Destination: Cancun

 

We hear you. What seems like eons of cold weather, it’s time to plan a mid-winter escape. For your consideration: Cancún. The warm, clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico, powder-fine sand, guac ‘n’ ritas, the best parties this side of the equator…yep, this sounds like the best of all possible places to take your much-deserved break, baby!

There’s just so much to love about this perennial-fave destination that we thought you might need a little help sorting out the best from the rest. Even if you’re going to be at a resort (the most well-known way to spend a vacation in Cancún) and plan to be pampered for the whole time, you can still get outside the confines of the resort and experience a sense of place thanks to souvenir shopping, day trips, and nightlife galore. So, without further ado, we’d like to present a few ideas to help you make the most of your Cancún vacation.

 

 

Shopping

Don’t even bother with the hotel gift shop when you can get better souvenirs for less elsewhere, like the Mercado Coral Negro. This traditional open-air market sells jewelry, clothes, trinkets, and more, all with boisterous vendors hawking their wares. Remember that bargaining is part of the experience, so if you can’t deal with negotiations, make sure to bring a friend who likes the challenge. Some of the best buys are the embroidered cotton dresses and tops, which make especially cute gifts for the little kids in your life, so keep that idea in your back pocket when it’s time to haggle. For a less intense shopping trip, try Mercado 23, which is more laid-back and feels less touristy. This is the place to pick up fresh tropical fruits and traditional handicrafts, or simply stroll through without the hard-sell intensity of other markets. It’s also open-air, so you can still soak up some of that bright sunshine while picking out presents for them (and you).

 

If you’re after um, slightly higher-proof souvenirs, make your way to the Hacienda Tequila Museum. Yes, we know, you probably don’t want to spend time in a museum during your beach vacation but hear us out. This spot is more like an information-enhanced store, complete with tchotchkes and clothes if you’re not dying to bring home a bottle. And now for the best part: you can sample the wares before committing to purchase any of the over 480 types of tequilas on offer here.

 

 

 

Things to Do

Maybe you’ve already tried snorkeling and found it a little, well let’s just say…less than thrilling. Perhaps it’s not the activity, it’s that you’ve only done it in the wrong place. Try the Cancún Underwater Museum (MUSA) for a different take on underwater exploits and art altogether, for that matter. Snorkeling tours allow visitors to experience underwater sculptures in a particular sea “salons,” where all sorts of marine life make a home on permanent installations beneath the water. It’s not far from the Hotel Zone, so definitely add this one to your to-do list even if you’re staying at a full-service resort.

 

Looking to go further out of the way and discover ancient cultures that can’t be found from the quietude of a beach lounger at your plush resort? Explore the amazing Ik Kil, a cenote (a watery sinkhole created by the collapse of an underground cavern), which might have you thinking you’ve uncovered a secret Indiana Jones movie set. Swim in the bluest water surrounded by hanging vines, semi-covered by a cave. If that’s not adventurous enough for you, head to nearby Chichén Itzá, a UNESCO heritage site featuring a pre-Colombian complex of Mayan ruins. The main attraction (i.e.: the one you’ll see on Insta) is a grand step pyramid called Temple of Kukulcan. If you can’t tear yourself away from the beach during the daytime, no stress. Make a pilgrimage there after dark to catch the nightly light and music show instead, then marvel at these wonders of the ancient world against a fully modern backdrop.

 

 

Food & Drink

If you’re not staying at an all-inclusive resort, take the opportunity to try some of the Cancun’s best restaurants. Of course, there is plenty of chips and salsa to be had, but beyond that, there are sophisticated, world-class dining options to enjoy here if you want to do a special “treat yo self” moment. Lorenzillo’s in the Hotel Zone is known for all preparations of luscious lobster, to the extent that it even has its own affiliated lobster farm! Another fancy-but-worth-it option: Tempo by Martín Berasategui in Cancun’s elegant Paradisus hotel. Berasategui, a Spanish chef specializing in the cuisine of the Basque region, has 3 Michelin stars, so be prepared for fine dining with a capital F. Jackets are required, and this food temple is an adults-only, multi-course tasting menu affair, which makes it a perfect choice for a splurge-y romantic date or a special occasion. So, for the love of all that’s holy, wear your most knockout-tastic dress from Cupshe if you’ll be dining here. A decidedly more casual option is El Fish Fritanga, which is also located in the Hotel Zone but features a more low-key vibe and far more reasonable prices than you’ll find elsewhere in this tourist haven. It’s like a souped-up fish shack at its core, serving fresh catches prepared in all sorts of ways, from octopus ceviche and smoked marlin to coconut shrimp and fish a la Veracruzana, a traditional preparation that’s simmered with tomatoes, olives, and capers.

 

 

Nightlife

Cancun stands head and shoulders above countless other locales known for their nightlife, so spending a memorable night out here will almost certainly involve a visit to one (or more) of the city’s wild clubs.

To paraphrase SNL’s Stefon, Cancun’s hottest club is Coco Bongo….this splashy behemoth has everything...feather-bedecked showgirls, acrobats, and pyrotechnics galore (no word yet if they also have other Stefon-hottest-club-isms like backpacks, sea lions, a rental car filled with bottled water, or yeti-cabs—aka: pedicabs driven by yetis). Known for their concert-level tributes to famous pop stars like Bruno Mars and Michael Jackson, this is someplace where you should make a reservation in advance and then prepare to go hard. In the same vein, we simply have to mention the (in)famous Senor Frog’s when talking about nightlife in Cancun. Listen, sometimes you just need to revert to your university days, drink bright blue gazillion-proof beverages and dive into a foam party. Classy? Perhaps not. Fun? Definitely. Our advice: wear something you don’t mind messing up permanently and just get into the spirit of the moment.

 

Prefer your parties a little less collegiate and/or unrelated to Vegas-worthy spectacles? Amarula con Acento Tropical, decorated like a vintage-style house, is situated in downtown Cancun. Strung lantern lights and plenty of green accents add to the mood, as do the potent cocktails featuring tropical ingredients as the name implies. But don’t let the relaxed attitude fool you: this venue spins house and electronic music until the wee hours. If you’ve decided to slay until morning light, keep the party going at Antique. This is the unofficial after-party HQ, and it doesn’t even open until 11 pm. However, you won’t see frat-party antics, a la body shots and the like. Antique prides itself on being smaller and more upscale than some of the other clubs crowding the playing field, and it’s only open for three days (Thursday, Friday, Saturday). Plan accordingly—Antique’s suggested arrival time is 12:30 am.

 

Get Packing

Now that you’ve got the scoop on all things fabulous for Cancun, it’s time to start shopping for everything you’ll need for the trip. Before you even book the plane tickets, be sure to check out Cupshe’s array of bodacious swimwear, cute cover-ups, and sultry dresses that you’ll wear all vacation long—and once you get home, too. Pick a couple of complementary colors so everything matches, which makes packing a breeze!

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