Published on February 16th, 2014 | by Mark Chesnut
5 Ways to Connect with Mexican Culture in Cancun
Cancun is by far the biggest Mexico beach vacation destination, thanks to its shimmering sands and long line of sleek, modern hotels that dot the Hotel Zone. It’s an international magnet for tourism, with hotels, restaurants and bars that wear some of the biggest global brand names. But that doesn’t mean Mexico‘s biggest tourism destination can’t also be a great place to enjoy authentic Mexican culture, Mexican music and Mexican traditions.
So the next time you step off that plane, skip Señor Frog’s and consider these 5 ways to connect with real Mexican culture in Cancun:
1. Visit the Museum: Opened in 2012, the Museo Maya (Mayan Museum) showcases 350 ancient Mayan artifacts, and even has an outdoor area with ruins to explore — located conveniently right in the heart of the Cancun hotel zone. The modern structure is the largest built by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History since the Templo Mayor Museum was built in 1987. More than 4,400 square feet of exhibition space host an impressive collection, including 14,000-year-old skeletal remains. On the museum grounds is the San Miguelito archeological site, which was inhabited more than 800 years ago, until the arrival of Spanish conquistadors.
2. Explore Archeological Sites: During my most recent visit to Cancun, we took a day trip to Coba, a Mayan settlement that began sometime between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. The tour operator called Alltournative arranged for all of our transportation and tours (their “Original Coba Maya Encounter” and “Mayaville” excursions make it easy). We rode bike taxis through the forest, stopping at an ancient ball field before reaching the soaring Nohoch Muul pyramid, which dates to the 9th century. We ended the evening with a visit to Tres Reyes, a Mayan community, where we enjoyed a satisfying Mayan dinner. (On past visits, I’ve done the requisite trip to Chichen Itza, and also explored cenotes near the historic town of Valladolid, and I still hope to tick off a visit to Tulum on my must-do list — all of these would be worthwhile visits for your own itinerary as well.)
3. Dine on Authentic Mexican Cuisine: Sure, Cancun is a sophisticated Mexico beach vacation destination, with cuisine from various continents. But the Yucatan peninsula that Cancun calls home is a hotspot for delicious regional Mexican cuisine, and you shouldn’t miss out on those delicious flavors at any of several Cancun restaurants. Yucatecan cuisine includes favorites like cochinita pibil (marinated pork), panuchos (corn tortillas) and sopa de lima (lime soup). I especially enjoyed lunch at Labna, a restaurant in downtown Cancun that specializes in traditional Yucatecan cuisine. The restaurant offers a Yucatecan lunch buffet Monday through Friday for less than $14.
4. Try an Ancient Treatment: The Temezcal treatment, which makes use of an ancient Mayan steam bath, is a type of sweat lodge dates to pre-Hispanic indigenous people in the region, and was used as part of a curative ceremony. It’s aimed to serve a similar function for vacationers today, and involves a spiritual guide who explains the process and joins participants inside the small circular structure, where hot stones create steam. To be sure, it’s not for everyone. I tried the temazcal experience at the Westin Resort & Spa, Cancun, a luxury hotel that has its own facility on the sands by the side of the lagoon, but claustrophobia got the better of me and I left after a few minutes. But others find the experience truly rejuvenating.
5. Enjoy Traditional Mexican Holidays: I visited during the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and visited Xcaret, the eco-cultural park, for a colorful, fabulously visual experience with dance, music and costumes (the festival runs at Xcaret between October 30 and November 3 — view my Day of the Dead photos here). No matter when you visit, you can learn something new about Mexican culture at Xcaret, which is home to a recreated Mayan village and archeological zones, and also stages live performances of traditional music and dance.
WHERE I STAYED: I was a guest at two hotels: the Aloft Cancun, the first Aloft property in Mexico, which combines great value and a central location, and the Westin Resort & Spa, Cancun, an upscale beachfront resort.
MORE INFO: www.cancun.travel
MORE MEXICO TRAVEL TIPS:
• HOTEL REVIEW: Westin Resort & Spa, Cancun
• ¡Delicioso! Tasty Restaurant Experiences in Cancun, Riviera Maya & Los Cabos
• VIDEO: Test Driving a Smart Car at the Oasis Cancun Hotel
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