The Yucatan's sun city is a travel bargain, but families can always profit from hearing about its myriad free attractions.
In Cancun, a few of the best things in life are still free. Like beaches. In fact, life on Isla Cancun is one long, continuous beach: 13.8 miles of translucent turquoise waters and shimmering white sand. The water temperature year-round is a perfect 80°F: Small wonder Cancun has some of the best beaches in Mexico. And they are free to all as long as you get on or off from one of the 10 public-access points.
At the north end of the island the beaches are facing the calm waters of Bahia Mujeres: they are smaller, shallow, wind-sheltered, and ideal for swimming. Here the most popular public beaches are Playa Tortuga and Playa Caracol. Playa Delfines, one of the highest points in Cancun, is famous for its breathtaking views. Visitors complaining about small beaches in front of their hotels should get on the bus and come here.
Eastern beaches fronting the open Caribbean are wide and beautiful, but the water conditions here change quickly — check the safety flag before jumping in. The best public beaches in this part of the island are Playa Ballenas and Punta Nizuc. Here beachgoers bring laziness to new lows, stretching out and dozing beneath the palms. More restless ones are wriggling their toes in the sand while working on their tan — multitasking Cancun style.
There are, of course, other things to do at the beach. Watch the sunset followed by the starry Caribbean night sky, wake up before sunrise and walk on the empty beach, look for seashells, stroll or power walk. And of course people-watching is a must: Cancun has a very entertaining beach culture.
Or, how about diving right in? The best free snorkeling around Cancun is the public area near the Westin Regina Hotel, in the southern tip of the Hotel Zone. The water is clear and there is an incredible brain coral garden and plenty of blue and yellow-stripped grunt fish.
Then there is another Cancun: just a 20 minute walk from the beaches is the sizzling life of the big city. Home to half a million people, Ciudad Cancun is relatively small and can easily be covered on foot. Down the Avenida Tulum, the city’s heartbeat, authentic Mexican experiences await the visitor with an inquiring mind: picturesque residential areas, colorful markets, giant reproductions of pre-Hispanic sculptures, the aromas of chilies, charcoal fires and flowering trees. Cancun City was carved out of the history and is as rich as its natural attractions.
On a Sunday, you can combine a visit to Cancun’s Mayan ruins and parks with some of its history museums, all of which have free admission on Sundays and holidays.
The Ruinas el Rey (The King) archeological site was inhabited during Post-Classic Mayan period, 1000 AD-1600 AD. It features 47 structures including two plazas, a small pyramid with interior paintings and buildings connected by a long pathway. A skeleton uncovered here was thought to be a Mayan king, hence the name. Overlooking Nichupte Lagoon, this is a tranquil oasis amid the Cancun hustle and bustle. It’s also a great place for bird- and iguana-watching.
Location: Hotel Zone, on Blvd. Kukulcan, entrance near Sheraton Hotel. Open daily; 8am to 5pm.
Artifacts found at El Rey are displayed in the Museo Arqueologico de Cancun. Covering only 126 square-meters, this small but interesting museum showcases 800 relics unearthed throughout the state of Quintana Roo. Location: ground floor of the Cancun Convention Center, Sun 10am to 5pm.
Parque Ecologico Kabah is a unique family-friendly retreat featuring local flora and fauna. Families love the crocodile pit, the turtle pond, the jungle path with a Mayan house, a playground and a picnic area. Multicolored birds, parrots, toucans, peccaries, possums and squirrels roam around freely. Not well promoted by the travel industry because it’s free, this is a peaceful and uncrowded place. Clean, safe, and well cared for by the city government, Kabah Park is Cancun’s best kept secret. Location: Kabah Avenue, downtown. Open Tue-Sun; 7am to 5pm
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