Cancun, located on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, is a resort area bounded on three sides by water: the Caribbean Sea, the Bahia Mujeres (Bay of Women) and the Nichupte and Bojorquez lagoons. The area, developed in the 1970s and 80s as a tourist resort, is known for its white-washed building, long stretches of sand, diverse shopping, and vibrant nightlife. Cancun is within driving distance to the important Mayan temples at Tulum and Chichen Itza and the many resorts towns along the Yucatan coastline.
As recently as the 1950s, Cancun was relatively uninhabited, with just a few coconut plantations and small hostels for the occasional archeological buffs making the trek to the Mayan ruins in the region.
The region began to be developed in the 1970s by the Mexican government with a $27 million loan from a US bank. A causeway was constructed to connect Cancun Island with the mainland and resort hotels were solicited. Among the first to build at the resort were the Sheraton and Club Med. Today, there are some 140 hotels offering approximately 24,000 guest rooms. The town of Cancun has grown to around 750,000 residents.
The most popular attraction is the temperate, sunny climate and the long stretches of white sand beach. In addition, the resort offers a wide range of watersports, including some of the region's best snorkeling and scuba diving.
The resort area of Cancun is home to some 340 restaurants. The most popular of these include Senor Frogs, Carlos and Charlie's, Cambalache (steakhouse), and the Laguna Grill. Nightclubs abound along the hotel zone and most stay open until the early hours of the morning.
Shopping ranges from open-air craft markets to high-end boutique representing some of the world's most popular designers. La Isla mall, in the heart of the hotel zone, features a wide variety of stores offering American, European, and Mexican products - all under one (air-conditioned) roof.
Tulum and Chichen Itza
Long before it was a resort paradise, the Yucatan Peninsula was an important state in the Mayan empire. Remarkably well-preserved architecture and remnants of this civilization exist throughout the province. The most notable are at Tulum on the Caribbean coast about one hour from Cancun and at Chichen Itza, in the Mexican jungle, about three hours from Cancun.
- Tulum - Set against the azure Caribbean Sea about an hour's drive south of Cancun, Tulum is one of the area's most popular attractions. The stone Mayan temple, palace, and other structures here were built between 1200 and 1450 and occupied through the early 1600s, the early days of the Spanish conquest. Today, visitors can explore the site on their own or sign up for one of many guided tours.
- Chichen Itza - Chichen Itza, located in the heart of the Yucatan jungle about three hours from Cancun, was a major city in the Pre-Columbian Mayan Empire. The city, begun around 600 BCE is remarkably intact. Buildings include the much-photographed step-pyramid el Castillo(the castle) as well as a hand-ball court, the Temple of the Warriors, and observatory tower, and a marketplace. It's impossible to see the entire site on a day tour, but it will give you a sense for the grandeur of the former city.
Cancun is easily accessible from the United States via non-stop flights from Miami, Houston, Chicago, New York, and other major gateways. Accommodations are plentiful in the resort area and vary from large resorts to more quiet locally-owned hotels. A majority of the hotels and resorts in Cancun offer a waterview and/or beach access, since the area is bounded on two sides by water.Public transportation in the resort area is affordable and easy to use. There's no need to rent a car unless you plan to travel on your own down the coast. Many day tours are offered to Tulum, Chichen Itza, and the island of Cozumel.
A number of tour operators offer packages to Cancun which include airfare, accommodations, and transportation to and from the airport, often at a significant savings over buying each element separately. Look to tour operators such as GoGo Tours, or Travel Impressions.