Before the Mexican government decided to transform a strip of sand inhabited by about a hundred Mayan fishers into a major tourist resort, Cancún was a peaceful, isolated paradise. In a little over 30 years, Cancún mushroomed into a town of 450,000 inhabitants, with an impressive quantity of hotels able to accommodate some 3 million tourists year-round.
Cancún was designed to please its major clientele of American tourists, who account for 80% of all foreign visitors to the city. They feel right at home here, with the same big restaurant and hotel chains, the same supermarkets and the same music playing in the same nightclubs. Everything is tailor-made to suit their tastes. This divests the place of much of its exotic charm, but obviously appeals to many people: Cancún is one of the most popular Mexican destinations for foreign tourists.
Cancún is divided into two distinct areas: Ciudad Cancún (Cancún City) and the Zona Hotelera (Hotel Zone). The 22.5km-long Hotel Zone is covered with gigantic, international-class hotels. Those who'd prefer a more authentic Mexican experience can head to Isla Mujeres, the Island of Women. So close to Cancún and yet so different, this island evokes a sunny, enchanting paradise with its large fishing village fringed with white sand and turquoise waters. The island was named in 1517 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba. Several historians recount that Córdoba was apparently inspired by the many statues representing the Mayan goddesses Ix-Chel, Ix-Hunic and Ix Hunierta that were found on the island. Locals have so far wisely preserved the island's human aspect, and Isla Mujeres remains a refreshing, privileged place with a quiet, laid-back pace of life.