Cancún is one of Mexico’s most popular tourist towns, in large part thanks to a nightlife scene that keeps the party going into the small hours every day of the week. And it’s not just tourists who hit the bars each evening – locals love to head out, have a drink and socialize as well, and don’t need to go to the resorts to do it. 

Once the sun sets in Cancún it's time to join the locals on an in-the-know night out © Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
Once the sun sets in Cancún it's time to join the locals on an in-the-know night out © Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Hotspots for Mexican beers and live music line the streets of Ciudad Cancún (aka downtown), such as historic-turned-trendy Avenida Náder and chic Avenida Bonampak.

To enjoy what’s on offer like a local, remember that Mexicans start late and stay out late – arrive before 10pm and you’ll have the place to yourself; leave before 2am and who knows what you’ll miss. And just as in most cities across the globe, Fridays and Saturdays are the best nights to find a good crowd.

Big beers meet live rock at Los Arcos 

Cnr Av Yaxchilán & Calle Rosas; 2pm-3am

Sip a cocktail © Laura Winfree/Lonely Planet
Colorful, iconic Los Arcos serves up beer by the liter © Laura Winfree/Lonely Planet

Los Arcos sits on downtown’s Avenida Yaxchilán, a street known for its dive bar scene. Decked in colorful Mexican style with a terrace overlooking the street, this is one of Cancún’s oldest and most iconic bars, with late-night live bands playing classic Mexican rock and a lengthy menu of beer, booze and bar food. Order un litro de cerveza for yourself and a plate of cheese-smothered nachos for the table, then settle in for a night of people-watching and music.

A hipster heaven at Nomads Cocina & Barra; cnr Av Náder & Calle Mero; 7pm-2am (to 3am Fri & Sat)

Line 'em up at © :aura Winfree/Lonely Planet
Get in with the in crowd and down some clever cocktails at Nomads © Laura Winfree/Lonely Planet

Showing off with an artsy vibe where geometric tiles meet concrete and brick, Nomads draws in Cancún’s young “in crowd” with classic Mexican street food, creative cocktails and innovative international cuisine. The indoor area allows groups of friends to sit down to a late dinner and talk all night, while the back area under the stars is standing-room-only for socializing by the bar.

Amarula Con Acento Tropical, for the cocktail lover

Cnr Av Náder & Calle Huachinango; 8pm-3am Tue-Sat

Al fresco drinks 'with a tropical twist' at Amarula © Laura Winfree/Lonely Planet
Al fresco drinks 'with a tropical twist' at Amarula © Laura Winfree/Lonely Planet

Identified from the street only by a doorway and a neon sign, Amarula blends dark and sultry style with the architectural details of an old Cancún house. Climb the curved stairway to the chic bar area and an outdoor patio for drinks under the open sky. The cocktail menu far outshines the food at Amarula: the signature drinks live up to the bar's name ('with a tropical twist'), using classic Mexican ingredients like jamaica (hibiscus flower), regional fruits and chili peppers for surprisingly refreshing flavors that leave locals nostalgic and travelers intrigued.

Real Mexican micheladas at Las de Guanatos

At the Cancún bullring on Av Bonampak; 11am-3:30am

XXX © Laura Winfree/Lonely Planet
Pace yourself with Las de Guanatos' huge

The exterior of Cancún’s bullring is surrounded by many laid-back bars that fill up on Friday and Saturday nights, but the most well-known is Las de Guanatos. This indoor-outdoor space has earned fame over the years for its massive one-liter micheladas, a Mexican drink made with beer, lime juice, sauces and more, depending on what you order, usually rimmed with sweet-and-spicy chili powder. For a midnight snack, try the torta ahogada, a classic torta sandwich drowned in gravy – but maybe ask for the spicy sauce on the side.

Cocktails, beers and rock at the Black Pub; Plaza Solare, cnr Av Yaxchilán & Calle Venado; 2pm-4am Mon-Sat

Live music is the thing at The Black Pub © Laura Winfree/Lonely Planet
A cross-section of Cancún locals enjoys the live music at The Black Pub © Laura Winfree/Lonely Planet

Imitating the vibe of a stylish British pub, this bar attracts everyone from local university students to 50-somethings with an extensive drinks menu, ladies’ night specials and classic bar food. However, it’s the live late-night bands playing classic Mexican and American rock songs that have the crowd singing along and raising their beers.

La Playita, for seafood and late-night beers

Cnr Av Bonampak & Av Sayil; 11am-2am (to 3am Fri & Sat; 1am Sun)

Little Beach © Laura Winfree/Lonely Planet
The food and drink come with a view at La Playita © Laura Winfree/Lonely Planet

Try tangy, lime-soaked Caribbean ceviche and Yucatecan tikin xic fish along with Mexican beers. The covered terrace at this bar and restaurant affords views of the nearby bullring and the towering Malecon buildings. Multi-flavored mojitos are great accompaniments to an idyllic afternoon seafood lunch, or you can order one-liter beers and micheladas during a night out with friends.

Bikers and rockers unite at Route 666; cnr Av Yaxchilán & Calle Venado; 7pm-3am

Have a devilishly good night out at Route 666 © Laura Winfree/Lonely Planet
Have a devilishly good night out at Route 666 © Laura Winfree/Lonely Planet

Lining a quiet downtown street with motorcycles and a small crowd every weekend, Route 666 is a dive bar for rockers and bikers alike. Live tribute bands sing English and Spanish language covers of rock groups, from Molotov and Caifanes to Mötley Crüe and Aerosmith. You can often find the same regulars here from one weekend to the next, mostly locals in search of beer, wings and bands.

The Surfin’ Burrito: always there when you need it

Blvd Kukulcan, km9.5; 24/7

© Laura Winfree/Lonely Planet
Day or night, you can always get drinks and food at The Surfin' Burrito © Laura Winfree/Lonely Planet

One of the only bars that tempts Cancún locals and expats into the tourist-filled Hotel Zone, The Surfin’ Burrito serves California-style burritos, traditional Mexican tacos and, of course, huge michelada beers. This tiny bar is open 24 hours a day and located just south of the nightclubs of Party Center, making it ideal for a quick pitstop while dancing the night away.

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