I remember my first introduction to Mexico. I was a teenager, and my family was headed to Cancun on vacation. The allure of endless tequila, all-you-can-eat buffets, and the hot Mexican sun was very appealing to me.

Then we got to Cancun, and our stay at one of the all-inclusive resorts was beautiful and relaxing. The highlight of that trip for me were the trips we took to see other parts of Cancun and the surrounding areas: the Mayan ruins, the local markets, and the beaches away from the popular hotel zone

Cancun, Mexico, beach

Photo by Jen Formella via trover.com

Cancun is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, bringing in a whopping 2 million visitors each year. So it might be a bit baffling as to why Cancun is part of a Cities Less Traveled guide. I know a lot of people who have completely written off Cancun as a travel destination because it is nothing more than a tourist trap.

Here is the thing that a lot of people don’t know: Cancun is more than just the crowds of drunk, sunburned tourists. There is an entire city beyond the hotel zone filled with charm and authenticity that makes up the real Cancun.

Parque de Las Palapas

Just about every Latin town centers around a central park and/or church, and Cancun is no exception. Parque de las Palapas is the hub of the neighborhood. There are plenty of places to sit under the shady trees and see families, couples, and groups of friends gather here at all times of day.

The weekends are particularly busy here; street performers put on shows and families gather during the day. At night, the park becomes crowded with friends congregating for a night out.

Mercado 23

Cancun Mexico market

Photo by Rachael Davis via trover.com

There are a number of markets that dot the neighborhoods of Cancun. Mercado 23 is the oldest market in the city and sits in the middle of a vibrant and colorful neighborhood. You will not find English-speaking vendors hawking I Love Mexico T-shirts here.

Locals and families come to Mercado 23 for everything from car parts to pet food to haircuts. Just like any Latin American market, at first it seems chaotic, but after some exploring you will discover the produce section, the butchers slicing up meat, fishmongers showing off their daily catches, and the rows of dry goods.

Ruinas del Rey

Unexpectedly located right in the hotel zone is an archeological site that does not get as much attention as the nearby sites of Chichen Itza and Tulum. These ruins date back to 900 A.D. and sit hidden among the towering hotels and resorts of Cancun. The site is small, with only 47 buildings, but is the largest archeological site in the city limits of Cancun. Get off the beaten path where you least expect it, and enjoy some ruins for a few hours.

Cancun Mexico beach

Photo by Tina via trover.com

No matter where you stay in Cancun, from romantic resorts in the hotel zone to cheaper hotels on the outskirts of the city, getting off the beaten path in this popular tourist city is possible.

This post is part of the Hipmunk City Love Campaign