If you haven’t been to Cancun Mexico in the past twenty years, then you’re in for a shocker. The hotel zone once offered fun shops, bars, and inclusive restaurants along the strip of the hotel zone and had plenty to do at every corner. But now guests are relegated to their hotel or one of many shopping malls filled with tourist trap restaurants and chains. Cancun city is the only way to go for a stay in this tourist hot spot.
As a kid my mother drove us from Belize to the USA every summer, we stopped in Mexican towns for a night stay, including a beach in Tulum, or some little hotel in Veracruz. We stayed in Cancun city dozens of times and went into the hotel zone for the beach and hang-out areas. After age 18 I didn’t come back to Mexico, I had other adventures planned until this 2022-2023 trip. Was I in for a surprise! Cancun hotel zone is blocks of hotel chains where guests are regulated to staying within their hotel, a couple of public beaches, some awesome Mayan ruins, one where you are attended by a hotel security guard or one of the several shopping malls. It’s Disney Land for adults. If Disney is your thing, then that’s cool, but I prefer integrated cafes and bars over the chains. Even Hard Rock is in a shopping mall and their big resort which is not open to the public.
We had a business meeting and stayed in Canopy La Isla which I expected to be a cool spot to get some early Hilton nights and points for 2023. Well, it meant we didn’t have much to do other than activities in the shopping malls and public beaches. Don’t get me wrong, public beaches are fine, but these don’t have bars, or cool areas to hang out. They are the only integrated areas where locals and tourists mix, which is cool, but without a restaurant, or bar nearby it’s just not as fun as other locations.
Public restaurants, there are several in La Isla, Senora Grill was actually fantastic! We took my mom there for her birthday, it was her pick. Great service and pretty good Mexican food. The Rosa Negra chain offers a cool experience, Funky Gisha is beautiful, on the lagoon, and has lovely food, we really liked the beef short rib tacos, not traditional, but with amazing flavor. Rosa Negra has a spectacular show with exciting food options and some flavorful traditional sauces as well as a fantastic street corn option which is grilled and lots of American steaks. It’s definitely a chain feeling. Some resorts do have the option to allow non-guests to eat in their restaurants, call in advance to reserve a spot or ask your concierge to do it for you.
We only had the opportunity to slip into Cancun city for an afternoon. I had some work that interrupted our exploring. It’s much like I remember, with vibrant colors, and lots of restaurants and bars. We loved exploring delicious tamales and of course, the fresh juices in Cancun city are traditional unlike the from concentrate ones we found in the hotel zone. I guess the hotel zone doesn’t think tourists will know the difference.
We had one scammer problem which I’ll write about in the future, other than that the Hotel Zone stay was pretty uneventful. I would recommend Cozumel, Tulum, or Bacalar for a better stay. I’m told that Playa del Carmen is overcrowded, but I haven’t been on this trip. Tulum has grown substantially. I love this area of Mexico, it’s so beautiful, but it’s definitely over-saturated. Subscribe for more travel inspiration. Have a lovely day.