The water is still those glorious shades of blue, but the beach -- much of it -- is gone. The hotel zone is a mess. The nightclubs are silent.
For those who love Cancun, this is not the Cancun they love.
Caribbean shoreline. "It doesn't look like a live place. "
On Oct. 21, Hurricane Wilma, a monster storm that straddled the line between Categories 4 and 5, moved into the Yucatan -- and didn't move out for 36 hours.
Cancun is recovering, but it will be months before Cancun is Cancun again.
Most of Riviera Maya , the 80-mile coastal tourist zone south of the city, escaped serious damage, in part because Cozumel, an island in the Caribbean 30 minutes by ferry opposite Playa del Carmen, acted as a natural buffer.
But Cozumel paid the price.
"I would say, hold off coming for now," said Raul Marrufo, director of the Cozumel Promotion Board.
On a weeklong visit that ended Dec. 2, here's what we found:
Aside from a little beach erosion -- and they're taking care of that as we write -- Playa del Carmen is fine. For the most part (the exception is Puerto Morelos, which got battered along its shoreline), Riviera Maya, from Playa del Carmen south to Tulum, is in good shape.
"There's a lot of bad information that's out there, and incomplete information," said Ray Snisky, president of FunJet Vacations and related companies that include ATA Vacations and United Vacations. "The Riviera Maya came through virtually unscathed. It's open, fully operational and looking spectacular. "
Cozumel is open, not fully operational and looking spotty. Same with Cancun. They'll both be much better in, say, March.
Whether either, right now, is truly ready for visitors depends on the visitors -- their expectations, their levels of tolerance and, in a real way, their ability to redefine those destinations to accommodate today's reality.
Cancun, in the best of times, is -- for the millions who like this sort of thing -- special.
It is the astonishingly gorgeous Caribbean Sea, broad white-powder beaches, side-by-side-by-side big corporate resort-spa-hotels, some high-end restaurants and middling franchise places, not a few bars and discos, and shopping malls of all ilks.
These are not the best of times.
"We depend heavily on the beach," said Rafael Vazquez, director of sales and marketing for the Ritz-Carlton Cancun. "Have you seen the beach? "
The beach along Cancun's prime Caribbean shoreline -- where there is beach at all -- is a relative sliver. The sliver is an upgrade.