Monday, September 8, 2014

Beyond the Beach: 15+ Artsy & Cool Things To Do in Cancun, Mexico

Cancun (photo: Enrique Brener)
By Jacquelin Carnegie - (Cancún, Mexico) Cancun is a great get-away destination; it's easy to get to from almost anywhere. You already know about the fantastic beaches and amazing water sports. Here's some suggestions to make your stay even more interesting:
EXPLORE MAYA CULTURE
Before Cancun became a world-class resort destination, the area was the center of Maya civilization for thousands of years. Maya culture is known for its sophisticated astronomy and mathematics, impressive architecture, and unique art. In addition to visiting archaeological sites from the past, experience Maya culture today:
Maya crafts

Visit a Maya Village
Alltournative Cultural Mayaville excursion (www.alltournative.com)
Many descendants of the ancient Maya still live in the area. Visit an authentic Maya village and meet a Mayan family who will share their traditional ways. Swim in a cenote (the Maya believed they were entrances to the underworld), and enjoy a meal of typical foods. You can also add a visit to the Coba archaeological site and the Nohoch Muul pyramid, the tallest on the Yucatan Peninsula with great views of the jungle.
Sacred Maya Journey (May)
Xcaret Eco-Archaeological Park 
Sacred Maya Journey
Sacred Maya Journey, oarsmen
In ancient times, the Maya made a pilgrimage by sea in canoes from Cancun to Cozumel to worship at the shrine of Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of fertility, childbirth, and the moon, who controlled the tides; patroness of fishermen. Nowadays, this incredible voyage is recreated according to Maya tradition. You can observe the sacred ceremonies and watch the 30 canoes--paddled by Maya and international volunteers--be blessed and depart at dawn; an awe-inspiring experience!
Museo Maya de Cancun (Maya Museum)
Boulevard Kukulkan, Km 16.5, Hotel Zone, Cancun (Open: Tues-Sun, 9am-6pm; Fee: bring pesos) Designed by Mexican architect Alberto García Lascurain, this very modern building is a portal to the past--centuries of Maya culture on display: pottery, jewelry, tools. Three exhibit halls illuminate Maya history, art, and archaeology. There's also an impressive archaeological site, San Miguelito, on the museum grounds.
ART IS ALL AROUND
Taylor's Vein Man, MUSA
Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA, Underwater Museum) Cancun commissioned British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor to create an underwater sculpture museum within the National Marine Park as a tourist attraction with an environmental objective. Taylor's stunningly-beautiful sculptures form artificial reefs, attracting marine life. Under the sea, the sculptures transform as they're covered in algae, barnacles, and coral growth. See for yourself on a snorkel tour in the Punta Nizuc section. But, if you've ever dreamed of learning to scuba dive, now would be the ideal time!
NoseGo's mural
Colorful Wall Murals: By bringing Mexican and international artists together, two projects have resulted in interesting public art, brightening up walls and buildings, as well as raising awareness:
Public Art Festival in Holbox (IPAF) - promoting the art and cultural richness of the region; Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans Project in Isla Mujeres - with help from PangeaSeed, international street artists created works to encourage environmental activism to protect oceans, sharks, and endangered marine life.
Museo Maya
Personal Portraits: While dining and enjoying live jazz at the award-wining restaurant, Le Basilic, at the Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach, you can request (in advance) a portrait or painting done by a well-known local artist such as Leon Alva or Jaime Villegas; the ultimate vacation souvenir!
HAVE FUN AT FESTIVALS
Wine & Food Festival (March): Top Mexican and international chefs come together with sommeliers from the best wineries of Europe, Mexico, and regions around the world to offer cooking demonstrations, tastings, and special dinners. Musical entertainment accompanies the events adding to the festivities.
Riviera Maya Film Festival (April): Enjoy free screenings of over 70 international films in various venues--cinemas, drive-ins, public squares, and on the beach--in Cancun, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum.
Cancun Music Festival (Aug/Sept): Over Labor Day weekend, some of the world's best jazz and R&B artists present concerts along with local musicians at the Moon Palace Resort.
El Dia de Muertos
Festival of Life and Death Traditions - Xcaret (Oct/Nov): While we make merry on Halloween, the Mexicans and Maya celebrate El Dia de Muertos (the Day of the Dead) and Hanal Pixán (the Mayan Day of the Dead) usually on November 1st and 2nd. The celebrations honor ones dearly-departed relatives with special foods and lively rituals; truly fascinating--and fun--to experience. Be Entertained: Most of the hotels in Cancun have great entertainment, but music lovers take note: OperaMaya offers a range of musical possibilities: an International Music Festival in June, operas in December, a concert series every few months, and, during the summer, a training program for aspiring singers.
COMMUNE WITH NATURE
Whale Shark
The Cancun area is teeming with wildlife and is on the migratory path of many species. When Whale Sharks congregate in the area (June-Sept), go on a Swim with Whale Sharks or participate in the Whale Shark Festival in Isla Mujeres (July). During the Sea Turtle nesting season in the Mexican Caribbean (May-Nov), most of Cancun's resorts participate in the Baby Turtle Release program (ask at your hotel); the big release is on Isla Mujeres. The Yucatán jungle is one of the few remaining natural habitats of the jaguar, but even with an experienced guide, there's no guarantee you'll see one. A better bet is a visit to Xcaret's jaguar island.
Public Art Fest, Holbox
Where To Stay: There is every type of accommodation imaginable in Cancun, for every budget from deluxe to backpacker. The Westin Resort & Spa is nice & affordable. For an all-inclusive, there's Club Med Cancun. The Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach is in a great spot. If you can afford it, the new NIZUC Resort & Spa is knockout. (If not, at least have lunch at their La Punta Grill & Lounge). When looking for art, activities, and hotels, keep in mind that the Cancun area, in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula, includes the islands of Isla Mujeres, Isla Contoy, and Holbox, along with the seaport town Puerto Morelos. Cancun is part of the Riviera Maya. Enjoy!

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