What to do in Downtown Cancun
January 1, 1970
by Ximena Paz Paredes
I know those images on your head when you listen to the word, Cancun. The white sand, a sea with those shades of blue so characteristic of the Caribbean, those Miami-like resorts, the shopping malls, and party party party! But Cancun is more than the hotel zone. Taking a walking tour in downtown Cancun is an interesting way of really understanding the place that you are in. In the downtown dynamics, local people (from Mayan roots, Mexicans, international residents) and some tourists converge and everyday life just happens.
I personally love visiting markets, where you can see all the exotic fruits that locals eat, and listen them speak their own language, buy handmade crafts and absorb all the sounds and colors that surround the place. In Cancun, we have Market 28, and Market 23, the first one is the touristic one, with souvenirs, crafts, and some restaurants, but the second one, may not be as pretty, but to me, it feels a lot more real. And if you let me give some travel advise, you should know that there are lots of crafts too, but as it is not touristic, is LOTS cheaper.
Walking inside of the little stores is a color explosion, from the fruits and veggies shops, with all this shapes, textures and colors and with the herbs hanging down from the ceiling; to the esoteric ones, with that copal scent and the “holy death” figures and all the images of saints and luck items. Its also quite impressing, but in my opinion, the best of traveling is, opening your eyes to see those things that would be impossible to see where you were standing before, and get amazed, and try to understand this new different way of seeing life.
City Hall and Las Palapas
After a ten-minute.walk from Market 23 heading south, through Tulum Avenue, you will find the City Hall. If you have traveled around Mexico before, you may have noticed that in most cities, the City Hall is right across a huge Cathedral; that, is some heritage the Colony left, but in Cancun, there is not. Why? Well, it is a very young city. It was founded in 1971, and tho Puerto Juarez had been a fisherman village for many years, Cancun was created to attract tourism, as an alternative to raise Mexico’s economy. But the fact there is no religion involved, the citizens have adopted it as a symbol of freedom of thought. And right across the Tulum Avenue, through the little pedestrian streets, you can find Las Palapas, an open-air stage where you can sometimes watch some public events, and every night you can enjoy typical Mexican food (street food mostly) and local artist offering some handmade crafts, paintings, and street shows.
All the area around Las Palapas shows the multicultural environment that Cancun has, and so you can eat some Italian pasta, or wine and tapas, or traditional Yucatan food, or dance salsa and bachata. And then just walk a few steps and watch in the street shows some duet playing banda music and people eating “esquites”.
Parks and Nader Avenue
Behind the City Hall, you can find Nader Avenue, that lately has filled up with little Mezcalerias (bars, basically), and good food like Japanese, Mexican, Argentinian, Italian and even author cuisine. Plus is really a nice walk, the place is full of trees and it’s just a nice sight.
While walking through the area, notice that, most of the blocks have peaceful parks where you can just sit back and relax, enjoying the birds (great places for birdwatching if you are into that), or just watching the local vegetation and fauna, you will probably see some woodpeckers, squirrels, iguanas and other little creatures. Walking around the parks is something that I really enjoy, especially in the rainy season, when you can find some interesting fungi and the humidity just gives the environment this jungly vibe.
Puerto Juarez is the fisherman village that existed long before Cancun was on the touristic guides, it was just the place to cross to Isla Mujeres; that has been important since the Mayans ruled this lands because in the island there was the Sacred Temple of Ixchel goddess. I read on some article a few months ago, that in the 20’s, people used to light a fireplace to make themselves visible to the people on the island, so a boat would come to Puerto Juarez to pick them up.
This place still looks like a little town, the sea doesn’t have the colors of the sea in the hotel zone, but its the perfect spot to eat some fresh seafood. At least a dozen seafood restaurants line up beachside and provide a decent variety food and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
We recently have noticed how big cities from all over the world are covering their gray walls to muralists and street artist; and to everyone’s delight, Cancun is not an exception.
Social and environmental topics highlight with often surrealistic characters and scenes, but the main topic is always the sea. Cancun’s street art reflects the symbiosis that exists between the local, the tourist, the natural environment and the majesty of the sea.
If you decide to make a walking tour in downtown Cancun, have your eyes wide open and look for these beautiful murals that are covering our buildings, and try to look beyond them. to see what does Cancun struggles with, what does it rejoice in. If you are interested in street art, there is a tour given in Las Palapas every Sunday, just to see murals, and get to know the work of the local artists. If you wouldn’t like a tour, but are interested, I will recommend the murals on Bonampak Avenue, (like six apartment buildings all covered up), the one on a side of Mega Supermarket, next to the bus station and the whole Nader Avenue.
Give Cancun a chance to show you what it has to offer out of the Hotel Zone. It might surprise you.