Cancun is well known as a spring break location for partying students from all over the world; however this party capital has a whole lot more to offer as well as great clubs, free flowing beer and bikini clad teens partying the night away. Cancun is located in an area of Mexico known as the Yucatan peninsula and is full of historic sites, ancient history and some amazing natural sights.
Where exactly is Cancun?
You probably know that Cancun is in Mexico, that’s an easy one. However it is a lot further south than many people would think, and not an easy drive over the southern border of the US like some other Mexican cities. Cancun is in the south east of Mexico, in the state of Quinto Roo and has a coast on the Caribbean Sea which explain the beautiful beaches and crystal clear water that draw visitors year round. A little further along the coast is the Riviera Maya, which is a luxurious resort and getaway for those that want a quieter holiday than the sometimes rowdy experience of Cancun itself.
When is the best time to visit, weather wise?
The most popular time to visit Cancun is when the weather is at its best, namely between December and April each year, as the summer can be extremely hot and humid. The climate is tropical, and the Caribbean Sea is bathwater warm year round, with the main hotel zone benefiting from a cooler breeze which provides relief from the worst of the mid day heat; this is because it is located on a peninsular jutting out into the sea.
So, where does all the history come from?
Cancun and the surrounding area was home to many Mayans, which can be traced back as far as 1800 BC. These people called the area Nizuc, which means ‘point of grass’ or ‘promontory’, very apt for the location of the city. The name Cancun is thought to translate as ‘place os the gold snakes’ or nest of snakes’ in the Mayan language.
There are plenty of historical sites to see, with the amazing and eerie ruins of Chichin Itza and Tulum accessible by tour bus or rental car a few hours from Cancun, both are well worth a visit. For those wanting to stick nearer to the town there are ruins at the Sheraton hotel complex known as ‘El Rey’ that date back to between 1200 and 1500. The name means The King, and they are so called because a skeleton discovered during excavations is thought to be that of a Mayan king. The highest point in Cancun, Yanil Lu’um, is also near to the Sheraton, and is the site of two temples which are believed to have been used as watchtowers around 600 years ago. With all of this history right on the door step it would be a great shame not to put down your beer for a while and stroll through some of the ancient ruins, left behind by the great Mayan civilization.
What else does Cancun have to offer?
There is a whole load of things to see and do in the area, it’s unlikely that you’ll get a chance to see them all, but try and squeeze a few of these in…
Park de las Palapas
This is a downtown park with plenty of palm trees to offer relief from the sun, and a stage to watch the local shows. As dusk arrives the lights provide a romantic place to stroll in the balmy evening, and the food court offers local fare from merchants. This is a good location to experience a bit of the local culture and food, or just have a romantic and chilled out evening.
Visit the shops
Shopping probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Cancun, but it is possible to get a good bargain at the local markets where haggling is alive and well. Market 28 is the best bet for tourists, or try Market 23 if you are looking for a more local authentic experience. The hotel zone has a mall as well which is home to designer boutiques and big brand stores for those that are looking or the familiar labels.
This seems like an obvious thing to do in Cancun, and the beaches are absolutely gorgeous; white sand and sparkling water. They really are picture perfect, and you’ll find you can sit on the sand and soak up the view for hours, just make sure you slap on plenty of high factor sun lotion. Some of the beaches have some awesome waves as well, and weaker swimmers will want to take care and stay in the shallows, the sea may look beautiful but it can be very dangerous for the inexperienced. Families or those that only get to the sea in the holidays may want to try out the calmer waters off some of the islands such as Isla Mujeres, where swimming is safer and you can relax and enjoy the balmy waters.
There is so much wildlife to see in the areas around Cancun, and Xcaret is one of the best places to see the local flora and fauna. This ecological park is about an hour south of Cancun, and has loads of wildlife with a little bit of Mayan history thrown in as well. You can snorkel through the cool blueness of the underground rivers, stroll amongst the butterflies at the butterfly pavilion or take a trip round Jaguar Island before taking a dip with the dolphins, though this will cost a little extra.
The sea around Cancun offers plenty of opportunities as well, take a trip out to snorkel on the second largest barrier reef in the world, which is home to turtles, local fish and even manta rays and whale sharks if you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Diving around the regions is also very popular.
If you’re feeling a bit stressed out after all the sightseeing, snorkeling and shopping then there are a whole load of spa resorts in Cancun that are guaranteed to loosen up your tense muscles. Many of the treatments available incorporate Mayan healing rituals so you’ll be able to find something a little different from your local spa at home. Why not enjoy a pampering session overlooking the sparkling Caribbean to really rub away all your worries and cares.
Transport in Cancun
The main airport is most likely to be where you arrive for a stay in Cancun, and it is really near to the hotel zone, just about 6 miles away. If you want to make life easy for yourself when you land, then book a car service in advance, that way there will be someone meeting you at arrivals and your fare is already paid which simplifies the whole process. It is fairly easy to get a taxi on arrival, you can prepay at a kiosk, make sure you only use an authorized taxi, the standard city taxis are not allowed to pick up at the airport and you should, of course, never get into an unmarked car however cheap the price.
There may be many people at the arrivals hall trying to sell you a timeshare or other services, avoid getting into conversation even if you are interested as this will just result in a very lengthy sales pitch when all you want to do is get to your hotel. You can always look into a timeshare through more official channels at a later date. Similarly do not accept any offers from people to help with your bags; this is likely to be costly. Busses run from the airport to the hotel zone if you are on a strict budget, and the hotel may offer a shuttle service, check this before you fly.
Once you are settled into your hotel, getting around Cancun is pretty simple. The bus runs up and down the main hotel strip regularly, and the city layout is really easy to understand. Many of the bus drivers speak good English as well so can help you if needed, however the busses do not have air conditioning and can get pretty full, so opt for a taxi if you don’t like the heat, and watch out for pickpockets on the more crowded routes.
Taxis are readily available, but always make sure you agree a price in advance and stick to it. Be very clear, especially if you have multiple drop offs as the taxi driver may count each stop and start as a new journey and try and charge you more. It is also common for other passengers to get picked up, so don’t worry if this happens. Only get into clearly marked official taxis, never accept a lift from an unmarked car.
Many hotels have courtesy buses that will take you downtown, or to a different beach or the airport, so ask your concierge what is included in your room and how to get a shuttle bus if it’s available. There may also be tours to sites such as the ecological park and Tulum or Chichen Itza, just be aware that hotel tours may be more expensive than locally run ones so shop around.
There are ferries available to take you across to Isla Mujeres and other islands which make a good day out.
If you choose to drive yourself then be very careful, the local police may choose to pull you over for the slightest reason, and often expect to be paid off in order to waive a charge and let you go with a warning. It is probably not worth the potential hassle associated with renting a car unless you have very good reason to.
There is a whole lot more to Cancun than just a party destination for students; the history alone is enough to tempt many visitors. The sandy white beaches and spas are a great way to unwind, and the abundance of nature is truly wonderful. So even if you are a little past partying till the sun comes up don’t be too quick to dismiss Cancun; it has a wide range of experiences and sights to offer.