A mix of pure indulgence and some of the world’s most fascinating heritage, Cancun is a renowned holiday destination where versatility and great year-round weather guarantee visitors with the best getaway.
Welcoming over 3.3 million tourists every year, the city was once home to a peaceful plantation guarded by no more than three individuals - far from the vibrant and busy prime location it is now internationally known as.
The location was spotted as an ideal site by the Mexican Government who, in the 1970s, focused their attention on the tourism industry in an effort to revive the country’s economy. Years of planning and development led to the creation of the ultimate holiday destination, one specifically designed with tourists in mind, providing every single element of a perfectly relaxing getaway.
Postcard-like coastline, state-of-the-art shopping villages and golf courses, world-class bars and restaurants, and luxurious wellness centres, all contribute to making Cancun such a success among travelers all around the world.
But beyond the glitz and the glamour, other crucial elements make of the city a destination like no other, providing visitors with unequalled culture and breathtaking nature. For before being home to a plantation, Cancun was at the heart of the magnificent Mayan civilisation that dominated the area for thousands of years, leaving behind a multitude of fascinating sites whose temples and pyramids continue to amaze by their grandeur.
Nature lovers will also be captivated by the exceptional beauty of the local cenotes, freshwater-filled sinkholes featuring million-years old limestone formations in mirroring turquoise waters, where fish and turtles glide peacefully. Believed by the Mayan to be the gates to the Underworld, the cenotes are the result of collapsed caves that are intricately connected by narrow tunnels, creating an underground network that spans across the whole region, and that attracts divers from all around the world.
Famous for being one of the most prestigious and prolific civilisations of all time, the Mayan empire was mostly found on the eastern end of the Mesoamerica and specifically within the Yucatan Peninsula, where Cancun is located.
Dramatic consequences of the Conquest, in the shape of disease, warfare, piracy and famines led the once glorious Mayan population to die off, reducing it to small communities on Isla Mujeres and Cozumel Island.
Nowadays, over 3000 years worth of majestic architecture, intricate art, complex mathematical and astronomical knowledge can still be witnessed throughout the region, in the breathtaking vestiges of this once pioneering civilisation. Besides via its architectural remains, the Mayan heritage lives on through the 500 languages spoken by the descendants that still populate the area now referred to as Mundo Maya, perpetuating a culture that fascinates and mesmerises visitors from around the world.
The Mayan religion counted one Mayan god for each of the thirteen heavens, as well as for each of the nine underworlds, with the most important ones being Ah Puch (God of Death), Chaac (God of Rain and Thunder), and Ixchel (Jaguar Goddess of midwifery and medicine).
Each god was associated with a natural element (time, numbers, planets, stars, crops, etc.), with their mood being traced by the Mayan calendar and the position of the sun.
Mayan Calendar [Mayan-Calendar.jpg]
Although the very first Mesoamerican calendar was created before Mayan times, the precisions and information they added to the original calendar made it - alongside the Aztec calendar - the most comprehensible and detailed of all Mesoamerican calendars, with Mayan scripture being also regarded as the pre-Columbian Americas’ only complete written language.
Tree of Life
Regarded as a connection between the Earth, the heavens and the underworld, this strong Mayan symbol was represented as a fifth direction on the mayan compass, in the shape of a blue-green ceiba tree located at the middle of the white (North), red (East), yellow (South), and black (West).
Originally named Nizuc (“point of grass”) by its Mayan inhabitants, it is not until the 18th century that the name Cancún appeared on a map. Although it is unsure whether the name is of Mayan origins, the Mayan pronunciation “kaan kun” could be translated to “Throne of the Snake”, or “Place of the Gold Snake”, easily fitting with the predominance of snake representations at Nizuc’s pre-Columbian site.
In 1967, the Mexican Government spotted an opportunity to boost the country’s economy by investing in tourism and, after a careful study of the territory’s various idyllic spots, Cancun was chosen to be developed as a major tourist destination.
In January 1970, when plans of developing the area into the ultimate tourist-destination began, Isla Cancun counted three residents, the three caretakers of the Don José de Jesús Lima Gutiérrez coconut plantation, with another 117 people living in nearby fishing village and military base Puerto Juarez.
Struggling to convince investors of the potential success of the development plan, the Government ended up funding the nine first hotels of a plan that would forever transform this unknown fishing village surrounded by thick forest into Mexico’s top tourism destination, granting it awards from the World Tourism Organisation along the way.
Although it escaped the bloody consequences of the illegal drug trade that marked the rest of Mexico in the 21st century, Cancun is still known for being a place for money-laundering and casual drug sales to tourists - the area having been under the influence of the Juárez and Gulf drug cartels between the 1990s and early 2000s.
Despite being a modern purpose-built tourist destination, Cancun was originally part of the ancient Mayan civilisation and is still regarded as the gateway to what the locals refer to as El Mundo Maya - the Mayan World.
Once a small fishing village of just 12 families, it is now regarded as one of the Caribbean’s and the World’s best place to go relax, due to its unique offering of stunning coastline, mysterious heritage, state-of-the-art facilities, and great day-round activities and entertainment. Nowadays, most of Cancun’s inhabitants are from the Yucatan, other Mexican states, but also increasingly from Europe and America.
Regardless of its sudden and monumental development, Cancun has managed to retain some of its natural beauty, one that can be found in its colourful flora and tropical fauna, alongside the thousands-year old vestiges of the prestigious Mayan civilisation.