10 Reasons to Visit Cancun, Mexico's Captivating, Close-by Vacation Magnet
Cancun is America's number-one foreign vacation destination.
Once known as a raucous go-to for spring-breakers and young partiers, Cancun has transformed itself into a luxury travel destination for beach-loving sophisticates.
Here, my 10 reasons to discover the new Cancun and start planning your getaway. If you go, I'm sure you'll come home with your own reasons to return.
Cancun Is No More than a Few Hours from Almost All of the U.S.
Cancun is an exotic tropical beach in the Yucatan Peninsula on the sleepy southern end of Mexico. Yet it is as close to the U.S. as the Caribbean.
Numerous airlines operate nonstops to Cancun. And Cancun International Airport is under a half-hour from most Cancun hotels. A Cancun getaway is so convenient, many visitors fly in for just the weekend.
Cancun Is One of the World's Great Natural Beaches
Cancun occupies a 14-mile-long, crescent-shaped peninsula that juts out into the Mexican Caribbean. A vast coral reef, the world's second-longest, parallels Cancun a half-mile into the water. It breaks the waves that have rolled softly onto Cancun's beach for eons, smoothing its white sands.
Caribbean tradewinds assure clear skies and a perpetual, gentle breeze. And nature has provided a natural fringe of palm trees. Add a constant water temperature exceeding 80º, and you have a surfside paradise.
Cancun hotels honor their beachfront gifts, keeping the sands clean and inviting. A social vibe enlivens certain stretches of the beach, so visitors can choose whether to schmooze or to snooze.
Travelers who want to explore Cancun's liquid blue expanse have their pick of waterborne activities: swimmming, surfing, snorkeling and scuba-diving the reef, jet-skiing, windsurfing, kayaking, fishing expeditions, and more. Cancun is a wet and wild world.
Yet Cancun Is More than a Beach
Cancun is a long sliver of seashore…yet a lot more. The destination known as Cancun takes in the northern part of the Riviera Maya region. Also in Cancun's orbit are two nearby islands: the tranquil Isla Mujeres and the even quieter Isla Holbox, which has no streets, just pathways in the sand.
When the sun sets on Cancun's beaches, the moon comes up on its vibrant nightlife. Cancun is a 24-hour playground of surf, sand, and city life.
Lodging in Luxury in Cancun
Today's Cancun is a mix of midscale, upscale, and elite hotels, from intimate to vast. Some Cancun hotels are American-owned; some are Spanish or Mexican-owned. Some hotels are all-inclusive, some a la carte; some are adults-only, and some are family-focused.
Which all means: you can find your perfect hotel in Cancun. These are the best, which have been rated with the uppermost AAA Five-Diamond Award:
- The elegant Ritz-Carlton Cancun, beloved by families and dapper couples
- Le Blanc Spa Resort, a glamorous, modern, all-inclusive hotel for tasteful adults, with an intimate, clubby feeling; a dazzling spa; a beautiful beach and three pools, and splendid restaurants, including Japanese and French-Mexican fusion
- JW Marriott Cancun, a large resort with a lovely, Mayan-inspired spa and a higher-end wing called Club 91
- Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita, a luscious all-inclusive, adults-only boutique resort with 90 richly decorated, all-oceanfront suites, a thalassotherapy spa and pool, excellent restaurants, and a menagerie of tropical birds
Cancun Is a Recipe for Distinctive Dining
Cancun has become a dining destination. Its delicious ingredients: Cancun's popularity and prosperity; Mexico's bumper crop of gifted young chefs; the wonderful flavors of Mexican cuisine; and the local cornucopia of fresh-caught Caribbean seafood and exotic local produce.
Many of Cancun's resorts are all-inclusive, with a variety of on-premises dining that the guest has already paid for. But for a stay of several nights or more, a visit to a happening Cancun restaurant (or another hotel's eatery) can be exciting and eye-opening. These are some of Cancun's most seductive dining experiences:
- The elegant Cocina de Autor, run by Argentinean chef Cristian Morales, with artfully cooked and gorgeously presented food in the chef's lovely, art-filled downtown Cancun casa
- Dinner that you help cook: kitchen classes at the Viking Culinary Center at the Ritz-Carlton Cancun. Here, charismatic Alabama-bred chef Rory Dunaway entertains eight lucky vacationers at a time with personal stories, cooking pointers, and simple yet perfect dishes; a Chef's Table meal sans lesson is also available. The hotel's Mediterranean restaurant, Fantino, and its steakhouse, The Club Grill, are two of Cancun's highest-rated eateries
Cancun Offers City Life to Complement Its Beach
Cancun is more than sand, surf, and sensational hotels. It is also a vibrant metropolis with a real downtown, actual sidewalks, and all the lures of a stylish resort town. Cancun visitors will find :
- Ample taxis to whisk you anywhere, at any hour
- Restaurants, cafés, malls, movie theaters (with American films)
- Terrific shopping at several locations: La Isla Shopping Village, which resembles a Venetian island; Kukulcan Palace and Luxury Avenue, right in the Hotel Zone; Plaza Caracol, with over 200 stores and fun eateries; Plaza las Americas with international shops like Zara and C&A plus Ultrafemme, a Cancun-born oasis for all things feminine
- Numerous crafts and souvenir markets featuring well-priced, handmade Mexican goods: leather accessories like cuff bracelets; silver jewelry from Taxco, and colorful Talavera ceramics and Saltillo blankets
Sea, Sand, & Sun Equals Peerless Vacation Fun
Cancun made its name as a vacation haunt for the young and the restless. Cancun's clientele is now decidedly more upscale. But they still like to be on the move. Cancun's many active diversions include:
- Thrilling snorkeling and scuba diving off Punta Cancun, where several branches of the Great Mayan Reef converge
- The unbelievable Underwater Museum, with over 400 sculptures by artist Jason deCaires Taylor; you can gawk at them while diving, snorkeling, or via a glass-bottomed boat tour
- Cancun's exceptional golf tempts aficionados with 18-hole championship courses designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Robert Trent Jones, Jr. Several more courses are under construction. All feature Cancun's unique backdrop of azure waters against vivid greens with real sandtraps
When Cancun's Sun Sets for the Day, Nightowls Come Out to Play
Cancun made its name as a party-hearty capital. While Cancun has gone way upscale, its nightlife is stll among the very best nocturnal scenes in Mexico.
Cancun's glamorous clubs attract globe-roving jetsetters and their world-famous deejays. And Cancun's more intimate lounges are ultra-sophisticated perches for lovebirds – or solo guests seeking mates.
- Cancun's live music venues furnish complete entertainment. Bulldog Cancun, for one, offers a total experience: great food and drink, various bands, bikini contests and male dancers, and more
- Performance-centered music clubs feature an eclectic menu of sounds, from girl-and-guitar to reggae to salsa to Cuban piano. Roots Jazz Club is a longtime go-to for live jazz and blues accompanied by light bites and a margarita menu
- And if Cancun makes you dance, you can club-hop and dance all night at exciting, high-tech clubs like Sweet and Mandala
Cancun's Festival Calendar Is Nonstop
Cancun has become a year-round international destination for festivals of all kinds. Amongst them:
- The instantly famous Cancun-Riviera Maya Food & Wine Festival, held over several days each March, has become a global lure for foodies and for celebrity chefs like Spain's Ferran Adria and the U.S.'s Ingrid Hoffman and Aaron Sanchez
- The Cancun Jazz Festival, held over the U.S.'s Memorial Day in late May, gathers top jazz cats from all over
- Day of the Dead, Mexico's answer to Halloween, invites Cancun visitors to participate in this indeed joyous cultural tradition, every November 1st and 2nd
Cancun Has More than Spas…Cancun Has Great Spas
The Cancun lifestyle celebrates the body beautiful and worships wellness. Spas take full advantage of Cancun's glorious Caribbean setting, offering beachfront services that combine indigenous ingredients with Mayan traditions like the temescal sweat experience. Some of Cancun's most alluring spas:
- The spa at Le Blanc Spa Resort, where "serenity" transcends the spa cliché, and becomes an enveloping presence
- The JW Marriott Cancun's spa resembles a Mayan pyramid, with native-accented treatments available infoors or outdoors in a thatched-roof palapa
- Live Aqua Cancun's water-everywhere spa, open well into the evening, is a place where Cancun's beautiful people recharge before a late Cancun night