Cancun Architecture highlights

Cancun Architecture to Check Out: Travel Diary

One of the very best parts of traveling internationally is being able to see the different architectural styles. I love seeing how different buildings look from one country to the next. The lines, the shapes, the colors. So I was especially excited to see some highlights on my trip to Cancun, Mexico. So in this post, I’m tipping you in on the Cancun architecture that you’ll definitely want to check out.

But first, take a look at one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen flying in. That clear, aqua water!!

view from airplane of the Cancun coast with clear blue/aqua colored water

what Cancun architecture looks like

Cancun is such an interesting place, because I learned that it essentially didn’t exist (as we know it) until the mid-1960’s. Prior to this time, it was a Mayan civilization. But mid-century Mexico developers wanted to turn it into a resort town. So because of this unique history, it’s a really interesting mix of architectural styles.

Of course, you’ll still see a lot of the Mayan influence. The limestone and tiered architecture are probably the most evident display of this. But there is also a major influence of the colonial Spanish architecture – the origin of the ranch-style house. You’ll see the signature stucco siding, lots of arches, and burnt orange tile.

Where it really gets interesting is the influence of the modernist movement that was happening as Cancun was being built. The Cancun architecture style ends up being this really cool and modern look with sprinkles of classic Mexican style sprinkled in.

So where should you go to check out the best that Cancun has to offer?

We stayed in the city of Cancun – as opposed to the super touristy hotel strip – and this is where we got to see a lot of the really interesting residential architecture.

Here was the view from our airbnb right off of Avenida Tulum.

View from airbnb window of the Cancun architecture near avenida Tulum
View from airbnb of Cancun architecture with bright pink house in the background and lots of palm trees and green

residential Cancun architecture

In my opinion, if you’re looking to see some really amazing and authentic residential architecture in Cancun, walk all the side streets surrounding Avenida Tulum to the East and the West.

The houses are not mansions, but it gives you a really great peek into all of the different architectural styles blended together.

Exterior of a 2-story airbnb with whitewashed brick, a black, vertically striped entry gate, and ivy crawling up the siding
The exterior of our airbnb
Exterior of a tall, 3-story home covered in Palm trees
This amazing jungle house was right across from our airbnb
Exterior of a home with a mid-century patterned window grate
We saw a lot of these subtle mid century accents in window panes and garage doors
Mid century window grates on the exterior of a home
Bright pink house behind a intricately detailed white iron gate
We walked by this pink house every day and I was so obsessed
Large home with a traditional Spanish style architecture
Here you can see more of the traditional Spanish influence in the architecture
Exterior of a Cancun apartment complex with palm trees, warm lighting, and balconies with a traditional Spanish influence
A two story house in Cancun with black doorways, cream-colored textured siding, and bright orange details
A pop of orange is always the way to my heart
Street view of houses in a variety of architectural styles
The street of the airbnb that we were staying in
Traditional Spanish Cancun architecture apartment building with a bright green iron fence in front

commercial Cancun architecture

The commercial architecture in Cancun is where you’ll see a lot more of the fun, modernist influence.

The materials are still consistent with the traditional Spanish and Mayan architecture. Stucco is a really common material to see on the exterior of buildings.

But where the modern influence is shown is in all of the very geometric details – straight lines, spheres, etc.

A bright yellow building with vertical line detailing
Bright white stucco building with geometric details in the architecture in the blue glass windows - 3 vertical line windows, and one large square door with a circle in the middle
Modern architecture with wood and brick, lots of vertical and horizontal straight lines, and lush greenery bursting out of 3 balconies
The exterior of a coffee shop called Cafe Por Favor - white stucco details with a curved balcony

There are also some cool architectural moments of totally unique design.

And as you’ll see in a lot of Mexican design in general, there are lots of colors. There’s no shortage of murals putting this bright and colorful motif on full display.

Bright and colorful mural on a building in Cancun Mexico
Bright mural with floral and skull motifs that says "All beautiful, all human"
A vendor stand in Cancun Mexico with bright and colorful designs

And if you’re looking for some large-scale, cool and modern architecture, check out some of the resorts in the hotel zone. This is where you’ll see a lot of the ultra-modernist inflluence.

Bright pink exterior of a Cancun luxury resort
The Temptation Resort in the Zona Hotelera in Cancun

The Temptation Resort is honestly one of the coolest resorts I saw there. This pink photo above is just one little piece of this massive, colorful resort. Definitely swing by here if you have the chance while you’re there.

Exterior of restaurant (Madero's) with a bright and colorful midcentury architectural style
This restaurant, Madero’s, is slightly outside of the hotel zone, but I had to include it on here because of its cool, retro vibes

for a different vibe, check out the colonial city about an hour outside of Cancun

This colonial city has a lot more of a classic, slice of time architectural vibe. It’s directly influenced by the Spanish colonizers who came centuries ago and then left, as well as the Mayan culture that was already there.

If you have a chance to go on a bus tour through this town and to Chichen Itza, 100% do it.

Bright yellow outdoor/indoor space with traditional Spanish architecture and colorful tiled flooring
Bright yellow courtyard with terracotta flooring and brightly colored flags making up a partial ceiling
The exteriors of several shops on the streets of a colonial Spanish town outside of Cancun
A large church with colorful flags
The exteriors of several shops on the streets of a colonial Spanish town outside of Cancun

And of course, if you’re looking for a peek into some of the earliest architecture in Central America, you must go to Chichen Itza. This is about 2 hours outside of Cancun.

Although these structures were built centuries ago, they are a true engineering marvel. If you have to chance to do a guided tour, do it. If not, I would highly recommend doing some reading into just how insanely smart the ancient Mayan people were to construct these buildings so intentionally.

I mean, Chichen Itza is considered one of the wonders of the world for a reason.

The famous pyramid of Chichen Itza
A structure in Chichen Itza
Wall of Chichen Itza representing the human sacrifice when the Toltecs took over the city
Wall of Chichen Itza representing the human sacrifice when the Toltecs took over the city

Also, if you’re looking to visit one of the best designed restaurants in Cancun, Taboo is for you

This is more interior design than architecture, but I had to include it because I was truly blown away by the beauty of this place.

Not only was the food amazing, as was the entertainment, this has to be one of the most Instagrammable restaurants I’ve ever been to. If you want to check it out, it’s Taboo Cancun in Zona Hotelera.

And it’s right on the water. You truly can’t beat it.

Interior of Taboo Cancun
Interior of Taboo Cancun
Interior of Taboo Cancun with the ocean view visible in the background

Have fun exploring Cancun and I hope you enjoy seeing this amazing, unique architecture just as much as I did!

About me

Hey my name’s Hannah Michelle Lambert, the voice behind homey homies. I’m an LA-based designer, writer, and content strategist. I’m passionate about the intersection of productivity and creativity. I love talking about creative habits, technology, processes, and everything in between that helps me blend the Type A and Type B parts of my brain.

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