Cancún Feature

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Wet, Wild Water Sports

With the Caribbean on one side and the still waters of Laguna Nichupté on the other, it's no wonder that Cancún is one of the water-sports capitals of the world. The most popular activities are snorkeling and diving along the coral reef just off the coast.

Due to northeasterly winds, sports such as kiteboarding and windsurfing have become increasingly widespread. Although waves are not as constant as on Mexico's Pacific coast, it's possible to find some decent surf in and around Cancún. During December and January, waves peak at about 6 feet, but it usually takes a windstorm or winter swell to make the choppy paddle worthwhile. During hurricane season, from May through November, the surf can be borderline epic on a good day. For the avid beach-break surfer, the sandbars are best at Playa Delfines, Chamol, and City Beach. Thirty-two kilometers (20 miles) south of Cancún are several point breaks off the coast of Puerto Morelos and Punta Brava.

If you want to view the mysterious underwater world but don't want to get your feet wet, a glass-bottom boat or "submarine" is the ticket. You can also fish, sail, Jet Ski, or parasail.

Since the beaches along the Zona Hotelera can have a strong undertow, always respect the flags posted in the area. A black flag means no swimming at all. A red flag means you can swim but only with extreme caution. Yellow means approach with caution, while green means water conditions are safe. You'll most likely always see a red flag and seldom a green one, even when the water is calm, so swim cautiously, and don't assume you're immune to riptides because you're on vacation. At least one tourist drowns per season after ignoring the flags.

Unfortunately, Laguna Nichupté has become polluted from illegal dumping of sewage and at times can have a strong smell. In 1993 the city began conducting a cleanup campaign that included handing out fines to offenders, so the quality of the water is slowly improving. There's very little wildlife to see in the lagoon, so most advertised jungle tours are glorified Jet Ski romps where you drive around fast, make a lot of noise, and don't see many animals. American crocodiles still reside in these waters though, so don't stand or swim in the lagoon.

Although the coral reef in this area is not as spectacular as farther south, there's still plenty to see, with more than 500 species of sea life in the waters. It's quite common to spot angelfish, parrotfish, blue tang, and the occasional moray eel. But the corals in this area are extremely fragile and currently endangered. To be a good world citizen, follow the six golden rules for snorkeling or scuba diving:

1. Don't throw any garbage into the sea, as the marine life will assume it's food, an often lethal mistake.

2. Never stand on the coral.

3. Secure all cameras and gear onto your body so you don't drop anything onto the fragile reef.

4. Never take anything from the sea.

5. Don't feed any of the marine animals.

6. Avoid applying sunblock or tanning lotion just before you visit the reef.

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