Resting on the northeast corner of the Yucatan Peninsula, Cancun was built on a site selected as the ideal spot for a new tourist development. Between 1970 and 1974, a stretch of pristine white beach was transformed into a modern resort destination. A hotel zone was built, workers and tourists arrived in droves and now Cancun has a resident population of more than half a million and hosts almost 6 million international visitors a year.
The city offers all-inclusive resorts, hectic nightlife and high-energy entertainment, but is also considered the gateway to the Mayan ruins of the Yucatán.
Map of Cancun
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Mayan Ruins in Cancun
There are some small Mayan ruins in Cancún itself. The extremely small site of El Rey is located in the Hotel Zone. The ruins are hardly worth the visit for its archaeological value, but they are a nice reminder of who originally occupied this land. El Meco, a more extensive Mayan site, is found on the mainland just outside the city limits on the road north to Punta Sam.
To see the best examples of the Mayan ruins near Cancun however, a day trip is necessary. Tour companies offer day via bus or minivan but it is also possible to reach the ruins by taking a local bus or renting a car.
Located 80 miles (130 km) south of Cancun, Tulum is perched on a rocky cliff overlooking a beautiful white sandy beach. The site is of modest scale but the tropical beach backdrop makes this one of the most unique Mayan ruins in Mexico. Buses from Cancun run quite regularly.
Coba was once an important Mayan city. Despite its proximity to the Riviera Maya, it is much less well known than any of the other great Mayan ruins but is well worth the visit. Coba is located 107 miles (172 km) from Cancun. To visit Coba it is advisable to take an organized tour.
Located 112 miles (180 km) west of Cancun, Chichen Itza is the most famous of all the Mayan ruins. This is somewhat ironic because it most well known structures do not have a typical Classic Mayan architecture but show influences from Central Mexico. It is also the most developed Mayan site and can get crowded. Busses from Cancun take about 2.5 hours to get here.