The area's tourism industry underwent rapid growth during the 1980s, made possible by enthusiastic foreign investment. Large hotels began to flourish - offering complete services and amenities, abounding in luxury and exclusivity. This also applied to shopping centers, which started incorporating some of the finest boutiques, jewelers and restaurants. These factors boosted the area's status. Already considered a paradise of sun and sea for the color of its waters, the delicate beauty of its powdered sand beaches and the exuberant vegetation of its ecological reserves, Cancún was still improving its reputation.
Cancún can be divided into three main areas: The Hotel District, the Town and the Ecological Reserve, blessed with incredible lakes and mangrove swamps.
The Hotel District is comprised of the so-called gran turismo hotels (four-and five-star luxury hotels). Hotels and shopping centers are distributed along the main Boulevard Kuculkán, which runs the length of the 21-kilometer (13-mile) island. This district undoubtedly generates the greatest revenue and has the greatest economic impact on the nation, as compared to the rest of the state. This area is where the trendiest, most popular discos, the finest international restaurants and the largest entertainment venues are situated.
Town of Cancún
The Town of Cancún changes the scenery, albeit not too drastically. Peaceful provincial life here is more picturesque, folkloric and the simplicity of some of the shops provides a stark contrast to the million-dollar hotel chains. Restaurants in this district serve typical local food and snacks, providing a real opportunity to taste some genuine homemade Mexican dishes. There are also a lot of shopping opportunities in town. For additional entertainment, theaters and cinemas are located on the main streets.
Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
Last, but certainly not least, the third district is in the
Archaeological sites can be found in the vicinity, extending towards the four cardinal points. Structures tell the history of the settlements of the Mayan people on this peninsula, and just about every rock reveals traces of the historical and cultural legacy which these inhabitants left behind.
Cancún combines the elegance and gamut of entertainment choices in its Hotel District, the traditions and serenity of its pueblo, and the natural beauty of its ecological reserve, coral reef and history of its peoples. From a city brimming with all of this, what else could you ask for?
The Rivera Maya lies in the Southern part of the Mexican Republic, the Eastern area of the Peninsula of Yucatán, and on the Caribbean shoreline. It is called the Mayan Riviera due to the influence the pre-Hispanic civilization exerted throughout the region, extending from Punta Brava to Punta Allen. The Northern coast boasts an impressive development of its tourist infrastructure, while the Southern shore is dotted with small picturesque villages surrounded by unspoiled beaches. Gran Arrecife Maya, the world's second largest barrier reef is found off these shores and along with the tropical forests of exotic vegetation and mangroves, they constitute a veritable window into the biodiversity of Mexican wildlife species. The South is also well known for its underground rivers, sacred reservoirs, deep-sea caves and caverns.
The Mayans were the original inhabitants of this peninsula. Advanced in the sciences, their civilization is recognized for the intelligence and precision of their calculations as well as the complexity of their religious rites. The peninsula was an important center of commercial and religious activity during the post-classical period, which dates from approximately 1000 CE to 1500 CE. The Tulum Archaelogical Zone was a fortress on the Caribbean shores, Playa del Carmen was then known as Xaman-Ha, and what is now the Xcaret Ecological Park was known as Puerto Pole. Cobá Ruins, with a population of 50,000 inhabitants, was the most important city.
With the arrival of the Spaniards in 1519, the principal Mayan cities, such as Chichen Itza and Uxmal had already been abandoned. The wars and conquests of other peoples, harsh climate and the dangers of the tropical forest, combined with the frequent threat of hurricanes, made it difficult for the civilization to prosper. Xel-Ha went down in history as the first European settlement. Even so, during the colonial period, population growth was hampered due in part to the frequent pirate attacks at sea. These assaults hindered access to firm ground, even when reached, the dense forest provided further troubles, and thus the peninsula remained unexplored for several years.
In 1967 the Mexican Government recognized the importance of the tourist industry as an active ingredient in the country's economy. Given its natural beauty, which would tempt any traveler, this paradise was poised as a strong candidate for foreign investment towards the development of a hotel and entertainment infrastructure. The Palacio Maya and Club Med were the first hotels built in the 1970s, both blessed with exaggerated exclusivity.
Considered a strong tourist attraction during the 1990s, it wasn't until that decade in which Cancún experienced significant growth with the construction of hotels, American-style shopping centers and an array of entertainment facilities.
Cancún is presently divided into three districts: The town of Cancún, with a population of approximately 300,000 and a simple, practical infrastructure; the Ecological Reserve with its incredible lakes, rain-forests and mangroves; and the Hotel Zone, an island of hotels and shopping centers.
There are over 26,800 hotel rooms available, 200 restaurants, and several hundred shops in the city while paved and dirt roads enable access to the tropical forest.
Many facets of Cancun combine to offer the natural attributes of a Caribbean paradise framed within the vestiges of one of the most advanced and intelligent civilizations of the ancient world.
Where to stay? How much will it cost? What amenities and services are included? These questions arise upon planning any trip for business or pleasure. There are a variety of options available to meet any traveler's budget, four-star and luxury hotels, the gran turismo and categoría especial. Four-star hotels are ideal alternatives for good service at reasonable prices.
Hotels within the hotel zone include the Aquamarina Beach Hotel, the Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort, which has a wonderful and interesting nature reserve nearby. Some other hotels include the Caribbean Princess, which is located right on the beach, the Sun Palace which is purportedly great for weddings and with white sands outside your door. All are conveniently located in the island's Hotel District and have a restaurant and bar, ocean view rooms, launderette service, room service, long distance phone access, parking facilities, tourist information office, gift shops, and many other amenities.
Five-star hotels are much more abundant and many belong to international hotel chains, such as the Hotel Krystal Cancún, Meliá Turquesa, Westin Resort & Spa Cancun, JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa y la Sierra Cancún.
Gran Turismo hotels offer complete luxury, each with their individual touch. They include the Dreams Cancun Resort & Spa, Hyatt Cancún Caribe, Presidente Intercontinental, and Fiesta Americana Condesa, to name a few.
Categoría especial hotels offer special packages with international airlines and tend to be slightly lower in price. Among these, are the Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach, boasting an enormous spa, the Ritz Carlton and Le Meridien Cancún. Most have a business center fully equipped for meetings, conferences, or any other corporate event.
All have bilingual staff, and some have personnel exclusively in charge of organizing games, events, and beach tournaments for guest entertainment. Most offer tourist information services to assist in restaurant reservations and organizing day trips to different nearby destinations. Emergency assistance is also provided through access to consulates, clinics and hospitals in the region.
Alternative accommodations are available outside of the Hotel Zone. Modestly priced, these places do not offer the luxury which is characteristic of the five-star and gran turismo hotels. Located in the city, these small, affordable hotels are ideal for low budget travel. Hotels such as Suites El Patio, Hotel Plaza Kokai Cancún, Hotel Plaza Caribe and the Hotel Tankah all offer great prices and for those that are looking for a more authentic touch of Mexico. Some other moderately-priced hotels that are located on the Nichupté Lagoon where the lagoon meets the sea are the Sina Suites,Hotel Imperial Las Perlas, Hotel Caribe Internacional, very close to many restaurants and the Barceló Costa Cancún with shopping centers nearby. The increasingly popular ecological tourism organizations offer even more modest accommodations, recommending various beach campsites and rustic cabins. These options are suitable for indulging in the great outdoors and fresh air of Cancun.
Outside of the City
If you would like to experience a vacation outside of the hustle and bustle of the city and seek more relaxed environs, there are a few hotels such as the Hotel Casa Maya located on Isla Mujeres (Women's Island) and a perfect place for newly-weds. The Iberostar Paraiso Lindo is another place to enjoy many activities or if you prefer, just relax and get some rest. An upscale hotel located in the serene Puerto Morelos is the Paraiso de la Bonita Resort & Thalasso. This hotel has a massive spa and offers cruises on a luxury catamaran.
As the most popular tourist destination in the country, it is recommended that prior reservations be made when traveling to Cancun, especially during the popular season. Although most hotels are equipped for the possibility of an unpredictable hurricane, bear these occurrences in mind upon deciding when to visit, as the winds or rain may spoil the opportunity to fully enjoy all that the city has to offer. Nevertheless, the opportunity to visit should not be missed, as it is bound to be an unforgettable experience.
Boredom simply does not exist in this beautiful resort area of the Mexican Caribbean. There are a wide assortment of attractions, which can keep you engaged for even the lengthiest of visits. Whether you want to relax on the beach or explore an ancient ruin, there is something for everyone!
Nightclubs & Nightlife
The city comes alive after dark. When it comes to bars with a lively atmosphere, try Carlos and Charlies and Señor Frog's. If you are creature of the night, enjoy partying, live music and staying up all night having fun, Cancún offers a wide variety of choices as to what you can do until the early hours of the morning. If you're into club atmospheres, the best options in Cancún are Cocobongo, The City and Daddy'O.
If what you are really after is good live music venues, the Hard Rock Café is an obvious option, offering the best rock and roll in town. You are bound to take back memories of Mexico's music, people and relentless mood for partying. Admission prices vary, but most of the discos and clubs include drinks in the price. What to wear? Generally, people dress quite casually in bars, although they do tend to dress up a little more in discos. With all of the color and variety that exists in this paradise, the possibility of a boring night is impossible. Enjoy your stay, and get dancing! ¡Buen provecho!
Many points of interest are around Cancún for those that want to adventure outside of the main district. Excursions are easy to reach from the majority of hotels. The archaeological ruins of the lost Mayan civilization at Chichen Itzá are located 124 miles away from the island (three hours by bus). The renowned Tulum Archeological Zone is nearby and well worth a visit, as is the Mayan site of Cobá. Isla Mujeres is a natural and exotic sanctuary with great opportunities to snorkel and only five miles from the island. A visit to the ecological and archaeological park of Xcaret is a must, offering underground rivers and caves, a dip with the dolphins or an evening multimedia show recounting Mayan history. A few hours from Cancún by car, you will be at Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras and also Xel-Ha, a natural aquarium where snorkeling and swimming are the main activities. For the intrepid spirit and jungle explorer, excursions are available to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve to discover native wildlife or mangrove swamps in this semi-virgin place.
Arts & Culture
If you are a rodeo enthusiast or would like to battle a bull without the fear of being trampled upon, go on to the Plaza de Toros, where events are offered every Wednesday at 3p from December through April. For the adventurous, travel out to the Centro Ceremonial Kohunlich, an area of immense beauty and a place to see Mayan ruins underground. On the other hand, stay indoors and visit the Interactive Aquarium Cancún, where you can feed some sharks and swim with the dolphins. You can also visit INAH Museum which is a Anthropology and History museum that changes its exhibits often.
Festivals & Celebrations
If you happen to be in Cancún during September, you should definitely not miss the Autumn Equinox at Chichén Itzá, one of the greatest architectural achievements from the Maya and a chance to witness one of their religious and cosmological ideas. The Day of the Dead in the beginning of November is another festival that celebrates the dead, in which they return from the afterlife in order to celebrate and re-join the living. A holiday tradition that has been held for over a thousand years with decorations, parades and mariachis throughout the streets. Another day that honors the origin of the Mexican people is the Día de la Raza, where they celebrate the arrival of Columbus and the recognition of the mestizo, that is, the descendants from mixed European and indigenous indians. There are workshops, folkloric dance, concerts, dining, among many other events, needless to say, September may be the best month to visit Cancún.
Sports & Activities
The whole family can enjoy some great activities and attractions that are perfect for every age. For a real lift, let go and fly a kite from the vantage point of Dolphin Beach Viewpoint. You can also have an emotional and memorable experience by swimming with dolphins at the Xcaret Ecological Park, which will leave any traveler with something to write home about. Also try kayaking, skating or cycling along the Ciclopista in the Plaza Kukulcán. Movie lovers will be pleased to find the latest releases offered at the 10 fully equipped theaters in the plush cinema complex Cinemark, located in La Isla Shopping Center. Aquatic sports for the entire family are offered at Aquaworld.
Another option for adults include the Club de Golf Cancún located on Kukulcán Boulevard.
You can also go horseback riding on the coast for those that love horses, wind sailing, or go snorkeling into the coral reefs (specialized instructors are available for inexperienced divers), go fishing, or ride a jet-ski at high speed, these are just some of the activities that are within reach of those that would like to enhance their stay in Cancun. In Cancun, there are around 200 restaurants and more than 400 stores in exclusive shopping centers nearby the hotel zone.
In the outskirts of Punta Cancún there is the natural aquarium Xel-Ha, where you can snorkel with an amazing variety of species. Towards the south is the Sian Ka´an Biosphere Reserve, where you can explore forests and a mangrove swamp. Pay attention and listen to the sound of the birds and enjoy watching the small mammals coming out to have a good look at what's going on.