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Cancún Geography

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Cancún is situated on the northeast coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo. Its location on the Caribbean Sea, tropical climate and string of beautiful beaches have made Cancún and the Riviera Maya to the south of Cancún Mexico’s number one tourist destination.

The area’s topography generally is flat and rises to about 200 feet above sea level the farther south you go. Most of the Yucatán Peninsula is limestone honeycombed with caves and sinkholes, which are called cenotes. They are formed when caves collapse and are filled with water. No major rivers run throughout the entire Peninsula primarily because most of the water runs underground.

Cancún Island, which is about 14 miles long, is separated from Cancún City by the Nichupté Lagoon but connected via several causeways. The majority of the tourist industry is centered on Cancún Island with its Caribbean-facing beaches.

South of Cancún, the Riviera Maya stretches a little over 40 miles from Playa del Carmen south to Akumal and Tulum and includes the Maya historical sites at Tulum and Coba. Chichén Itzá – the most famous and important Maya site – is located several hours southwest of Cancún.

The island of Cozumel, which is located about 17 miles east of Playa del Carmen, is another popular expat location and known for its superb scuba diving and snorkeling.

The Great Maya Reef, or the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, extends more than 600 miles along the Yucatán Peninsula all the way to Belize. It is the largest coral reef system in the Northern Hemisphere and the second largest in the world.

Also off the Yucatán coast are Isla Mujeres and Isla Contoy. Isla Mujeres is only a short hop from Cancún and is most famous for its beautiful beaches and snorkeling. Isla Contoy is about 20 miles north of Isla Mujeres and is considered to be the most important nesting place for sea birds in the Mexican Caribbean with more than 150 species of birds.

Cancún and other cities in the state of Quintana Roo are in the Eastern Time Zone and do not observe daylight saving time.