Cancún has five major malls, a handful of open-air markets, and hundreds of independent shops, so you can buy just about anything. Most mall and independent shops accept credit cards, but plan on paying cash at the markets.
Mercado 28 (Av. Sunyaxchen at Av. Xel-Há, 9 a.m.–8 p.m. daily) is a large open-air market featuring a wide variety of Mexican handicrafts: ceramics from Tonalá, silver from Taxco, hammocks from Mérida, alebrijes (wooden creatures) from Oaxaca, hand-woven shirts from Chiapas. You’ll also find a fair share of T-shirts, key chains, coconut monkeys, and women offering to braid your hair. If you’re hungry, head toward the center of the complex, where a handful of restaurants offer traditional Mexican fare.
Next to Mercado 28, Plaza Bonita (Av. Sunyaxchen at Av. Xel-Há, 9 a.m.–8 p.m. daily) is a multileveled shopping center built to look like a colonial village—bright courtyards, fountains, greenery, and all. Folk art here is a bit more expensive than that in the market next door, but the quality is almost always better.
On weekend evenings, stroll through Parque Las Palapas and Parque Los Artesanos, both great spots to pick up local handicrafts, Chiapanecan clothing, bohemian jewelry, and art.
Plaza Caracol (Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 8.5, www.caracolplaza.com, 8 a.m.–10 p.m. daily) is a modern mall with narrow, winding corridors that never lead out, kind of like a Vegas casino without the gambling. Shops mostly sell clothing and kitschy souvenirs, and the main food court fails to inspire. At best, it’s an option on a rainy day.
Forum by the Sea (Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 9, www.forumbythesea.com.mx, 10 a.m.–11:30 p.m. daily) is a horseshoe-shaped mall with three floors opening onto the airy main lobby. It’s home to Hard Rock Café—hence the huge guitar out front—the Rainforest Café (a jungle-themed family restaurant), a great steak house, and various mid- to high-end shops offering everything from T-shirts to expensive jewelry. Be sure to check out the ocean view from the 3rd-floor balcony behind the food court—it’s such a spectacular overlook, you almost forget you’re in a mall.
An outdoor shopping center, La Isla Shopping Village (Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 12.5, www.laislacancun.com.mx, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. daily) is the most pleasant of the Zona Hotelera malls. It is set around an artificial river, with wide passageways and plenty of genuinely good shops and restaurants. This also is home to the popular Interactive Aquarium as well as a five-screen movie theater.
Plaza Kukulcán (Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 12.5, www.kukulcanplaza.com, 9 a.m.–11 p.m. daily) is anchored by Maraf Jewelry and a handful of upscale shops dubbed Luxury Avenue. Some usual suspects can be found here, including Sunglass Island, MixUp music store, and a Sergio Bustamante gallery. There’s also a supervised children’s play area called Kukulkids (1st Fl., tel. 998/885-3405, noon–8 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., noon–9 p.m. Fri.–Sat., US$6 first hour, US$3 additional hour, kids under 4 must be accompanied by parent) if you want some quality shopping time without the kids.
You don’t have to go to the Zona Hotelera for your mall fix. Plaza Las Américas (Av. Tulum at Av. Sayil, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. daily) stretches almost a block and includes dozens of mid- to upscale shops, an arcade, and two movie theaters. Plaza Las Avenidas (Av. Cobá at Av. Tulum, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. daily) has similar offerings and is home to a popular Latin dance club.
© Gary Chandler & Liza Prado from Moon Yucatán Peninsula, 9th edition