During the time of the pre-Colombian Maya civilization, Cancun was originally known to its Maya inhabitants as Nizuc, which means either “promontory” or “point of grass”. It is not known if the name Cancun has Mayan origins since it was first observed on 18th-century maps. Some historians believe that the Mayan translation is “Throne of the Snake” or “nest of snakes”, corroborated by the snake icons that adorned many of the local sites.

El Rey and San Miguelito are two archeological sites located in the Hotel Zone itself and give proof of the importance of this area for trading activity in pre-Hispanic times and was the gateway to other Mayan sites on the Yucatan peninsula, such as the wondrous Chichen Itza.

Unfortunately, during the conquest, much of the population in this area was wiped out by disease and conflicts, leaving isolated communities in Cancun and its surroundings.

“El Rey” archeological site.

Early developments

In the 1960s, Cancun was a deserted island, consisting of several sand dunes shaped like a ‘seven’. Before this time, few people even knew that it existed.

The development of Cancun was approved in 1969 and eventually began in 1970, with the construction of a road from Puerto Juarez and a small airfield. Back in those days, only 117 people lived in this area which used to be a fishing village and military base. By then, Cancun island had only three residents, all caretakers of a coconut plantation.

Of course, this unknown and remote place didn’t look attractive to the investors. Due to the reluctance of them to gamble on this project, the Mexican government was forced to finance the first nine hotels. At the time it was an elite destination, famous for its virgin white sand beaches.

The first financed hotel was a Hyatt, named Cancún Caribe, but the first hotel built was the Playa Blanca, which later became a Blue Bay hotel, and is currently a Temptation Resort.

The airport construction started in 1972 and opened in 1975.

The growth of Cancun

Cancun continued to grow during the 1980s, although the devastating category 5 Hurricane Gilbert served as a major setback. The city lost around $500 million dollars in damages and $87 million dollars of tourist revenue in the wake of the hurricane, but soon bounced back and has shown resilience in the face of adversity.

Since 1989, it has been regarded as the most dynamic city in Mexico, despite a further setback in 2001, when US terror attacks meant that many American citizens began to avoid overseas travel, as well as the H1N1 Flu in 2008. The city continues to provide employment for thousands of people from the Yucatán peninsula and across Mexico, with its population now in excess of 900,000 people.

Today, Cancun is one of Mexico’s best-known beach resorts, attracting international tourism.

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