The Cancun we know today is only a little over 35 years old. However, the area has an ancient history. The ancient Maya built El Rey (The King) in what is now the hotel zone sometime between 1200 and 1500 A.D. The site can still be seen today and is thought to be a burial sight for nobility. After the Mayas civilization peaked most of the human inhabitants left for less hostile climates.
When the explorer John L. Stephens visited the area in 1841 he found only mosquitoes, crocodiles and sand hills. He was believed to be the first person of European descent to conduct extensive local and Yucatan peninsula explorations.
In 1967 the government of Mexico did a study to find the best location for a purpose-built resort area. At that point Cancun was only a crumbling coconut plantation, but the planners could see the island's potential and the island was selected. Huge teams of workers from all over Mexico came to tame the jungle, and build roads and bridges. The first hotel was built in 1972.
Since then Cancun has done nothing but grow. Hotels take up the entire coastline of the Hotel Zone and tourists come from all parts of the world to fill them. Downtown Cancun has kept up as well. It's original purpose was just to be a low cost residential district for the people who worked in the Hotel Zone, but it can now stand alone as a city. People from all over Mexico and the world move to Cancun to start businesses, work, study or retire.