Cancun’s tourism industry underwent an impetuous growth during the 1980’s, when its transformation, made possible by enthusiastic foreign investors, turned rapid and surprising. Large hotels offering all types of services and facilites sprung up all over town, together with large doses of luxury and exclusivity. The same principle applied to shopping centres, which – needless to say – include the best boutiques, jewellers, restaurants and thousands of items on sale in their displays. These elements gave the island a higher status, when it was already considered a paradise of sun and sea: with the colour of its waters, the fine sand and the exhuberant vegetation in its mangroves and ecological reserves, which protect Cancun’s native species.
The town can be divided into three main areas: the Hotel area, the Town and the Ecological Reserve, which contains incredible lakes and mangrove swamps.
The Hotel Area contains all the top-class luxury hotels, the so-called Gran Turismo accomodation, five stars and some four stars. These magnificent buildings include various architectural styles: from the classical-style columns in Hotel Krystal, to the modern pyramid-shaped Hotel Meliá Beach and Spa Resort. Hotels and shopping centres are both distributed along the Boulevard Kuculkán, the main avenue which crosses the island length-wise, measuring around 21 kilometres. This district is undoubtedly the one which generates the most income for Cancun, and where the economic impact is considerably more noticeable than in the rest of the State. The trendiest and most popular discos, the restaurants serving the best in international haute cuisine, and the largest entertainment venues are all located in this area.
The Town of Cancun is a change of scenery, albeit not a drastic one. Life here turns more picturesque, folkloric and a little more down to earth. The calmness of life in the province and the simplicity of some of the shops provide a stark contrast with the million-dollar hotel chains. In the town, or Pueblo, accomodation is cheaper. You will find anything from four star hotels to inns and rooms to rent for a few pesos. In this district you will find restaurants serving typical local food and snacks, which are a real opportunity for you to taste some genuine home-made Mexican dishes.
The shops are not fancy, and one can easily find quality items at lower prices than those being sold in the hotel area. Theatres and cinemas tend to be located in the Pueblo’s main streets.
Lastly, we can’t forget the third area in Cancun, in which Nature is still Queen. The ecological reserve (Sian Ka’an) occupies hundreds of kilometres, making it the largest in Mexico. It is a real ecosystem, home to many species of plants and animals. The government and non-profit-making organisations do their best to try and maintain this area intact, in order to keep it as a refuge for species, many of them facing the danger of extinction.
East, West, North and South, one can see archaeological sites. The buildings reveal the settlement of the Mayas in these lands, and every rock reveals traces of the historical and cultural legacy which these inhabitants left from the post-classic period.
In Cancun elegance merges with an array possibilities for entertainment in the Hotel Area, the tradition and quiet of the Pueblo, the natural beauty of the ecological reserve, the coral reef and the history of its peoples. What else could you possibly ask for?
History of Cancun
The far East of the Peninsula of Yucatán, to the South of the Mexican Republic is surrounded by the Caribbean sea and is known as the Mayan Coast, given this pre-Hispanic civilisation’s influence all across the area, from Punta Brava to Punta Allen. The north side of the coast boasts an amazing tourist infrastructure and impressive development. The south, on the other hand, is home to many different small picturesque villages surrounded by unspoilt beaches, where the Gran Arrecife Maya is to be found, the second largest reef in the world. The south is famous for its forest, with exotic vegetation and great variety of animal species. It is also famous for its underground rivers, caves and deep-sea caverns.
The civilisation which originally inhabited this peninsula was the Mayan civilisation, very advanced as regards the sciences of the Earth and skies, famous for the precision of their calculations and the complexity of their religious rites. In the post-classical period, from the year 1,000 to approximately the year 1,500, the peninsula was an important commercial and religious centre. Tulum was then a fortress on the Caribbean shores. Playa del Carmen was then known as Xaman-Ha, and what is now Xcaret was known as Puerto Pole. The most important city was Cobá, with a population of 50,000 inhabitants.
With the arrival of the Spaniards in 1519, the main Mayan cities, such as Chichen Itza and Uxmal had already been abandoned, what with the wars and conquests of other peoples, the harsh climate and the dangers of the forest, together with the frequent threat of hurricanes, which had caused the civilisation almost to disappear. Xel-Ha went down in history as the first European settlement. However, during the Colonial period the growth of the population was not made easy, given the proximity of the open sea and the pirate attacks. These attacks made it difficult to reach the land, and even when that obstacle was overcome, the forest posed many more difficulties and dangers. This is the main reason why the peninsula was unknown for so long.
In 1967 the Mexican Government recognised the importance of the tourist industry as an active ingredient of the country’s economy, and Cancun was one of the places to become a firm candidate for foreign investment and the development of a hotel and entertainment infrastructure, given that its natural beauty was an obvious temptation for any traveller. The first hotels that were built in the 70s were the Palacio Maya and Club Med, both of which developed a great reputation.
Cancun is still an important tourist destination today, and up until the 90s many new hotels were built, as well as American-style shopping malls and all the entertainment facilities it now has to offer.
Cancun is now divided into three areas: Ciudad de Cancun, with a population of 300,000 and a simple and straightforward infrastructure; the ecological reserve, with its incredible lakes, forests and mangrove marshland, and the Zona Hotelera, an island where most of the hotels and shopping malls are to be found. There are two new projects under development, including a tourist sea resort called Puerto Cancun and another project known as Malecón Cancun, covering some 170 acres of land.
Cancun has more than 25,000 hotel rooms to offer, 200 restaurants and several hundred shops. There are roads leading to the forest, making it easy to get to in most cases.
Cancun has many different faces which come together to offer the natural beauty of what is truly a Caribbean paradise, the forest, and the comfort of five star, Gran Turismo and Categoría especial hotels, all in the setting of what was one of the most advanced and intelligent civilizations in the old world.