A rite of passage for US school leavers and vacationing students, Cancun Mexico is abuzz with live music, wild dancing and youthful shenanigans. But there is also a softer side to Cancun beyond its party-hard exterior. Cancun offers up a hearty serving of pool-side lounging, frolicking with sea creatures and exploring ancient Mayan culture. Now Mexico's prime travel destination, Cancun was originally built as a designated holiday zone in a bid to boost tourism some 40 years ago. It was chosen in large part for its powdery white beaches and deep, azure ocean ,and has seen huge expansion over time with a bustling hotel district and an influx of venues for dining, dancing and sun-soaked dreaming.
There are plenty of things to do in Cancun: think high-rise rooftop parties, street market bargain hunting and coastal snorkelling. Cancun has been dubbed the 'Gateway to the Mayan World' due to the intriguing archaeological wonders that surround. Nearby Tulum and Chichén Itzá are home to spectacular Mayan sites of worship and lost civilisations if you're up for a day trip. Hop on the ferry and scoot across to the low-key Isla Mujeres to sample fresh seafood, watch turtle hatchlings being released and explore temple ruins. If you simply wish to spend your time lazing on the sand, dipping your feet into the warm Caribbean waters, you have more than 13 miles of beach to stroll at your leisure.
Fajitas, tamales and tacos, oh my! El Centro is the place to join locals chowing down on authentic Mexican cuisine. For a quick meal on the go, try antojitos – a variety of salty street snacks filled with cheeses, peppers, onions and meats. Restaurants in Cancun are plentiful and incredibly diverse, from replicas of New York bakeries to Cuban-style sandwich joints. To treat your tastebuds, go all-out with a seven-course tasting menu at Chef Cristian Morales – an intimate setting in chef Morales' own exquisite dining room. Nightlife abounds at the Hotel Zone where Vegas-style shows, international DJs and mariachi bands are all part of the landscape. To drink? Tequila, muddled in cocktails or chased with lime and salt.
Where to Stay
The Hotel Zone ('Zona Hotelera') is the obvious choice for your pick of Cancun hotels – the choice of accommodation in this area can be almost overwhelming! The majority of hotels are three-five stars with Wi-Fi access, swimming pools and in-house restaurants. There is something for everyone here, from families to business travellers and university party-goers. For all-inclusive luxury, book your stay at Le Blanc Spa Resort where each floor has a private butler, room service is available around the clock and Jacuzzis are filled with scents of your choosing. Budget accommodation can be found closer to the city centre where hostels, villas and bed-and-breakfasts offer smaller, quieter dwellings within walking distance from local markets and cafés.
In the centre of town, the main pedestrian street Avenida Hidalgo is a hotspot for Cancun shopping with quirky boutiques, craft galleries and plenty of eateries for pit stops in-between. The 'locals' market, Mercado 23, boasts a range of fresh local produce, cheap and tasty street food and stylish clothing. The Mercado 28 flea market is a great place for souvenir shopping with traditional hand-sewn dolls, leather sandals, artisan silver jewellery and sombreros. Haggling is accepted and encouraged at the mercados and prices are lower here than higher-traffic tourist areas. For shopping on a larger scale, the glitzy La Isla shopping village in the Hotel Zone features a smattering of American and Mexican retailers and restaurants.
Cancun like a Local
A bit of basic Spanish will get you far, especially if you choose to explore further than the main tourist districts – adding a few key phrases to your vocabulary will serve you well on trips to the El Centro and Downtown areas. Let your hair down and embrace the relentless nightlife, bar-hopping from crowded discos to resort pool parties and al fresco dance spaces. It may be tough, but make sure you leave time for long, lazy breakfasts and siestas on the beach. When the warm, tropical Cancun weather is in full swing, that shouldn't be a problem. If world-famous beaches and continuous celebration sound good to you, put on your party hat and book your flights to Cancun.