Since its quiet beginning in the early 1970s, Cancun has exploded into a first-rate vacation destination that truly has something for everyone. In the 1960s the Mexican government began searching for a location to create a purpose-built resort destination. This sand spit in a sparsely inhabited region of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula was clearly the prime candidate with its pristine natural beauty, silky smooth powder-white beaches, clear blue-green water, year-round pleasant climate, and proximity to nearby tourist draws. Still relatively unknown a decade after its inception, Cancun’s mid-80s building boom launched it onto the world stage. Today more than three million people from around the globe visit Cancun annually contributing more than one third of Mexico’s tourism-generated revenues.
Located in the historically rich state of Quintana Roo, Cancun consists of Cancun City (Ciudad Cancún), which is on the mainland, and Cancun Island (Isla Cancún, also known as the Zona Hotelera or Hotel Zone), which is joined to the mainland by two bridges - one at each end of the island.
Fourteen-mile-long Cancun Island has it all: sugar-white soft sand beaches lapped by crystalline aquamarine waters, a profusion of dining options from chic restaurants with world-class chefs to all the North American brand-name fast-food outlets, a sizzling nightlife that lasts till dawn, bountiful shopping venues from upscale boutiques to open-air markets, championship golfing, water sports galore, full-service spas, and even archaeological ruins. A plethora of swanky hotels and resorts line the island’s coastline and include most of the world’s brand names, including Marriott, Hilton, Radisson, and Sheraton.
Cancun City, originally the village for the workers who built Cancun Island, has mushroomed into a vibrant city with more than half a million residents. A contrast to the glitz and hype of Cancun Island, the city is where you’ll find the more traditional Mexico, including the ever-popular bullfight. As a gateway to the state’s archaeological sites, the city’s main streets are named after Mayan cities. El Centro, or Downtown Cancun, which is connected to the Hotel Zone by Kukulcan Boulevard, has all the amenities of a modern city, including excellent restaurants, shops, markets, and malls - and with prices geared for the domestic market.
The raw beauty of the surrounding area is stunning with it’s natural lagoons, flourishing mangrove swamps, dazzling coral reefs, and dense jungle. Spectacular beaches line the island and dot the mainland. The southern beaches cater to those seeking tranquility and seclusion. The northern beaches, in the heart of all the action, pulse with the energy of the crowds. While the beaches facing the Caribbean offer endless ocean vistas and pounding surf, those facing Bahía de Mujeres and those along Nichupté lagoon provide calmer waters perfect for swimming and water sports - waterskiing, kayaking, jet skiing, windsurfing, sailing, parasailing, paddleboat rides, banana boat rides, glass-bottom boat rides, and more.
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is one of the world’s largest and the diving here is some of the best on the globe. More than 40 dive sites abound around Cancun and Cozumel with the best consistent visibility in the Caribbean and water temperatures in the low- to mid-80s. Divers will encounter amazing marine life that may include jewfish, groupers, scorpion fish, parrotfish, grunts, yellowjacks, snappers, barracudas, nurse sharks, dolphins, octopus, manta and eagle rays, moray eels, turtles, starfish, a myriad of coral varieties, and more. Inland cenote or cavern diving provides an unforgettable experience with rich stalactite and stalagmite formations in crystal-clear fresh water. Many dive sites are also accessible for snorkeling.
Home to more than 500 species of fish, including wahoo, marlin, barracuda, sailfish, red snapper, and bluefin, the waters around Cancun are also popular for deep-sea fishing. Fly-fishing is also available.
A variety of excursions are available on land as well. Cancun is within easy reach of eco-theme parks, where you can canoe, kayak, snorkel, cycle, ride horses and more, as well as protected ecological reserves, including the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a 1.3-million-acre UNESCO World Heritage Site with more than 300 species of birds and a large number of animals characteristic of the region. Along with areas in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the state of Quintana Roo is home to impressive Mayan archaeological ruins, many suitable for a day trip from Cancun.
With its striking natural environment, modern hotels, world-class restaurants, vibrant nightlife, multitude of shopping venues, impressive ancient history, unique culture, and convenient access, Cancun is a vacation destination not to be missed.