Cancun doesn’t have an identity crisis. It is what it says it is: a place to go and party and hang out on a beautiful beach, a place to go on vacation at the second longest coral reef in the world. Punto. There is nothing to mislead you here, no tempting photographs that speak more than the reality, no gimmicks, no illusions, no games. Cancun is an intentional resort city — it was designed in the early 1970’s to be an epicenter for tourism — and that is exactly what it is.
The island of Cancun — the main beach area — is said to have had only three plantation workers living there prior to development beginning in 1970. The mainland area where the centro area of Cancun is now located boasted only a hundred or so residents. Like so, the monstrosity that is now know as Cancun was built intentionally almost from scratch to be the tourism center it is now today. In forty years Cancun developed from a coconut plantation to one of the biggest tourism centers in the world. It was made for people from all over the world to come and play on the beach — and to leave millions of dollars in their wake.
The image of Cancun does no lie. There really are hot, big breasted women in skimpy bikinis on the beaches of Cancun, muscley dudes manscaped to smooth, rippled perfection too, along with a virtual army of recently retired American dudes looking for action and families on beach vacation. Everyone goes to this beach to recreate: it was developed for no other purpose.
Cancun is 100% tourism, there are no conflicts between contending interests, no inter-cultural battles, no conflicting commercial pursuits, it is by design a one industry place, and this makes it oddly relaxing. The tourism industry in Cancun has matured long ago — gone are the days of touts bugging the shit out of you, social scavengers trying to make a buck at your expense. No, you show up in Cancun and, as a tourist, you’re part of the landscape. Few people are going to call you out as though you stand out. No, a tourist in Cancun is as conspicuous as a parking meter, a street light, or a restaurant sign. You can walk through Cancun — both the city and the beach — with an inconspicuousness that brinks on invisibility.
Cancun is a place where a long term traveler can go on vacation. There is truly nothing else to do there. There is no thinking to this place: you step off the bus, walk two blocks to a cheap hotel, drop your gear, and hop a seventy five cent bus to the beach where you can lay back in the sun and play in the waves. No exploration necessary. What is more is that I’m among a class of people that makes even the roving trinket sellers ignore me as overtly underclass and not even worth the time peddling coconuts to. Peace. This extensive, fully developed tourism oddly makes Cancun a somewhat relaxing place to be. It’s simple, there are no games: I go to Cancun and I’m a tourist — swimming and relaxing on the beach, another zebra in the herd. Punto.
It is often unspeakably annoying to arrive at a tourist destination with an identity crisis. Places that are marketed to be epicenters of “tradition” or “authenticity” which are now merely cultural theme parks putting on shows for tourists. Places such as Luang Prabang. It is also a hassle to visit the “in” places on the traveler circuit where mass tourism has just taken hold and is on the rise — places where the demand for tourist resources match the demand, where the locals are just beginning to see foreigners as walking ATMs. Colombia is a good example of this. Or, on the other side of the coin, grungy and dangerous places that are sold with well cropped photos as paradise. I have nothing against full frontal, fully developed tourism. It’s a part of the world and time I live in and it is rarely annoying to visit such places, and can be surprisingly cheap.
A good traveler is able to alter their paradigm, their strategies, and expectations at each stop to make the best of any location on the globe.
What the Club Met elite who do body work all year long to look good on their two week Cancun vacation probably don’t know is that I’m sitting on the same beach as them, swimming in the same waves for less than $20 per day (with my family, $35). I’ve found Cancun to be surprisingly cheap — even with beer. But I also know that the Cancun tourist crowd probably also doesn’t care much for saving money: they’re on vacation. But for the long term traveler Cancun is surprisingly cheap.
The world works on supply and demand ratios, and this probably more precisely felt in tourism than just about any other industry. In tourism, supply must be preemptive — hotels are not building rooms to order — and this supply is based on previous or projected demand. Cancun has climaxed as a tourist destination, it has plateaued and, perhaps, begun to fall. Outside of holidays and spurts of high season, in Cancun there is far more supply than demand, and a clever tourist can vacation there well relatively cheaply. Flights to Cancun from the USA are also dirt cheap. Last October I flew from Florida to Cancun for under $50. Cancun is often my entry/ exit port to Mexico/ Central America, and I’ve flown into and out of there regularly for $50 to $200. Not bad.
I truly do not mind tourist destinations that have been maxed out, where there is more supply than demand, where there is a buyer’s market. I can get awesome amenities in such places for cheap, as I’m just filling an otherwise empty room, airplane seat, restaurant chair. Such places are occasionally good vacations from this otherwise vagabond journey.