Cancun consists of two very distinct and separated areas. One of these is the Hotel Zone (map), entirely built around the tourist industry. It abounds with all-inclusive mega hotels with stunning Caribbean beaches. Stay here only if you don’t mind spending your vacation with many other tourists.
Downtown Cancún in contrast is a pure Mexican city, though it has very wide roads designed for cars, no real center to speak of, and is overall quite unremarkable, given its lack of any history before the 1970s. Do not expect to see Mexican historical culture here.
Unfortunately, the downtown area also has no beach access. Due to this, Cancun is very much a tourist town, with tourists and the beautiful beaches completely separated from real Cancunians. If you find this setup unappealing, you should probably skip Cancun altogether and go to *Playa del Carmen (map) or Puerto Vallarta instead, where locals and the beaches are in the same area.
For the more advanced swimmers, the edge of the open ocean can make for a challenging and fun swimming experience. For less advanced swimmers, or those with little ones, pick a resort facing *Isla Mujeres (map) for a gentle and relaxing aquatic experience. Be aware that the island becomes extremely hot during day and there are few, if any opportunities to cool off.
Xcaret (ecopark, map). Xcaret is an eco-archaeological park located about 76 km (46 mi) south of Cancún and less than 7 km (4 mi) south of Playa del Carmen, in the Riviera Maya. In its facilities you can find an archaeological site, snorkeling in underground rivers, beach, butterfly pavilion, orchid greenhouse, regional fauna breeding farm, Mayan village, jaguar island, among others.
Market 28 (map). This is the local market in downtown Cancún. Great shopping for souvenirs. It also has some great Mexican outdoor restaurants.
La Isla Cancún Shopping Village (map). Shopping mall in the hotel zone.
Timeshare and condos are a big business all over Yucatan, especially Cancún. “Tourist information” is another word for sales representative. If someone is offering you an “free” tour to anyplace or at a discount this means a 90-minute or longer presentation about condos and time-shares.