The Yucatan is the only place I have flown over where, when I looked out the window, all I saw was a vast swath of undeveloped land, a giant blanket of gorgeous, green rainforest.
But the peninsula’s eastern shore is another matter: Long ago, tourist developers discovered the soft bone-white sand and warm cerulean water, rimmed by a coral reef and speckled with dramatic limestone Mayan ruins — paradise, in other words — and thought “ca-ching!”
*satellite image courtesy NOAA*
Pre-1970s, Cancun was stunning (or so they say, and I believe to be true). But the beaches of Cancun weren’t meant to hold all those spring breakers, or that many gaudy hotels, and the erosion has been worsening each year. When hurricanes hit — as they always have and always will, likely with increasing ferocity — they wreak havoc, sometimes causing millions of dollars of damage to an already fragile economy and ecosystem.
Farther south, many of the (smarter, wiser, less money grubbing) developers didn’t try to fight nature, and built “eco-hotels“. Instead of building giant concrete monstrosities with golf courses and fake lagoons, they constructed little cabana huts, without electricity and plumbing.
As a result, when Hurricane Wilma hit several years ago, the town of Tulum (two hours south of Cancun), and the local beach eco-hotels bounced back better than many of the Cancun glass towers. These little hotels are the places I stay when I visit, although I’ve had moral doubts about whether these places are any better than the vulgarity of Cancun. I hope so, because I love visiting; the beauty of the southern Yucatan beach is hard to capture with words.
(To see more photos of the area that Dean directly hit, go to this post: Where Dean Made Landfall)
(Update 8/22: My good friend Jeremy, a newspaper reporter based in Mexico City, wrote about his harrowing experiences racing Hurricane Dean across the Yucatan peninsula. Uncovering Mexico – Racing Hurricane Dean)
But, Hurricane Dean looks to be a real doozy, and many homes and livelihoods will be affected this week. The ruins will likely be fine, standing testament to their architects. (If you’d like to see a few more photos of the area, see this post.)
I am keeping a baited breath that this will not be anything like Hurricane Katrina.