Cancun is a very young city. Located in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean Sea, Cancun did not exist forty years ago. It was built by developers who thought that Mexico could use an East Coast version of its popular Pacific resort cities such as Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas.
Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat. Cancun is a very safe city. It has not been affected one iota by the drug war violence that has plagued some far off Mexican border towns as Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana. The bad news about the violence though has affected the occupancy rates of Cancun’s hotels and that means great bargains can be had in this tropical hotspot even in the midst of this harsh winter.
Where you stay is always crucial on a vacation but it is key in a foreign country. The JW Marriott, located in the rather quiet center of Kukulcan Boulevard, (Cancun’s answer to Las Vegas Blvd, also known as “The Strip,” and Miami Beach’s Collins Avenue), has beautiful landscaped grounds, a full-range spa, the terrific Sedona Grill restaurant which offers a breakfast buffet that will fill you up for the whole day until dinner when you can enjoy its Southwest US/Sonora Desert-inspired menu, and a very helpful staff. Other lodging options are the Ritz-Carlton (which also has a terrific breakfast buffet), and the Hyatt Regency that is located in the more touristy, Times Square-like, Playa Caracol section of Cancun.
MTA executives could learn a thing or two from visiting Cancun. The city’s mass transit system is superb as buses seemingly run every two minutes day and night and the fare is a mere 8.5 pesos (approximately 68 cents). You can take the R-1 or R-2 buses into downtown Cancun to visit the city’s famed Mercado 28 where price haggling over cigars, tequila, and leather goods is the name of the game. Nearby to Mercado 28 is the city’s main plaza, Las Palapas, where you can watch dance troupes practice their choreography, as well as several good and reasonably priced restaurants as El Tacolote and La Parilla. If you want to get an idea of how the residents live, and perhaps get some inside information, stop by Cancun’s largest supermarket, Chedraui.
There are many places around Cancun to observe marine life but my favorite was the Interactive Aquarium right in the heart of Cancun’s Hotel Zone in the upscale La Isla Shopping Plaza. You can swim with dolphins and even pet a Norse shark. The aquarium is home to all sorts of Caribbean water life including some of the largest tortoises in the world.
The Yucatan Peninsula was home to the great Mayan civilization. While the ruins of Chichen Itza, where the famous pyramids and basketball courts are found, are 2 1/2 hours away from Cancun and therefore require an all-day trip, there is an excavation site in the Hotel Zone called El Rey where you can find fairly intact remnants of Mayan temples and homes.
Isla Mujeres is an island just off of the Cancun coast that has some pretty beaches and numerous small shops. It is worth the $15 round trip just to enjoy the rapid boat ride that takes you from the mainland to the island. Think of it as Cancun’s answer to Fire Island.
Nightlife is plentiful here. The city just got a touch of 1960s American glamor as the Playboy Club Casino, complete with Bunny cocktail waitresses, recently opened. Coco Bongo, located in the heart of Playa Caracol, has a Vegas/Atlantic City-style “legends” show.
Depending on the season, you can see professional baseball and soccer in Cancun. Bullfighting, which I do find to be barbaric, is also popular here.
JetBlue offers two daily flights between JFK and Cancun and the approximate time in the air is 3 hours. In addition to its free Direct TV channels and Sirius XM radio options, JetBlue also offers complimentary movies on its international flights.
Another advantage of flying JetBlue is its triangle fare options. JetBlue has service between Cancun and Fort Lauderdale and to Orlando as well so it is easy to add an extra vacation leg to your trip. Orlando has all of those great theme parks as Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World and Discovery Cove as well as incredible outlet shopping and a revitalized downtown.
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