The glitz and pomp of Cancún’s corporate-sponsored Zona Hotelera — a resort development so bold and glassy it earned the grandiose nick-name of ‘The Glistening City’ — merely represents the shiny outer shell of a much grittier and less pretentious destination. Downtown Cancún (or Cancún Centro) is a sprawling and tireless urban powerhouse that began life in 1970 as a collection of humble workers’ shacks. Built as part of the so-called Cancún Master Development Plan, the city grew up in parallel to the raucous tourist zone of public imagination.
Today, the city of Cancún is a vast transport and residential hub complete with its own schools, hospitals, plazas, and municipal buildings. According to the 2010 census, it is home to 628,306 inhabitants — a figure that represents a near doubling of the population from a decade ago. Like any large and haphazard city, Cancún suffers the challenges of a straining infrastructure, poverty, and crime. But it also enjoys a sense of community and camaraderie that will be familiar to anyone who has spent time exploring Mexico. Few package tourists ever make it beyond the sterile cloisters of the Zona Hotelera and their impression of Cancún remains one of carefully engineered artifice. By way of contrast, I present this short video — a brief collection of impressions from the mundane and everyday places where Cancún’s inhabitants work and play.