Cancun is a tale of two cities, with the Zona Hotelera offering majestic Caribbean beaches and Maya culture and Cancún Centro providing the local flavour.
One look at Cancún’s aquamarine Caribbean waters and it makes perfect sense why planners back in the 1970s were so eager to develop the area as Mexico’s next big resort destination. With about 19km of powdery white-sand beaches in the Zona Hotelera and a quieter 15km stretch of coast north of downtown, Cancún is a beach bum’s haven. You’ll find some of the most swimmable waters on the Zona Hotelera’s north side, between Km 4 and Km 9, while north of Cancún Centro, Isla Blanca beckons with its long stretch of relatively undeveloped coastline.
When most people think of Cancún, a wild party town comes to mind. But rest assured that you can also soak up some Maya culture in between the fiestas. The Museo Maya de Cancún, a world-class museum with some 400 Maya artefacts on display, is a must-see and it’s adjoining San Miguelito archaeological site is well worth checking out as well. For a day of ruins-hopping, head about 2km south to El Rey, known for its small temple and several ceremonial platforms. Cancún’s Maya sites may not have the wow factor of say, a Chichén Itzá, but they provide intriguing historical context when paired with the museum visit.
From Yucatecan comfort food and atmospheric downtown taco joints to Michelin-starred haute cuisine in the Zona Hotelera, Cancún’s diverse culinary scene keeps your tummy thoroughly content. Classic Yucatecan menu items such as cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork with achiote and orange juice) and panuchos (bean-filled fried tortilla snacks) rank among Mexico’s most iconic dishes, while thatch-roofed restaurants serving high-quality fresh fish and seafood add yet another facet to the varied dining experience. A growing number of establishments specializing in contemporary Mexican cuisine draw on the Caribbean and indigenous Maya recipes to create innovative regional dishes.
Outdoorsy types and children will truly appreciate the activities on offer in Cancún. Great diving and snorkelling sites are nearby, including a famous underwater sculpture museum, and in addition to ocean dives, you can hook up tours to explore nearby cenotes (limestone sinkholes) and their fascinating underwater cave systems. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy a day trip from Cancún to Isla Contoy, an uninhabited island that provides great hiking, bird-watching and snorkelling opportunities. And, of course, there’s the beach, where water activities range from swimming and kayaking to kiteboarding.