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Cancun, Mexico Travel Guide
Last Updated: Nov-08-2011, Hits: 8,482, Rating: 2, Reviews: 1, Votes: 1 Bookmark and Share
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Cancun, Mexico Travel Guide Hotels and Lodging (75)
Restaurants (53)
Bars and Nightlife (30)
Attractions (21)
Services (15)
Maps (4)
Links (5)
Additional Articles (7)
Yucatan Peninsula Travel Forum (0)
Isla Mujeres, Mexico Travel Guide
Location: Mexico & Central America
Geography: Beach
Vacation Type: Family, Romantic, Relaxation, Adventure, Cosmopolitan
Popularity: Touristy
Costs: Moderate
Attractions: Golfing, Nightlife, Scenery, Cultural Attractions, Ecotourism, Fishing, Shopping, Scuba & Snorkeling, Spa & Wellness

Facts and Stats:
Population - 705,873
Government - Federal Republic
Telephone Area Code: 998
Country dialing code: 52
Languages: Spanish
Electricity: 110v
Time Zone: Central Time - GMT -6
Current Time:

Cancun is located on the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo. Isla Cancun is a 22.5km island that has been bridged at both ends to the mainland (more about this in the history section). Isla Cancun is the central tourist area where the resorts line the beach along the Caribbean Sea, while downtown, Cuidad de Cancun, is situated adjacent to the Northwest. Cancun is situated 87 miles from Chichen Itza, 70 miles from Tulum, 6 miles from Isla Mujeres by boat, and approximately 25 miles from the Island of Cozumel. In addition to Chichen Itza and Tulum, there are over 1,200 archaeological sites within a few hours drive.

Brief History:
The history of Cancun begins long before it ever existed. The Mayan civilization originated in the Yucatan Peninsula around 2600 B.C. and rose to prominence in around A.D. 250. The Mayans were a very advanced culture that developed their own calendar, astronomy, hieroglyphic writing, and even chocolate. In 1519, Spanish conquistadors set out to conquer the Maya. The Maya resisted but were defeated in 1546 and most of the civilizatons were abandoned. There are about 6 million Maya alive today and their history and culture is still widely seen and felt on the Yucatan Peninsula.

The Yucatan Peninsula was a forgotten jungle until 1902 when the state was named Quintana Roo. In 1967 the Mexican government, recognizing the importance of tourism to their economy, began searching for locations that could be developed for tourism. Isla Cancun, which was nothing but a sandbar island at the time, was selected as a prime location. The island was bridged at both ends and in 1974 the island (AKA Hotel Zone) was open for business. Ciudad de Cancun was created during the construction of the island as it was used as a settlement for the workers. By the 1980's there were about a dozen hotels, however, Cancun was still a fairly sleepy destination. In the 1990's interest exploded and it became one of the most popular Mexican destinations. This led to the construction of many more resorts leaving the island looking a lot like the Las Vegas strip.

Cancun is a place of opposites. The most notable example is the stark contrast between wealthy travelers living it up on the beach, while the local population living in Ciudad de Cancun struggles to make it. There is nothing Mexican about the hotel zone - virtually nothing at all. Everybody speaks English, the streets are lined with American staples such as Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut and The Gap, and if the beach weren't there, you would hardly feel like you were on vacation. In Cuidad de Cancun, the scene is very different with 60% of the population living in extreme poverty. This situation creates a dichotomy among the local people. Those who work in the Hotel Zone are very friendly and hospitable, while many of those without work resort to peddling wares, selling timeshares, drug dealing, scams, and other unwanted behaviors. The one thing that they all have in common is that they want your money and, unfortunately, this can be obvious to the point of extreme irritation.

As seems to be the case in most Mexican destinations, those who have jobs take unbelievable pride in their work, whether they are bartenders, wait staff, or hotel staff. They will do anything in their power to make your stay enjoyable and resolve any problems. They will not only care for you, they will often go out of their way to entertain you.

We only had limited contact with Mayans, but from what we could tell, they seem to be proud, artistic, resourceful, and quietly serene.

Note: Cancun is almost always a zoo, but it is an absolute nut house during spring break, and is littered with partying college students. If you are planning a family vacation or are a little older, this definitely is NOT the time to go.

The Hotel Zone offers a very wide range of cuisines, and of course, there is no shortage of restaurants that serve food typically found in the U.S.. Unless you get fast food, most of the options in the hotel zone are fairly expensive. Many of the hotels offer "all-inclusive" packages which include meals in their own restaurant at no extra charge. Less expensive options are available in Ciudad de Cancun and many of these places are very good and offer a better chance to taste the local cuisine. Worth noting here is a restaurant called La Habichuela, which offers fabulous food and incredible ambience. See the restaurant section of this guide for more information.

The water in Cancun comes from deep wells and is chlorinated. While it is safe to drink the water, differences in chemical content from your own country can cause diarrhea. You are best off drinking bottled water and avoiding any raw foods, particularly fruit without a peel. Ice in drinks is safe as they use purified water for this.

In the hotel zone, there is no shortage of ATMs which typically offer very good exchange rates. Nearly every place takes credit cards and U.S. dollars. The Mexican unit of currency is the Peso and overall, you will get the best deals if you use them. If you venture into "real Mexico" at all, it is a good idea to have some Pesos as well as more than one type of credit card as some places are finicky about which ones they will take. Note that there is a 15% sales tax.

Like hospitality workers in the U.S., workers in Cancun are payed a low hourly wage and rely on tips to survive. Tipping should range between 10-15% depending on service. Make sure that the tip isn't already included on your bill as is the case in some restaurants and all-inclusive hotel packages. It is unecessary to tip cab drivers as they will add it in for themselves. Most tour operators and guides will request a tip.

Cancun can be pretty expensive as it has been designed as an upscale resort destination. There are a couple of options you can choose if you wish to see Cancun on a budget which are listed below:
  • The first is to stay in Ciudad de Cancun. You won't be on the beach, but it will be much less expensive.
  • Stay in Isla Mujeres, an island a few miles off the coast of Cancun. This island is funky, quaint, relaxing and much less expensive.
  • Look for all-inclusive deals. If you can be self-disciplined enough to eat and drink at your hotel, you can save some money this way.
There are other things you can do to save money which are discussed in the other sections.

Getting Around:
Cancun International Airport (CUN) is a modern airport with all of the ammenities that you would expect. To get from the airport to the Hotel Zone, you can take a cab, airport shuttle, limo, or if you are on a budget, you can take the bus. Taxi rides from the airport run about $15 to most zones.

For most people, there is very little reason to get a car in Cancun. There is only 1 road that runs along the Hotel Zone and taxis and busses are very easy to find and use. Bus fare is 6.5 Pesos and cab fare should rarely exceed $15 within the hotel zone. The best way to get to downtown Cancun is by bus or taxi. Once there, the downtown is pretty walkable for most destinations.

If you wish to visit places such as Tulum, Chichen Itza, Xcaret, etc., most hotels offer tour packages. If you plan to venture outside the Cancun area, but do not wish to use tour services, then you will need to rent a car. Make sure that you rent from a well-known company or you may find yourself with a sub-par car, or worse, in the middle of a time-share scam.

To visit Isla Mujeres, ferries depart every 30 minutes from Puerto Juarez from 7:30 AM to 7:30 PM for about $4. There are several ferries that depart from the Hotel Zone, however, they are more expensive (up to $25) and leave less often. If you visit Isla Mujeres, make sure that you don't miss the last ferry or you will be spending the night there (which isn't a bad thing).

Entry Requirements:
United States citizens must have a valid passport, or other proof of citizenship, such as an original birth certificate accompanied by an official photo ID (e.g. driver's license). To avoid complications, the U.S. Embassy recommends using a passport. A visa is not required for stays of up to 180 days, however, you must carry a Tourist Card/FMT form issued free of charge by airlines. From 31 December 2006 all US citizens travelling to and from Mexico by sea or air will require a passport; by 31 December 2007 the requirement will be extended to include all land border crossings as well. Citizens of other countries, can learn more about the requirements for your country here.

The current conditions in Cancun, are shown below:

Hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. The table below shows the average highs, lows and number of days with rain.

Month Avg High Avg Low Rainy Days
January 81 67 5
February 82 68 4
March 84 71 3
April 85 73 2
May 88 77 4
June 89 78 6
July 90 77 4
August 90 77 4
September 89 76 7
October 87 74 8
November 84 72 5
December 82 69 6

Water temperatures range 80-82 degrees from April through November and 78-79 degrees from December through March.

  • If there are only 2 things that you do while in Cancun, take a trip to Chichen Itza and visit the island of Isla Mujeres.
  • Do not accept torn or damaged Pesos as nobody else will accept them from you. If you do get stuck with damaged money, exchange it when you get home.
  • Vendors are swarming in Cancun and can be very annoying. To avoid them, completely ignore them. If you acknowledge or talk to them, they will assume you are interested and they can be very aggressive. If you like all of the attention, just visit the Market 28 (flea market) in Ciudad de Cancun.
  • Watch out for scams! From the second you get off the plane people are going to be trying to get in your wallet. At the airport, there is a glass both with a person sitting in it. They will try to get you to go talk to them, and if you do, they will pretend like they are part of your travel package and assigned to take care of you. They will ask for some amount of money for some sort of special deal. Whatever you do, avoid the glass booth.
  • Make sure you establish a cost up front for cab rides. If they change the price dramatically on arrival, tell the cab driver that you are going to call the police and you are likely to get the quoted rate. They are more likely to try to take advantage of you if they think you are drunk.
  • If a taxi picks you up at your hotel, they may base their rates on how nice your hotel is. If you want to save a little money, walk to a less expensive hotel and catch a cab there.

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    User Reviews (1)

    Reviewed by: sloshed
    Review date: Mar-06-2009

    Cancun is a nightmare. Too touristy, way too many peddlers and grifters, too crowded, and too much like being in the US. In fact the only reason you would know that you weren't in the US is because of the peddlers and timeshare irritants. This is in no way real Mexico, nor can I condsider a visit here as travel. The best parts of our vacation were when we got the hell out of the Hotel Zone. Chichen Itza was awesome and Isla Mujeres is very cool. In fact, if we ever go back, that is where we will stay. If you want really good food, take a cab to La Habichuela in "real" Cancun. I just don't understand people who like paying good money for a vacation only to be on a crowded beach, hassled by peddlers, and walk the streets that are littered with every American company you can think of. How is that getting away from it all? In Cancun, you need to be vigilant because everybody there is trying to get into your wallet and they will lie and steal to do it. 

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