Nearly one year after Hurricane Wilma ripped through Cancun with its Category 4 rage, the popular travel destination has shown the world what a difference a year makes. "We have never seen a destination recover so quickly from a natural disaster, with such incredible results," said Travel Impressions vice president of product Elyse Elkin, who is a frequent traveler to Cancun. Last October, Wilma caused an estimated $2 billion in damage, paralyzed the airport for nearly a week, and left more than 75 percent of the city's hotel rooms uninhabitable.
Long gone are the shattered glass, uprooted tress, and debris-swamped water. Cancun's renowned 15.5 miles of coastline have been reopened, and the white-sand beaches are full of people soaking in the radiant sun. Of Cancun's 27,822 hotel rooms, 26,650 will be available by this busy winter season. Restaurants, shops and bars have returned to normalcy.
Thanks to the $20 million project to pump sand back to the shore and the $500 million pledge by President Vicente Fox to revive local businesses, Cancun is burgeoning. "Improvements to our international airport—as well as our beaches, attractions and accommodations—will only continue to draw travelers to our already popular destination," said Artemio Santos, executive director of the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Wilma brought destruction, but it also provided a perfect opportunity for reinvention. Damaged by Wilma, hotels such as the Hilton, the Hyatt, the Ritz-Carlton and the Sheraton all have taken time to renovate. Elkin pointed out that hotel quality has exceeded the high standards the destination previously had.
Another post-Wilma beautification effort is a project creating new gardens and wider sidewalks for the hotel strip's new park. Cancun also plans to build seven new golf courses and increase hotel rooms by 30 percent in coming years.
While waiting for the next big things to come, visitors are relieved to see the beaches in downtown Cancun reju-venated. They are busy with people snorkeling, boating, diving and even taking submarine rides.
The picturesque scenes also make dining a pleasant experience in Cancun, as revived or new restaurants embrace the stunning shore views. One with a great view is the new Jin An Chinese restaurant, which serves ancient and exotic Chinese cuisines. Boasting ocean-fresh Mexican seafood, the nearby open-air Mocambo restaurant offers equally impressive vistas. If you can't get enough of Cancun's delightful food, try the Annual Gastronomy Festival Caribe Mexicano (October 29 to November 15).
Compared to other parts of Cancun, the Riviera Maya (located along the coast of the Yucatan peninsula) was less affected by Wilma, and it recovered more speedily. A two-hour drive from hustling downtown Cancun leads you to an archaeological and ecological journey in Tulum, a key town in the Riviera Maya. Known as the only major Mayan walled city built atop a cliff, Tulum's ancient site shows off Temple of the Frescoes, with its impressive murals, and the world's second-largest underwater coral reef, embraced by the crystal blue sea.
South of Tulum, there is the spectacular natural aquarium of Xel-Ha Park, featuring marvelous lagoons where seawater merges with the Yucatan's underground rivers, and the nearby Xcaret Park, a Mayan-themed eco-archaeological park whose attractions include a bat cave, mushroom farm, butterfly pavilion and impressive dinner shows with unique Mayan and Mexican folk dances. You can also swim with dolphins at both parks.
To experience Mexico's rich culture, plan a stay during a feast day or other celebration such as the Day of the Dead (November 2) .
SendIng your Clients to Cancun
Hotel, travel, and tour package information for agents
AIRLINES: American Airlines, Delta, ATA, US Airways, Northwest, United, AeroMexico, Alaska, Air Canada, and Continental all provide regular flights. Gateway cities now include Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Bos-ton, Denver, Detroit, New York, Chicago, St. Paul, Houston, and Dallas. Alaska Airlines will offer new nonstop service between San Francisco International Airport and the Mexican resort destination of Cancún starting this fall.
To provide for the area's growth and development, the Cancun International Airport has been undergoing several renovation projects. As of January 8, 2007, U.S. citizens visiting Mexico will be required to have a passport.
HOTELS: AMResorts (866-2DREAMS, www.amresorts.com) has various properties in Cancun: Secrets Resorts Dreams caters to adults who seek for a romantic getaway, and Dreams Cancun Resort & Spas and Dreams Tulum Resort & Spas are both family-friendly. AMResorts' Tulum location is one of the only Riviera Maya resorts where you can view the ancient ruins of Tulum from the beach. E-mail [email protected] or [email protected]
Le Meridien Cancun Resort & Spa (800-543-4300, www.lemeridien.com) sustained no major structural damage, but took time working on soft renovations and reopened late last year. All rooms have Caribbean or Nichupte Lagoon views. Contact Sales Manager Rocío Ballesteros (998-881-2238, [email protected]).
Since Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach 800-FIESTA1, (www.fiestamericana.com) is shielded from the open sea, its 328-yard beach offers calm water for swimming. Guests receive complimentary access to nearby 18-hole Pok-ta-Pok Golf Club. Contact Norma Peraza (998-881-3356, [email protected]).
PACKAGES: Travel Impressions (www.travelimpressions.com) provides 10 to 16 percent commission on its packages at 41 hotels in the Cancun area and 27 in the Riviera Maya. Receive a 1 percent commission bonus if you book on its web site. Airport transfers included.
Apple Vacations (www.applevacations.com) pays up to 15 percent commission at 49 hotels in Cancun, including 26 all-inclusive resorts. The most highly recommended excursions by Apple include The Golden Cruise and Swim With the Dolphins.
MLT Vacations ( www.worldagentdirect.com) offers varying commissions on both Worry-Free Vacations and NWA WorldVacation packages. —JY