The Spot for Sun, Sand and Surf Cancún’s pristine, white-sand beaches are as soft as baby powder. The Caribbean shimmers in a seemingly impossible shade of turquoise, and constant sea breezes temper the tropical heat. Afternoon siestas are best spent in a hammock under a coconut palm, while balmy nights draw raucous crowds to open-air bars and nightclubs on a neon-lit Boulevard Kukulcán.
At first glance, it seems as if Cancún was specifically designed with vacationers in mind. Perhaps that’s because it’s true.
A group of Mexican government analysts identified the area now known as Cancún as a prime spot for tourism development in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Eager developers soon built high-rise condominiums, luxury resorts, a golf course and other amenities on tracts of land where mangroves and marshes once stood.
Cancún today is a leisure destination for families, honeymooners, spring breakers and adventurers, welcoming more than 4 million tourists each year. Its prime location—at the northeastern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula—gives travelers a taste of both the Caribbean and Mexico, along with plenty of familiar comforts for American travelers. The English language is commonplace, although Spanish might be spoken first. Dollars are routinely accepted, and stateside franchises like Starbucks are fairly easy to find.
Most visitors are content to spend their time on Cancún Island (Isla Cancún), commonly known as the Hotel Zone (Zona Hotelera). An elbow-shaped sandbar more than 14 miles long but just a quarter-mile wide, the Hotel Zone is a mix of upscale hotels, all-inclusive resorts, popular nightspots, trendy shopping areas and bustling souvenir markets. It’s also one of the most fun places to go to enjoy Cancún’s legendary sun, sand and surf.
Some of Cancún’s most famous beaches are along the Hotel Zone’s Caribbean side, where the soft sand and views of aquamarine water can’t be beat. Beaches like Playa Delfines and Playa Chac-Mool attract sunbathers and surfers, but swimming is often dangerous due to rough waves and riptides. For calmer waters, head to beaches along Mujeres Bay at the Hotel Zone’s northern end, where conditions are perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
Looking for Cancún’s wild spring break party scene? In March and April the Hotel Zone’s bars and nightclubs draw partygoers of all ages until the wee hours of the morning. But don’t expect your typical nightclub experience here. Vegas-style shows with aerial acrobatics, laser displays and pulse-pumping DJs are the norm, and staying out until sunrise is encouraged.
To experience Cancún like a local, though, consider straying from the tourist-centric Hotel Zone. Across the Boulevard Kukulcán causeway and on the mainland is Ciudad Cancún, or “El Centro,” the city’s original downtown. Open-air craft markets and hole-in-the-wall cantinas offer visitors a more authentic Mexican experience, and prices are cheaper to boot. Day trip excursions from Cancún promise even more adventures, with Mayan ruins, offshore islands, natural parks, coral reefs and freshwater sinkholes (cenotes) just a short bus or boat ride away.
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.
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7 meters (23 feet)
To contact the local police, dial 911.
Most major local hotels have their own in-house or on-call doctor. A list of physicians can also be obtained from the U.S. Consular Agency, in the Torre la Europea building, Boulevard Kukulcán Km marker 13; phone (999) 316-7168 in Mexico or (844) 528-6611 in the U.S. Local clinics do not accept U.S. health insurance, often charge fees well above U.S. rates and have been known to charge for services not rendered. The Red Cross (Cruz Roja) is in Ciudad Cancún on Avenida Yaxchilán, between avenidas Xcaret and Labná. It is open 24 hours; phone (998) 884-1616. In an emergency, dial 911 and request an English-speaking operator.
The Miami Herald and USA Today are available in the bigger local hotels.
Cancún Tips magazine has easy-to-read maps and information about local restaurants, shopping, entertainment and other things to do in Cancún. Pick up free tourist-oriented brochures at the airport, hotel lobbies, shopping centers and sidewalk booths.
Casas de cambio (currency exchange houses) and banks are along Avenida Tulum in downtown Ciudad Cancún. Most banks are open Mon.-Fri. 9-5; currency exchange normally is confined to the morning hours. Currency exchange houses also are at the airport and in the Hotel Zone shopping areas around Cancún Point.
Crime directed at tourists is not prevalent, but do use common sense. Keep jewelry and other valuables in the hotel safe, or don't bring them at all. Guard against petty theft or purse-snatching incidents in crowded public places or when using public transportation. If leaving a vehicle in Hotel Zone shopping areas, don't invite a break-in by leaving valuables in plain view.