CANCUN, Mexico – Tens of thousands of U.S. college students are flooding into the Mexican city of Cancun, where officials have stepped up patrols of marines, soldiers and special tourist police in zones packed with hotels and bars.
City officials say they expect thousands more spring breakers this year than the 25,000 who came to the Caribbean coast resort last year. They said at least part of that increase might be due to people avoiding Pacific Coast resorts such as Acapulco, which have been hit by high-profile incidents of criminal violence in recent years.
Cancun tourism director Maximo Garcia Rocha said some major tourist agencies were expecting as many as 43,000 spring breakers. The big influx began Friday as North American colleges began closing for the traditional weeklong spring break. The recess schedule varies from campus to campus with some schools shutting down in early March and others giving students a week off later in the month.
The Cancun Hotel Association said occupancy was at 90 percent citywide.
Brad Madani, a 24-year-old from Toronto, said he had come to Cancun for the second time and was drawn by the beaches, discos and bikini contests. While many Canadians think Mexico is dangerous, Madani said, he felt safe in Cancun, particularly with the heavy presence of marines.
Speaking in halting Spanish, he added, "Hay muchas chiquitas bonita," or "There are many pretty girls."
Garcia said city authorities were distributing flyers at the 10 main spring break hotels giving numbers for the U.S. Consulate and advising spring breakers not to drink or urinate in the streets, use drugs, start disturbances or destroy property.
It's a tradition for many U.S. and Canadian students to head to beach destinations for their vacation, and the crowds often include others — from families to 20-somethings — looking for a sunny break from the last gasps of winter in northerly climates. Affordable all-inclusive packages with airfare, food and hotel also make Cancun an appealing locale for travelers on a budget, especially those who don't mind sharing a room with friends. The drinking age in Mexico is 18 compared to 21 in the U.S., which adds to Cancun's reputation as a party destination for young people, but many visitors also take advantage of nearby cultural attractions with day trips to Mayan ruins and other sites.