Shopping in Cancun’s Hotel Zone usually focuses on two things: pricey specialty items, or T-shirts and be ach supplies. Window-shopping is a popular pastime, but don’t expect a lot of bargains. For garden-variety souvenirs it pays to look around, as merchants compete vigorously for tourist dollars and prices can be on the steep side. Inspect carefully before buying; quality can vary greatly.

As a duty-free zone Cancun does offer potential bargains on international merchandise. High-quality tequila and cigars are two of the most popular purchases. Ultra Femme, downtown on Avenida Tulum, has good buys on cosmetics, jewelry and imported perfume; there also are branches in several of the Hotel Zone malls and at the airport.

In Ciudad Cancún, a variety of shops and open-air craft markets line Avenida Tulum. Ki-Huic, near the intersection with Avenida Cobá, is a flea market a block long with more than 100 vendors offering handicrafts, knickknacks, marble chess sets, men’s guayabera shirts, huipil dresses and Panama hats.

Another downtown crafts market is Mercado Plaza, at the corner of avenidas Tulum and Uxmal. Bargaining is expected at the markets; never offer to pay the initial asking price.
If you feel the need to shop for basics, branches of three familiar stateside retailers also are in Ciudad Cancún: Costco (Price Club), at the corner of avenidas Kabah and Yaxchilán; Sam’s Club, at the corner of avenidas Xcaret and Yaxchilán; and Wal-Mart, at the corner of avenidas Kukulcán and Mayapán.

Pick up convenience items at an Oxxo store (similar to 7-11); there are several branches in the Hotel Zone.

The Hotel Zone has both enclosed, air-conditioned malls and open-air complexes. Elegant Plaza Caracol is at Km 8.5 next to the Cancún Center. Cool marble walls and floors are the setting for some 200 shops and boutiques offering jewelry, designer clothing, resort wear, silver and decorative art.
You’ll also find pharmacies, art galleries, cafes and restaurants here.

Forum-by-the-Sea, Km 9.5 near the Cancún Center, is a three-level entertainment complex. There are specialty boutiques like Swatch and Tommy Hilfiger, but the emphasis is on restaurants, bars and nightspots, which include the Cancún branch of the Hard Rock Café. Flamingo Plaza, Km 11.5 on Kukulcán (lagoon side), is a smaller shopping center with several duty-free stores and boutiques, as well as a currency exchange office and restaurants like Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. It also has a branch of the Mexican chain Sanborn’s that is open 24 hours and has a pharmacy and newsstand.

Cancún’s hottest mall is La Isla Shopping Village, Km 12.5 on Kukulcán (lagoon side). La Isla is as bright and shiny as anything you’ll find in the states. The stores and shops are linked by crisscrossing bridges and walkways running over small canals. Johnny Rockets and Chili’s are two of the several familiar stateside eateries here. There also is a 10-screen multiplex, the Interactive Aquarium Cancún and other family-friendly features. It’s upscale and expensive but a fun place to spend a few hours, especially on a rainy day.

At Km marker 13 is one of the largest malls, Kukulcán Plaza, which also caters to tourists with stores and boutiques offering gifts, handicrafts, perfume, leather goods, jewelry and silver. It also contains a parking garage, bank, currency exchange offices, drugstores, a kiosk providing Internet access and a food court with a number of U.S. fast-food franchises. The mall’s “Luxury Avenue” features such high-end retailers as Baccarat, Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co.

If you enjoy the bargaining experience, browse the many craft stalls at the Mercado de Artesanías Coral Negro (Flea Market), a peach-colored building just south of the Cancún Center (at the point where Blvd.Kukulcán splits). The selection of items is large, and it’s open daily. Most of the mall stores are open daily 10-8 or 10 p.m. Outside the Hotel Zone some stores observe the traditional siesta and close for a few hours in the afternoon. The sales tax is 10 percent, which may be waived at some shops if you pay in cash. Paying with cash instead of a credit card may also lower the price when bargaining with vendors. Almost all stores will accept U.S. dollars, and at some establishments prices are quoted in dollars rather than pesos.