You might think you know Cancun – 14 miles of pristine white beaches shaped like a number "7" crystalline waters and sultry nights sipping on the perfect margarita, right? Well, you're both right and wrong. If this is your idea of what Cancun is all about, read on. There's so much more.
The history of Cancun dates back to 1967 when the Mexican government, recognizing the importance of tourism to the country’s economic future, began a detailed search to pinpoint ideal sites for tourism development. Resting on the northeast corner of the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo (keen-tah-nah-ROW), Cancun was a part of the ancient Mayan civilization and is still considered the gateway to El Mundo Maya (the Mayan World).
Cancun has the distinction of being the one Caribbean destination with the infrastructure, modern amenities (spruced up in 2006) and service philosophy to rival leisure destinations worldwide. Unlike many other parts of the Caribbean and Mexico, Cancun was built for tourism, and continues to meet the needs of its over 3.3 million annual visitors. Cancun delivers to travelers the best of many worlds: the Caribbean and Mexico; modern and ancient; action packed and laid back. Cancun is unequaled in its ability to offer cultural treasures, natural beauty, infinite activities and North American-style conveniences.
Due to its near perfect weather, natural beauty and easy accessibility from North American gateways, Cancun emerged as the government’s top candidate. What was once a remote and tiny fishing village of just 12 families was cultivated into the ideal Mexican vacation spot. It capitalized on, without compromising, the region’s natural resources. You will find Cancun’s hospitality staff to be among the best-trained in the world at leading hotel brands represented in here—from the major names in affordable accommodations such as Best Western and Holiday Inn to the very best in luxury such as Ritz-Carlton to Hilton.
The landscape of Cancun encourages the growth of many exotic flowers, such as flamboyances (named for the dazzling orange-red splash they make lining sidewalks and plazas) and fascinating fauna, like the prehistoric-looking iguanas.
If you are a sports enthusiast, Cancun will not disappoint. It boasts great five golf courses, incredible coral reefs for snorkeling and scuba diving, sport-fishing and jungle tours. And if lying on a white-sand beach with the clear blue Caribbean lapping at your suntanned toes is what you long for, then Cancun delivers. Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are in and around Cancún making it Latin American’s most important leisure destination.
See & Do
• Mayan Encounters
The history of the northern region of the Yucatan Peninsula is a fascinating tale of both Mayan and Hispanic peoples. Cancun is recognized as the gateway to the Mundo Maya, an enormous geographic region that includes five Mexican states (Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas), and five countries (Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador).
Historical evidence indicates the presence of a Mayan culture at least as far back as 1800 B.C., with the Mayans rising in prominence between 200 B.C. and A.D. 1000. The ancient Maya referred to themselves as the children of the Mayab or inhabitants of the Land of the Chosen. Their settlements were extensive in the Yucatan Peninsula and stretched southward into Central America.
Part of the excitement of a visit to Cancun is its accessibility to a world gone by. Remains of the ancient Mayan civilization are scattered throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. Some, like the archaeological site called "El rey", at the Sheraton Cancun Resort and Towers, are right in Cancun.
"El Rey" is located walking distance from the Hilton Club (Blvd. Kukulcan Km. 19). El Rey, known to some as the playground of the ancient Mayans, had its peak during the Post classic period (A.D. 1250-1630). The site includes plazas outlined by buildings and platforms that are connected by a 220 yard path. It is named after a skeleton that was found on the site, thought to be that of a king (El Rey is Spanish for "the king"). El Rey is open to tourists from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance fee is $50. Pesos. Next to the Sheraton, Cancun Resort and Towers, in the highest point in mostly flat Cancun, lies Yamil Lu'um. The site consists of two small temples that were likely used as watchtowers and lighthouses between 500 and 700 years ago.
Comitan serves as the jumping off point for exploring more of southern Chiapa , including excursions to the Mayan ruins at Chinkultic and Tenam Puente. The Chinkultic archaeological site remains partially unexcavated; its most impressive structure is the hilltop acropolis. Climb to the top for spectacular views of the Montebello lakes and forest below. The slightly less dramatic Tenam Puente, built over a series of hills has three ball courts and a tiered pyramid. It also offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
• Share Cancun's Golf Challenge
Dozens of new courses, laid out by world-renowned designers, have put Mexico on the world golf map over the past ten years. PGA sanctioned events and American TV coverage have also helped boost Mexico’s golf credentials. Not to be left behind, Cancun has embraced golf’s popularity by undertaking a series of new resort and residential developments that rival the Caribbean’s finest golf destinations. All of Cancun courses are open to the public. Some offer lower rates for hotel guests, while others have special twilight rates for play after 14:00.
Cancun Golf Club at Pok-ta-Pok was designed by architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr. Quintana Roo’s first course, opened in 1976, it is set on the water in the Hotel Zone. The 6,750-yard course has Mayan ruins adjacent to the par-three third hole – allowing for a glimpse of Cancun’s ancient past and some of the world’s more unique “hazards,” in addition to two ocean-view fairways. The Hilton Cancun course, positioned along the lagoon in the southern part of the Hotel Zone, opened in 1994 and was rebuilt in 2007. The design by Isao Aoki and Pedro Guereca includes challenging sand traps (totaling 80), a unique island tee box, several water holes and a practice center.
Moon Spa & Golf Club, a 7,165-yard Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, opened in 2002 and was expanded in 2004 to include 27 holes. It is located to the south of Cancún’s Hotel Zone, along the mainland (entrance off highway 307). Golfers enjoy all-inclusive beverages and snacks while on the course. Playa Mujeres Golf Club is a par-72, 7,260-yard Greg Norman-designed course opened in 2006. The Club is distinguished by its majestic and contrasting ocean and lagoon fairways and masterfully planned design
• Nichupte Lagoon: It's a Jungle Out There
The geography of Cancun and the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula provides a nurturing habitat for the thousands of plant and animal species that live in this area. From colorful birds, to reptiles, to monkeys, to leopards and jaguars – nature's beauty abounds.
Although Cancun has experienced a tremendous boom in tourism over the past 20 years, its residents have made it their mission to maintain the beauty and ecology of the land that makes the destination so unique. That is why ecotourists – travelers who have an inherent appreciation of the natural world and combine it with their love of travel – are discovering Cancun and all it has to offer.
Cancun's resort zone has preserved areas and sanctuaries that are thriving ecologically. The enormous Laguna Nichupte borders the resort zone. It is rich with waterfowl, fish, crocodiles, shellfish, and mangrove vegetation. A unique "jungle tour" allows visitors to navigate the Lagoon's canals in their own two-seater wave-runner, as guides point out special flora and fauna.
Joggers, bicyclers, and walkers can enjoy picture perfect mornings along our seaside and lagoonside pathways. Many of the marinas in Cancun are now offering an eco-adventure through the Nichupte Lagoon they have dubbed the jungle tour. Manning your own two-person water craft, take a guided tour through the dense mangrove forests to a section of the largest coral reefs in the world where you can snorkel, sunbathe and relax before returning to the marina.
Other excursions to the reefs are in glass-bottom boats, where the fish and coral can be eyed without ever getting wet. Jet skis and waverunners can be rented at most marinas for selfguided excursions on the lagoon. Water skiing is also popular on the lagoon. Several marinas will provide boats for private charter that can accommodate anywhere from two to 200 passengers.
• San in Your Toes
Although Cancun is much more than a beach resort, any discussion of this destination would be incomplete without a summary of our marvelous stretches of cool, white sand. Walking along the 14 miles of Caribbean coast in Cancun is what most visitors desire, and it's all free – all beaches in Cancun are open to the public. Many of the hotel beaches have lounge chairs laid out under palapas (thatched umbrellas) to shade visitors from the considerable effects of the Mexican sun.
Cancun is perfectly surrounded by three unique bodies of water, each beautiful in its own way. The Caribbean Sea has the liveliest surf, perfect for jumping waves and frolicking. The Bahia Mujeres, between Isla Mujeres and Cancun, is tranquil and serene, a great place to snorkel without fear of undertow or choppy waters. And lastly, the Nichupte Lagoon's still waters are the ideal setting for water sports of all kinds – from waterskiing to wave-running. As you move along Blvd. Kukulcan, you'll spot blue and white "Beach Access" signs where visitors can walk or drive into a public beach entrance. Bahia Mujeres beaches (top part of the "7") include bathtub- like Playa Tortugas and Playa Caracol. These are shallow, calm, and ideal for families with children.
Along the Caribbean are several choices. Near Punta Cancun (between the Dreams and Hyatt Regency) is a wonderful sheltered cove - Playa Gaviota Azul. Further south are lovely Playa Chac-Mool, Playa Marlin, and Playa Ballenas. These are wide sandy beaches with open surf (caution advised) but generally small waves. In general, beaches get wider the further south you move along the "7" and eventually lead to lovely Playa Coral at Punta Nizuc.
• Into the Deep Blue Yonder
The average dive in Cancun is around 40 feet but open-water dives can go as deep as 85 feet. Drift diving is the norm here and the big attractions are the coral reefs where hundreds of fish parade past the diver's mask. The coral reefs off the coast of Cancun and nearby Cozumel are sheer bliss for lovers of the underwater world and are the best places to dive in the Mexican Caribbean. Whether you're a beginner or advanced diver, Cancun has a dive for you.
Diving in the cenotes (sinkholes) of the Yucatan Peninsula and finding cool, crystal-clear water (visibility of 200 feet) is a unique experience found only in this part of Mexico. Experienced cave divers who dip in and out of the intricate maze of underwater caverns find it to be a thrill beyond compare. For the truly adventurous (intermediate and expert divers only), Cuevas de los Tiburones (cave of the sharks) off the coast of nearby Isla Mujeres may provide a glimpse of these dozing predators. For beginning divers, Cancun provides a great show of tropical fish and lots of coral in safe, shallow waters.
There is a whole host of marinas and dive schools in Cancun that offer dive lessons, certification, and guided tours to the various diving spots in the area. (for a directory of marinas, see Marinas & Sports Centers later in this section.) An excursion to dive in Cozumel or in the cenotes will be an amazing experience that you can enjoy staying at Cancun. A PADI openwater certification course takes three to four days. All dive shops are staffed with PADI certified dive masters and bilingual scuba instructors. Cancun also has two hyperbaric chambers located downtown.
• Shop 'Til You Drop
With all there is to see and buy in Cancun, shopping can overwhelm even the most astute shopper. A good place to begin your quest for Mexican crafts is at La Casa del Arte Popular Mexicano, a wonderful museum and shop located at El Embarcadero (at the northern entrance to the Hotel Zone). Mexican folk art lovers will discover an exquisite collection displayed in several museum-style rooms. A fine gift shop is also on site.
Mercado Coral Negro is a bustling and lively open-air venue situated across the street from the Forum By The Sea shopping mall. It offers souvenirs, local arts and crafts, henna tattoos, hair braiding and more. Mercado La Fiesta, carrys Mexican crafts and silver ornaments (at km 9 near TGI Friday's Restaurant). Plaza Zócalo, situated in the Punta Cancún area of the Hotel Zone, specializes in Mexican products from across the country.
Forum is the only shopping mall located on the ocean and in the heart of the most important nightlife zone in Cancun. There's a beach club with splendid Caribbean view making The Forum an ideal location to eat, shop and have fun. La Isla Shopping Village is the newest shopping mall and entertainment center in Cancun. The architectural design resembles a Caribbean village divided by the Nichupte lagoon. Plaza Caracol, located at the heart of Cancun's Hotel Zone, is a traditional spot to shop or dine in a friendly and comfortable environment. The exclusive and luxurious Plaza Kukulcán mall was completely renovated in 2005.
What to buy in Cancun?
-Tequila, the national Mexican drink is distilled from the agave plant. Beware: all tequilas are not created equal! Always Look for the 100% Agave" label.
-Xtabentún (pronounced shta-ben-TUNE) makes a beautiful gift. The subtle, honey-based, anise-flavored liqueur made locally in the Yucatán, comes packaged in an elegant glass bottle the color of sapphires.
-Silverwork is inexpensive and abundant in Cancun's markets. Look for the silver content indicated by the stamp,.925, which signifies that the metal is 92.5% pure.
-Huipiles (cool, white cotton dresses with colorful designs embroidered around the neck and hem).
-Guayaberas (short or long-sleeved shirts in white or pastels, usually made of cotton).
-Hammocks made of synthetic or natural fiber.
-Braided Palm Baskets
-Sarapes (multi-colored woven shawls)
-Somberos (very wide-brimmed traditional hats)
-Nacimientos (terra-cotta nativity figurines)
-Painted Pottery and Earthenware
-Hand-Painted Ceramic Tiles
-Leather (stamped and plain)
• Trip the Night Fantastic
Cancun truly sparkles at night, and travelers will have a challenge selecting their evening activities. Maybe you want to start with a margarita or martini at one of the hotel lobby bars. Varying in style from hotel to hotel, these lobby lounges are usually breezy, sophisticated venues – perfect places to ease into the night – often with live music setting the tone.
Dancing till dawn is not uncommon on a trip to Cancun. Nightclubs vary from mostly American disco, to live jazz, to those with a Latin flavor, for visitors who want to salsa the night away. Cancun is now home to The City, reputed to be the largest nightclub in all of Latin America!
Clubs like Coco Bongo, Dady'O, Roots Jazz Club, Basic, and others keep the nocturnal beat going until the last patrons call it quits. The bars, clubs and discos are constantly in tune to the latest in music craze. This includes dazzling light and laser shows, hip DJ's, live shows, and the spontaneity that has made Mexico THE party destination for decades. All types of music can be found: rock, salsa, disco, jazz, reggae, techno jam, and lounge acts. For a more cultural bent and a firsthand look at many customs that make Mexico so rich in tradition, there are Ballet Folkloricos offered nightly at many hotels and enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.
Much more than a ballet, these lavish productions, complete with extravagantly colorful costumes and a skilled lariat twirler, are a collection of traditional dances and music representing different Mexican states. These evenings offer much more than an education; they literally absorb the spectators into centuries of Mexican life, dating from pre- Hispanic times. Some even encourage audience participation (can you say, "conga line"?).
• Isla Mujeres: A Slice of Island Heaven
This eight-kilometer-long (5 miles) by one-half kilometer-wide (.3 miles) wisp of an island sits just 6 km off the coast to the northeast of Cancun. For those wanting a break from the glitz of Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a refreshing throwback to the days before Cancun even existed.
Isla first gained international attention for its outstanding aquatic conditions. Clear, warm water, abundant marine life, reefs and caves attracted Jacques Cousteau who was guided by local dive legend Ramon Bravo. Snorkeling sites are abundant, though those frequented by Cancun party boats can be crowded at certain times of the day. A better choice is the area adjacent to the airstrip, just to the south of the city. Most of Isla's residents live from diving and fishing. They make very hospitable hosts for both day-trippers and overnight guests.
The tourist ferry dock near the Island's northern tip is where visitors disembark to enter the island's main settlement. The town is home to simple shops, a few restaurants, some funky bars, an occasional brightly painted clapboard house, and the Plaza Municipal. Mopeds, golf carts, bicycles and taxis can be easily rented upon arrival. South of town the island's only road skirts the western coast past mangrove lagoons, an air strip, stunning beaches and relaxed seaside restaurants before looping northbound. The trip to the island's southern tip takes about 20 minutes. The island's eastern shore is rugged, rocky, and mostly undeveloped.
Parque Marino El Garrafón is a popular beach and swimming site. Activities include snorkeling and hiking trails, aerial "zip line," dolphin swim, kayaks, "snuba" and scuba, plus dining, showers, and a nice beach.
Occupying the island's southern tip are two related structures. A modern lighthouse overlooks a small Mayan temple (Ixchel, goddess of fertility) that signaled Mayan sailors and settlements as far away as Cozumel. A colorful Caribbean-style village with shops, a cafe, and an outdoor sculpture garden, now occupy the entrance to this area.
• Silent Eco-Friendly Demonstration
Beautiful morning in Isla Mujeres. You're on a boat, the wind comes on your face and at the temperature is perfect. Hard to imagine a better day for diving.
The intense colour of the Caribbean Sea is a beautiful explosion of light . Amazing tones fill your eyes while you prepare your stuff. The driver turns the engine off. Beginners and experts will blend in a small and compact group. Everyone's ready to jump out of the boat.
Splash! Your body gently sinks and you start breathing through your mouth. Some fishes come to nose around while you take a few seconds to get used to a relative lack of gravity. Everybody follows the leader to an unknown place, 30 feet under the sea.
Suddenly, you discover a peaceful crowd. They're not divers, almost everyone is standing on the seabed. A woman and her child, an old man touches his hat, as a polite way to say "hello", another one is typewriting in a very old machine. No one realizes that you –and your divers group- have arrived. If you carry on diving, you'll discover an old VW beetle parked under the sea.
British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor conceived a strange and revolutionary idea. For decades, old ships have been sunk to produce long term coral reefs. Of course, there's beauty in discovering an old ship while you dive, but, why not sculptures?
DeCaires produced 400 anthropomorphic sculptures, made with eco-friendly material which will turn into a reef in years to come. Today, this underwater park is the main attraction for amateur and professional divers and even for snorkel fans who prefer to admire this beauty from a safe place breathing fresh air.
The sculptures are also to ring the bell about risks of Caribbean ecosystem overexploitation. Tourism must keep being a "green industry" for inhabitants on the coast and under the sea.
• Cancun: Paradise in the Caribbean
Have your dream wedding in Cancun, the Paradise Caribbean Destination
Cancun is Mexico's premier beach tourist destination. Few places in the world offer honeymooners such exciting and accessible diversity. From ancient pyramids to modern amenities, Cancun has it all for an original, authentic, unforgettable wedding.
Cancun is more the perfect setting for your destination wedding. Amazing indoor venues, seaside facilities backed by turquoise waters, easy air access from worldwide gateways, a wide variety of ultra-comfortable accommodations and an abundance of wedding planners (both independent and on site) make planning a memorable ceremony and reception easy as can be.
Romance and excitement are at your fingertips along the 14-mile long island that houses the Hotel Zone. Beautiful beaches — the kind that travel posters promise but seldom deliver — are right outside your door. The peninsula is bordered by the aquamarine waters and white sand beaches of the Caribbean on one side and the green waters of Nichupté Lagoon on the other.
Sophisticated luxury comforts, up-to-the-minute hotels and a spectacular array of activities surround you. Nature reserves uncorrupted by civilization and archaeological sites stand beside ultra-modern hotels and mega malls. Blue waters with high clarity invite divers and snorkelers to be awestruck by the colorful reefs and marine life. Ancient Mayan cultures are also on display. The archaeological site of El Rey lies near a Hotel Zone golf course. Famous sites such as Chichen Itza and Tulum are just a day trip away. Wild tropical rain forest filled with exotic birds, reptiles and mammals begin just outside of town. You'll love it all!
Cancun offers an outrageous array of honeymoon pleasures. You will never be able to fit them into one trip, so you'll have to come back for your anniversaries! History, culture, ecological reserves, nature, sport activities, shopping and Mexican and international dining are integral parts of a Cancun honeymoon. There is so much to choose from that you can plan each day to fit your mood. Don't forget to take time to relax on its world-known white sand beach!!!!
• Snorkeling with Whale Sharks in Mexico
In crystalline Caribbean waters, you gently float, dive and even lay hands on magnificent, tranquil whale sharks. The majesty of the animals and the vastness of the sea offer real understanding of man's place on the planet. Top snorkeling with whale sharks in Mexico: whale sharks stay close to mysterious, unspoiled Holbox Island in Quintana Roo all summer long. When you come up for air, you find trees and lagoons filled with flamingoes, pelicans and other tropical birds.
• Adventure in Quintana Roo
One of Mexico's wildest and most singular states, Quintana Roo is so much more than party animals at Cancún. Its world-famous white sand beaches and dazzling azure waters?home to the planet's second largest coral reef?are just the beginning'the gateway to amazing animal diversity, exuberant flowers and trees, and traces of the Mayas' magnificent civilization. Don't forget to visit one of the world class ecotourism parks, such as Sian Kaan, Xeceret, or Xela, who transparent blue waters, and fish give visitors a wonderful cenote or shore snorkeling experience. Or opt for diving on the largest reef in the western hemisphere, where you will get a chance to experience Mexico's unspoiled aquatic reserves.