Culture + Style

Where to Trade Beach Scenes for Street Art in Cancún

Travelers love Cancún for its pristine turquoise waters and wide, white-sand beaches. But an ambitious new urban art project is giving visitors a reason to leave the beach behind. Colorful, large-scale public murals created by renowned Mexican and international street artists are popping up all over Cancún, turning this bustling resort town into a vibrant open-air art gallery.

Gonzalo Areuz
(Photo: Nychos)

Over the past two years, dozens of buildings in downtown Cancún and the hotel zone have been transformed into brilliant, powerful artistic displays inspired by the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the Yucatán.

Many of these works were created under the initiative Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans, backed by the PangeaSeed Foundation, an international marine conservation organization whose focus is creating awareness of oceans though art. In 2016, PangeaSeed began collaborating with local groups to create a public arts program that would both rejuvenate buildings throughout Cancún while also highlighting a message of ecotourism and ocean conservation.

Top street artists volunteer their time to paint the ocean-themed murals; local Cancún artists as well as those from Mexico City, Guadalajara and from as far away as Austria and Brazil, have also taken part in the project.

cancun street art
(Photo: Celestialterrestrial and Aaron Glasson/Interesnikazki)

Though there is no organized tour of the murals, there are several main areas where you can view these thought-provoking works.

The highest concentration can be found in a residential development off Avenida Bonampak in downtown Cancún. Here, on the walls of the Fovissste apartment towers, you can spot “Translucent White Shark,” a massive painting of a whale shark created by Austrian artist Nychos. (While Cancún has devoted its energies to preserving the giant creatures through ecotourism, the sharks are nevertheless an endangered species worldwide.) “Game Over,” by Spanish artist Spok Brillor, depicts sea life swimming in a gum ball machine, a reference to the cruelty of marine mammal captivity. Another, by Brazilian Mateus Bailon, depicts local seabirds that have been affected by destructive fishing and plastic pollution.

You can also find other murals in Fovisste created under the local Proyecto Panorama and Cancún Urban Street Art Project, including the towering figure of Doña Margarita, a great-grandmother who lived in the buildings for two decades. Ukraine artist Interesni Kazki presents “The End of the Age of Walls,” a beautifully rendered image of a man holding a book while stepping through a wall—both a literal and figurative image of how education can break down barriers.

More murals from the Ocean Walls project, as well as other street artist groups, including WAD (World Art Destinations), are located in downtown Cancún along Avenida Yaxchilán, Avenida Uxmal and Avenida Nader. Look for local artist Crea’s wall painting of an airborne pelican titled “Xiknal,” the Mayan word for “flying,” and “Change the Future,” by Mexican street artist It’s a Living.

And if you don’t want to venture downtown, there are two new murals in the city’s Zona Hotelera (Hotel Zone), including one of a giant snake by famed Mexican artist Gonzalo Areúz, located alongside the fire station at Kukulcán Plaza.