Whilst remaining unapologetically glued to a sun lounger on one of the world’s most knee-weakening coastlines is admittedly the stuff of dreams, there is simply more to a break in Cancún. We’re not just talking ice-cold Margaritas periodically delivered on a silver platter either (although, again, this is hard to resist). For the adventurous at heart seeking the real Mexico in this adult playground, there are a few ways to live like a local without sacrificing your base in the lap of luxury. Punchy, un-diluted Mexican cuisine, colourful seaside towns, and perfectly pristine natural spots await those willing to explore. Here’s where to find the authentic Cancún:
Visit a Market
Markets and street vendors in general make up a vital part of the rich tapestry that is Mexican culture. Cancún is no exception. So whilst it may prove trying to tear yourself away from that tantalising all-inclusive buffet, we highly recommend heading to a Mercado or two. Especially for gastronomes, this is a feast for the senses. We suggest Market 23. Pick up on the pitter-patter of vendors and customers, take in the brightly-coloured mounds of exotic fruits and hand-painted ceramics, and do your best not to salivate over the wafting aroma of slow-roasted taco meat. Jump on the R-1 bus from the hotel zone, or take a taxi there – it’s just a ten-minute drive from Temptation Cancun Resort.
Further south in the Caribbean Sea, you’ll find the natural gem that is Cozumel. Largely undeveloped, Cozumel is a breath of fresh air, offering incredible scuba diving in Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, and the San Gervasio ruins (complete with resident iguana population). There is also Isla Mujeres, which consists of two tranquil Caribbean islands off the coast of Cancún. Chow down elbow to elbow with local people at the Mercado Municipal, where a long, budget-friendly lunch with several courses comes highly recommended. Though just a short journey away from the city by boat, these islands feel worlds apart from the buzz of tourist activity you’ll find in Cancún. Stay at Zoëtry Villa Rolandi on Isa Mujeres, and a yacht transfer from the mainland can even be arranged.
Take a Dip
If escaping the crowds is your prerogative at the beach, selecting a smaller hotel with its own private sandy stretch is certainly one way to do it. Alternatively, trade your sea swim in for a dip in one of almost 7,000 natural cave pools, or cenotes, in the Yucatan Peninsula. Often filled with gorgeous turquoise waters, these swimming holes also have a variety of unique features: from the dramatic hanging vines at Ik Kil to the double cave formation at Dos Ojos, and the bonus zipline over Cenote Boca del Puma. We recommend staying at Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa, where you can contact concierge and ask for local ceynote tours.
Art & Culture
Culture vultures need not deprive themselves on their holiday in Cancún or along the Riviera Maya. Find a great selection of galleries and local vendors at Plaza Kukulcan, or head to the pleasant Arte Garden to admire the outdoor installations there. Astonishingly the art in Cancún doesn’t stop where the sea begins. Water lovers are massively encouraged to visit the Cancún Underwater Museum, which features over 500 sunken sculptures, now becoming integrated into the marine landscape. Those who don’t wish to snorkel or dive can schedule a glass-bottomed boat for a unique perspective on the largest underwater museum in the world.
Out of the City
Those in search of a slightly more low-key beach retreat should make a day trip down the coast from Cancún, first stopping at Puerto Morelos. This quaint town has a sleepy feel, as well as being home to local businesses, a colourful reef, and protected mangroves. Playa del Carmen, though no longer a small town, also offers a plethora of authentic restaurants, slightly more cosmopolitan shops, and white sand beaches. Further south still, we recommend a trip to Akumal Bay for swimming with turtles. Meanwhile Tulum delivers on well-preserved ruins, proximity to the jaw-dropping Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, and an altogether more relaxed, bohemian vibe. Adults-only Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya is a great base for a little more peace and quiet.