking up a souvenir or two.

Market 28 is a fun way to get the real Mexican market experience, so be prepared to haggle with the vendors. 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.

If you're looking for a relaxed environment, head to Market 23 in the center of downtown. Known for mostly local goods — from crafts and souvenirs to fruits and veggies — it's smaller than Market 28 but perfect for those looking to immerse themselves in Yucatan culture at a lower price point than other places. You can also hit the food stalls for tacos, empanadas, or tortas.

4. Malecon Tajamar

Malecon Tajamar has a delightful walkway along the Nichupte Lagoon with amazing views of the Hotel Zone skyline. The waterfront neighborhood is one of Cancun's most beautiful areas — a palm-lined splendor perfect for walking, jogging, cycling, or outdoor yoga.

5. Taquerias

You can't leave Downtown Cancun without hitting a Taqueria or two. Enjoy authentic Mexican street food at local favorites like Taqueria Coapenitos and La Parrilla. To skip the line and get insider tips, book a food tour and experience Cancun's culinary scene the right way.

6. 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.

7. Avenida Tulum and City Hall

Downtown Cancun's main street, Avenida Tulum, features wide pedestrian paths on either side, perfect for a leisurely stroll, lined with shops, small markets, bars, handicraft exhibitions, galleries, and the City Hall building.

8. Local Ruins

Get away from the Downtown crowds and travel back in time by touring one of the many nearby Mayan ruins. The picturesque Tulum ruins are only a couple of hours away, while the ancient city El Rey is just a hop, skip, and jump over in the Hotel Zone. The El Castillo pyramid at Chichén Itzá is worth the five-hour roundtrip to see one of Mexico's greatest marvels.

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