Can Cancun Bring in the Families?

Sure. The sands are white, and the water is calm and blue. And not long ago, Cancun, Mexico, was discovered by hordes of college students who claimed it as their own for spring break.

But believe it or not, Cancun was first seen as nothing more than swamp land; not much good to anyone for anything.

In fact, as recently as four decades ago, Cancun (which in Mayan means "nest of snakes") was really just a deserted island few people even knew existed. Or cared about.

Located on the east coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula in the State of Quintana Roo, it wasn't until 1967, when the Mexican government recognized the importance of the tourism industry in that part of the world, that the wheels began to spin. And, given its natural beauty, Cancun was poised to become a favorite tourist destination.

Soon, the former forgotten jungle village grew into one of the world's most visited and enjoyed vacation resorts.

If you're a Jewish traveler, you'll have company: Cancun has long been a mainstay with Jewish vacationers. But if you're looking for Jews with roots down here, keep looking. The Jewish community is infinitesimal in number, although what's there is spread among Mexico City and outlying areas, including Cancun.

But in numbers, there is safety: Jewish residents make up the Jewish Central Committee of Mexico, while an organization named Tribuna Israelita looks out for Jewish perspectives on issues.

If Ruins Are Your Thing …
As Cancun grew, so did Club Med, sharing its facilities in those early days with mostly swinging singles, until October 2005. That's when Hurricane Wilma hit, making landfall on the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula, with winds in excess of 150 miles per hour.

The winds, howling for over a day, were particularly destructive to Cancun. Much of the tourism infrastructure was seriously damaged, with some of the beautiful beaches all but washed away.

Club Med Yucatan was not spared. But one year — and an estimated $24 million in renovations and upgraded services — later, the new Club Med has emerged with a new image and a strong emphasis on the facilities and the family, with a decidedly Mexican feel in its traditional Mexican architecture and bright decor.

No longer an "adults-only" resort, Club Med Cancun Yucatan is now family-oriented, featuring special events for all. There are programs dedicated to children and teens, including a Mini Club Med, catering to children ages 4 to 10, as well as special features for parents traveling with infants.

As a "Discovery Resort," Club Med Cancun Yucatan encourages guests to experience the archaeology, gastronomy and culture of Mexico. Guests who book a seven-night vacation receive a complimentary excursion to El Meco, Mayan ruins closest to the resort. Its name means "bow-legged," after the rancher who owned the property.

We took a 45-minute bus ride out to the ruins, one of the smaller Mayan ruin sites, but no less interesting than others. Less traveled and recently open to the public, it's in reasonably good condition.

You can't climb to the top of the pyramid, but then, neither could anyone else, except the priests when it was built centuries ago.

And if you're willing to travel a bit further, you can visit the ruins at Tulum — the only fortified Mayan site built by the sea — and still get back to Club Med in time for lunch. Travel even further and see the ruins in Chichen Itza, the largest and probably best-known Mayan ruins in the whole of the Yucatan.

Of course, if you're not into ruins, you can swim with dolphins, drive a four-wheel ATV through the Yucatan jungle, jump off a cliff (right!), enjoy snorkeling, fishing, sailing, tennis, golf, massages, or just relax on the beautiful white beach or by the enormous swimming pool.

So whether travelers are enticed by the jade that links Mayan tribes to the spiritual world, the jaguars that roam the protected parklands, or the cenotes ("wells") that promise snorkeling and diving unique to Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula teems with wonders.

Though Spanish is the official language in this country, English is widely spoken, so as you go to town to deal with the locals, and bargain and buy great Mexican souvenirs, or just stay at the club for sun, sand and surf — or salsa lessons — have no fear. You will be understood by all.

For more information, call 1-800-CLUB MED.


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