decades, vacationers heading to Mexico's renowned beach getaways had
to look no further than a string of sunny resorts along the Pacific
Coast. From Mazatlan to Acapulco, Mexico's Riviera was the only region
with any developed visitor attractions and facilities.
Then, in the late 1960's, the government took interest in a remote
sandbar on the eastern shore of the Yucatan Peninsula. The resort of
Cancun (kahn-KUHN) was born, transforming not only a frontier region
of Mexico, but also Mexico's identity from a "Pacific Coast-only"
It all started in 1967 when the Mexican government, recognizing the
importance of tourism to the country's economic future, began a
detailed search to pinpoint ideal sites for tourism development.
Cancun emerged as the government's top candidate. Still, the new
resort reached the 1980's as a relatively small and undiscovered
destination with a dozen or so hotels. A building boom in the
mid-1980's finally vaulted Cancun into the global tourism arena as THE
resort of the '90's.
From ruins to riches, Cancun has it all, offering an exotic, tropical
island setting buoyed by modern comforts and conveniences. In fact,
it's hard to imagine
a site better endowed with natural, cultural, and man-made
attractions. Technically an island, Cancun's resort zone is a
22.5-km-long slender ribbon of sand, shaped like the number seven. Its
stunning beaches must be seen to be believed: silky smooth,
sugar-white sand, lapped by the turquoise and emerald waters of the
is comprised of three distinct but integrated areas: the City of
Cancun, a raffish boomtown of 300,000 people, popular for shopping,
dining, less expensive accommodations; the ecological reserve -lovely
lagoons and mangroves; and the resort zone, an island. Development is
designed around an ecologically-sensitive master plan, divided into
three phases. Phase two is completed; phase three will include two
mega-projects: a new 1,500-slip marina/resort complex to the north of
Cancun City (Puerto Cancun), and a 170-acre lagoon resort complex
(Malecon Cancun). A well-planned layout and modern infrastructure give
the destination a polished (although mostly un-Mexican) appearance.
The area's history is rich with Mayan influences. The Yucatan
Peninsula is where Mayan culture flourished for centuries prior to the
Spaniards' arrival in 1519. Over 1200 archaeological sites are
scattered within a few hour's drive from Cancun. Many sites have been
wonderfully restored, while others are still shrouded by tangled
jungle vegetation. Even Cancun's ultra-modern resort zone harbors
ruins dating to the 12th century. Popular day tours to sites like
Tulum, Coba, and Chichen Itza afford visitors the opportunity to
appreciate the work of one of the world's most advanced ancient
societies. Beyond the area's famous ruins, the Mayan culture has
survived despite tourism's rapid encroachment. In fact, much of
Cancun's population is of Mayan descent.
With natural and cultural wonders as a backdrop, developers have built
Mexico's most dazzling offering of creature comforts. Recent lodging
improvements (there are over 20,000 hotel rooms) include the opening
of the Caesar Park Beach and Golf Resort (Cancun's largest and
supposedly last resort development), and the debut of several in-town
properties that cater to budget-minded visitors. The conversion of
several hotels into all-inclusives and quasi all-inclusives (free
food/beverage without activities) is also of note.
Cancun timeshare is also
on the rise, although roaming salespeople have had their wings clipped
by a recent ban on street sales solicitations.
Recent additions to Cancun's entertainment attractions include a
state-of-the-art Convention Center, a $30 U.S. million facility with
over 150,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and the Cancun Queen, a
Mississippi paddle-wheeler and an the Jai Alai Cancun sports complex
with betting and dining
Shopping is top notch, with over a dozen American-style shopping
malls. Dining options (there are over 200 restaurants) include every
imaginable fast food chain along with gourmet seafood, Asian,
Caribbean, American and Mexican specialties, to name a few. Outdoor
recreation - water sports, in particular - is first rate. Sports
enthusiasts can choose from
new water sports center), a new 18-hole golf course, and several
water-bound adventure activities (submarine rides to
fishing to Jet ski tours).
For adventure seekers, the area abounds with sightseeing treasures.
Stretching 480 kms. to the south along the Yucatan's eastern shore is
the Tulum Corridor region. Also known as the Costa Turquesa, this
scenic and unspoiled coastal zone is emerging as one of Mexico's
newest resort playgrounds. Several new all-inclusive properties have
opened, and there's still plenty of off-the-beaten-path exploring.
Dozens of remote coves and deserted stretches of jungle-lined white
sand beach are easy to reach. There are also many archaeological sites
here, ranging from magnificent, fully-restored ancient cities to
mysterious, unexcavated ruins.
Cancun succeeds in combining the best of Mexico and the Caribbean into
one package. And while some dislike the resort for its immense size
and unabashed commercialism, there is no denying the area's seductive