Going for a stroll in the park on a Sunday to let the kids run around, drinking a refreshing soda to relieve the heat, eating salty corn on the cob or another classically ''Mexican'' snack, buying arts and crafts from the ''hippy'' artisans and watching shows by mimes or musical groups are all deeply rooted activities that Mexican families love to enjoy and that the cosmopolitan city of Cancun couldn't possibly lack. In fact, these are all well established habits that make the presence of parks and malls in any community imperative. And in the city of Cancun you donÃ¢??t have to look far, to find the place where you too can follow these traditions: The Parque del las Palapas.
Cancun was designed as a tourist development by Architect Agustin Landa Verdugo, who constructed the city as a conglomeration of big city blocks with smaller blocks inside. These big blocks were called ''Supermanzanas'' or ''big apples'' and each one has a central recreational area and commercial buildings on its outer edge. So, Parque de las Palapas, which translates to Park of the Palapas, has actually existed since Cancun was just a blueprint, when it was decided that the central space of the 22nd Supermanzana would be a square or park with quaint palapas and walkways winding through in it.
The city of Cancun was effectively ''born'' in 1971 when the Official Federal Diary published a formal statement of its creation. This even preceded the creation of the state of Quintana Roo, where Cancun is located, which wasn't declared as an independent state until 1974. A year later the municipality of Benito Juarez was formed, which governs the city of Cancun. Parque de las Palapas was Cancun's first main square and it was here that the first Municipal President was inaugurated, even before the official municipality building and square were built.
As the best place to meet and the area of town with the most entertainment, Parque de las Palapas drew the first movie theatre to Cancun, the ''Cine Blanquita'', along with the first catholic temple, the ''Iglesia de Cristo Rey'' and also came commercial establishments, lining the perimeter and bringing a strong touristic appeal to the park. The original design of the park included various planted areas and concrete benches that surrounded the main square, with the original stage as the centerpiece. An open-air food court with 14 stands was located at the northern extreme of the park, and a few wooden carts with palapas covering them were distributed throughout, used by the artisans to sell their products.
Ever since its creation, there have been a series of political and cultural events held here, such as the meeting organized by the renowned Mexican rebel, Subcomandante Marcos, on his tour called ''The other campaign'', and in 2003 the park was used as refuge for the protestors against globalization, during the World Trade OrganizationÃ¢??s Ministerial Conference in 2003. With regards to cultural matters, the park has played host to the Caribbean Arts Festival, which holds all kinds of shows and artistic offerings during a full weekend every year, plus multiple exhibitions and public concerts.
There was a time, however, when the Parque de las Palapas was a controversial place because it began to be used for illicit activities and was considered dangerous to walk through at night. These incidents were in stark contrast to the colorful family shows, festivals and events that were frequently held in the park, so the municipal government decided to rebuild it, in order to transform it into a more modern, friendly place, worthy of Cancun in the new century.
The construction lasted several months until the early part of 2008 when it was finally completed, with the new park now including pathways that communicate it with Tulum Avenue, one of the main streets in the city. The whole area was re-laid with paving stones and new parking spaces were built in the streets that surround the park, even the electricity lines were relocated underground, giving the whole area a new cleaner, more modern look.
Parque de las Palapas now has a fresher, cleaner environment, free of danger, where kids can play safely in the playground, while their parents enjoy a quesadilla or a ''marquesita'' (a wafer snack filled with cheese) from one of the vendors. Young love can blossom on any of the benches that surround the park, from which the main stage is perfectly visible and the shows are easily enjoyed. The shadows cast by the new palm trees are sweet relief from the striking sun and in the evenings the well illuminated square has a wonderfully romantic air.
This park is considered a classic place to meet for most of the residents, thus it is the real heart of the city of Cancun. And for those visitors who love to venture beyond the clubs and restaurants of the magnificent Hotel Zone, it is a must to visit this area, to walk around, watch the artists place their paintings on display, see the kids playing soccer and the women selling fried bananas from their carts. And, of course, enjoy the shows that are held for free almost every weekend and sometimes on weeknights as well. Without a doubt, this is a unique experience that blends old traditions with modern Mexico and simply has to be experienced and enjoyed.
By Luis Ernesto de la Garza