The Segmental Info System

Cancun and the Mexican Caribbean's Past and Present

Visitors will find influences of Mexico's Mayan and Spanish past in the people and culture of the Yucatan

Photo credit: © King Ho Yim |
Past and Present

The Yucatán, a mountainous peninsula in Mexico, has developed a culture influenced by the Mayans and Spanish that is unique within the country. While the region embraces its strong heritage, the Yucatán's position on the Caribbean Sea has brought waves of tourists and modernism.


While early Mayan power was focused in countries south of Mexico, such as Honduras and Guatemala, Mayan civilization reached its highest point during the Classic Period from 200 A.D. to 900 A.D., when some of the strongest Mayan settlements were located in the Yucatán peninsular area. Read more about the history of Cancun here.


While forces of colonialism would bring the Amerindian population in the Yucatán below 10,000 and force many of the Mayans into the jungles of Quintana Roo, the culture managed to survive and obstinately stake a place in the culture of the modern-day Yucatán. The contemporary culture in the area is a result of Mayan heritage, Spanish colonialism, and Western tourism.

Today, some 800,000 Mexicans still speak the Mayan language, while 30 percent of the population is considered to be purely Amerindian. The larger segment of the population, 60 percent, is considered mestizo, a mix of Spanish and Amerindian.


...most fabled playgrounds in the Caribbean.


While years of Mayan resistance and conflict would last into the beginning of the 20th century, the economy of the modern-day Yucatán has been bolstered by the influx of tourism into areas such as Cancún, Cozumel, and Playa del Carmen. The Mexican government would designate Cancún as a tourist site in 1968, while a stunning documentary by Jacques Cousteau would bring vacationers to Cozumel.

Today, the Mexican Caribbean tourist areas are among the most fabled playgrounds in the Caribbean. While the introduction of Western culture has influenced the atmosphere of these tourists areas, vacationers will still find the traditional culture that distinguishes the region during a visit to the Yucatán.


Help us improve! We welcome your corrections and suggestions.