13 Best Things to Do in Downtown Cancun (2023): Attractions, Safety & Tips
Downtown Cancun is most of the time ignored and for a reason. I always say that is very ugly, nothing like the charming colonial town that you may find in Yucatan or other parts of Mexico, and yet, you should visit and in this post, I will tell you why!
However there are interesting places to visit, local restaurants and interesting things to do that may surprise you.
Downtown Cancun is where I have lived for 7 years and I keep coming back to in this post I will tell you all about it.
Downtown Cancun at a Glance
Cancun was created relatively late and with the main focus to attract tourism in the Hotel Zone. Downtown Cancun was built with no sense of beauty, at all, but just to offer a place to live for the people who were working in the Hotel Zone hotels and restaurants.
It has been constantly growing since then and it’s now an interesting place to visit. The government is also trying to make it more appealing for tourists to shift their attention from the popular Hotel Zøne to the less attractive downtown area.
If you want to see how locals live, try authentic (and cheap) food, and stroll around a Mexican city, you should plan a visit to downtown Cancun. It is cheap, and easy, to get from the hotel zone to downtown Cancun.
The R1 and R2 buses run constantly from the Hotel Zone to Cancun city center, and you can hop on one and take it to the city center.
Ready to get out of the hotel zone and explore downtown Cancun? Keep reading to learn the best things to do in downtown Cancun.
Where is Downtown Cancun?
Downtown Cancun is 12 kilometers from the Cancun airport. The Cancun Hotel Zone is a long, thin peninsula that is in the shape of the number 7.
Downtown Cancun is right at the top tip of the 7, located just slightly off the waterfront. Depending on where you are staying in the hotel zone, it can take between 15-25 minutes to get downtown.
Things to do in Downtown Cancun
Before the 1970s Cancun was a small village with about 100 fishermen living there. As the hotel zone grew, so did Cancun downtown. People from all over Mexico moved there to get jobs in the newly arriving tourism.
Now, downtown Cancun is home to over 850,000 people, and the downtown is full of culture, food and drinks, and activities. If you want to check out downtown Cancun, here is what you do not want to miss.
1. Explore Downtown Cancun Street Arts
Spend some time exploring Cancun on foot. While you are walking around make sure to look up at the buildings- you will find some amazing murals. Cancun’s walls are home to murals from a variety of local and international artists. You will find murals that feature wildlife, Mayan and Mexican culture, as well as abstract and graffiti murals.
2. Visit Avenida Tulum
Avenida Tulum is one of the main roads in Cancun. It has wide sidewalks, and you can comfortably go for a walk and check out the city center.
Along Avenida Tulum, you will find the Palacio Municipal- the city hall, shops, markets, galleries, and plenty of cafes and restaurants.
The avenue also has several hotels and supermarkets. If you want to just wander around and see what kind of treasures you can find, this is a great area to visit.
3. Take a stroll at Malecon Tajamar
Located just a few blocks from Plaza Las Americas, Malecon Tajamar is a lovely walkway along the Nichupte Lagoon.
It is a great spot to go for a stroll and enjoy views of the Cancun hotel zone.
There are plenty of shady areas, with tall palm trees, and you will find lots of locals taking advantage of this outdoor area. You will often see people exercising, going for a run, and walking their dogs here.
4. Immerse with the locals at Parque de las Palapas
Parque las Palapas is located just a few blocks off of Avenida Tulum in the heart of downtown Cancun.
Parque las Palapas has long been one of the main parks in Cancun, and one of the oldest churches in the city is located on the edge of the park.
There are food stalls around the park with lots of delicious treats to try. If you want something sweet you can get an ice cream or have a made-to-order marquesita. You can find local artisans selling handicrafts here.
This park is a favorite for families. There is a jungle gym and people rent small, motorized cars for children to drive. The park has a large stage and there are often music and cultural events in the park.
5. Go souvenir shopping at Mercado 28
Look for treasures in this huge market filled with shops and stalls. You can find all sorts of souvenirs and Mexican handicrafts here including textiles, handmade clothes, pottery, and artisanal products.
You will not find any prices on items, so be prepared to haggle a little bit with the vendors.
Many shops sell similar items, so you can walk around and get an idea of the going price of an item you are interested in.
This busy market also has food stalls and small restaurants where you can find some truly authentic food for great prices.
6. Buy Fresh Fruits and Produce at Mercado 23
You will find Mercado 23 at the intersection of Avenida Tulum and Avenida Chichen Itza. Here you can get a real view of where locals shop for food. This market is not very touristy, although you can find some souvenir shops around the outside.
Inside you will find vendors selling meats, cheeses, and fresh produce. If you want to find some local, in-season fruits, this is the place to go.
The market also has plenty of food stands where you can get tacos, tortas, and fresh juices.
7. Shop at Malecon Americas Shopping Center
Spend some time hanging out at one of the most popular shopping centers for locals.
Two shopping centers, Malecon Americas and Plaza Las Americas are right next to each other. Here you will find regional and international stores, plus other fun activities.
There is a trampoline park, movie theatre, and arcade to check out.
The mall has a large food court in addition to restaurants where you can find all kinds of food to try.
8. Work out at Urbano Kabah Park
The Urbano Kabah Park is made up of 41 hectares of incredibly maintained natural areas, right in the middle of downtown Cancun.
The park opened in 1995 to preserve the delicate flora and fauna of the area and has become a favorite place for people to escape the city and connect with nature.
This park is a great place to get some exercise- there are nature trails to walk or run, a sports circuit, and an area with exercise equipment.
There is also a play area for kids, as well as a small museum. You can explore the park on your own, and there are organized educational activities for children and adults on the weekends. It is open daily and free!
You may also meet a family of Coatì, some of the most popular animals that you can find in Cancun. They will come to you to look for food and will eat anything.
I don’t usually support giving food to wildlife but I believe it’s now become part of their routine.
9. Take a self-guided walking tour
The history of Cancun goes all the way back to the Mayan Empire. Coconut plantations covered much of the area that is now Cancun before it turned into a major tourist destination and the city population exploded.
Learn about the history, and enjoy the sites by taking a self-guided walking tour. Download the GPSMyCity app to your phone here to take a tour at your own pace.
This app becomes your personal tour guide and uses GPS navigation to guide you around downtown. One of the best parts- the app works offline, so it won’t eat up all your data!
10. Experience Downtown Cancun Nightlife
Go out and party with the locals. Downtown Cancun is home to amazing bars and restaurants where locals hang out. Whatever atmosphere you want- you can find it. Whether you want to listen to live music, go dancing, or hear local DJs play, you will find a spot to have a good time in downtown Cancun.
Top Tours in Cancun Downtown
It is fun to explore a city on your own, but sometimes nothing beats the local knowledge you can from a tour. Downtown Cancun Tours will help you find the best food, experience the culture, and have a great time. Here are some to check out:
11. Cancun food tour and Local Market
I personally took this tour and I had so much fun discovering local places where I have never been myself despite living here. We had so much food I couldn’t eat for the rest of the day.
The guide was very knowledgeable and shared some interesting information on locals’ favorite places to eat, food names, and eating habits. I cannot recommend it enough.
Besides eating we also went for a quick walk through the Mercado 23 and we stop by the spectacular giant murals, a project commissioned by the Cancun Municipality to embellish old tired buildings and they did indeed a great job!
12. Cancun Authentic Downtown Food Tour: Tacos and Local Flavors
With this tour, you will hit up five different spots with a local foodie. Your guide will take you on a walking tour of different restaurants and food stands.
They will teach you the background of different regional dishes and local history while you get to enjoy authentic food.
This tour will help you find places you might not have been able to find on your own and includes enough food to be a satisfying meal. The tour lasts 3 hours.
13. Cancun City Tour and Shopping
In this Cancun City tour and Shopping, you will learn about the culture and history of Cancun, plus have time to do some shopping on this tour.
You will pass by several Cancun sites, including a stop at Mercado 28 where you can negotiate a good deal on souvenirs.
You will also stop at Playa Delfines, one of the most popular beaches in Cancun, to get the must-have photograph with the colorful Cancun sign.
Your tour will end with a tequila tasting at La Islas shopping center. The tour lasts 5-6 hours.
14. Cultural Cancun City Tour Experience! Round Transportation in Cancun
Learn about Cancun beyond the beaches. You will learn about Cancun from a local’s point of view on this city tour where you will visit an archeological site and see Mayan ruins, shop for Mexican products at the iconic Mercado 28, and visit Playa Delfines for great views and pictures with the colorful Cancun sign.
Your tour also includes a tequila tasting. The tour lasts 5 hours.
Is downtown Cancun worth visiting?
Yes! If you want to see the other side of Cancun away from the beaches, it is worth visiting. You can learn about the history and culture of the area there. Plus, downtown Cancun has lots of great shopping, galleries, restaurants, and bars to visit.
Is downtown Cancun safe?
Yes, it is relatively safe for you to visit downtown Cancun. In the last few years, you may have seen reports of unpleasant episodes in downtown Cancun. Unfortunately, there is violence between rival gangs; however, you can still safely visit the city, as this should not impact you at all.
Just like when you visit a big city anywhere in the world you should pay attention to your surroundings, and make sure to not walk around under the influence.
Tips for Visiting Downtown Cancun
✔️ Get to Cancun DownTown by local busses
It is easy to get to downtown Cancun from the hotel zone. You can hop on the R1 or R2 buses. The cost is 11 pesos.
These buses run continuously throughout the day and will take you to the center of Cancun. From there you can stroll around, find some cheap, and delicious tacos, and soak up the city atmosphere.
✔️ Eat in local eateries
Want to find the best food? Ask locals, or just look at what places seem to be the busiest. If you come across a taco cart or food stand with long lines of locals, chances are they are serving up something delicious! Join a food tour to find the best places to eat.
✔️ Be open
Do not be afraid to try something new. You will find more authentic and regional food in downtown Cancun than your hotel serves.
✔️ Take cash with you (preferably Mexican Pesos)
It is a good idea to take cash with you, since smaller stands and stores may not accept credit cards. If you have small denomination bills, try to take those with you, since it seems like no one ever has enough change.
✔️ Dress appropriately
While it is impossible to “blend in like a local” when you are, in fact, a tourist, you can still try to dress like one.
In downtown Cancun, you will find people dressed for work, with many people wearing pants, and nice shirts. It is rare to see locals walking around in beachwear.
You want to be comfortable and not overheat, but just know, you will stand out like a tourist if you wear your swimsuit and cover up all over downtown. You can still dress casually though, shorts and a shirt are just fine.
Useful shops and facilities in Cancun Downtown
There are a few coworking spaces in Cancun although I don’t think it’s ready to welcome digital nomads, yet. I love to work from the Mercado Negro Plaza because there are a few restaurants with great starting areas and good WIFI.
If you are looking for organic and/or vegan products look no further than Sirena Morena in the Avenida Nader.
They have a lot of choice both for home and personal care and food, including vegan options. They also have a great restaurant in the backyard for breakfast lunch or snack.
I usually shop at Walmart on the Avenida Bonampak or the one below Ibis Hotel. These were previously called Sperama but they are now rebranded as Walmart express, because they are smaller than the usual store. If you want a bigger supermarket you can get to the Walmart in downtown.
Other choices are Soriana and Chedraui, but are not my favorite for some reasons.
Cosco, Sams and cityclub are also available in Cancun.
You can take your mac or iPhone for cleaning or repair to iGeek.
I love to go to Domenico DeMeo, an Italian hairdresser who’s been in Cancun forever. He has now created his own beauty shop with different stylist to help him. He still does the cuts. He’s awesome! Costs are a bit above the average but worth the money.
Best Immigration lawyer
My immigration lawyer is the best, Durvin Alcocer. She’s an expert in helping foreigners who want to come and live in Cancun, like I did. So if this is your goal, you should contact her. Her rates are fair and she’s always on to of her game.
I always go to Dharma Spa, in Gallerya Infinity. They have been there for ever and so the staff. They can do anything from massages to mani, pedi and waxing. There is also a beautiful clothing and accessory store on the top floor.
The ADO bus station is the place to go if you want to get to anywhere on public coach busses from Cancun. However right in front of the ADO entrance you can find the Playa Express Colectivos, small van that take you to Playa del Carmen.
On the opposite side of the road you can also find other collective mini van that take you to Playa del Carmen. And a more random one that take you to Chiquila’ to get to Holbox.
The small vans leave continuously as soon as they are full, which happens very fast. Those drivers drive quite recklessly though, so prepare yourself for a roller coaster drive. Also they stop anywhere along the road, so it’s the best option if you want to stop anywhere that is not a bus station.
The ADO bus only stop in the designated bus stops that you can find in the itinerary.
Places for Jogging
When I lived and worked in Cancun I used to go jogging often. The best places to enjoy a good run are, either Malecon Tajamar (if you don’t run long distances) or Parque Kaba’.
However, if you love the longer runs you should go on the Avenida Kukulcan, also known as the Hotel Zone road, where you can find a bike lane.
Locals go jogging there usually early morning or late in the evening when the heat is not so unbearable.
Did I miss anything? Please let me know, I am just an email away.
Ferry to Isla Mujeres
From Cancun Downtown you can get to Isla Mujeres with Ultramar Ferries. It leaves Puerto Juarez every 30 minutes from Early morning to late at night. You can get there by taxi or Uber
Uber in Cancun Downtown
In Cancun, you can’t get an Uber from the airport but the Uber app works Downtown. However, I discourage you from using it because there is still a lot of hate manifested by taxi drivers.
A safer way to move around is by DIDI App because it’s also used by taxi drivers, so you will be safe.
I wouldn’t hail a random taxi on the street.
Keep in mind that you can use this APP only if you are away from taxi stands. And, although you can use it to get from Downtown to the Hotel Zone, you cannot use it from the Hotel Zone to Downtown. I know it’s weird, but it’s a street unwritten law!
Downtown Cancun Map
Downtown Cancun: Frequently Asked Questions
What is Cancun downtown called?
Locals refer to downtown Cancun as “El Centro” or “Cancun Centro.” Locals call the hotel zone the “zona hotelera.”
Where can I walk around downtown Cancun?
Avenida Tulum is a great place to walk around downtown Cancun. You will walk past city hall, galleries, shops, and tons of cafes, restaurants, and bars.
Avenida Tulum is one of the main roads in Cancun and has wide sidewalks to stroll on.
If you want to experience nature in downtown Cancun, check out the Urbana Kabah Park, which has trails for walking or running.
I also love Avenida Nader, full of great restaurants and cafes. At Mercado Negro especially, you will find a great pastry shop and cafe’.
What is there to do in downtown Cancun at Night?
The Cancun hotel zone is famous for its nightlife, but there is plenty of great nightlife in downtown Cancun too.
You can find all sorts of bars and restaurants serving great food and drinks and all sorts of good music.
You can find live music and DJs playing all over the city. You can find a lot of popular bars near Plaza Toros and Plaza Solare.
The new and trendy Puerto Cancun area also has lots of great bars to check out.
In Parque de Las Palapas you will always find a great local vibe with food stoles and music, but also one of the best Mexican Restaurants in Cancun, La Habichuela, definitely to try.
What is the main street in Cancun Downtown?
Avenida Tulum is the main street in downtown Cancun. Here you can find all sorts of hotels, bars, restaurants, shops, and galleries, in addition to large supermarkets. This is a great place to start your exploration of Cancun.
Is it good to stay in downtown Cancun?
Downtown Cancun is not right on the beach, but there are some advantages to staying there.
In general, you can find better deals on accommodations downtown.
Plus, everything is cheaper outside of the hotel zone, so you will save money on your food and drinks. If you plan to travel around, downtown Cancun has a large bus station that you will use to get around.
How much is a taxi from downtown Cancun to the Hotel Zone?
A taxi from downtown Cancun to the hotel zone will cost at least $14 or 250 pesos, or more, depending on where in the hotel zone you go to. A much cheaper option is to take the R1 or R2 public buses, which cost around 12 pesos.
However, keep in mind that you can’t ask any taxi to come and pick you up in Cancun Hotel Zone as you must use the taxi designated in the area where you are in that moment (Taxi de Sitio).
Also keep in mind that taxis from the Hotel Zone to DownTown or Airport are way more expensive, starting from 450 MXN
How far is downtown Cancun from the beach?
You can find public beaches all along the hotel zone. There are kilometer markers on the road that count the distance from downtown.
The closest public beach to downtown Cancun is Playa Las Perlas at kilometer 2. As you continue along the route throughout the hotel zone, you will come to several different public beaches.
It is easy to get from downtown Cancun to the beach with public buses and you don’t have to struggle with finding parking.
Is it better to stay in the Hotel Zone or downtown Cancun?
It depends on what you are looking for. The hotel zone is full of big, beachfront hotels and resorts. You can find all-inclusive resorts that have all the on-site amenities you could dream of.
The hotel zone is where the best beaches in Cancun are, plus there are plenty of restaurants and shopping in the area.
Downtown Cancun is a great place to stay if you want a city feel and to mix with locals more and, most of all, save some bucks.
You can easily get to the hotel zone, and to other towns in the Riviera Maya using public buses that leave from downtown.
Downtown Cancun: Final Thoughts
If you have made it to the end of this article you may have realized that Downtown Cancun is worth visiting and can be an interesting detour from your fancy Hotel Zone Hotel.
Whether you book a tour to take you downtown, show you great food and shopping, or plan to explore on your own, it can be an interesting way to spend your time in Cancun and see the other side of the popular Mexican beach resort.
Downtown Cancun will give you a glimpse of how locals live, let you learn more about the culture, and give you an even better appreciation for how great Cancun is.