As documented in the earliest colonial sources, the island of Cancún was originally known to its Maya inhabitants as Nizuc (Yucatec Maya [niʔ suʔuk]) meaning either "promontory" or "point of grass". In the years after the Conquest, much of the population died off or left as a result of disease, warfare, piracy, and famines, leaving only small settlements on Isla Mujeres and Cozumel Island.
The name Cancún, Cancum or Cankun first appears on 18th century maps. 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.
When development was started on January 23, 1970, Isla Cancún had only three residents, caretakers of the coconut plantation of Don José de Jesús Lima Gutiérrez, who lived on Isla Mujeres, and there were only 117 people living in nearby Puerto Juarez, a fishing village and military base.
"Due to the reluctance of investors to bet on an unknown area, the Mexican government had to finance the first nine hotels." The first hotel financed was the Hyatt Cancún Caribe, but the first hotel actually built was the Playa Blanca, which later became a Blue Bay hotel, and is now 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 Cancun on February 3, 2007. This award Cancún ensured the ongoing support of the Department of Education and Knowledge Management of the WTO.
Most 'Cancúnenses' 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.
In the 21st century, Cancún had largely avoided bloodshed associated with the trade of illegal drugs, but the city is regarded as a popular transshipment point for Colombian cocaine and reportedly known for retail drug sales to tourists and as a center of money laundering. 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.
The 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference was held in Cancún from November 29, 2010 to December 10, 2010.
Aerial view of the Cancún Island, from the top of the Torre Escénica in addition to 80 meters of height. May 2008.Zona Hotelera
(Catering zone) at dusk
Apart from the island tourist zone (actually 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" (superblocks), giant trapezoids with a central, open, non-residential area cut in by u-shaped residential streets. These open centers usually have walkways and 'sidewalks' around a central garden park, or soccer fields, or a library, etc. which make the mainland "Mexican" Cancún bicycle-friendly. The residential roads of central or 'Mainland' Cancún, U-shaped and culs-de-sacs, insulate housing from the noise and congestion of the main flow of traffic. Mainland Cancún has a central market that resembles an outlet mall, colorful buildings on a pedestrian city block.
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 Juarez, 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. 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.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, also Malecon Cancún is another large development.
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.
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 Cancún International Airport with an added main runway that commenced operation as of October 2010. It has many flights to North America, Central America, South America, Asia, and Europe. It is located on the northeast of the Yucatán Peninsula serving an average of more than ten million passengers per year. The airport is located around 20 km (12 mi) from the hotel zone, approximately 20 minutes trip by car. There is also a public transit bus system, servicing the hotel zone. The island of Isla Mujeres is located off the coast and is accessible by boat from Puerto Juárez.
Cancún has a tropical climate, specifically a tropical wet and dry climate (Köppen Aw), with few temperature differences between seasons, but pronounced rainy seasons. The city is warm 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 35 °C (95 °F) on most afternoons. Annual rainfall is around 1,340 millimetres (52.8 in), falling on 115 days per year. More temperate conditions occur from November to February with occasional refreshing northerly breezes, it is drier and becomes hotter in March and April. It is hottest from May to September, due to proximity to the Caribbean and Gulf humidity is high the year round, especially so during hurricane season (averages close to 70% on rainfree days). 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.