MEXICO: caribbean | reefs | cenotes biotopes | cenotes caves | lagoon | tulum | cancun region

Photos of the Yucatan, Mexico

Below are links to pictures from the Mexican Yucatan.
caribbean | reefs | cenotes biotopes | cenotes caves | lagoon | tulum | cancun region

Except where noted, all images are the property of Rhett A. Butler, copyright 1994-2004. Contact me with questions regarding use, reproduction, or purchase of any of the pictures.


Sea fans on coral reef Cancun, Mexican Riviera, Mexico
Cancun reefs


Reefs off Cancun Cancun, Mexican Riviera, Mexico
Caribbean photos


Lagoon Cancun, Mexican Riviera, Mexico
Lagoon


Tulum ruins, Mexico Cancun, Mexican Riviera, Mexico
Tulum ruins


Aquatic biotope for cenotes in the Yucatan, Mexico.
Cenotes biotope


Cenotes caves in the Yucatan, Mexico.
Cenotes caves


Yucatan sunset.
Cancun


Rapid growth
The 80-mile stretch of coastline south of Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico -- now called the Riviera Maya -- has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past decade, becoming Mexico's fastest-growing resort area. Places like Playa de Carmen and Tulum have gone from small towns to booming resort developments as developers bypass bureaucratic approvals to buy and build up beachfront lands as fast as possible. Mangrove swamps, which are largely responsible for the region's sparkling clear waters and biologically rich coral reefs, are the primary victims of land clearing for hotels and condominiums.

High profitability
According to a study mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, an 800-room hotel on the Riviera Maya can be built for "about $60 million, compared with about $100 million in Cancun. Because of cheap labor, operational costs come to about $18 per person per day, while the average room tariff is $125 per person per day. Assuming a 90% occupancy rate -- slightly higher than the current 86% norm on the coast -- annual net profits could amount to around $15 million. That rate of return would allow the developers to recover their investment within four years, very fast by industry standards."

Backlash
The tide may be shifting as resentment towards unchecked development grows. In the past couple of years authorities have shut down construction on two hotels that threatened a sea turtle nesting beach at X'cacel and illegally cleared mangrove swamp for building an access road. Environmentalists and local authorities have increasingly turned toward the National Fund for Tourism Development (Fonatur), the agency that built Cancun, to help manage development in the region.

Source: The Wall Street Journal
Fast Tourism Growth, Hotel Boom Threaten Balance in the Yucatan
By JONATHAN FRIEDLAND
August 20, 1999





Recommended travel guides on Mexico:



News on Mexico

New birds arise due to emigration not separation

(11/11/2014) A bird's eye view of speciation in the Neotropics. How long does it take for a new species to develop? Not long, it turns out. In fact, only a few thousand years — an evolutionary blink of an eye. A recent article published in Nature tracked neotropical bird speciation, or the process by which new species emerge.


What makes the jaguar the ultimate survivor? New books highlights mega-predator's remarkable past and precarious future

(10/02/2014) For thousands of years the jaguar was a God, then it was vermin to be destroyed, and today it is the inspiration for arguably the most ambitious conservation effort on the planet. A new book by renowned big cat conservationist, Alan Rabinowitz, tells this remarkable story from the jaguar's evolutionary origins in Asia to its re-emergence today as a cultural and ecological symbol.


Reintroduction program ups Mexico's scarlet macaw population by 34 percent in one year

(09/25/2014) While listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, the scarlet macaw has disappeared from almost all of its native range in Mexico, is very rare in most Central America countries, and is locally extinct in El Salvador. A new paper published this week finds a reintroduction program was hugely successful in its first year of operation, with a 92 percent survival rate for released birds.


Fragmented forests hurt some bat species, may benefit others

(09/23/2014) Development of roads and other structures disturb large, continuous patches of habitat for wildlife. This habitat fragmentation is one of the biggest contributors to species extinction, as the local ecology and species interactions are altered. A new study finds that leaf-nosed bat abundances in Mexico are closely linked to how sensitive each species is to habitat fragmentation.


Is there hope for the vaquita? IUCN calls for action to save world's smallest, rarest porpoise

(09/19/2014) Since the baiji was declared extinct in the early aughts, the vaquita has taken its unenviable position as the world’s most threatened cetacean. The tiny porpoise currently numbers around 100, with accidental entanglement in gillnets primarily responsible for its decline. In response, the IUCN recently issued a statement calling for immediate action to curb vaquita bycatch and head off its extinction – which otherwise may lie just around the corner.


'Canary in the cornfield': monarch butterfly may get threatened species status

(09/08/2014) Monarch butterflies were once a common sight throughout the North American heartland. But declines in milkweed – their caterpillars’ only source of food – have led to a 90 percent decline in monarch numbers. Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing a petition that would grant the iconic species protection through the Endangered Species Act.


Seeking justice for Corazón: jaguar killings test the conservation movement in Mexico

(07/31/2014) Eight years ago, a female jaguar cub was caught on film by a motion-triggered camera trap set in the foothills of canyons, oak forest, and scrubland that make-up the Northern Jaguar Reserve, just 125 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border. Three years later, in 2009, the jaguar reappeared on film as an adult. They called her 'Corazón' for the distinctive heart-shaped spot on her left shoulder.


Study finds tiny cloud forests have big biodiversity

(06/24/2014) Tropical cloud forests are situated in mountains and are characterized by the frequent presence of low-level clouds. Scientists have always regarded them as having high biodiversity, but a recent study adds a new dimension: it found cloud forests contain a significant and surprising array of tree and bromeliad species, even when they are relatively small.


Survey finds huge biological value in Baja California, stalls resort development

(06/11/2014) A recent survey conducted by researchers from the U.S. and Mexico has uncovered staggering levels of biodiversity in the delicate desert environment of Cabo Pulmo in Baja California. Their findings have stymied construction of a proposed $3.6 billion resort, but developers are not giving up.


U.S. citizens willing to spend billions to protect monarch butterflies

(04/03/2014) New research shows Americans are willing to pay for the protection of the ailing monarch butterfly, which is experiencing a steep decline in numbers. The study, published in Conservation Letters, found nearly three-quarters of those surveyed placed importance on conservation efforts for the iconic species.


Revealed for the first time: the surprising biodiversity of algae 'reefs'

(03/28/2014) Most people are familiar with coral reefs, but very few have ever heard of their algal equivalent – rhodolith beds. Yet, these structures provide crucial habitat for many marine species. In the first study of its kind, published in mongabay.com’s Tropical Conservation Science, researchers unveil just how important these beds are for bottom-dwelling organisms, and the species that depend on them.


Researchers use new technique to shed light on endangered tapir

(03/26/2014) A new study, recently published in mongabay.com's open access journal, Tropical Conservation Science, uses a new technique to examine the behavior and distribution of the Endangered Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii) in the southern forests of Mexico. One of four species of Central American tapir, Baird’s tapir was recently ranked 34th on a list of 4,000 endangered animals in need of urgent protection by the Zoological Society of London.


Cocaine: the new face of deforestation in Central America

(03/11/2014) In 2006, Mexico intensified its security strategy, forming an inhospitable environment for drug trafficking organizations (also known as DTOs) within the nation. The drug cartels responded by creating new trade routes along the border of Guatemala and Honduras. Soon shipments of cocaine from South America began to flow through the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC). This multi-national swathe of forest, encompassing several national parks and protected areas, was originally created to protect endangered species, such as Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii) and jaguar (Panthera onca), as well as the world's second largest coral reef. Today, its future hinges on the world's drug producers and consumers.


Local communities key to saving the Critically Endangered Mexican black howler monkey

(02/14/2014) For conservation initiatives around the world, community involvement is often crucial. An additional challenge is how to conserve species once their habitats have become fragmented. A primatologist in Mexico is bringing these together in a celebration of a Critically Endangered primate species: the Mexican black howler monkey. In 2013 Juan Carlos Serio-Silva was part of a team that not only helped to secure the establishment of a protected area for the Mexican black howler monkey, but also engaged local communities in a week of festivities, dubbed the First International Black Howler Monkey Week.


Migrating monarch butterflies hit shockingly low numbers

(01/31/2014) The monarch butterfly population overwintering in Mexico this year has hit its lowest numbers ever, according to WWF-Mexico. Monarch butterflies covered just 0.67 hectares in Mexico's forest, a drop of 44 percent from 2012 already perilously low population. To put this in perspective the average monarch coverage from 1994-2014 was 6.39 or nearly ten times this year's. For years conservationists feared that deforestation in Mexico would spell the end of the monarch migration, but now scientists say that agricultural and policy changes in the U.S. and Canada—including GMO crops and habitat loss—is strangling off one of the world's great migrations.


Environmental groups: top secret Pacific trade agreement to sacrifice wildlife, environment

(01/16/2014) Environmental groups have blasted draft text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) released yesterday by WikiLeaks as potentially devastating to the environment and wildlife. The massive 12-nation free trade agreement has been negotiated in secret now for almost four years, and the information release by WikiLeaks shows that key environmental safeguards in the agreement are being stripped away, including a ban on shark finning and illegal logging, as well as legally-enforced pollution regulations.


Scientists identify 137 protected areas most important for preserving biodiversity

(11/14/2013) Want to save the world's biodiversity from mass extinction? Then make certain to safeguard the 74 sites identified today in a new study in Science. Evaluating 173,000 terrestrial protected areas, scientists pulled out the most important ones for global biodiversity based on the number of threatened mammals, birds, and amphibians found in the parks. In all they identified 137 protected areas (spread over 74 sites as many protected areas were in the same region) in 34 countries as 'irreplaceable.'


Pet fish invade ecosystem, upending nutrients and impoverishing fishers

(10/02/2013) If you, or someone you know, owns a freshwater aquarium, chances are you have seen the peculiar little creature attached face-first to the glass in effort to find a morsel of algae. This algae eater, popularly known as the sucker fish, is the sailfin catfish, or plecos. It is one of the most commonly purchased fish in the freshwater aquarium fish trade, and, according to recent research in The Royal Society B, aquarists often reintroduce the sucker-fish into the wild with detrimental consequences.


Mesoamerican Reef needs more local support, says report

(09/13/2013) From massive hotel development through the agriculture industry, humans are destroying the second largest barrier reef in the world: the Mesoamerican Reef. Although global climate change and its effects on reefs via warming and acidification of coastal waters have made recent headlines, local human activities may destroy certain ecosystems before climate change has a chance to do it. The harmful effects of mining, agriculture, commercial development, and fishing in coastal regions have already damaged more than two-thirds of reefs across the Caribbean, in addition to worsening the negative effects of climate change.


Flying rainbows: the scarlet macaw returns to Mexico

(06/11/2013) On April 21, 2013, the first flock of scarlet macaws (of many more to come) was released into the jungles of Aluxes Ecopark, nearby classified World Heritage Site Palenque National Park, as a part of a massive reintroduction project to restore the popular and culturally-significant bird to the well preserved rainforests of Palenque and the rest of its southern Mexico homeland—where the species has been extinct for close to 70 years.


U.S. company's open pit gold mine in UNESCO reserve in Mexico raises concerns

(05/28/2013) Sierra la Laguna is a unique ecosystem reserve spanning more than 100,000 hectares in the southern tip of the California peninsula. It is one of the best-preserved natural areas in Mexico and home to about 100 traditional farmer families as well as multiple endemic animal and plant species. But there is one more thing that makes the region unique: approximately 2 million ounces of gold reserves underground worth $2.8 billion at current gold prices.


Featured video: saving sea turtles in Mexico's Magdalena Bay

(05/09/2013) A new short film, Viva la tortuga documents the struggle to save loggerhead and green sea turtles in Magdalena Bay, Mexico. Once a region for a massive sea turtle meat market, the turtles now face a new threat: bycatch. Loggerhead sea turtles are drowning in bottom-set gillnets, unable to escape from the nets once entangled. The issue has even raises threats of trade embargoes from the U.S.


Debate heats up over California's plan to reduce emissions via rainforest protection

(05/07/2013) As the public comment period for California's cap-and-trade program draws to a close, an alliance of environmental activists have stepped up a heated campaign to keep carbon credits generated by forest conservation initiatives in tropical countries out of the scheme. These groups say that offsets generated under the so-called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) mechanism, will undermine efforts to cut emissions as home, while potentially leading to abuses abroad. However supporters of forest conservation-based credits say the program may offer the best hope for saving the world's beleaguered rainforests, which continue to fall at a rate of more than 8 million hectares per year.


Deer populations hurt by poaching in Mexican dry forest

(03/18/2013) White-tailed deer are usually thought of as inhabiting temperate forests in the U.S. and Canada, but this widespread species can also be found across tropical forests, from Mexico to Peru. A new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science investigates the population of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in Mexico's Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Biosphere Reserve (TCBR), and finds that poaching may be having a large impact.


Greenpeace targets forest carbon offsets in California's cap-and-trade

(09/25/2012) California's inclusion of forest conservation-based carbon offsets in its climate change legislation may not lead to net reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and could exacerbate social conflict in places like southern Mexico, argues a report released Monday by Greenpeace. But the activist group faced sharp criticism from backers of California's initiative.


Extremely rare plant region left unprotected in the Yucatan Peninsula

(09/17/2012) For the first time, scientists have identified the areas of the Yucatan Peninsula that hold the highest concentrations of endangered woody plants, which includes trees, shrubs, and lianas. In doing so they uncovered four key regions, but also noted that the region with the highest concentration of extremely rare plants was left unprotected, according to a new paper in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science.


Dry forests disappearing faster than rainforests in Latin America

(08/21/2012) Countries across Latin America lost 78,000 square kilometers of subtropical and tropical dry broadleaf forests between 2001 and 2010, according to a new satellite-based assessment published in the journal Biotropica.


North American freshwater fish going extinct at rate over 800 times the fossil record

(08/14/2012) Since 1898 North America has lost at least 39 species of freshwater fish, according to a new study in Bioscience, and an additional 18 subspecies. Moreover, the loss of freshwater fish on the continent seems to be increasing, as the rate jumped by 25 percent since 1989, though even this data may be low.


Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Peru get big boost in deforestation tracking, biomass measurement

(07/11/2012) Efforts to rapidly and accurately track deforestation and forest degradation in Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru got a boost this week with a special technical training session organized by the Governors Climate and Forest Task Force. The meeting, convened at Stanford University and Google's Silicon Valley campus, paired staffers from government agencies and NGOs in the four tropical countries with technical experts from the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), the Carnegie Institution for Science, the Forum on Readiness for REDD, Woods Hole Research Center, and Google Earth Outreach. The participants received training to augment existing deforestation, forest degradation and biomass monitoring capabilities, which are highly variable both between countries and within sub-national agencies and jurisdictions.


Making reforestation work in abandoned pasturelands

(07/09/2012) Tropical reforestation is not easy, especially in abandoned pasturelands. But a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science finds that removing grasses prior to and after planting native tree seeds significantly improves the chances of forests to take root. The study site, located in Mexico's Lacandon rainforest, was covered in an invasive African grass (Cynodon plectostachyus).


Cancun [Wikipedia]:

Cancn is a coastal city in Mexico's easternmost state, Quintana Roo. It is the municipal seat of Benito Jurez municipality and a world renowned tourist resort.

Geography

The average temperature in Cancn is 27 C (80 F) with more than 240 days of sunshine, and rain is rare. The beaches are almost 100 percent limestone; the porous quality of the limestone makes for cool sand even under the intense tropical sun. Cancn is divided into two parts: The narrow 23-kilometer-long (14-mile) island section (Cancn Island) is lined with modern beachfront hotels surrounded by the Baha de Mujeres (Bay of Women), the Caribbean Sea, and the Nichupte and Bojorquez lagoons. The mainland downtown commercial section (Cancn City), connected to the island by two bridges, has broad avenues lined with whitewashed shops, restaurants, and hotels.

History

In the early 1950s Cancn was an almost unpopulated and undeveloped island just off the Caribbean Sea coast of the Yucatn peninsula, home to three caretakers of a coconut plantation and small Pre-Columbian ruins of the Maya civilization. The government of Mexico decided to develop a tourist resort on Cancn which was originally financed by a USD $27 million loan from the International Development Bank. A causeway was built to link Cancn to the mainland, and an international airport was built, along with what was at first a model city for workers, complete with housing, schools and medical facilities. On the opposite side of the island from the Caribbean Sea is Nichupte Lagoon, which is used for boat and snorkelling tours of the area.

Development of Cancn started in 1970 and grew rapidly in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the original very sensible master plan was repeatedly modified and, on the mainland, often ignored. According to long-time resident Jules Siegel (author of the "Cancun User's Guide" and translator of Fernando Mart's "Cancun, Fantasy of Bankers"), municipal authorities have struggled to provide public services for the constant influx of people, as well as to control squatters and irregular developments, which now occupy an estimated ten to fifteen percent of the mainland area on the fringes of the city, he says.

Despite initial skepticism that forced the Mexican government to finance the first eight hotels, Cancun soon attracted investors from all over the world, but approximately 70% of the Hotel Zone properties are owned by Mexicans, many of them local residents, Siegel says. The figure is close to 100% for the mainland. Some observers believe that the resort is foreign-owned because they are confused by the hotel operating companies, which are international companies that supply administration and marketing services. They do not usually own the hotels themselves. Even outlets of restaurant chains such as McDonald's and Domino's Pizza are Mexican-owned.

The city has grown rapidly over the past thirty years to become a city of approximately half a million residents, covering the former island and the nearby mainland. There are actually very few true 'cancunenses' (people originally from Cancn) because of the rate at which the resort and its service areas grew. Most people living here are from mainland Mexico and a growing number are from the rest of America and Europe.

Environmental concerns

Although some environmentalists claim that Cancn is an environmental disaster, Siegel says that is not true. There has obviously been environmental damage and the situation could deteriorate rapidly, he reports, but at present (February 2005) Cancn's main problem is a breakdown of garbage collection and disposal as a result of political conflicts that will hopefully be solved by a new administration elected February 6, 2005. Sewage treatment is another danger point, he says. Although approximately 75% of the city has public sewer lines, many homes rely on septic tanks. The underground water table is beginning to show symptoms of contamination, but by the standards of most populated areas in the United States the water is still relatively clean.

"You can see the bottom of the Caribbean off Cancn in satellite photographs," Siegel says. He discusses this and other issues at length on his website, http://www.cafecancun.com.

Tourism in Cancn

In Cancn there are about 140 hotels with 24,000 rooms and 380 restaurants. Three million visitors arrive each year in an average of 190 flights daily. The hotel zone is one of the most exclusive internationally, with upmarket restaurants, bars, and the like which have catered for quite a number of the rich and famous. The hotel zone tends to be rather expensive as it is aimed at visitors and relies on the all inclusive hotels to keep them all in this area allowing prices to soar. Downtown is home to less expensive places to shop like Walmart, Comercial Mexicana and Soriana, not to mention several flea markets like the one in the hotel zone.

Downtown Cancn gives us a different aspect. There are also many clubs for all types of people, including gay clubs like Karamba or Glow, but the hotels are more accessible to all types of travelers, including some with lower rates. International brands in Downtown area are Radisson Hacienda Cancun, Best Western Plaza Caribe, Oasis America.

The temperature of the city is warm, moderated by the marine breeze which circulates through its avenues. The temperatures are typically between 26C and 36C (78.8F and 96.8F).

Cancn's hotel zone also has an interactive aquarium where visitors can see the marine diversity of the area, swim with dolphins and feed sharks. Here and there in the hotel zone are some ancient ruins.

The main language in Cancn is Spanish, although English is widely spoken throughout the tourist areas. Mayan dialects are also spoken between some workers and people born in the Yucatn peninsula.

Cancn is served by Cancn International Airport.



Cancun [Wikitravel]:



Cancun (Spanish: Cancn) is a planned tourist city on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. It is a popular vacation spot on the Caribbean coast. There is much to do in the city, and if you're willing to take an hour or two bus trip, there is more to explore than you could possibly fit into a single vacation.

One word of warning, late June is especially hot, so come prepared or try the off season.

Understand

Cancun itself was built on a site selected by computer (yes, really) as the ideal spot for a new tourist development by the Mexican government. The state of Quintana Roo was still a territory and this area had few inhabitants when Cancun was built. Cancun and the surrounding area is almost entirely built around the tourist industry. It abounds with overpriced all-inclusive resort hotels.

Stay here if you wish to spend your vacation with other tourists and minimize your contact with any of the Yucatan's local culture.

Those mostly seeking beach, scuba, or diving who are a bit adventurous can easily find rooms on equally beautiful and less crowded beaches somewhere and hour or two drive south along the coast for 1/10th the cost of major Cancun hotels. Some Spanish language skills may aid in finding better deals. You can rent a car, or take the bus to Puerto Morelos (about 20 minutes) or Tulum (1 hour). Playa del Carmen (45 minutes, MXN$65) is between the two, but caters to the all-inclusive crowd. Taxis are also available.

Those looking for a base of operations who want good or luxury hotels and the advantages of urban life but prefer more local flavor may wish to stay in the Yucatan's main city of Mrida; many international flights in to Cancun continue on after a stop to Mrida's international airport.

Do

The Ocean and Beaches. For the more advanced swimmers, the edge of the open ocean can make for a challenging and fun swimming experience. For less advanced swimmers, or those with little ones, pick a resort facing into the bay for a gentle and relaxing aquatic experience. The sand found here is ground up coral and doesn't get hot like you might expect. Buy

The markets. Bring your haggling skills and get ready for a vast shopping experience in any of the city markets. Great buys can be found, but you need the nerve to get the price right.

Get out The best feature of the city is undoubtedly its transport links, with extremely cheap charter flight deals available to the UK (from around 100) and elsewhere, including the USA and Cuba.

Beware leaving Mexico without enough money. The Mexican Government charges a travel tax of around 500 pesos/50 US Dollars to actually leave the country.

Trips from Cancun

There are bus services to the coastal ruins of Tulum (2 hrs, 60 pesos), which are literally on the water, well excavated, and framed by powder white beaches.

The large ruins of Chichen Itza are often visited on a day trip from Cancun, but are rather distant and only a small portion of the site and attractions can be seen this way. If you find the ancient Maya of interest, spend a night at one of the hotels at Chichen so you needn't have a rushed incomplete visit.

The ruins of Tulum are another relatively nearby extraction. They are similar to Chichen Itza but are built beside a beautiful beach. Unlike Chichen Itza, you are not allowed to go inside or climb on the pyramids. Of the two sites, most people tend to prefer Chichen Itza.

Distant places include Palenque (14hrs approx, 450 pesos) and San Cristobal de las Casas (a nasty 17hrs, 500 pesos, well worth the journey); these are better visited using somewhere else much closer as a base.

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