Over the years, the authenticity of Cancun has been replaced with a very Americanized city which caters to their northern border neighbors. If you are seeking a more authentic Mexican experience, it is better found in the downtown Cancun area or farther south or inland. But, if you, like many other visitors to Cancun, are looking for a fun beach vacation in a foreign country but don’t want to feel like a foreigner, Cancun is the place to visit. It is very friendly to American tourists as most locals speak English and take the American dollar in addition to the Mexican Peso.
The geography of Cancun is essentially described as a "Seven". Looking at the city of Cancun on a map, the coastline stretches north and south with the Gulf of Mexico on its eastward coastline and a freshwater lagoon on its westward coastline. Then, the land curves westward for a shorter distance, forming a ‘seven’. The seven shaped area is casually known as the "Cancun Hotel Zone" as most of the resort hotels in Cancun are located along this stretch of land. If you travel westward past the top of the ‘seven’, you will eventually end up in the downtown Cancun area. The beaches in the Cancun Hotel Zone vary depending on your hotel location. Along the long end of the seven, you will find the whitest and prettiest stretch of sand and water; however, you will also find stronger surf which will take the strongest hit during a heavy storm. During a prior trip, I stayed at the Royal Sands Hotel along this long stretch and enjoyed wide shores of beautiful sandy white beach (pre-Wilma). During my seven day stay, there was only one day with a green flag which indicated safe swimming conditions. Further, shoreline along the longer stretch is very transient – one day it could be a wide stretch of white powder and the next – it could be almost missing with only the hotel’s bulkhead and a few resort chairs perched precariously on a toothpick sized plot of sand. The local tourist agencies in Cancun are committed to ensuring that these beaches remain protected and are quickly rebuilt after a strong storm washes them away. Along the top end of the beach, the sand and water is not as "pretty" as the further east towards downtown, the salt ocean water begins to mix with the freshwater of the lagoon. However, La Mujeres island is located just offshore of the point of the seven (where our hotel FAGCB was located) and buffers the stronger surf which dominates the long end of the seven. Therefore, surf on the short end of the seven is typically calmer and the sandy shoreline is generally more predictable as it is less likely to wash away from a hurricane.
Transportation in Cancun is efficient, easy, and cheap. The local bus service runs regularly at all hours along the Cancun Hotel Zone and certain routes will also take a tourist to the downtown Cancun area. One way service cost approximately $0.40 during our visit (June 2008), making it a very reasonable mode of transportation. The buses are not air conditioned; however, you typically do not ride on them for very long before finding your destination. Cab service is also available and recommended if traveling downtown. It is a little bit more costly than the bus, but for safety purposes, recommended IMO. Other modes of transportation include booking a private car tour which is helpful if one is interested in visiting areas south of Cancun. A tour operator we used to visit Tulum which we recommend is
Entertainment Plus (http://www.entertainment-plus.net/index.cfm). They offer a variety of different tour options for visiting areas outside of Cancun.
Cancun is located within close proximity to a number of different tourist attractions, allowing a traveler to escape the area for a day trip and explore some of the great historical sites that Mexico has to offer. Most notably – Tulum, Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, and Coba. Within a day trip, travelers can also visit one of two ecological water parks Xel-ha and Xcaret. The city of Cancun also contains options for golf, shopping, dining, and entertainment. Most of the shopping malls contain the standard retail fare that you would see in an American shopping mall. Located in the corner of the seven is a local flea market where one can pick up Mexican pottery, blankets, or vanilla. Hair braiding and henna tattoos are readily available within most of the local shopping areas. A particular favorite shopping mall of ours was La Isla Shopping Village which was located on the lagoon side and artfully designed with water from the lagoon flowing from canals and lined by retail stores.