By Jeanine Lee Kitchel
Although Pakal, the great Mayan ruler of Palenque, lived far from Quintana Roo (now synomynous with the Riviera Maya) his neighboring southern kingdom in Chiapas had much in common with the Maya of the Northern Yucatan Peninsula. And if Pakal could see the changes that have challenged this once (and still) beautiful region, he would be rolling over in his, er, sarcophagus.
Not unlike what will most likely be said of us (for those who choose not to be cremated) by future generations when the snowy mountains of Kilimanjaro have become as dry and barren as the Sierra Nevadas and the continent Antarctica is just a footnote in history.
A recent phenomenon, the Riviera Maya, formerly known as the Tulum Corridor until the late 90s, has surpassed all developers’ dreams. With over 30,000 hotel rooms and arguably some of the world’s finest beaches, it has morphed into a Cinderella Superstar.
Once know for funky pueblos like the Playa del Carmen of the mid-80s, this 90-mile stretch of coastline no longer sports unfenced white sascab roads that any Tom, Dick or Harry can just wander down and spend an uninterrupted day sunning on an idyllic beach.
Oh no. Every inch of beach front land is spoken for, from Cancun south to Tulum Beach Road, and possibly beyond into the ejido-sphere of the Sian Ka’an Reserve, a 1.3 million acre biosphere that was meant to be left untouched.
One of the directors of UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico) in Puerto Morelos where marine biology is studied told it to me like this, when I asked why the all-inclusive hotels continue to secrete secondary waste into the mangroves, thus clogging the tenuouseco-system on the reef, the Maya Riviera’s crowning glory: It’s all dollars and cents.
Payback for a standard resort hotel takes 20 years in real time in the real world. Here however, in the Riviera Maya, the payback profit takes only eight years.
But what happens when the turquoise ocean is pea-green and the reef has secondary growth, which it does now? I asked gamely.
They (the hoteliers) move on to the Dominican Republic or Papua New Guinea, he told me. They let a four or five star property drop in value to a one or two star resort. They’ve made their profit, to hell with the environment. Forget the cultured or the well-heeled traveler, enter the tour package.
Startling, but true. Zoning laws enforced early on by Vicente Fox’s Environmental andNatural Resource Minister Victor Lichtinger, demanding that environmental edicts must be enforced with two-story oceanfront structures in the Riviera Maya, have fallen to the wayside and now, new zoning regulations are “rethinking” the value of long, low structures.
“Better” use of the land is now considered to be high-rise hotels–as tall they say as eight stories in the not too far future, on the ocean.
But with the bring ’em on mentality that’s rampant with the scent of growth, eight story hotels create a mega-structure look and often block not only views but access to the ocean. The very look and feel of the Riviera Maya will be compromised. And because beach front land is a finite commodity, beach front homes, condos, even time shares just continue to rise in price.
If you’re looking for that sleepy little Mexican village, it’s paved over here in the Riviera Maya. But not to worry, it’s a big country and I’m sure you’ll find what you’re looking for if Mexico is the ticket for you. Just follow one of the many unmarked roads and see where it takes you.