Cancun’s Top 5 Hidden Gems

Food, Things to Do, What's New — By Susan Vincil on August 6, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Most visitors to Cancun visit only the most popular attractions, like the ruins of Chichen Itza, Coba, & Tulum, or they sail over to Isla Mujeres for the day.  If you want to live like a true Cancunense, or if you just want to avoid hordes of tourists on your next vacation in Cancun, check out these hidden gems:

Isla Blanca | Photo by Kim Rivero

Isla Blanca is a pristine beach with turquoise waters and white sand that feels like baby powder between your toes.  This remote beach is roughly 12.5 miles north of downtown Cancun and is frequented by “locals”, but if you walk  to the north a bit, you’ll get away from the other beachgoers.  Sundays can be very crowded on most of the beaches in Cancun, including Isla Blanca.  Visit Isla Blanca during the week, however, and you’ll probably find yourself all alone on the beach.  Bring your own food and beverages.  There is only one restaurant and it looks pretty sketchy, at best.  There are no tours, or city buses to get you to this beach.  You’ll have to rent a car or hire a taxi for a few hours, if you want to visit Isla Blanca.  And yes, it’s worth the hassle of working out the transportation issue.

El Rey and El Meco are two small Mayan settlements found in Cancun.  Both sites date back to approximately the 10th century A.D.

Pyramid at El Rey | Photo by Susan Vincil

El Rey is located at the southern end of Cancun’s hotel zone, in front of Playa Delfines.  It’s a quite, peaceful place.  Most of the ruins at El Rey have seen better days, but a few of the structures (including a small pyramid that you can climb) are in good condition.

View from El Castillo, the pyramid at El Meco | Photo by Mauro I. Barea G.

El Meco is north of downtown Cancun, near Punta Sam.  (You will pass El Meco on your way to Isla Blanca and you can easily combine visits to the 2 places to make up a nice day-trip.)  This site has only been open to the public for a few years.  For that reason, the structures at El Meco are in surprisingly good shape.  El Meco’s pyramid is the highest archeological structure in the northern part of the state.  From the top, you can see Chacmochuc Lagoon.  El Meco is believed to have been a major commercial port for the Mayas, due to it’s close proximity to Isla Mujeres.

Unlike visiting the larger, more popular Mayan ruin sites, like Chichen Itza and Tulum, you will not find throngs of tourists at El Rey or El Meco. These are very small sites that can each be seen in about an hour, but you can learn about the Mayan culture without fighting the crowds.

La Palapa Belga

Even though it’s located  in Cancun’s hotel zone, La Palapa Belga is not very well-known with tourists.  Most tourists hear about this restaurant from locals, rather than reading about it in a guidebook.  This magnificent restaurant is inside Hotel Imperial Laguna, just off of Blvd. Kukulkan Km. 7.5.  There are tables set up on a pier for dining under the stars, and there is also an area covered by a palapa (hence the name of the restaurant).  The menu offers fresh fish and seafood, delicious steaks, as well as chicken, pork, and lamb.  The desserts are out of this world.  The daily specials are listed on a large chalkboard that is set up next to your table.  Dining here is a wonderful experience.  With the hotel’s small pool on one side of the restaurant and the lagoon on the other, the atmosphere is unbeatable if you want to enjoy a relaxing dinner.  It’s also a great place for a very romantic meal.  You can take a taxi to the restaurant or take the bus to the bus stop near Presidente Inter-Continental hotel and walk from there.  (It’s several blocks so, ladies, don’t wear high heels if you plan to walk from the bus stop.)

Entrance to L'Escargot | Photo by Susan Vincil

L’Escargot is a fabulous French restaurant in a residential area, a short walk from Avenida Yaxchilan & Avenida Coba, in downtown restaurant.  This small, family-owned establishment is in a house that has been converted into a restaurant.  The terrace area is small, but very pretty and romantic.  This is a nice place for a romantic evening, to celebrate a special occasion, or just to have an unforgettable meal, while on vacation.  The menu has escargot, of course, but you’ll also find mouth-watering steaks, duck, fish, pate, foie gras, and amazing desserts.  Everything is delicious and the service is impeccable.  The staff is tri-lingual, speaking French, English, and Spanish.  You can easily get to L’Escargot by taxi or bus.

Tags: cancun's hidden gems, mayan ruins, secluded beaches

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