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Location in Mexico
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Cancún (Mexico)
Coordinates: 21°09′38″N86°50′51″W / 21.16056°N 86.84750°W / 21.16056; -86.84750 Coordinates: 21°09′38″N86°50′51″W / 21.16056°N 86.84750°W / 21.16056; -86.84750
Country Flag of Mexico.svg  Mexico
State Flag of Quintana Roo.svg  Quintana Roo
Municipality Flag of Benito Juarez.svg Benito Juárez
FoundedApril 20, 1970
  MayorMara Lezama Espinosa (Morena)
  Total1,978.75 km2 (764.00 sq mi)
10 m (30 ft)
Highest elevation
10 m (30 ft)
Lowest elevation
0 m (0 ft)
 (2015 [1] )
  Density380/km2 (970/sq mi)
Demonym(s) Cancunense
Time zone UTC−5 (EST)
Postal code
Area code(s) 998
Federal Routes Carretera federal 180.svg Carretera federal 307.svg

Cancún ( /kænˈkn/ or /kɑːn-/ ; [2] Spanish pronunciation:  [kaŋˈkun] Loudspeaker.svg pronunciation  ) is a city in southeast Mexico on the northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It is a significant tourist destination in Mexico [3] and the seat of the municipality of Benito Juárez. The city is on the Caribbean Sea and is one of Mexico's easternmost points.

Mexico Country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometers (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fourth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 129 million people, Mexico is the tenth most populous country and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states plus Mexico City (CDMX), which is the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the country include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana, and León.

Yucatán Peninsula peninsula in North America

The Yucatán Peninsula, in southeastern Mexico, separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, with the northern coastline on the Yucatán Channel. The peninsula lies east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a northwestern geographic partition separating the region of Central America from the rest of North America. It is approximately 181,000 km2 (70,000 sq mi) in area, and is almost entirely composed of limestone.


Cancún is just north of Mexico's Caribbean coast resort band known as the Riviera Maya. In older English-language documents, the city’s name is sometimes spelled "Cancoon", an attempt to convey the sound of the name. [4]

Riviera Maya area just south of the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico

The Riviera Maya is a tourism and resort district south of Cancun, Mexico. It straddles the coastal Federal Highway 307, along the Caribbean coastline of the state of Quintana Roo, located in the eastern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula. Historically, this district started at the city of Playa del Carmen and ended at the village of Tulum, although the towns of Puerto Morelos, situated to the north of Playa del Carmen, as well as the town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, situated 40 kilometres (25 mi) to the south of Tulum, are both currently being promoted as part of the Riviera Maya tourist corridor.

Etymology and coat of arms

A fountain allusive to Benito Juarez's coat of arms, Coba and Nader Avenues FuenteFonatur.JPG
A fountain allusive to Benito Juárez's coat of arms, Cobá and Náder Avenues

There are two possible translations of Cancún, based on the Mayan pronunciation kaan kun. The first translation is "nest of snakes". The second version and less accepted is "place of the golden snake". [5]

The shield of the municipality of Benito Juárez, which represents the city of Cancún, was designed by the Mexican-American artist Joe Vera. [6] It is divided into three parts: the color blue symbolises the Caribbean Sea, the yellow the sand and the red the sun with its rays.

Joe Vera is a Mexican-American graphic designer, creator of some of the most recognized logos of the early 1970s in Mexico, such as the Emblem of Cancun in 1974 and the poster for the Avandaro Festival of 1971.


Historical population
1990 167,730    
1995 297,183+77.2%
2000 397,191+33.7%
2005 526,701+32.6%
2010 628,306+19.3%
sources: [7]

As documented in the earliest colonial sources, Cancún was originally known to its Maya inhabitants as Nizuc (Yucatec Maya [niʔ suʔuk]) meaning either "promontory" or "point of grass". [8] In the years after the Conquest, much of the Maya population died off or left as a result of disease, warfare, piracy, and famines, leaving only small settlements on Isla Mujeres and Cozumel Island.[ citation needed ]

Maya peoples People of southern Mexico and northern Central America

The Maya peoples are an ethnolinguistic group of indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. They inhabit southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. The overarching term "Maya" is a collective designation that includes the peoples of the region which share some degree of cultural and linguistic heritage; however, the term embraces many distinct populations, societies and ethnic groups that each have their own particular traditions, cultures and historical identity.

Isla Mujeres island of Quintana Roo, Mexico

Isla Mujeres (Spanish pronunciation: ['izla mu'xeɾes], Spanish for "Island of Women” is an island where the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea meet, about 13 kilometres off the Yucatán Peninsula coast. The island is approximately 7 kilometres long and 650 metres wide. To the east is the Caribbean Sea with a strong surf and rocky coast, and to the west the skyline of Cancún can be seen across the clear waters. In the 2010 census, the namesake town on the island had a population of 12,642 inhabitants.

The name Cancún, Cancum or Cankun first appears on 18th-century maps. [9] 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. [10]

Cancun Island aerial view, from the top of the Escenica Tower adding 80 meters of height. May 2008 Cancun001.JPG
Cancún Island aerial view, from the top of the Escénica Tower adding 80 meters of height. May 2008
Crowded beach at Cancun Island Cancun Strand Luftbild (22156904032).jpg
Crowded beach at Cancún Island
La Isla Shopping Village Lago artificial en el shopping La Isla (2).JPG
La Isla Shopping Village

When development of the area as a resort was started on January 23, 1970, Isla Cancún had only three residents, all caretakers of the coconut plantation of Don José de Jesús Lima Gutiérrez, who lived on Isla Mujeres. Some 117 people lived in nearby Puerto Juárez, a fishing village and military base. [11]

Due to the reluctance of investors to gamble on an unknown area, the Mexican federal government financed the first nine hotels. [11] The first financed hotel was a Hyatt, Cancún Caribe, but the first hotel built was the Playa Blanca, which later became a Blue Bay hotel. It is now named Temptation Resort. At the time it was an elite destination, famous for its virgin white sand beaches.

The city began as a tourism project in 1974 as an Integrally Planned Center, a pioneer of FONATUR (Fondo Nacional de Fomento al Turismo, National Fund for Tourism Development), formerly known as INFRATUR. Since then, it has undergone a comprehensive transformation from being a fisherman's island surrounded by virgin forest and undiscovered shores to being one of the two most well-known Mexican resorts, along with Acapulco. The World Tourism Organization (WTO), through its foundation UNWTO-Themis, awarded the Best of the Best award "for excellence and good governance" to the Trust for Tourism Promotion of Cancún on February 3, 2007. This award ensured Cancún the ongoing support of the Department of Education and Knowledge Management of the WTO.

Most 'Cancunenses' 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 limiting squatters and irregular developments, which now occupy an estimated ten to fifteen percent of the mainland area on the fringes of the city. [11]

In the 21st century, Cancún had largely avoided the bloodshed associated with the trade of illegal drugs, but is known for its retail drug sales to tourists as well as for being a center of money laundering. [12] 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. [13]

The 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference was held in Cancún from November 29 to December 10 of that year.

City layout

Town Hall Palaciomun08.jpg
Town Hall
Town Square Cancun-Central-Square.jpg
Town Square

Apart from the island tourist zone (part of the world's second-longest coral reef), the Mexican residential section of the city, the downtown part of which is known as "El Centro", follows a master plan that consists of "supermanzanas" [14] (superblocks), giant trapezoids with a central, open, non-residential area cut in by u-shaped residential streets.

Ave. Tulum is the main north-south artery, connecting downtown to the airport, which is some 30 km (19 mi) south of downtown. Tulum is bisected by Ave. Cobá. East of Ave. Tulum, Cobá becomes Ave. Kukulcan which serves as the primary road through the 7-shaped hotel zone. Ave. Tulum ends on the north side at 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 Juárez, on Ave. Paseo José López Portillo.

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. [ citation needed ] 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. [ citation needed ]Until recently, most mainland buildings were four stories or shorter; since 2005, there has been an influx of condominium and luxury retail and office space concentrated along Ave. Bonampak.

Cancún's mainland or downtown area has diverged from the original plan; development is scattered around the city. The remaining undeveloped beach and lagoon front areas outside the hotel zone are now under varying stages of development, in Punta Sam and Puerto Juarez to the north, continuing along Bonampak and south toward the airport along Boulevard Donaldo Colosio. One development abutting the hotel zone is Puerto Cancún; [15] also Malecon Cancún [16] is another large development.

Cancún Airport's old Control Tower Memorial

Despite being a young city, Cancún has a memorial monument of its foundation on a replica of the old Airport Control Tower that resembles to its own date of foundation. The original control tower was a provisional wooden structure to satisfy the operative needs of the recently created airport. Some documents of the city mention that in that time there were no other formal buildings constructed in the city, being possibly the first built structure of Cancún's recent history.

The old airport was located on the same part of the city that today corresponds to the Kabah Avenue. The tower is 15 meters tall, has a staircase of 45 steps, and has a base dimension of 5 × 5 meters. The memorial was first built in 2002, with the donations of Aerocaribe, a local airline, but the structure was damaged after Hurricane Wilma in 2005. After the claims of the local people asking to rebuild the tower memorial, a new version was built on 2010, which was later abandoned without proper maintenance until Woox Pinturas, another local wood maintenance company, made a donation to restore the structure to its original appearance. [17]

Maya archaeological sites

El Rey archaeological site CancunRuins2002.jpg
El Rey archaeological site

There are some 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. [ citation needed ]

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.


Cancún is served by the Cancún International Airport with an added main runway that commenced operation as of October 2009. It has many flights to North America, Central America, South America, and Europe. It is located on the northeast of the Yucatán Peninsula serving an average of about fifteen million passengers per year. The airport is located around 20 km (12 mi) from the hotel zone, approximately a 20 minute trip by car. [18] The island of Isla Mujeres is located off the coast and is accessible by ferry from Puerto Juárez and Playa Tortugas in the Hotel Zone.

Cancun International Airport Terminal 3 CUNterminal3.jpg
Cancun International Airport Terminal 3

Cancún is also served by three private bus lines that connect it to the downtown area and the "hotel zone" as well as more distant destinations such as Playa del Carmen and Tulum. [19]


Cancún has a tropical climate, specifically a tropical wet and dry climate (Köppen Aw ), with little difference between seasons, but pronounced rainy and dry seasons. The city is hot 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 36 °C (97 °F) on most afternoons. Annual rainfall is around 1,340 millimetres (52.8 in), falling on 115 days per year.

The rainy season runs from May through late October, when hot temperatures, high humidity, and quick, but intense summer thundershowers are common. The dry season normally begins in December and runs through April, when more temperate conditions occur as the northeast trade winds bring northerly breezes, sunshine, and relative humidity is lowest. 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 Cancún, averages as shown below. [20]

Thanks to the Yucatán current continually bringing warm water from further south, the sea temperature is always very warm, with lows of 79 °F (26 °C) in winter and highs of 84 °F (29 °C) in summer. [21]

Average Sea Temperature [23]
79 °F

26 °C

79 °F

26 °C

79 °F

26 °C

81 °F

27 °C

82 °F

28 °C

84 °F

29 °C

84 °F

29 °C

84 °F

29 °C

84 °F

29 °C

84 °F

29 °C

82 °F

28 °C

81 °F

27 °C

The tropical storm season lasts from May to December, the rainy season extends into January with peak precipitation in October. 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. [24] Hurricane Dean in 2007 also made its mark on the city of Cancún.

Hurricane Gilbert

1988's Hurricane Gilbert was the second most intense hurricane ever observed in the Atlantic basin. It landed on the Yucatán 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. [25]

Hurricane Wilma

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.

Hurricane Dean

Two years later after Hurricane Wilma, in 2007, Hurricane Dean made landfall as a Category 5 storm in Majahual, 190 miles (310 km) to the south of Cancún. Fierce winds at the edge of Dean's impact cone stripped sand off 7.5 miles (12.1 km) of beaches from Punta Cancún (Camino Real Hotel) to Punta Nizuc (Club Med). [26] The authorities asked tourism operators to suspend sending tourists to Cancún while Hurricane Dean was approaching, but did ask airlines to send empty planes, which were then used to evacuate tourists already there. [27]


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.

Private schools in Cancún include:


The city has been home to Atlante F.C., a traditional Mexico City football club, since 2007. Atlante F.C. was moved to Cancún's Andrés Quintana Roo Stadium when that stadium opened. Its games had low attendance at its previous stadium, Azteca Stadium, which it had been renting. The team currently plays in the Ascenso MX, the second level of the Mexican football pyramid.

The city is also home to the baseball team Tigres de Quintana Roo, who play in the Mexican League (LMB).

Andrés Quintana Roo Stadium, with a very slight increase in its capacity that intended, for Atlante F.C.

Drug trafficking network

The city has been devastated by violent acts related to drug trafficking. [28] Between 2013 and 2016 there were 76 murders: 31 in 2016 [28] , and at least 193 in 2017, [29] the vast majority related to drug trafficking. [30] Most have occurred in the urban nucleus, and there have been various violent episodes with firearms in the so-called "Zona Hotelera". [30] Beginning in 2018 with a high wave of violence, Cancún is above the national average in homicides. [31] In January 2018 alone there were 33 homicides, triple the number from January 2017. [32]

The violent acts have begun to put pressure on the tourism industry, where in January 2019, Cancún saw its first decrease in international passengers in seven years. [33]

Sister cities

See also

Related Research Articles

Chetumal Place in Quintana Roo, Mexico

Chetumal is a city on the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. It is the capital of the state of Quintana Roo and the municipal seat of the Municipality of Othón P. Blanco. In 2010 it had a population of 151,243 people.

Quintana Roo State of Mexico

Quintana Roo, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Quintana Roo, is one of the 32 states which of Mexico. It is divided into 11 municipalities and its capital city is Chetumal.

Cozumel island in Quintana Roo, Mexico

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Puerto Morelos Place in Quintana Roo, Mexico

Puerto Morelos is a town and seaport in Quintana Roo, Mexico's easternmost state, on the Yucatán Peninsula. The town is located in the northeast of the state, about 36 km south of the resort city of Cancún, and about 30 km north of the city of Playa del Carmen.

Benito Juárez Municipality, Quintana Roo Municipality in Quintana Roo, Mexico

Benito Juárez is one of the eleven municipalities of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. Most of its population reside in the municipal seat, Cancún. It is named after the 19th century president and statesman Benito Juárez.

Playa del Carmen Place in Quintana Roo, Mexico

Playa del Carmen is a city located along the Caribbean Sea in the municipality of Solidaridad, in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. It is a popular tourist area in eastern Mexico. Playa del Carmen features a wide array of tourist activities due to its geographical location in the Riviera Maya. It has also been the destination of PGA Tour golf tournaments and the set location for various television shows. The town has become one of the fastest to grow in population size in Mexico.

Solidaridad Municipality Municipality in Quintana Roo, Mexico

Solidaridad is one of the eleven municipalities that make up the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. Its municipal seat is the town of Playa del Carmen.

Tulum Maya Site in Quintana Roo, Mexico

Tulum is the site of a pre-Columbian Mayan walled city which served as a major port for Coba, in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. The ruins are situated on 12-meter (39 ft) tall cliffs along the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. Tulum was one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya; it was at its height between the 13th and 15th centuries and managed to survive about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico. Old World diseases brought by the Spanish settlers appear to have resulted in very high fatalities, disrupting the society and eventually causing the city to be abandoned. One of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites, Tulum is today a popular site for tourists.

San Miguel de Cozumel Place

San Miguel de Cozumel is the largest city in Cozumel Municipality in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. With a 2010 census population of 77,236 persons, it is also Quintana Roo's fourth-largest community, after Cancún, Chetumal, and Playa del Carmen. It is a hub for tourism on the Riviera Maya, providing the sole ferries between the Mexican mainland and the island. In addition to the ferry service to Playa del Carmen, the first international cruise terminal in Quintana Roo is located in the city.

Hurricane Wilma Category 5 Atlantic hurricane in 2005

Hurricane Wilma was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, and the second-most intense tropical cyclone recorded in the Western Hemisphere, after Hurricane Patricia in 2015. Part of the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, which included three of the ten most intense Atlantic hurricanes ever, Wilma was the twenty-second storm, thirteenth hurricane, sixth major hurricane, fourth Category 5 hurricane, and the second-most destructive hurricane of the 2005 season. A tropical depression formed in the Caribbean Sea near Jamaica on October 15, headed westward, and intensified into a tropical storm two days later, which abruptly turned southward and was named Wilma. Wilma continued to strengthen, and eventually became a hurricane on October 18. Shortly thereafter, explosive intensification occurred, and in only 24 hours, Wilma became a Category 5 hurricane with wind speeds of 185 mph (298 km/h).

Tulum, Quintana Roo Town in Quintana Roo, Mexico

Tulum is the largest community in the municipality of Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico. It is located on the Caribbean coast of the state, near the site of the archaeological ruins of Tulum. The community had a 2010 census population of 18,233 inhabitants. It is also the setting for Raymond Avery Bartlett's 2015 novel, Sunsets of Tulum.

Effects of Hurricane Dean in Mexico

The effects of Hurricane Dean in Mexico were more severe than anywhere else in the storm's path. Hurricane Dean, the most intense storm of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, formed in the Atlantic Ocean west of Cape Verde on August 14, 2007. The Cape Verde-type hurricane sped through the Caribbean Sea, rapidly intensifying before making landfall on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. Accurate forecasts of the storm's location and intensity enabled thorough preparations; nevertheless when the massive storm made landfall on the Yucatán Peninsula as a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale it damaged thousands of homes.

Tulum Municipality Municipality in Quintana Roo, Mexico

Tulum is one of the eleven municipalities that make up the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It became one of the newest municipalities in the country when it was formed on March 13, 2008, when it was separated from Solidaridad Municipality.

Same-sex marriages are performed and recognized in all municipalities in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. The first two same-sex marriages occurred in Kantunilkin in Lázaro Cárdenas Municipality on 28 November 2011 after it was discovered that the state's Civil Code does not specify sex or gender requirements for marriage. However, future same-sex marriages were suspended in January 2012 upon review by Quintana Roo's Secretary of State. The two same-sex marriages in the state were annulled by the Governor of Quintana Roo in April 2012, but these annulments were reversed by the Secretary of State in May. The Secretary of State's decision also allows for future same-sex marriages to be performed in Quintana Roo.

El Rey archaeological site

El Rey is an archaeological site of the pre-Columbian Mayan culture, located in the southeast of Mexico, in the tourist resort of Cancun, in the state of Quintana Roo.

Yum Balam

Yum Balam Flora and Fauna Protection Area is a Mexican Flora and Fauna Protection Area located in the state of Quintana Roo in southeastern Mexico. Established in 1994, the nature reserve was the first protected area in Mexico to be created at the request of local communities. The reserve includes wetlands along the north shore of the Yucatán Peninsula and adjacent Isla Holbox and has been designated as a protected Ramsar site since 2004.


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