No matter where you go throughout Mexico you will find one central fixture in every town, village, pueblo and city: the city center, or square, otherwise known as the zócalo. They range in size depending on the size of the surrounding metropolitan sprawl, but there is one thing that all of these central squares have in common: they are the focal point of all things cultural and entertainment-related for the city, and they usually have a church on the premises as well. With Cancun in particular the Parque Las Palapas is the most happening place on the mainland, but you’ll only discover it once you get out of the Westernized Hotel Zone.
The plaza principal for Cancun is a cultural hotspot that is jam-packed with locals and Mexicans from the surrounding Yucatan pueblos every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening. It takes its name from the palapas that shade the various concrete tables and seating areas that line the front of the comida rapida section of the park, where dozens of different tiendas and carritos sell a range of greasy and delicious snack foods such as tacos, marquesitas, gringas, helados, churros and beyond.
Above and beyond the food stalls and carts, the park contains numerous shade trees with park benches for relaxing, as well as movable wooden stalls that locals use to sell a variety of hand-crafted goods such as clothing, jeweler, knick-knacks and souvenirs for the random foreigners who happen to stumble through. There’s also the occasional book store, shoe vendor and beyond, and on festival days they also set up tents where other vendors can come in and set up temporary shop for the duration of the event.
Plus, there’s a free open book library set up near the park benches and shaded areas where locals can come in, enjoy a book and return it when they are done, all part of a local government initiative to help educate the less fortunate.
The park is also one of the primary places for family entertainment on the weekends, with clowns, a children’s playground next to the eating area where adults can keep an eye on their children while they play, an area where kids can paint various images on easels, as well as electric cars that the parents can rent and let their kids drive around the park…or via remote controls for those children who are too young to manage.
Beyond that there is also the primary stage, which is host to events throughout the week, ranging from theatrical performances to music concerts, dance competitions and beyond. It’s the primary focal point of the park and the entire area surrounding has a direct view of the stage. And on the nights when there aren’t events the area in front of the stage doubles as an impromptu performance area for clowns, mimes and other street performers.
On a day-to-day basis, the park is a general meeting point, and during the afternoon hours there’s not much going on. It’s a pleasant place to have a conversation, enjoy a light lunch at one of the food stands and kick it on a park bench for a couple of hours during the heat of the day under a shady palm tree. On weekend evenings, however, the Parque Las Palapas transforms into the most crowded place in mainland Cancun. Especially on official holidays, such as our recent photo and video shoot on the Day of the Dead.
For more information, don’t forget to check out the Viajes Con Cristina episode below, as well as the Google Map for an exact location. You can also try this Facebook page, but understand that it sometimes switches management and can be inactive (or they’ll switch to a new page); as of this writing it’s good to go with the latest events.
For more Mexico-specific posts, don’t forget to check out:
If you are looking for more information on Cancun or Mexico in general, you can pick up our Live Like a Local guide for the city, packed with other restaurant recommendations, apartment and condo referrals, tips on navigating the public transportation system, local negotiation tips and strategies, market and discount day overviews and more!