Mexican cuisine is recognised as one of the three most popular food styles in the world and Cancun is as good a place as any to sample authentic Mexican meals. Foodies should note that Cancun lies on the The Yucatan Peninsula, where the delectable local cuisine has a heavy Mayan influence, but also quotes from European (Spanish, Dutch), Caribbean, North African, and Middle Eastern (Lebanese) traditions. Must-try dishes include Sopa de lima (a spicy, flavourful chicken and tomato soup), and Salbute (deep-fried tortillas topped with chicken, turkey, lime juice, tomatoes, lettuce, avocados, and red onions). Yucatan food is often less spicy than the fare from other regions in Mexico, so it's a good option for foreigners with sensitive palettes. However, it's almost always accompanied by a salsa with a chilli base.
Seafood restaurants dominate in Cancun, which should be no surprise considering the quality and quantity of fresh seafood in the region. Popular seafood dishes include a variety of lobster specialities and ceviche (a kind of raw seafood salad). For fine dining there are many upmarket restaurants. Some of the most highly acclaimed can be found in the Ritz Carlton Cancun Hotel and in the Fiesta Americana Gran Coral Beach Hotel. In downtown Cancun there are some hidden gems and the far cheaper dishes found where the locals eat are often the best authentically Mexican options visitors can find in the city. Tulum Avenue and Yaxchilan Avenue have some of the best restaurants.
The vast variety of shopping opportunities in Cancun ranges from modern malls and designer stores to open-air markets and the trays of insistent street vendors. It's a city built on tourism, so shops invariably accept credit cards and the opening hours tend to run from about 10am to 7pm during the week, and all morning on weekends.
Silver jewellery, traditional wooden statues (Alebrije), pottery, and fleece or cotton blankets are all popular souvenirs from Cancun, but visitors should ensure they don't buy anything containing black coral. The species is endangered and protected, and possesion of it could land visitors in some trouble at the airport.
Within the glitzy Hotel Zone, the Plaza la Fiesta is a popular shopping venue, and the El Zocalo bazaar is a great option for locally-produced arts and crafts. The main shopping strip of Paseo Kukulkan is lined with shops and souvenir stalls selling all the usual tourist trinkets and a few unexpected treasures. The Hotel Zone offers great quality and variety but the shopping experience can be somewhat soulless, as the stores tend to be international and there is little authentic local flavour on offer.
Mainland Cancun, commonly called 'downtown', is less glamorous but much more affordable. Yaxchilan Avenue is a good place to start, and the market on Tulum Avenue is wonderful for those seeking out local crafts, particularly silverware. Travellers will be expected to bargain in the local markets.
Cancun is celebrated for its rollicking nightlife and there are bars, lounges, live music venues and dance clubs enough to keep even the most determined party animals entertained. The club scene is feisty and energetic, and tailored mainly to please the young Americans that flock to the resort. However, anybody who's game for foam parties, bikini contests and boat races (the drinking contest, not the watersport) will be well catered for. Familiar chains such as Hard Rock Cafe and Senor Frog's are safe favourites with the international crowd and have been going for many years. Organised party tours such as Cuncrawl and Party Hopper are a great way to sample the best of Cancun's party venues. Most clubs open around 10pm and the music pumps until sunrise or later in peak tourist season.
Those seeking out something more sophisticated, romantic or sedate will find numerous stylish bars and lounges. One of the best venues for cocktails is the Thai Lounge. Culture lovers should try their best to see a performance by the internationally-acclaimed Ballet Folklorico, which performs a variety of traditional and performing arts shows at various venues in Cancun.