Things to Do in Cancun, Mexico Off the Beaten Path

Here’s my fun fact of the day: Cancun is WAY more than just big fancy hotels, all inclusive, and immaculately kept beaches. There’s an entire small city located off the beaten path and there are so many things to do in Cancun besides all inclusives.

My first day in Cancun landed me right in an all inclusive at the Marriot Casa Magna.

Wait, you’re thinking, I thought she was just going to tell me about anything BUT staying at an all inclusive in Cancun. I’M GETTING THERE PEOPLE!

Anyways, I stayed in an all inclusive for one night BECAUSE I couldn’t find any information about the downtown area of Cancun. And because it was my first time in Mexico, and because I was solo, I was apprehensive to head somewhere I had heard nothing about.

Meghan in front of some trees - Things to do in Cancun Off the Beaten Path

I had, however, talked to a few people during TBEX that recommended an AirBnb that was run by two bloggers that was located in the downtown area. I got in touch with them on my way to Mexico and booked a few nights. Sadly, I left my swanky digs after 24 hours and made my way to the AirBnb.

Christina and Tim were waiting out front for me ready to welcome me in with open arms! I found out they ran the site MarginalBoundaries and were well versed in the language of blogging and social media.  They had called this area of the city their home for over 4 years and had just decided to add another 2 years. They seemed like logical, semi normal people 😉 so there had to be something about this area of the city that was so appealing.

Very quickly, I wound up adding an extra couple days bringing my stay in Cancun to a little over a whole week. I talked Christina into giving me some Spanish lessons while I was there as well and was well on my way to enjoying Mexico.

The Streets of Cancun - Things to do in Cancun Off the Beaten Path
Ixcun, the street I stayed on.

The first thing you need to understand is that it isn’t very rustic. Sorry to disappoint, but the roads are clean, and bonus! cobblestoned in most areas. I don’t like riding on cobblestone streets but I sure do enjoy the look. There are Walmarts, and Costcos and Starbucks. You can find all of your typical American fare but I recommend going beyond your creature comforts.

The Airbnb was located in the super manzana 32 section. Cancun city is divided into super manzanas or regions/neighborhoods/sections by number. Each number has a school and market. It makes it pretty easy to navigate around.

Most of my information for things to do in Cancun comes from SM or section 32, 28 and 23 because that’s where I spent most of my time.

You can easily catch a public bus for less than a US dollar to the hotel zone/glorious beaches or any of the many shopping centers in the downtown area. It’s easy to navigate once you know which routes go where. Here’s a very basic guide, but there are many other routes and specifics to it. Find someone who knows their way around and I’m sure they’ll be able to help you! A little Spanish goes a long way. If you’re near Kabah avenue it’s the #2 bus that will take you to the beach!

On the Public Bus in Cancun - Things to Do in Cancun Off the Beaten Path
Public bus in Cancun

Taxis within the city are easy as well. Mostly unnecessary unless it’s late at night or pouring. Within the city, they shouldn’t cost you more than 30 pesos. Negotiate prior to getting in.

Anyways! Onto the fun stuff – things to do in Cancun. If you’re near Mercado (market) 28 then you’re in luck because I’m going to tell you all about that area.

Near Mercado 28 there is Parque de las Palapas. Here there are nightly festivals and food vendors. There’s often entertainment in the form of clowns or live music. You can snatch 5 delicious pastor tacos for 25 pesos that’s less than $2 USD and you have tons of fresh options for toppings! It’s packed until late at night, I’m not sure how late it’s open as I never saw it closed!  This is one of the great things to do in Cancun to get to know the city.

If you want slightly higher quality and slightly larger tacos go to Tacos Rigo. It’s infamous in the area, and all you need to do is ask someone, “Donde es Tacos Rigo?” and I am sure you will find your way there! This is another spot that I am pretty sure never closes. I walked by around midnight and it was still packed. It has an incredibly vibrant interior and is friendly to foreigners and locals alike. Each taco will set you back around 20 pesos but you’ll only need 2-3 depending on your hunger level. They also offer take away! I loved the pastor tacos as well as the arrachera (a type of beef taco). They have other offerings other than tacos, like enchiladas, quesadillas and variety plates! Just go! You won’t regret it.

There is also a fantastic little spot that does a traditional Mexican lunch from 1-4 in the afternoon for 60 pesos that changes daily called El Canton Toluqueño. There are often 4-5 different options varying from chilaquiles to pazole to all sorts of traditional Mexican cuisine. Each one typically comes with a soup as well! Try the tamarind juice while you’re there, I fell in love with it during my time in Cancun and haven’t been able to find it again since!

The Menu del Dia - Things to Do in Cancun Off the Beaten Path
The ever changing lunch special board!
Enchiladas for Lunch - Things to Do in Cancun
My lunch choice, enchiladas.

Across avenue Kabah from the Soriana, there are a few places that are known as the chicken place, the lamb place etc. I tried the lamb place, La Borrega, while I was staying in Cancun. I got a soup, I wish I knew what it was called, I’m sorry I am letting you down. But there are like 3 options: tacos, soup or a sandwich basically! I heard the tacos were bomb as well!

Here’s the general place where the restaurant is located, don’t try to google it, because there are about a thousand places called la borrega. It just means, the lamb. Wink Wink!

Finally, one last recommendation for things to do in Cancun off the beaten path, go to the Mayan Museum! It is beautifully done, and is a great way to get a feel for the culture that built Mexico! It’s actually located in the hotel zone, so even if you’re staying there, you can get to it really easily. Its pretty cheap, only around 65 pesos or so and can easily take up a few hours on a rainy day. Many of the displays also have both Spanish and English descriptions so you don’t even have to guess what some of the things are! Unfortunately, when I was there a lot of it was under construction, so make sure to check before you go to see if it has reopened yet! (11/5/2015).

The Mayan Museum of Cancun - Things to Do in Cancun
Mayan Museum of Cancun

A note on safety: During the day, I never felt unsafe walking around on my own. I was very apprehensive of Mexico in general when it came to safety and I was so pleasantly surprised. Keep an eye on your belongings, when in crowded places do make sure to zipper your purse or wear your backpack backwards. In Cancun, often tourists are highly regarded, because it is their only source of income, so most police officers will take the side of the tourist instead of the local if there should be any issues.

At night, it’s slightly different. If you stay on the main, lit streets you should be fine walking until about midnight or so. There are always exceptions to every rule so if you feel unsafe just flag down a taxi and it shouldn’t be more than 30 pesos to get you where you need to go.

Read More About Safety in Mexico Here.

Want a little more inspiration for things to do in Cancun!? Check out my video about places off the beaten path of Cancun!

Video transcription:

Hey everyone, just wanted to show you a different side to Cancun than the big, fancy, hotel zone where everyone pictures Cancun. I’m staying in an Airbnb just outside the downtown area. Here, I’ll show you a little of the neighborhood.

Here we are, this is the main street of Ixcun, where the Airbnb is located off of. As you can see, lots of greenery, no giant hotels in sight, normal residential houses.

As part of my off the beaten path of Cancun, I decided to visit the Mayan Museum.

It went in depth into the history of the Mayan culture. There were a lot of artifacts and it was really, really, well done. I actually took a lot of this time to practice my Spanish, most of the artifacts had really good descriptions in Spanish and English. I would try reading the Spanish description and then would look at the English translation to see if I understood it at all.

The museum also had a really beautiful backdrop, you could see the ocean from the windows. Unfortunately, a lot of the museum was actually under construction when I visited.

Hi, I just finished the inside of the Mayan museum in Cancun. Not many people do a historical side to Cancun. Like I said a lot of the museum was actually under construction. Luckily, there was this really cool kids art exhibit set up underneath the museum. There were some awesome figurines and some really bright colors. It was a really neat thing to kind of close out the museum.

Here we go, walking down the path to go see some remnants of some mayan ruins. Little nervous, might start pouring any minute, it’s a risk you’ve got to take for history, right?

After the Mayan museum I made my way to a touristy restaurant, low and behold I found some gluten free pasta! I relished in it for the last time for the next two months.

<<<<Great Mexican guy singing on the bus>>>


Would you ever stay in downtown Cancun? Why or why not??


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Things to Do in Cancun, Mexico

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