Cancun City Guide
Cancún is perhaps one of the most popular vacation destinations in Mexico. This gorgeous coastal city is located on the eastern most tip of the Yucatán Peninsula in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. Cancún is actually situated on the Yucatan Channel that separates Cuba and Mexico.
History of Cancún can be traced back to the time of the Mayan civilization, which existed more than a thousand years ago. The area comprising Cancún today was once a deserted jungle, which was overrun by dense jungles, mangroves and marshes and was called ‘Ekab’ or Black Earth though it was rechristened by the Mayans as Cancún or Kankan, which translates as a ‘nest of snakes’ or ‘pot of snakes.’
The Mayan civilization in Cancún continued to prosper and grow until the Europeans (the Spaniards) arrived here in 1519. The arrival of the Europeans triggered the decline of the Mayan civilization. The first colonial settlement was then established at Xel-Ha but population growth was hampered for several years due to frequent pirate attacks and the problems caused by the dense jungle terrain. As a result, Cancún remained a relatively unknown destination until the late 1960’s, when the Mexican government undertook several development initiatives to promote this stunning region as a tourist destination.
Cancún was officially established as city in 1974 and this resort city with its miles of pristine beaches, surrounded by crystalline seas, quickly became a celebrated tourist destination especially popular with American tourists who arrive here in droves during the annual spring break vacation in April. The city of Cancún today is a bustling tropical Eden and has much to offer for all types of vacationers: historic buildings, ancient sites, museums, beaches, shopping centers, nature reserves, nightclubs and bars.
Where to stay in Cancun
Cancun like most beach resort destinations is equipped with a wide assortment of hotels that include luxury hotels, spa hotels, resort hotels, discount hotels and budget accommodation. The last mentioned category consists largely of all-inclusive resort hotels and beach communities, which are immensely popular with package tourists especially families looking to have nice vacations in Cancun.
Since Cancun was specifically built for tourism, it has a rather unique layout and most of the hotels in Cancun, including the many luxury hotels in Cancun are located within its Zona Hotelera or Hotel Zone, which is located on a narrow peninsula that has the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Laguna Nichupte on the other.
This hotel zone is connected by bridges to the mainland and besides hotels; it is populated by nightclubs, shopping malls, entertainment complexes and restaurants of all types. Most visitors on trips to Cancun choose to stay at the many diverse hotels located within this zone as it is relatively safe and has a distinct international feel.
Outside the hotel zone is the city’s EL Centro or downtown, which is home to much of the local population; though it also offers a decent selection of dining and shopping opportunities.
Yet another prominent neighborhood of Cancun is the district of Punta Sam, which is located north of the main city. Punta Sam is a beachfront suburb less commercial than the other districts of Cancún and it can be reached via a twenty minute cab ride from El Centro.
Places to see in Cancun
Cancún is world famous for its many miles of white sand beaches; all of which are touched by the clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. In Cancún, the beaches seem to go on forever and if you are a beach lover then vacations to Cancún will perhaps fulfill your vision of paradise.
Many of Cancún beaches offer a number of water sport activities like parasailing, banana boat riding, jet skiing, snorkeling and wave running. Some of the most popular beaches in Cancún are Playa Langosta, Playa Caracol, Playa Tortugas and Playa Ballenas.
Garrafon Natural Reef Park
If scuba diving is your passion, you may want to head out to the neighboring islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres; both of which are ringed with excellent coral reefs and provide great opportunities for diving and snorkeling. Several local tour companies offer scuba diving tours to these islands from Cancún. They also offer regular tours, which are conducted in glass bottomed boats for those tourists who don’t wish to get wet but yet want a chance to observe the fascinating marine life of these islands.
Additionally, Isla Mujeres is home to the Garrafon Natural Reef Park, which offers a wide variety of aquatic recreational facilities like snorkeling, kayaking, swimming with dolphins along with various other attractions like a dolphinarium, a hammock garden, zip lines and a seaside trail. The park also hosts the attraction of the Punta Sur cliff, which offers a sculpture garden and a Mayan temple.
The Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
For the nature lovers in your party, vacations to Cancún take you to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The reserve is located near the Mayan Ruins of Tulum and offers a wide variety of indigenous flora and fauna as well as twenty- three ancient archaeological sites.
This biosphere reserve was established on 20th January 1986 as part of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere program and is the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean region that extends over 1.3 million acres.
This biosphere is known for its unique geography and wetlands and is home to 103 known mammal species and 363 known bird species apart from 2000 human inhabitants. Additionally, it is also a nesting ground for many species of birds and two endangered species of sea turtles.
Tres Ríos (Three Rivers) Eco Park
Yet another nature reserve in Cancún that is worth exploring during vacations is the Tres Ríos (Three Rivers) Eco Park. This eco reserve also offers a wide variety of native flora and fauna along with water sports and other activities.
Xcaret Eco Park
The Xcaret Eco Park offers activities like, snorkeling, diving and swimming with dolphins along with other attractions like a wine cellar and Mayan ruins.
For those vacationers who enjoy learning about ancient civilizations and cultures, Cancún offers informative and enlightening museums in the form of the traditional Mexican folk art museum, the Museo de Arte Popular and the archeological museum of Cancún, Museo Arqueológico de Cancún.
Both these popular museums are located within the tourist zone of Zona Hotelera, which also features the historical site of the Ruinas del Rey that dates back to 200BC and consists of raised pyramid structures adorned with Mayan artwork on their interiors.
Best time to visit Cancun
Cancun is blessed with year round sunny climate, which renders it to be an all-weather destination. The average maximum day time temperatures in the winter months of January and February, which are traditionally the peak tourist season for Cancun vacations, tend to hover around 78.8 °F (26 °C) while average night time temperatures generally register a pleasant 64ºF (18ºC).
In the summer months of July and August, average daytime temperatures in and around Cancun can reach a scorching 90ºF (32 °C) while average night time temperatures tend to range around 77 °F( 25ºC) .
Getting around in Cancun
Cancun is well connected by air and land, so whether you want to fly or drive to Cancun vacations, the choice is entirely yours. However, if time is of essence and you want to spend more time at Cancun than travel, you can try our cheap air flights to save time and money. Also, try our car rental offers to come across highly attractive deals; cut out for budget vacationing.
However, there is really no need for you to hire a car during your vacation in Cancun as this renowned destination is well served by a public transportation system which consists of buses and taxis. The public bus service that operates within Cancun plies from 6am to midnight. Tickets for the bus services are extremely reasonable and are usually priced at approximately ten pesos.
Taxis are also plentiful in Cancun but it is always wise to fix a price with the driver before you embark on your taxi journey. Moreover, it is useful to know that if you ask your bell hop or your hotel concierge to call a taxi, you will be charged more. If you want to save some pesos, you should walk out of your hotel and hail a taxi in the street.
Cancun also has ferry services that serve the neighboring island towns of Isla Mujeres (a popular locale for many budget accommodations) and Cozumel. Ferries to Isla Mujeres leave every half hour from Puerto Juarez while ferries to Cozumel depart from Playa del Carmen a popular resort town located 42 miles to the south of Cancún.
Where to shop in Cancun
Cancun is one of Mexico’s most popular holiday resorts and it accordingly offers a plethora of shopping options. Street-side jewelry stands, artisan hubs, flea markets and ultramodern malls, all feature on Cancun’s shopping scene, which is largely concentrated on the resort’s downtown area and its hotel zone. Additionally, Cancun is a duty-free zone of Mexico, so prices charged for goods like fragrances; spirits and fine jewelry are among the lowest in the country and are a huge draw for visiting shoppers.
Favored shopping haunts in Cancun include upmarket malls like Kukulcan Plaza, La Isla Shopping Village, Plaza Flamingo, Gran Plaza and Paseo Cancun. All these malls offer an abundance of shopping, dining and entertainment options and are located within Cancun’s famed hotel zone.
If you have souvenir shopping on your agenda in Cancun, then the open-air bazaar along Tulum Avenue offers you ample choices by way of its many stalls and kiosks. Also worth perusing are the Coral Negro and Plaza La Fiesta malls situated in the heart of Cancun’s downtown area and Market 28, Cancun’s largest flea market. All these various sites offer souvenir hunting tourists, the chance to shop for a wide variety of souvenirs like silver jewelry, textiles, leather handicrafts and more, sourced from all over Mexico.
Cancun also offers tax free shopping for international visitors and tourists can avail of the Tax Back facilities available at Cancun International Airport. After you have shopped at one of Cancun’s many tax-free shops, you have to ask the retailer for a tax back form. This form has then to be submitted at one of the Tax back modules situated at Cancun’s international airport; you can expect an electronic refund of the tax paid on your credit card within a period of 40 days.
Where to eat in Cancun
Cancun, being a favored vacation destination, is littered with a wide array of restaurants. Ocean front restaurants, fast-food restaurants, hotel restaurants, this popular beachside paradise hosts them all. Additionally, Cancun is littered with countless seafood restaurants and steakhouses, but also hosts diverse restaurants that offer an assortment of international cuisines like Mexican, Italian, Thai, French, Indian and Belgian cuisines.
Well-liked and recommended eateries in Cancun, currently include joints like Puerto Madero (Argentinean fare), Cocina de Autor (Latin fare), La Habichuela Sunset (Mexican eats), Du Mexique (French-Mexican food), The Club Grill (International steakhouse), Peter’s Restaurante (international cuisine), L’Escargot (French food), and La Palapa Belga (Belgian cuisine).
Nightlife in Cancun
Cancun is a modern and eclectic city which offers a truly vibrant nightlife scene. It is no wonder then this Yucatan beach resort is a favored vacation destination, visited by as many as four million tourists a year. The nightlife arena in Cancun features numerous bars, pubs, cocktail lounges, music venues and night clubs, which tend to rock on until the wee hours of the morning.
Favored nightlife haunts in this hedonistic beach paradise include buzzing joints like the ever popular Coco Bongo, El Rincón del Vino, Senor Frogs, Pat O’Brian’s, The City (the largest dance club in Latin America), Dady’O, Palazzo and Mandala.