Is it worth it to stay or visit downtown Cancun?
I’ll be straight with you. This area will never be on my must-see list.
However, depending on your itinerary and budget, you may go there.
In fact, I stayed in downtown Cancun for a few days during my first trip to Mexico!
You will find in this article a list of all my good tips (restaurants, hotels, bars, parks) to have a good time.
Don’t hesitate to read our Cancun guide to plan your vacation and not make any more mistakes. You will find all our articles about this destination.
Dream makers 😎
Downtown Cancun: The Takeaway + Map
I know your time is precious. Here is what you MUST know before coming to downtown Cancun.
- The 2 areas cool at night are Parque de las Palapas & the North of Avenida Carlos Nader.
- It’s the only Cancun neighborhood with affordable hotels and cheap tacos.
- It’s effortless and inexpensive to get to the hotel zone with the public buses R1 & R2.
- You will find little to do, except looking for cool street art and coatis.
- Taxis will be much cheaper, and you can take the ADO buses to many other cities.
Downtown Cancun: my favorite tips
With that info, you can’t go wrong.
16# Where is Cancun Downtown
Downtown Cancun, Mexico, also called “El Centro,” spreads on both sides of Avenida Tulum or Ave. 307.
It is a busy area where the locals live; this is where you should go if you want to feel the Mexican vibe.
To get to the Hotel Zone from the city, you have to take the 10 km Kukulcan Boulevard that leads to Punta Cancun, north of the Hotel Zone.
15# Devour the best Street Food
You can find a taco shop on almost every street corner in Cancun. If you want to enjoy authentic Mexican street food, follow me. I had fun testing for you.
Porky’s Junior & his friends
Porky’s Junior parked his truck on a street with other small street food vendors selling tacos and beverages such as fresh fruit juices.
Open in the evening until late at night; it offers all kinds of copious tacos, each one better than the next and for cheap.
The service is fast and friendly.
If you want to taste great gorditas, a kind of thick patty stuffed with meat or other, you are at the right table!
Within the menu of Que Gorditas…! you can also choose good tortillas and quesadillas, all at very affordable prices.
This street food restaurant is open until 5.00 pm and makes all its pasta by hand.
La Gata Negra
Are you a vegetarian? I have an excellent spot for you!
LA GATA NEGRA, installed in the colorful hippie vibe of the Parque del Artesano, serves delicious vegan tacos with delicious sauces for cheap.
You can even try soy steak tacos.
This food stall is only open in the evening from Thursday to Sunday.
If you want to eat good tacos served in a happy and friendly mood and for a reasonable price, go to Gory Tacos on Tulipanes, a lively street near Parque de las Palapas.
You can also sip great margaritas and other drinks while listening to the music.
This street food restaurant, open for lunch and dinner, is popular with many tourists, so be patient.
To enjoy the biggest and best pork carnitas of your life for cheap, come to El POLILLA!
You’ll probably have to queue outside the modest shack, but the service is fast, the cooks are friendly, and you wait patiently listening to the guy who plays music.
You can eat your taco with fresh orange juice bought a few steps away; it is sold by the liter for 50 pesos.
This food stall closes at 2.00 pm.
Or you can book a tour
If you’re a gourmet, book a street food tour!
You will leave at 10.00 am on this Lunch food tour, during which you will taste various Mexican specialties, making stops at a market and excellent street food stalls.
Or, if you’re a tacos fan and have a huge hunger, then be ready at 5.00 pm to go on this Evening food tour. Apart from all kinds of tacos and other culinary specialties, you will enjoy 4 beers.
And if you are interested in Mexican food and street art, why not combine your two passions? This Food & Street Art tour will bring you to some hidden spots of authentic Mexican street food and among the street art scene of Cancun Centro.
14# Eat in delicious restaurants
The Cancun downtown area is full of trendy restaurants, and some offer mouthwatering meals.
Many are concentrated on Av. Carlos Nader, a nice street whose 1970s quaint heritage is slowly changing into a boho lifestyle atmosphere.
Cafe con Gracia
For breakfast or a sweet break at any time of the day in a colorful and playful atmosphere, I recommend Cafe con Gracia.
They have a nice range of delicious coffees and other beverages, and the waffles and bagels are very tasty.
The waiters are friendly, and the prices are super affordable.
La Coyota – Cocina y Mixología
With its sleek wooden décor, chill-out vibe, and good Latino music you can dance to, La Coyota is a great spot for dining.
The cocktails are absolutely delicious and with a kick-ass presentation. I recommend the Mezcal-based ones. You’ll love the colorful little skulls.
With a few exceptions, the waiters are attentive and effective.
Onigiri Casa Poke
Fancy a tasty poke bowl? The Japanese Onigiri Casa Poke offers you all kinds of poke bowls in a colorful and stylish ambiance.
I advise you to compose your very own one with a wide variety of fresh and flavorful ingredients; you will enjoy it even more.
And if you have any doubts, the waiter will help you. The price/quality ratio is good.
La Fonda del Zancudo
Fine international cuisine with vegetarian choices and daily specialties, La Fonda del Zancudo is a great place to have dinner in Cancun Centro.
Couples will especially appreciate the cozy garden atmosphere and the fairy lights that give it a romantic feel.
The waiters are friendly, and the prices are reasonable.
La Habichuela Restaurante
Founded 39 years ago, La Habichuela is one of the best restaurants in downtown Cancun.
With unique retro decor, it serves delicious Mexican food that smartly integrates worldwide influences.
The servers are very professional, and the prices are a bit high, but the freshness and quality are top-notch.
A family atmosphere and simple decor but definitely one of the best seafood restaurants in downtown Cancun.
Pescaditos serves hearty dishes with live music in the evening; prices are affordable.
The chef cooks shrimp and ceviche wonderfully.
This small restaurant is very popular with both tourists and locals.
13# Take pictures of the best Street art
Do you know that Cancun downtown is a street art capital?
The Sea Walls Foundation initiated this movement a few years ago to highlight the need to protect the oceans while contributing to the renovation of some buildings.
Take your camera and go on your own street art tour, visiting downtown Cancun. You will discover vast and colorful murals made by Mexican and international street art artists.
You will see most of them in the residential area of Avenida Bonampak.
You can’t miss the massive and impressive “Translucent White Shark” on the walls of the Fovissste apartment towers or “Game over,” which denounces the captivity of marine animals.
You can also admire many other paintings inspired by the local culture and various themes in other areas of El Centro, such as Avenida Nader and Avenida Yaxchilan.
And if you are scared of getting lost, there are exciting street art tours.
The enthusiastic guide of this Street Art tour will explain the artist’s vision and techniques of urban art so you can better appreciate the work of this open-air art gallery.
12# Shopping in Cancun downtown
When you travel, it’s hard to resist bringing back souvenirs.
Follow me; I’ll take you shopping.
Mercado 28 is a large, quaint flea market full of souvenir shops, handicrafts, some of them locally made, and jewelry shops.
Here, it is a tradition to negotiate prices with the vendors who will try to draw you into their stalls. Don’t worry; they are not “too” pushy.
Take your time; the market is open daily from 9am to 7pm. Browse through the colorful stands, and you’ll find your perfect gift.
You can even grab a snack in one of the many small restaurants.
Don’t expect great cuisine, but you’ll enjoy some good tasting if you’re a tequila fan.
If you want to stroll through a popular market that exudes local culture, go to Mercado 23.
In this smaller and less tidy market than Mercado 28, you will find all kinds of food, domestic, cosmetic, esoteric, and handicraft local produce at much lower prices than elsewhere. It’s also more “chaotic” than Mercado 28.
You will surely find what you are looking for.
It’s open all day, and stalls sell tacos, empanadas, and other specialties.
I advise you to go early for more security; the back part of the market is isolated.
Mercado Ki Huic
Located on Tulum Avenue, Mercadi Ki Huic is a market with over a hundred shops mainly selling Mexican-inspired crafts.
You will easily find your souvenirs and even beach gear for very competitive prices, cheaper than the Mercado 28.
Some stalls look the same, so don’t hesitate to compare.
This market is open from 9.00 am to 8.00 pm; there are food stalls on-site.
Parque del Artesano
If you want to meet local artists, go to the Parque del Artesano, a craft market with a relaxed hippie vibe.
It’s open in the afternoons until late, Wednesday to Sunday.
Stroll around the well-lit stalls, enjoying an excellent vegetarian taco or chocolate.
Apart from various handicrafts, handmade jewelry with colorful natural stones is very popular with locals and tourists.
On some days there is live music.
11# Enjoy the nightlife in downtown Cancun
The Hotel Zone around Punta Cancun is not the only place to enjoy the nightlife.
Cancun Downtown has some hidden gems. Follow me; I’ll show you some great bars!
MUMMA Rooftop Bar
For a relaxing afternoon or evening in a great ambiance with a wonderful view of Cancun downtown, climb to the Nomads Hostel roof and sit at the MUMMA Rooftop Bar.
Around the rooftop pool, enjoy a tasty dish and great cocktails while listening to the music played by the DJ.
With your friends or other friendly travelers, play billiards or babyfoot.
The Tiki Mug
I recommend The Tiki Mug, a nice little bar in Cancun downtown with a very happy deco, for a night out with friends.
The cocktails served in funny and colorful Tikis are delicious and very affordable.
There is a good musical background; sometimes, there is even a singer.
Route 666 Bikers Bar
Fancy a drink or a beer while listening to great rock music?
Go to the Route 666 Bikers Bar, an emblematic bar of downtown Cancun.
With its biker-style design and super live music from 9 pm to 1 am, you’ll have a blast.
And if you feel a little hungry, order some grilled chicken wings.
Barezzito Puerto Cancun
For an ambiance with psychedelic lights and loud music, head to Barezzito Puerto Cancun, a lively nightclub in the Marina Town Center Mall.
If your ears are delicate, have a seat on the terrace. Bands perform on stage.
The drinks are good, and you can enjoy an open bar some nights.
You should easily find a taxi to drive you back to your hotel.
10# A fun Mexican evening at La Parilla: Lucha libre!
For a 100% Mexican evening, I suggest La Parilla, a lovely and colorful hacienda-style restaurant in Downtown Cancun.
Delicious typical dishes, friendly and very good Mariachis musicians, acrobatic waiters juggling without spilling a drop of the perfect Margaritas placed on their heads; it might sound a bit cliché and maybe a bit expensive for El Centro, but you will definitely have fun.
If you come on a Thursday, at 8.00 pm, you will attend a free wrestling match (“Lucha libre“) in the restaurant parking.
To enjoy the whole show, you can also book this Fiesta tour.
You will watch a fight between wrestlers wearing impressive painted masks.
Your guide will tell you about the history of this prevalent sport in Mexico, and you will leave with your own fighter’s mask.
9# Stay in affordable hotels
You can find some good hotels at more affordable prices in the downtown area than in the Hotel Zone.
This small hotel, with its pretty patio around a swimming pool and its hacienda look in joyful colors, offers a warm atmosphere and good facilities.
Very well located near Avenida Tulum and El Parque de las Palapas, The Quetzal is only 10 minutes walking distance from an ADO bus station.
Breakfast is included and is absolutely delicious.
Bed and Breakfast Pecari
Bed and Breakfast Pecari, with a pleasant patio and swimming pool, is a small haven of tranquillity not far from Avenida Tulum and close to transport facilities.
Charming and helpful hosts, a contemporary interior, large comfortable rooms, and a tasty breakfast make this a great budget option in Cancun Centro.
Nomads Party Hotel & Hostel
Located close to bus stations and Parque de las Palapas, the Nomads Party Hotel & Hostel offers a wide range of modern and comfortable rooms and dormitories.
Shared spaces such as the kitchen, the lounge, or the outdoor area with a swimming pool and bar create an atmosphere that favors exchanges between travelers.
Art Studios Local Accommodation & Art Shop
Located in a quiet area between Avenida Tulum and Puerto Cancun, Art Studios Local Accommodation proposes very comfortable studios and flats with kitchenettes in a bright and elegant design (up to 4 people).
The hosts are amiable, and several bars, restaurants, and supermarkets are nearby.
8# Look for Coatis in Parque Kabah
If your hotel is nearby, go for a morning jog or just walk through the shady pathways of Parque Kabah, located in downtown south Cancun.
This peaceful, lush urban park is popular with families, school trips, and health enthusiasts.
Walking through the one-mile paths will not take you more than an hour, and you will surely have the chance to meet some wild animals, such as birds or the famous Coati, a cute little tree-dwelling mammal.
And if you’re curious, look at the tiny museum, which displays some photos and documents about the history of Cancun.
Parque Kabah closes at 6.00 pm.
7# Eat a Marquesita in Parque Las Palapas
If you’re not far away, go to the Parque de la Palapas in the heart of downtown Cancun in the evening.
With its wide, well-lit paved paths, this urban park is very popular with the locals. Especially on weekends, they come to wander among the stalls selling handicrafts, music bands, and food trucks.
There is a playground for kids, tables with umbrellas, and cultural events that occur weekly on a stage.
You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to eating; some 20 food stalls sell a variety of Mexican street food specialties for very cheap.
I highly recommend you try a Marquesita, a kind of Yucatecan crepe, either savory or sweet. I love the Marquesita with Nutella and cheese, a great classic!
6# Enjoy the breeze at Malecon Tajamar for sunset
After a warm day, breathe fresh air from the Nichupte lagoon along Malecon Tajamar, a quiet palm-lined promenade.
Here you can mix with joggers, cyclists, and walkers, with or without a dog, and in the light of the setting sun, you will see the silhouettes of the resorts of the Hotel Zone on the other shore.
To come and go from Cancun downtown, you must take a taxi or private transportation.
5# Buy fresh food and cook them with a chef
If you are a foodie and a cooking fan, why not learn how to prepare some of Mexico’s culinary specialties by booking this Cooking Class tour?
I suggest you start this tour on an empty stomach!
A van will pick you up at your hotel in Cancun downtown and drop you off at Mercado 23, a local market.
There, your guide will help you choose all the fresh ingredients before you head to the kitchen of the restaurant La Parilla.
Professional cooks will show you how to use traditional tools such as stone mortar and mobilize all your senses to make 4 dishes and a Margarita.
Then, all you have to do is to eat and drink!
After 4 hours of gastronomic pleasure, it will be time to return to your hotel for a good digestive nap.
4# Save money on transportation
It’s relatively easy to avoid wasting money on transportation from Cancun downtown; listen to these travel tips.
Several public bus lines run regularly to El Centro, so there’s no need to take a super expensive taxi from the Hotel Zone to go to the beach or party in Punta Cancun.
A bus from R1 and R2 lines will cost you less than 1 USD to get to the Hotel Zone. You can catch one on Avenida Tulum.
I advise you to always have Mexican pesos in small money with you.
If you want to go out of Cancun to explore the Riviera Maya, nothing is easier; take an ADO Bus. The ADO bus station is right in the middle of downtown Cancun.
Furthermore, you can travel with your big backpack.
Every 30 minutes, an ADO bus connects the airport with the downtown area for 5 USD.
The cheapest way to travel in Mexico is by colectivo; it drops you off wherever you want.
However, it’s best to speak a little Spanish, and you won’t know how long it will take you.
If you really need to use a taxi, don’t worry, they are much cheaper in the downtown area than in the Hotel Zone.
3# Is Cancun Downtown safe?
Yes, Cancun Downtown is safe during the day and evening. Less than the Hotel Zone, but if you stay in the touristy and busy areas, you won’t have any problems.
Of course, avoid showing your valuables too much.
I don’t recommend walking in the streets late at night, don’t hesitate to take a taxi.
2# Is Downtown Cancun worth visiting?
Honestly, if you only have a short time to spend in Cancun, choosing another place in the Riviera Maya rather than the downtown area is better. There is little to do there.
However, if you only plan to stay in Cancun, it’s worth going to El Centro to experience the local culture.
1# Downtown Cancun VS The Hotel Zone of Cancun?
Choosing Downtown Cancun or the Hotel Zone depends on what you are looking for.
The white sand beaches with idyllic waters are in the Hotel Zone, and if you’re a party animal, this is also where you’ll find the most famous spots of Cancun’s nightlife.
If you are a fan of all-inclusive resorts, you will have the choice in the Hotel Zone. There is almost nothing else. You can even afford to stay in a luxury resort if that’s your dream.
Accommodation is much cheaper downtown if your budget is a bit tight.
I recommend downtown if you want to feel the Mexican vibe by mingling with the locals and tasting authentic Mexican street food.
If you are in the Hotel Zone and like to walk, forget it! Everything is far away, except around Punta Cancun.
It’s easier to leave for a day trip from Cancun city than from the Hotel Zone.
Find some cool experiences from Cancun
Want to have fun while staying in Cancun? Here are some ideas to make your trip unforgettable: