First, a Little History
Cancun is synonymous with partying and youthful celebrations. But it wasn’t always like that. The Mayans occupied this area until the 15th century – it is their word “Kan Kun”, or den of snakes, that gave the resort town its name. Those of us who don’t particularly enjoy the boozy spring breaker culture might agree.
Cancun as we know it actually made its debut in 1974. Before that, it was a sleepy fishing village, perfectly nestled at the edge of the Caribbean. The truth is, the original fishing village had it too good. With a push for tourism, falling costs of travel and the advent of colorful vacation magazines and brochures, it was only a matter of time before this beautiful peninsula got “discovered”.
It was the Mexican government that grasped Cancun’s amazing tourist potential and began construction on what became one of the world’s hottest tourist attractions. A new city was planned and developed. It included the “El Centro” where the locals could live their lives with schools and private homes and other normal establishments. Cancun Island, or the Hotel Zone, is like a custom built paradise for people seeking everything from all night partying to a romantic getaway.
Every year, over 5 million international tourists flock here to enjoy the turquoise seas, the party scene, and the breathtaking nature. Cancun is a great option for those travelers who are on a proverbial shoestring. There are great deals to be found here, and no one said that you need to party hard.
Here are only a few choices for those of us who love to explore new things, are nature and history lovers and can’t wait to experience everything Cancun has to offer:
Under the Sea
Diving, snorkeling, and free diving. What’s there to see beneath these picture-perfect turquoise waters? You’d be surprised.
If you haven’t dived before, you’re in for a treat. Some people come here and don’t do anything else. You can plan on getting your license here, in the many professional scuba shops. One of the main scuba attractions is the Musa Underwater Museum – an underwater sculpture park made to educate people about how a reef develops. It covers almost half a square kilometer.
If you aren’t in the mood to go diving, you can still see it if you book a cruise on a glass-bottom boat or snorkel. There are three distinct sculpture areas with different depths and rules.
If you want to see only natural reefs, you can see the second largest reef in the world. Yes, if you’ve heard of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, this one is only a little smaller. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef contains over 66 species of coral. It’s home to hundreds of species of fish and other marine life, like the amazing whale sharks.
Speaking of whale sharks, you can actually dive with these gentle giants while you’re in Cancun. Take a day trip on a diving boat or snorkel up close in a once in a lifetime experience. Other kinds of animals found here are manatees and many types of turtles.
Sometimes we just want to relax sail over the blue waters towards the horizon. If you’re looking for a great place to start a sailing excursion or a short cruise, Cancun is perfect.
First, you have to ask yourself “what kind of sailing trip” and “what kind of cruise”? The choices here are so rich, that you will be left confused if you’re without a plan.
There are boat tours in Cancun that will make you happy no matter what kind of traveler you are: you can go on a romantic dinner cruise with your significant other. If you’re looking for something more adventurous and especially if you have kids of the pillaging age, you can take them for a spectacular pirate cruise.
Captain Hook Cancun has what can only be described as modern Spanish Galleons – complete with delicious food, drinks, modern bathrooms, and lighting. Expect sword fights, music, yelling and dancing to ensue.
If you want to be closer to nature in a more serene setting, there are many tours that depart for the many of the area’s natural parks and lagoons. You will see mangroves, wildlife, and have a chance to swim with the dolphins. Many of these tours include any park entrance fees. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Ancient Ruins and Local Culture
If you love history and are fascinated by the mysterious Mayan culture, you are in the best place ever. You have a lot to choose from – El Rey, Tulum, Coba, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Ek Balam are all the ancient Mayan sites that can be explored from Cancun.
The Mayans are an ancient culture that came to this area around 5,000 years ago. The Yucatan is dotted by the remains of their cities, temples, and roads. The Mayans cultivated what is still considered staples of the Mexican kitchen – maize, beans, squash and chiles. Their cities are best described as metropolitan – huge, sprawling and very developed. The Mayan cities began to collapse probably because of severe environmental damage that overpopulation was causing to their environment – something we should be wary of.
The arrival of the Spanish found the Mayan empire largely collapsed – but there were some remote villages in Guatemala and Mexico where their culture, language, and traditions persisted for a long time after.
When on your trip to Cancun, be sure to take a look at the El Rey archeological site. If you are short on time, this site will be ideal as it is in the middle of the Hotel Zone. It’s not as large as the other sites, but it will definitely provide an incredible backdrop and give you some historical context to the place you are visiting. You’ll probably spot some lounging iguanas as well.
Another popular site is further away, but there are many tours that can take you there. Chchen Itza is famous for it’s “El Castillo”, or the Temple of Kukulcan – a distinctive Mayan pyramid that rises 30 meters above the plain.
Here in this amazing ancient city, you can truly see the greatness of the Mayan empire. It’s one of the biggest cities discovered, and one of the most important Mayan trading centers. It features many temples, artifacts, and the Great Ball Court.
Off the Beaten Path
See what I did here? I did it on purpose – I stayed out of all the clubs and party zones. Not that they’re bad. They’re some of the best clubs you can go to in the world. But there is already so much buzz about them, that I felt it was only fair to remind you of the other experiences Cancun has to offer. If you’re a backpacker and love nature, coming here might be a once in a lifetime experience.