Cancún is the municipal seat of the Benito Juárez municipality and a world-renowned balneario and tourist resort. The city center is located on the mainland which connects the Nichupté and lagoons to a narrow 7-shaped island where the modern beachfront hotels are located in the tourist centric hotel zone.
HistoryAs documented in the earliest colonial sources the island of Cancun was originally known to its Maya inhabitants as Nizuc (Yucatec Maya [niʔ suʔuk]) meaning either "promontory" or "point of grass". In the years after the Conquest, much of the population died off or left as a result of disease, warfare, piracy, and famines, leaving only small settlements on Isla Mujeres and Cozumel Island.
The name Cancún, Cancum or Cankun first appears on maps from the 18th century. The meaning of Cancún is unknown, and it is also unknown whether the name is of Maya origin. If it is of Maya origin, possible translations include "Place/Seat/Throne of the Snake" or "Enchanted Snake". Snake iconography was prevalent at the pre-Columbian site of Nizuc.
When development was started on Jan. 23, 1970, Isla Cancún had only three residents, caretakers of the coconut plantation of Don José de Jesús Lima Gutiérrez, who lived on Isla Mujeres, and there were only 117 people living in nearby Puerto Juarez, a fishing village and military base.
"Due to the reluctance of investors to bet on an unknown area, the Mexican government had to finance the first nine hotels." The first hotel financed was the Hyatt Cancun Caribe, but the first hotel actually built was the Playa Blanca, which later became a Blue Bay hotel, and is now Temptation Resort. At the time it was an elite destination, famous for its virgin white sand beaches.
Most 'Cancunenses' here are from Yucatán and other Mexican states. A growing number are from the rest of the Americas and Europe. The municipal authorities have struggled to provide public services for the constant influx of people, as well as to control squatters and irregular developments, which now occupy an estimated ten to fifteen percent of the mainland area on the fringes of the city.
In the 21st century, Cancún had largely avoided bloodshed associated with the trade of illegal drugs. However, Cancún is regarded as a popular transshipment point for Colombian cocaine and reportedly known for retail drug sales to tourists and as a center of money laundering. The links with Cancún date from the 1990s and early 2000s, when the area was controlled by the Juárez and Gulf drug cartels. In recent years Los Zetas, a group that broke away from the Gulf Cartel, has taken control of many smuggling routes through the Yucatán, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference was held in Cancun from November 29, 2010 to December 10, 2010.
Mayan archaeological sitesThere are some (non-relative) small Mayan vestiges of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization in Cancún. El Rey (Las Ruinas del Rey) is located in the Hotel Zone. El Meco, a more substantial site, is found on the mainland just outside the city limits on the road north to Punta Sam.
Close by in the Riviera Maya and the Grand Costa Maya, there are sites such as Cobá and Muyil (Riviera) the small Polé (now Xcaret), and Kohunlich, Kinichná, Dzibanché, Oxtankah, Tulum, and Chacchoben, in the south of the state. Chichén Itzá is in the neighboring state of Yucatán.
City layoutApart from the island tourist zone (actually part of the world's second-longest coral reef), the Mexican residential or "Mainland" section of the city, the downtown part of which is known as "El Centro," follows a master plan that consists of "supermanzanas" (superblocks), giant trapezoids with a central, open, non-residential area cut in by u-shaped residential streets. These open centers usually have walkways and 'sidewalks' around a central garden park, or soccer fields, or a library, etc. which make the mainland "Mexican" Cancun surprisingly bicycle-friendly. The residential roads of central or 'Mainland' Cancun, U-shaped and culs-de-sacs, insulate housing from the noise and congestion of the main flow of traffic. Mainland Cancun has a very appealing central market that resembles an outlet mall, colorful buildings on a pedestrian city block.
Ave. Tulum is the main north-south artery (connecting downtown to the airport, which is surrounded by Selva (low jungle) some 30 km (19 mi) to south) of El Centro. Tulum is bisected by Ave. Cobá. East of Ave. Tulum, Cobá becomes Ave. Kukulcan which serves as the primary road that runs through the long 7-shaped hotel zone. Ave. Tulum is terminated on the north side by Ave. Paseo José López Portillo which connects to the main highway west to Chichén Itzá and Mérida. Another major north-south road is Ave. Bonampak which runs roughly parallel to Ave. Tulum. The main ferry to Isla Mujeres is located in Puerto Juarez on Ave. Paseo José López Portillo.
The original master plan was repeatedly modified, and on the mainland, often ignored. To save on the cost of installing sewer systems and other public services, the design of much of the rest of the city reverted to the grid plan after Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. The newest upper-middle-class residential areas reflect the original plan, but are much less intimate. Less expensive developments are composed almost entirely of identical one- or two-story small row-houses, sometimes built around interior plazas or 4 story apartment blocks. Until the last few years of intense hi-rise Condomiunium development, particularly concentrated along Ave. Bonampak, almost all buildings on the mainland were below four stories high.
Cancun's Mainland or Downtown now has suffered many changes from the ideal plan, it now has a whole non congruential growth, compared to the original masterplan, but there has been a constant development of both upper-class areas all along the City, special on the limits of Downtown area, where you can find different living developments, some in Boulevard Donaldo Colosio and some other growing to the undeveloped beach and lagoon front areas outside the Cancun's Hotel Zone, all along the Bonampak avenue mainly. It extends from Puerto Cancun to the Malecon Cancun area, which have set new standards on the city for growing up into higher buildings on exclusive residential on the outskirts of the city. On the contrary there has also been a rise on Social Interest Developments with lower standards that have contributed to the extension of the mainland further into Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, hence has promoted the Municipality growth in the Country.
On the opposite side of the island from the Caribbean Sea is the Nichupté Lagoon, which is used for boating excursions and jet-ski jungle tours.Cancún is also the gateway to the Riviera Maya, another tourist pull in the area, where people go attracted by the numerous archaeological sites, as Cobá and Tulum, the many cenotes, charming towns as Playa del Carmen and theme parks such as Xcaret Eco Park, Xel-Ha and Xplor.
English Sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor has created a monumental underwater art museum in the National Marine Park of Cancun. The Museo Subacuatico de Arte (MUSA), the Cancun underwater museum, will consist of more than 400 life-sized sculptures creating artificial reefs for marine life to colonise and inhabit. The works are located in clear shallow waters and visible to divers, snorkelers and visitors in glass-bottomed boats.
For nightlife, places like Coco Bongo, Señor Frog's, Rainforest Café and the Hard Rock are a must!
TransportationCancún is served by Cancún International Airport with an added main runaway to commence operation as of October 2010. It has many flights to North America, Central America, South America, Asia, and Europe. It is located on the northeast of the Yucatan Peninsula serving an average of more than ten million passengers per year. The airport is located around 12 miles from the hotel zone, approximately 20 minutes trip by car. There is also a public transit bus system, servicing the hotel zone. The island of Isla Mujeres is located off the coast and is accessible by boat from Puerto Juárez.
ClimateCancún has a tropical climate, specifically a tropical wet and dry climate (Köppen Aw), with little temperature differences between seasons, but pronounced rainy seasons. The city is warm year-round, and moderated by onshore trade winds, with an annual mean temperature of 27.1 °C (80.8 °F). Unlike inland areas of the Yucatán Peninsula, sea breezes restrict high temperatures from reaching 35 °C (95 °F) on most afternoons. Annual rainfall is around 1,340 millimetres (52.8 in), falling on 115 days per year. More temperate conditions occur from November to February with occasional refreshing northerly breezes, it is drier and becomes hotter in March and April. It is hottest from May to September, due to proximity to the Caribbean and Gulf humidity is high the year round, especially so during hurricane season (averages close to 70% on rainfree days). The hotel zone juts into the Caribbean Sea, it is surrounded by ocean therefore daytime temperatures are around 1-2C less and windspeeds are higher than at the airport located some distance inland, which is the official meteorological station for Cancun.
The tropical storm season lasts from May to December, the rainy season extends into January with peak precipitation in September. February to early May tend to be drier with only occasional scattered showers. Cancún is located in one of the main Caribbean hurricane impact areas. Although large hurricanes are rare, they have struck near to Cancún in recent years, Hurricane Wilma in 2005 being the largest. Hurricane Gilbert made a devastating direct hit on Cancún in September 1988 and the tourist hotels needed to be rebuilt. In both cases, federal, state and municipal authorities were well prepared to deal with most of the effects on tourists and local residents.
Hurricane Dean in 2007 also made its mark on the city of Cancún.
1988's Hurricane Gilbert was the second most intense hurricane ever observed in the Atlantic basin. It landed on the Yucatan peninsula after crossing over the island of Cozumel. In the Cancún region, a loss of $87 million (1989 USD) due to a decline in tourism was estimated for the months October, November and December in 1988.
On October 21, 2005, Hurricane Wilma made landfall on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula as a powerful Category 4 hurricane, with strong winds in excess of 150 mph (240 km/h). The hurricane's eye first passed over the island of Cozumel, and then made an official landfall near Playa del Carmen in the state of Quintana Roo at around midnight on October 22 EDT with winds near 140 mph (230 km/h). Portions of the island of Cozumel experienced the calm eye of Wilma for several hours with some blue skies and sunshine visible at times. The eye slowly drifted northward, with the center passing just to the west of Cancún, Quintana Roo.
To avoid having tourists wind up in uncomfortable situations in public shelters, authorities asked tourism operators to suspend sending tourists to Cancún when Hurricane Dean approached, and encouraged airlines to send empty planes, which were then used to evacuate tourists. In 2007, the eye of Hurricane Dean landed 190 miles (310 km) to the south of Cancún. Fierce winds at the outside of its impact cone stripped some of the sand off 7.5 miles (12.1 km) of beach from Punta Cancún (Camino Real Hotel) to Punta Nizuc (Club Med).
Although Cancún is better known as a travel and tourism destination, in recent years some colleges and universities have been offering higher education to both Mexican and foreign students.
The first higher education institution established in the area was the Instituto Tecnológico de Cancún. Other followed, including Universidad La Salle Cancún, Universidad Anáhuac Cancún, Universidad Tecnológica de Cancún, Universidad del Caribe, and more recently the Universidad Interamericana para el Desarrollo and the Tec Milenium.