Just a short ride from Cancun’s Hotel Zone with its white sand beaches and aqua blue water is a somewhat typical Mexican city where Cancunenses (the name for residents) go about their daily routine of work, family and hopefully now and then a little fun. In most Mexican towns the main square, Plaza Principal or Zócalo in Spanish, is the center of social life, church, and sometimes even work. Cancun is no exception. Downtown Cancun’s main square is called Parque de las Palapas, or Palapas Park, named for its original design which included a large stage and small restaurant stalls and tables shaded by palapas, thatched roofs made from dried woven palm leaves.

Parque de las Palapas was recently redone and now has a more modern feel. The palapas have been replaced by sleek white tarps and the pavement has been redone as well. Electric lines have been hidden underground and new benches have been installed. Charming wooden carts where vendors sell their handicrafts surround the stage area. Facing the stage, food carts with bright marquee lights sell churros (fried dough treats), platanos fritos (fried bananas), marquesitas (crunchy stuffed wafers) and papas fritas (french fries). The restaurant stalls sell tacos, tortas (Mexican sandwiches), tostadas, quesadillas, aguas naturales (natural drinks similar to juice) and many other Mexican culinary delights at very economical prices.

Mexican town squares also normally include a church, as does Las Palapas (the park’s nickname). Iglesia de Cristo Rey was the very first Catholic church in Cancun. The park also features plenty of entertaining activities to watch and participate in. There is an enclosed playground area, electric cars for the little ones to drive (they even have remote controlled cars for younger children), a small carousel, and shows and traditional dancing on the weekends. Many events and festivals are also held in the park.

There are two smaller parks attached to Las Palapas; Parque Los Artesanos and Jardín del Arte. Young bohemian artists hang-out in Parque Los Artesanos on the weekends and participate in bongo drum jams and sell their funky wares and crafts that serve as the perfect souvenirs. Jardín del Arte is a venue for art exhibitions.

If you are visiting Cancun and would like to escape the Hotel Zone for an evening, visit Parque de las Palapas, grab a bench and immerse yourself in traditional Mexico.

Photos by JunBelen.

Writter Bio


Is an American expat who has been living in Cancun, Mexico since 2001. A mother, singer, salsa dancer and now writer and community manager, she has worked in many different industries but is currently enjoying exploring the Yucatan Peninsula and sharing her expertise and experience with readers around the world. Follow Kristin on Twitter


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