“Build it and they will come”, goes the line. Well, they built it and, yes, they come – for the powdery white sand, impossibly turquoise sea and superb water sports. They come for first-class accommodation, much of it all-inclusive. They come to party!
To see today’s spectacular beachfront dominated by hotels, resorts, restaurants and clubs makes it all the more astonishing that Cancun didn’t exist 40 years ago.
A vision to turn an almost forgotten, narrow spit of land on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula into an exclusive tourism haven has catapulted Cancun to its position as the top destination in the Caribbean. What’s more, it remains the gateway to the Mayan world, a paradise of historic exploration.
The beautiful beach and the warm turquoise ocean are the premier reasons why Cancun has become such a favourite destination, and when – and if – you tire of lounging around or swimming in front of your hotel resort, there are plenty more energetic water sports to keep you occupied.
Cancun is water sports heaven, with sailing, parasailing, windsurfing, access to great snorkelling and diving (including the extraordinary MUSA underwater modern art museum, as well as the second largest reef in the world), and game fishing. There are 25 dedicated watersports centres.
Land-based attractions include the Mayan museum, an ideal starting point before any day trip out to the Mayan archaeological wonders of World Heritage-listed Chichen Itza.
Eat and Drink
Cancun is essentially split into two – the almost exclusively tourist-orientated Zona Hotelera (Hotel Zone) and its more than 20 kilometres of beaches, and Cancun Centro (downtown), home to most of the local population.
There is a multitude of dining options from first-class restaurants linked to hotels and resorts, to stand-alone eateries offering fare from around the world, to the fastest of fast food.
For a true and more economical Mexican food experience, look downtown. Specialities include tostadas, enchiladas, tacos and other dishes using superb seafood such as lobster and shrimp. There are also lots of bars downtown, but nightlife really booms in the dance club bars of the Hotel Zone.
The stunning setting of beach on one side and lagoon on the other defines the Hotel Zone and most visitors stay there. High-rise luxury international brands and more boutique hotels stand side by side with sprawling resorts catering to every need and budget – the vast majority of the properties three-star quality and up.
Some offer all-inclusive packages while those visitors who prefer to self cater will find a range of villas and apartments. There are also lots of good hotel options away from the beach downtown that may appeal to the more budget conscious.
As you would expect from a top holiday destination, you can do some serious shopping in Cancun with everything from high-end luxury brands to flea markets, local arts and crafts including jewellery and leatherwork, and souvenir shops.
In the Hotel Zone take your choice from La Isla Shopping Village (150 shops against a faux Venetian backdrop), Plaza Caracol (200 shops and boutiques) and Kukulcan Plaza (shops, boutiques and designer labels).
At the other end of the scale, Mercado 28 is a huge flea market downtown, good for Mexican handicrafts. Also downtown, Plaza Las Americas provides more of a high-street store experience.
Cancun Like a Local
Interested in Mayan culture, but loving the beach so much that the day trip to Chichen Itza or Tulum is a trip too far? There is a solution! Modern and ancient come together at the El Rey ruins, a site dating back to 900AD which you will find close to a resort golf course on the lagoon side of the Hotel Zone.
There are more than 40 stone structures, including remnants of temple buildings, in a settlement probably abandoned with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. Today’s only residents are lots of iguanas.