Crystal clear Caribbean waters, white sand beaches, tanned young bodies and more cheap drinks than you can come up with sexual innuendos for (sex on the beach, anyone?). Both the Mexican resort city of Cancún and the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana have all these comforts and more for winter weary college students looking to make the annual migration south for hot climes and fun times.
But given Mexico’s ongoing drug war and the bad press the conflict has given the U.S.’s southern neighbor over the last eight years, many colleges and states have warned party-hardy spring breakers to stay away from the country. Schools like University of Notre Dame, Penn State University, the University of Arizona, along with the Texas Department of Public Safety, have all warned students against heading south of the border.
These warnings, however, seem to have fallen on deaf ears as travel agencies specializing in spring break trips are reporting a surge in Cancún-bound co-eds, with some estimating that between 30,000 and 50,000 students are heading to resorts in Cancún over the six-week period.
“Cancún is still as big as it ever was,” Jake Jacobson, the vice president of STS Travel in Glen Burnie, Md., told Fox News Latino. “There is even a trend of more people going back to Cancún.”
There are a number of reasons why Cancún has remained atop the spring break party destination hierarchy, travel experts say.
A few years ago, spring break travelers began to avoid the mecca of partying as U.S. media attention focused on the drug violence plaguing Mexico’s border cities as well as Pacific coast resort areas like Acapulco and Puerta Vallarta. But after the U.S. State Department dropped travel warning to Cancún’s home state of Quintana Roo and as the attention on the drug war has lessened, the number of randy revelers went right back up, experts said.
“Three years ago, we saw the number of people traveling to Cancún drop because of all the attention on the drug war,” said Karim Kuzbari, the president of Sun Splash Tours in Jersey City, N.J. “Cancún maybe had one or two down years with people going to Punta Cana (in the Dominican Republic) instead, but once the news started to die down people started to go back to Cancún.”
Travel agents and experts both cite the relative cheapness of a vacation to the Caribbean city and its legacy as a party capital as the main draws for college-age partiers.
All-inclusive trips to Cancún run as cheap as between $400 and $600 – compared to Punta Cana, which prices around $1,500 – and television channels like MTV have made yearly specials from the city featuring musical guests and gyrating college girls in very little clothing.
“Cancún has an iconic image,” said George W. Grayson, a Latin American politics professor at the College of William & Mary. “There’s partying at all hours of the night, sometimes scantily clad women, lots of access to energizing beverages – and other energizing substances - and incredible bargain prices.”
Along with the rock-bottom prices and party image, travel agents claim that college students are more readily able to mix and mingle with locals in Cancún than if they head to more isolated spots in places like Punta Cana or Negril, Jamaica.
Unlike in the Dominican Republic, where most vacationers mainly stay on their all-inclusive resorts and have little contact with the country outside, the city of Cancún has a more built-up groundwork that draws spring breakers away from their hotel pool bars and into clubs that attract DJs from around the world and midwest girls willing to slip on a wet T-shirt.
“Hotels in Punta Cana couldn’t handle the influx of that many people and there just isn’t anything to do outside of the resorts,” Kuzbari said. “Cancún has that infrastructure that Punta Can doesn’t have.”
Maybe even more importantly that the cheap deals or the focus away from Mexico’s Drug War, Cancún has been able to maintain its top spot in the spring break trade thanks in large part to its image as premier place for co-eds to alleviate their mid-term blues with a remedy of sun, boozy drinks and electronic music.
“The king,” Jacobson said, “is still Cancún.”
Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.