The best way to explore Cancún is by hopping on one of the public buses that run between the Zona Hotelera and El Centro. The cost is 75¢ no matter how far you go. Taxis from the Zona to El Centro cost anywhere from 150 pesos ($12) to 250 pesos ($20) each way. A more affordable alternative is to catch a north-bound bus to the Kukulcán–Bonampak intersection, which marks the beginning of El Centro. From here, you can explore by foot or flag down a taxi to your area of choice. A taxi to almost anywhere within El Centro costs around 40 pesos ($3). If you want to get a taste of downtown culture, start at the colorful Mercado Veintiocho or Parque de las Palapas. To return to the Hotel Zone, take a taxi to the Chedraui on Avenida Tulum and then catch a bus that passes every few minutes toward the Hotel Zone. (Don't be alarmed if a man in a clown suit roams the aisle in search of money: at night the buses come alive with all sorts of amateur performers, from accordionists to jugglers, hoping to earn a few pesos.) The year 2012 saw the opening of Museo Maya, a modern new exhibition within the hotel zone that showcases the area’s archeological history. One of Cancún’s few "sights," it's definitely worth a visit if you have the time.

South of Punta Cancún, Boulevard Kukulcán becomes a busy road and is difficult for pedestrians to cross. It's also punctuated by steeply inclined driveways that turn into the hotels, most of which are set back at least 100 yards from the road. The lagoon side of the boulevard consists of scrubby stretches of land alternating with marinas, shopping centers, and restaurants. Because there are so few sights, there are no orientation tours of Cancún: just do the local bus circuit to get a feel for the island's layout. The buses run 24 hours a day, and you'll rarely have to wait more than five minutes.

When you first visit El Centro, the downtown layout might not be self-evident. It's not based on a grid but rather on a circular pattern. The whole city is divided into districts called Super Manzanas (abbreviated Sm in this book), each with its own central square or park. In general, walks through downtown are somewhat unpleasant, with whizzing cars, corroding pathways, and overgrown weeds. Sidewalks disappear for brief moments, forcing pedestrians to cross grassy inlets and thin strips of land separating four lanes of traffic. Few people seem to know exactly where anything is, even the locals who live in El Centro. When exploring on foot, expect to get lost at least once and enjoy it—you may just stumble on a courtyard café or a lively cantina.