Cancún: Where the Livin’ Is Easy... But Not Cheap
Like a Greek goddess, Cancún seems to have sprung from the sea: both chronologically and physically. Before 1970 few had ever heard of “Kankún,” which means “pot of snakes” in the Mayan language. Its name notwithstanding, where the resort now stands was little more than sand dunes, marshes, mangroves and some coconut trees on a thin barrier island separating Nichupté Lagoon from the Caribbean Sea.
Just a few decades later, this 22-km (13 mi) strip of powder white sand is lined with highrise hotels and shi-shi shopping malls. Its downtown is home to 500,000 permanent residents, most of who cater in one way or another to millions of annual visitors. Restaurants continue to refine and redefine themselves, while the club scene frankly rages. Choose a sleek disco, sophisticated piano bar, dodgy drag show or ‘drink-til-ya-drop’ bar scene ... or anything in between. Much of Cancún wakes well after noon.
All of the big international chains have hotels in Cancún. Most are found along the main drag, the Zona Hotelera. This strip of sand less than one kilometer wide separates the Caribbean and the lagoon. (FYI: Some hotels have view of both. The sun sets over the lagoon, not the Caribbean.) Here you’ll find the JW Marriott, Presidente InterContinental, Le Meridien, Hilton, Westin, Ritz-Carlton and the Best Western, among many other name brands. Expensive? Claro que sí! (Of course!)
A less-expensive way to experience Cancún is opting off the beach and into downtown, or el centro. You’ll exchange ‘out-the-door-to-the-sand’ privileges for cheaper digs and also a more authentic Mexican experience. Another benefit is that walking among downtown’s open-air markets, churches, public plazas, and eateries---ranging from juice bars to romantic restaurants---is lots more fun than schlepping along the highway and long driveways separating hotel zone hotels, restaurants and shopping centers. Still, for many a vacation in a luxury hotel right on the sand is what Cancún is all about. Consider the pros and cons of each part of town.
Beyond the water-related leisure activities like sailing, parasailing and Jet Skis, hotels offer fishing, snorkeling and dive excursions, and day trips to Isla Mujeres. You can spend an entire day at the wonderful theme park Ixcaret, swimming in the protected cove, snorkeling through underground caves, exploring myriad exhibits and watching excellent evening entertainment.
Another super popular day trip is Tulum, a couple of hours south of Cancún. Tulum was the only Maya city on the sea that was inhabited at the time of the Spanish conquest. But farther afield and therefore less crowded than Tulum are even more impressive ruins such as Cobá, Chichén Itzá and Uxmal. Spend the night at one of these jungle-clad beauties to truly savor the Maya magic. If your Cancún trip has been largely international in flavor, a short trek off the resort trail will let you savor some of the Yucatan peninsula’s exotic architecture and landscape, warm hospitality and unique cuisine.
For more things to do as well as hotels and restaurants, check out our Cancun Travel Guide.