In the 1970s Mexico's ambitious tourism planners decided to outdo Acapulco with a brand new, world-class resort in the Yucatán Peninsula. The place they chose was a deserted sand spit offshore from the little fishing village of Puerto Juárez. Its name was Cancún.

In the last two decades Cancún has grown from a tiny jungle village into one of the world's best-known holiday resorts. The Mexican government sunk vast sums into landscaping and infrastructure, yielding straight, well-paved roads, drinkable tap water and great swaths of sandy beach.

In the 1970s Mexico's ambitious tourism planners decided to outdo Acapulco with a brand new, world-class resort in the Yucatán Peninsula. The place they chose was a deserted sand spit offshore from the little fishing village of Puerto Juárez, on Yucatán's eastern shore. The island sand spit was shaped like a Lucky 7 and its name was Cancún.

In the last two decades Cancún has grown from a tiny jungle village into one of the world's best-known holiday resorts. The Mexican government sunk vast sums into landscaping and infrastructure, yielding straight, well-paved roads, drinkable tap water and great swaths of sandy beach. Cancún now attracts planeloads of divers, Mayan archeology buffs and sun-seeking resort tourists.
Τιρκουάζ νερά κρύβουν τον εκθαμβωτικό υποβρύχιο κόσμο των κοραλλιογενών υφάλων. Λευκές αμμουδιές και πυκνή ζούγκλα χρωματίζουν τη λεπτή λωρίδα όπου στέκει. Μυστηριακοί ναοί των Μάγια επιζούν δίπλα στο αρχιτεκτονικό παραλήρημα των ξενοδοχειακών μονάδων. Το Κανκούν παραμένει ο απόλυτος ταξιδιωτικός προορισμός, η πόλη της χλιδής, των απολαύσεων, αλλά κι ένας τροπικός παράδεισος που συντηρεί τη μεξικάνικη κουλτούρα
Cancún is situated in the state of Quintana Roo on the eastern coast of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, a seal-head shaped land mass that stares longingly towards Cuba from Guatemala and Belize. Cancún is on the northeastern tip of the Peninsula, fronted by Bahía de Mujeres (Bay of Women), the Caribbean Sea and two lagoons.

Cancún is actually two places in one. On the mainland lies Ciudad Cancún, a planned city founded as the service center of the resort. The main north-south thoroughfare is Avenida Tulum, a long tree-shaded boulevard lined with banks, shopping centers and restaurants. The smaller, low to medium-priced hotels and restaurants are within the city center.

The 23km (14mi) long sandy island, Isla Cancún, is known as the Zona Hotelera or Zona Turística. Boulevard Kukulcán, a four-lane divided avenue, leaves Ciudad Cancún and goes 9km (5mi) westward to Punta Cancún. The boulevard then heads south for 13km (8mi) to Punta Nizuc, where it turns eastward, rejoins the mainland and heads inland to the airport.

Cancún International Airport is 8km (5mi) south of Ciudad Cancún. Puerto Juárez, the port for passenger ferries to Isla Mujeres, is about 3km (2mi) north of the center. The busy bus station is just west of Avenida Tulum.
Πότε να πάτε
Cancún has the sun on permanent retainer. The city's temperature averages an idyllic 80°F (27°C) year-round, dipping painlessly from time to time, hitting 65°F (19°C) in January. It can swelter to 100°F (38°C) in May, though ocean breezes keep it more bearable than the rest of the Yucatán, which can get drenchingly muggy and hot. Rainfall is rare, though violent storms called nortes can roll in on any afternoon, their black clouds, high winds and torrents of rain followed within an hour by bright sun and blue sky. Hurricane season lasts from July to November. Cancún last got clobbered in 1988 by Hurricane Gilbert.

November and early December are perhaps the best times to go, as there are fewer tourists and prices are low. The busy season is from mid-December to April, when prices are noticeably higher. Surcharges get tacked on around the Christmas, New Year's and Easter holidays.
Cancún treats every day as a holiday, but also plans a few organized events throughout the year. The biggest event is Carnaval, a joyous, usually drunken celebration held in February right before Lent's period of fasting and penitence. Inmaculada Concepcion is a religious festival held on Isla Mujeres in December.

The athletically inclined might consider running Cancún's International Marathon right before the mad Christmas tourist rush.
Isla Cancún
Let's face it, Isla Cancún is one big beach and there's no use pretending that there's anything else to do here. It's a lazy, beautiful stretch of white sand. The only thing you need to know is that the beaches on the western side face Laguna de Nichupté and are straitjacket-calm and those on the eastern shore face the Caribbean and are prone to fierce undertows. Isla Cancún is 23km (14mi) long, not very wide and known as the Zona Hotelera. The island is connected to Ciudad Cancún by two bridges.

Isla Mujeres
A 25-minute boat ride from Cancún, Isla Mujeres has a reputation as a 'backpackers' Cancún, a place to escape the mega resorts for the laid-back life of a tropical isle. This is only partly true, as more and more tourists come looking for tranquility. Nonetheless, many visitors have a hard time tearing themselves away from Isla Mujeres' relaxed setting, surrounded as they are by tourist-brochure turquoise waters that are bathtub warm.

There's spectacular diving to be done here. The Isla is blessedly close to four fine reefs: Los Manchones, La Bandera, Cuevones and Chital. A regular stop for divers includes the Sleeping Shark Caves, about 5km (3mi) north of the island, where the usually dangerous creatures are said to be lethargically nonlethal because of the low oxygen content of the caves' waters. The good snorkelling and better swimming beaches are on the southern part of the island along the western shore (the Bahía de Mujeres), though Playa Norte, the town's principal beach, lies calmly facing northwest. If you desperately need a break from sun and sand, there's some ruined remains of a Mayan temple dedicated to Ixchel at the southern tip of the island.

Museo de Antropología y Historia
This museum has a collection of items - including jewellry, masks and intentionally deformed skulls - from the Postclassic period (AD1200-1500). Other exhibits include a Classic-period hieroglyphic staircase inscribed with dates from the 6th century, and the stucco head that gave the local archeological zone its name of El Rey. Most of the informative signs are in Spanish only, though an English information sheet is available at the ticket counter. Archeology buffs should be warned, however, that they may be left wanting. The Mayan ruins really worth seeing lie far outside of the city.
Έξω από τα συνηθισμένα
Isla Contoy
From Isla Mujeres it's possible to take an excursion by boat to tiny, uninhabited Isla Contoy, a national park and bird sanctuary 30km (19mi) north. The island's dense foliage is home to more than 100 bird species, including brown pelicans, olive cormorants, turkey birds, brown boobies and red-pouched frigates. In addition, red flamingoes, snowy egrets and white herons make frequent visits. Bring mosquito repellent, and beware of the boa constrictors and small crocodiles that live in the island's brackish ponds.

Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm
Six species of sea turtle lay eggs in the sand along the island's calm western shore. Although they are endangered, sea turtles are still killed throughout Latin America for their eggs and meat, which are considered a delicacy. In the 1980s, efforts by a local fisherman led to the founding of the Centro de Investigaciones and the Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm, which protects the turtles' breeding grounds and places wire cages around their eggs to protect against predators. Hatchlings live in three large pools for up to a year, at which time they are tagged for monitoring and released. Because most turtles in the wild die within their first few months, the practice of guarding them until they are a year old greatly increases their chances of survival. The Turtle Farm is a scientific facility, not an amusement centre. But if you'd like to see several hundred sea turtles, ranging in weight from 150g (5oz) to more than 300kg (661lb), this is the place for you.
Speedboats, instructors and equipment are up for grabs should you feel inclined to water-ski.
Cancún is in the enticing state of Quintana Roo, home to the country's Caribbean beaches, impressive Mayan ruins and sizzling nightlife. Quintana Roo was little more than a forgotten backwater for most of the 19th century. So insignificant was this jungly, sparsely inhabited region in the minds of Mexican authorities that it didn't even have an official name until 1902.

When, in 1902, it was finally given a name and territory status, it was named after army general Andréas Quintana Roo, although he'd never served in the territory. In the late 1960s Isla Cancún was a sliver of sand visited only by local fisherfolk and a few gringo adventurers. When the Mexican government decided to develop a resort on the island, the channels separating it from the mainland coast were bridged. Next, a town sprang up (where Ciudad Cancún now stands) to house Isla Cancún's construction workers and their families.

A well-paved street bordered by wide sidewalks was run down the center of the island. Many hectares of mangroves and scrub brush were ripped out, scores of gardens were planted, and 'a very towered land,' as one 16th-century Spanish historian described this coast, acquired even more towers as multistory resorts went up.

When Cancún opened in 1974, the carefully developed island - commonly referred to as Cancún, Isla Cancún or the Zona Hotelera - was promoted as a tropical paradise. In short order it began attracting snowbirds from Canada and wealthy beach bums from the USA, Europe and elsewhere. Remarkably, Quintana Roo didn't become a state until that same year. And it likely wouldn't have received statehood even then, except that the government and developers ambitiously planning Cancún agreed that the new resort town would be difficult to promote if it were situated in a region apparently unworthy of statehood.

Despite its inauspicious beginnings, Cancún has become one of the brightest spots on the international sun-seeker map, although many argue that overdevelopment and the resultant environmental pressures have spoiled the place. Its star shone most brightly in 2003 with the release of a movie, The Real Cancún, featuring the antics of the beach bunny crowd, and the hosting of a round of World Trade Organisation talks, which featured the now customary demonstrations and ended in bitter acrimony when representatives from third world member states refused to play ball.
Πως θα φτάσετε εκεί
Cancún International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional de Cancún) is 8km (5mi) south of the city center, two hours by air from Mexico City and just one hour from Miami. The airport serves a busy traffic load of regional and international flights. Many flights to and from Cancún also stop at Cozumel. A departure tax is levied on international travelers departing Mexico by air.
There are mini vans and deluxe cars that can take you from the airport into Cancún. Regular taxis run into town or the Zona Hotelera but are subject to expensive regulated airport fares. If you follow the access road out of the airport and post the traffic-monitoring booth you can often flag down a taxi leaving the airport empty that will take you for much less because the driver is no longer subject to the airport fares. There are rental car agencies at the airport and in town, and you're best off getting one for any excursion into the Yucatán. Drive on the right.

Cancún's public bus system is very dependable and a great way to get between Ciudad Cancún and the beaches of Isla Cancún. Playa Express runs shuttle buses to destinations within the Yucatán, including Chichén Itzá and Tulum.

Puerto Juárez, the port for passenger ferries to Isla Mujeres, is about 4km (2mi) north of Cancún's city center. Express boats leave every 30 minutes during the day for the 25-minutes journey to Isla Mujeres. Slower open boats, which are less expensive, leave every hour during the day and take 45 minutes to make the trip.

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