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Cancún is the most famous seaside resort of Mexico on the Yucatan channel that separates the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The city has grown considerably in recent years, thanks to tourism. The beaches near Cancún are also called the 'Maya Rivièra', a reference to the ancient civilization of Central America.
The center of the town (El Centro) is located on the mainland, but most tourists reside on the so-called hotel zone (Zona Hotelera) on a small island with the sea on one side and a lagoon on the other. Don't expect ancient buildings in the center by the way: Cancún was built in the seventies, exclusively for tourism. You can eat a lot cheaper (and more authentique) in the cantinas in the center, compared to the hotel zone. For a lot of tourists Cancún means sun, sea and beach and an abundant nightlife in the discotheques and nightclubs. But there is more to do and see in and around Cancún.
In April, there are many cultural events with singing and dancing to celebrate the founding of Cancún. Every Wednesday bullfights are being held in the Plaza de Toros in the center of the city.
Located to the northwest of Cancún is the nature reserve Rio Lagartos with an enormous population of flamingoes (an estimated 45,000 birds). A trip through the mangroves is a real experience. Apart from the flamingoes many other animals live here, including turtles who lay their eggs on the beach. You can get to this national park with a rental car by driving west from Cancún and then turning north at Tizimín.
If you don't turn north but continue to the west, you end up at the ruins of Chichén Itzá, one of the most important Maya cities. Here you can find the famous Pyramid of Kukulcán. This step pyramid is also referred to as El Castillo and is known for a phenomenon that occurs twice a year, in the spring and the fall. The shadow falls on the stairs in a way that they look like crawling snakes. Chichén Itzá is not far from the edge of a crater formed by a meteorite impact which likely put an end to the dinosaurs. There is not much left to see of that crater, by the way.
If you follow the coastal road to the south west you'll end up at the ruins of Tulum. On the way there, stop at Actun Chen, a jagged cave formed by an underground river. Around that cave is a jungle where many animals live, including spider monkeys and green iguanas. Tulum was a walled city on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Several ruins of temples can be admired here. Also, there is a structure that served as a lighthouse.
Isla Mujeres is situated 10 kilometers from Cancún. This island has three beautiful beaches, including the popular Playa de los Cocos on the north side. You can also dive at this island at the coral reefs Banderas, Cuervones and Manchones. The waters near Cancún are famous for its clarity and diverse marine life. Famous is the Cave of the Sleeping Sharks. There are mainly Nurse Sharks resting in this cave. Another popular diving spot is Cozumel, an island about 60 kilometers south of Cancún.
Nearly 40 kilometers from Cancún lies the beautiful Tres Rios. A subtropical jungle with mangrove forests and underground rivers that surface here and there. You can walk or cycle here, but you can take kayak tours too. And you can make a horseback ride on the beach.
Cancún is a modern city with an orderly street pattern and thus it is not difficult to find a parking space for your rental car. The hotel zone is very crowded, but most hotels will have parking spaces available. Never park near a sign with a red line through a black 'E'. This means you can not park here.
Aeropuerto Internacional de Cancún is located 22 kilometers southwest of the city center. The airport is easily accessible by rental car. From Cancún follow the highway (Carretera Federal 307) towards Chetumal. After 22 kilometers the exit to the airport is clearly signposted. The main road from the hotel zone (Boulevard Kukulcán) also runs to the airport. The southernmost hotels are situated only 10 kilometers from the airport.