Posted: November 3, 2013 in Uncategorized
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In the mid-1960s the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico was a jungle that had witnessed only fifty years earlier the end of the revolution between the indigenous Mayans and the Hispanically origined Mexicans. I knew a couple of hunters that journeyed into the jungle to hunt the elusive jaguar in the 60s. They had to fly into the capital city of Merida and then go through a rigorous gun examination; so concerned by Mexico that weapons would be smuggled into the area for further rebellion. The hunters traveled over the stone roads laid by the Mayans since traditional paved roads did not exist. The small island of Cozumel lies off the southern coast of Yucatan and is heralded for its pristine SCUBA diving waters. A friend told me that it use to take two days to get to Cozumel from Washington and the streets were dusty little roads filled with local inhabitants. Then in the 70s everything began to change.
In January of 1970 Cancun had only three residents. The airport on Cozumel was a World War II relic. Then enter the tourists and capitalism. A plan was launched to build Cancun into a tourist attraction. Investors were reluctant to participate so the government build the first nine hotels. Cozumel did not see the expansion until the late 1970s when the modern airport was built. Then the first cruise ship arrived and as my diving friend said, ”Everything changed”.
Cancun and to a lesser extent Cozumel, saw tourists flock to Yucatan for a good time. The area was similar to Cuba prior to the Island becoming communist. Drinking, partying and other illicit indulgences became the subject of discussion for those seeking a vacation. The large real estate expansion of hotels kept the vacation price down and drew the college groups from all over America during the collegiate right of passage known as Spring Break. Stories of these month long parties coupled by movies such as “The Real Cancun” led to a misunderstanding of what this area is really like.
Cancun is an area that contains the publicized institutions such as Senior Frogs, Carlos and Charlie’s and other franchised establishments. Also present are the hotels that cater to the college crowd that flocks to the Mexican Rivera in the spring. But this is far from the true culture and activities that are available to the tourist.
First thing to dispel is the notion that the streets are full of wild partiers. During the day I have only witnessed the typical tourist shopping for t-shirts and other things to take home. Food is good and the restaurants are plentiful but this is not where “The Real Cancun” lies. In the middle of the hotel zone there is a small archeological site known as El Rey. For a couple of dollars one can walk around a site where the Mayans lived, worshipped and conducted trade. Within a mile of this is a new ultramodern museum of archeology. Other activities include museums, snorkeling trips and just lazy days on the beach. The same is true of Cozumel with one exception. In Cozumel prices tumble when the cruise ships leave and you can then barter with the store owners.
The true culture of Yucatan becomes even more apparent when you travel inland. The ancient religious center of Chitchen Itza can be reached by tour bus and is amazing to imagine how a culture carved the thick jungle with obsidian axes to build such a large city. Other local sites such as Tulum and Coba offer looks at a magnificent culture.
Of course if a person wants a little adventure in their life one needs to look no further than the Adventure Parks in the area. Zip lines, caving, ATVs and snorkeling are only a few of the adventures that are available to the tourist. For the person that is seeking a little relaxation, then head to the beach in front of the hotel and spend the day listening to the waves crash or spend time in a spa.
The hotels in the area are trying to change the image that the world views Cancun in. Some hotels are now being promoted as family friendly and some have gone so far as to have children’s water parks built onto the hotel grounds. Children craft centers are in some and of course babysitting is available.
So when you hear of sinful and decadent Cancun and Cozumel, there is another side to this ancient land.


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