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Aside from the surrounding natural splendor, Cancún is known throughout Mexico for its diverse shops and festive malls catering to international tourists. Visitors from the United States may find apparel more expensive in Cancún, but the selection is much broader than at other Mexican resorts. Numerous duty-free shops offer excellent value on European goods. The largest is Ultrafemme, Av. Tulum, SM 25 (tel. 998/884-1402), specializing in imported cosmetics, perfumes, and fine jewelry and watches. The downtown Cancún location offers slightly lower prices than branches in Plaza Caracol, La Isla, and Kukulcán Plaza. It's open Monday to Saturday from 9:30am to 9pm and Sunday from 2 to 9pm.

Handicrafts are more limited and more expensive in Cancún than in other regions of Mexico because they are not produced here. They are available, though; the best open-air crafts market is Mercado 28 in Cancún City. A less enticing open-air market in the Hotel Zone is Coral Negro, Bulevar Kukulcán Km 9.5, next to Plaza Dady'O, open daily from 7am to 11pm. Plaza La Fiesta, next to the Cancún Center (tel. 998/883-4519), is a large Mexican outlet store selling handicrafts, jewelry, tequila, leather, and accessories. It's open daily from 7am to midnight.

Cancún's main venues are the malls -- not quite as grand as their U.S. counterparts, but close. All are air-conditioned, sleek, and sophisticated. Most lie on Bulevar Kukulcán between Km 7 and Km 12. Kukulcán Plaza and La Isla offer the most extensive parking garages.

The Kukulcán Plaza (tel. 998/885-2200; www.kukulcanplaza.com) houses hundreds of shops, restaurants, and entertainment. It has a bank, a bowling alley, several crafts stores, a Play City with gambling machines, a liquor and tobacco store, several bathing-suit specialty stores, music stores, a drugstore, a leather-goods shop (including shoes and sandals), and a store specializing in silver from Taxco. U.S. eateries include Häagen-Dazs and Ruth's Chris Steak House, and there's an extensive food court. The adjacent Luxury Avenue complex features designer labels such as Cartier, Coach, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Ultrafemme. The mall is open daily from 8am to 10pm, until 11pm during high season. Assistance for those with disabilities is available upon request, and wheelchairs, strollers, and lockers are available at the information desk.

The long-standing Plaza Caracol (tel. 998/883-1038; www.caracolplaza.com) is one of Cancún's less glamorous malls, although it houses among other things, Casa Rolandi restaurant and its Very Wine lounge. It's just before you reach the Convention Center as you come from downtown Cancún, and is open daily from 10am to 10pm.

Most people come to entertainment-oriented Forum by the Sea, Bulevar Kukulcán Km 9 (tel. 998/883-4425; www.forumbythesea.com.mx), for the food and fun, choosing from Hard Rock Cafe, Carlos 'n' Charlie's, Rainforest Cafe, and CoCo Bongo, plus an extensive food court. Shops include Diesel, Harley-Davidson, Massimo Dutti, Señor Frog's, Sunglass Island, and Zingara Beachwear and Swimwear. The mall is open daily from 10am to midnight (bars remain open later).

One of Mexico's most appealing malls is the La Isla Shopping Village, Bulevar Kukulcán Km 12.5 (tel. 998/883-5025; www.laislacancun.com.mx), a wonderful open-air complex that borders the lagoon. Walkways lined with quality shops and restaurants cross little canals (boat rides are even offered through the canals), and an attractive boardwalk lines the lagoon itself, as well as an interactive aquarium and dolphin swim facility. Shops include Bulgari, Guess, Nautica, Nine West, Puma, Tommy Hilfiger, Ultrafemme, and Zara, as well as a large Mexican handicrafts store called Casa Mexicana and an iStore selling Apple products. Among the dining choices are Johnny Rockets, Chili's, Italianni's, Planet Hollywood, the romantic Thai restaurant, and the new Elefanta. You will also find a movie theater, video arcade, and several bars, including La Madonna.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.