With a reputation as a high-energy, party destination overrun with spring breakers gone wild, and insulated high-luxe all-inclusive resorts where you could basically be vacationing anywhere, Cancun is without a doubt one of the world’s favorite travel locations. But Cancun culture is not only characterized for its craziness, but also for its low-key and surprisingly sophisticated side.
If you’re in the mood for culture beyond the clichés (and a calming cure for the night before), one of the best things to do in Cancun includes a visit to the Museo Maya de Cancun. Where you will learn all about ancient Mayan history and the civilizations that reigned in the Yucatan, and throughout Mexico, until the 16th-century, after the arrival of Spanish conquistadors. The slick five-year-old facility has two parts: second-floor exhibition halls and, downstairs, the San Miguelito archaeological site, a Mayan settlement now preserved in scenic ruin.
And although you’re only yards from the busy main drag and its famous sandy strip, you’ll feel a world away after strolling through the quiet beachfront oasis shaded by banyan trees and fan palms as iguanas skitter along the gravel paths, and exotic bird songs provide the soundtrack.
Even though it is less visited by vacationers, the downtown area holds cultural gems that will remind you that you really are in Mexico. Hole-in-the-wall cantinas promise authentic regional food, and evocative markets offer bargain-priced goods.
But the most Cancun-esque experience available, arguably lies eight miles away, deep in the Caribbean, clutching to its small-town roots. Here, Isla Mujeres forms the yin to Cancun’s yang. This small slice of paradise has some of the best restaurants around, with all the benefits of island living – deep sea fishing, otherworldly snorkeling, and sea turtles.