Posts Tagged ‘Costa Maya’

Costa Maya: new frontier or antithesis of geotourism?

Written by admin on April 5th, 2009. Posted in Geotourism

A recent USA Today article extolled the delights of the “New Maya Frontier.”

Puerto Costa Maya photo by Roger Theriault

Puerto Costa Maya photo by Roger Theriault

Much of the story focuses on Mahahual, a once sleepy fishing village, pop. 80. That was before the Mexican government hatched its plan to transform the area into what has become Mexico’s second busiest cruise ship port. Puerto Costa Maya was designed to accommodate six cruise ships at once. In 2006 it deposited more than a half million tourists, most of whom were directed straight to Puerto Costa Maya, a shopping, cultural and recreation complex for cruise ship passengers only.

In 2007, only a Cat 5 hurricane named Dean, stopped Puerto Costa Maya from hitting the million cruise ship visitor mark. The article is clearly intended to convey the news that after a frenetic year of rebuilding, Puerto Costa Maya is back in business.

I stumbled upon a blog from one cruise ship couple who had visited the port and described their surprise at discovering the real Mahahual. Their cruise ship hosts apparently forgot to mention that there was life beyond the confines of the staged authenticity of the port complex.

I imagine it goes without saying that the cruise ship passengers also weren’t told of the damage to the reef and the pollution left in the wake of the cruise ships or the vital mangrove swamps destroyed to pave the way for mass tourism and vacation time share real estate developments.

On the upside, I can always hope that maybe now that the cruise ships actually stop in the area perhaps they don’t jettison their trash as they pass offshore where currents deposit it directly on the beaches of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve just to the north of Mahahual. Or at least that was the case when I visited the Reserve in 2000 for a cross-cultural writers workshop and was appalled by the unconscionable amounts of cruise ship pollution littering what should have been a pristine beach.

A few years ago a report by the The International Ecotourism Society, clearly largely ignored by the Mexican government, described possible impacts from the planned Cancun-style development in Mahahual. TIES warned that the hotels and timeshares financed largely by, and designed to attract, giant piles of foreign investment dollars, will at a minimum, raise the cost of living for the locals and at worst, force them to move elsewhere. News reports hint that the widening economic gap is already showing signs of creating social tension.

The population has grown from 80 dependent on subsistence fishing BC (before cruises) to 3,500 mostly dependent on tourism.  Earlier projections estimated population could skyrocket to 25,000 as early as next year, and reach nearly 100,000 in 15 – 20 years AC (after the arrival of cruise ships).

You know, it’s bad enough that, as the USA Today story notes, many tourists to the area already are under the gross misimpression that the Maya disappeared from the area long ago. If plans like this by the tourism ministers of the Maya’s elected leaders in far away Mexico City go unchecked, sadly, the tourists may well prove to be prophets.