The Taming of Tulum



A strange wave of guilt and disgust wash over me as I float above the town of Tulum, Mexico. An all-smiling local hand delivers me another Espresso Martini as I sit in an infinity pool as obnoxious music blares from the speaker mounted on the waterfall, the kind of music that permeates every travel influencer's video.


As far as the eye can see is jungle, the land is so flat all around me that I can see ocean on one side and endless forest everywhere else. The would-be beautiful vista is broken by the sight of endless destruction and construction. More and more trees are being cleared for hotels. Big, ugly, grey concrete structures, shooting straight up past the canopy and soon to be masked by wood finishings and lush greenery to keep up appearances.


I now know why music is blasted from these speakers for almost 18 hours a day, why the water feature in the centre of the hotel that all balconies look over is gurgling and splashing a relaxing waterfall and flowing river, for silence would just allow the sound of endless jackhammers and diggers and cement trucks that occupy the strip.


This is how I imagine Seminyak, Bali to have looked maybe 15 years ago, the rate of destruction and rapid growth is abhorrent. Of course, it comes as no surprise, Tulum sits on the Riviera Maya, four hours south of Cancun and six hours north of Belize, the latest stop in the tidal wave of touristic annihilation sweeping down from Cancun like a swarm of locusts.




Having decided to set up camp in Tulum as a good base to explore the numerous Mayan ruins of Cobá, Chichen Itza, as well as Tulum's own ancient coastal city, it's easy to see how the town has seen an unholy influx of development. The worst of which is Zona Hotelera, an expanse stretching from Tulum ruins, forming a barricade of hotels ensuring no peasants can simply access the beach. The entire town of Tulum seems like open season between the greedy foreign investors and the disgruntled and displaced locals, with tourists in the middle. The poor neighbourhoods are barely a stones throw away from rich, fat Americans experiencing authentic Mexican cuisine served by Mayan workers surviving on pennies as the restaurant charges Miami prices.


Just yesterday, an American man was shot and killed after an armed robbery took place in his brand new soon-to-be opened Airbnb was built slap bang in the middle of an impoverished community. The regular tourist need not worry, mind, as everywhere you go heavily armed police and national guard patrol the streets atop armoured pickup trucks, their sole duty to protect the golden asset; the tourist.


Only one taxi company operates in Tulum and they are so closely monitored nobody dares rob them. Not not to mention you can't just catch them anywhere, only through official channels can you hail one. With one taxi company comes one monopoly. The price for this is a steep one, a ten minute cab ride could set you back $450MXN (£18), but that is the price to pay for a hassle-free trip.


Tulum is a far cry from the glitzy and nauseous Cancun, and downtown Tulum still maintains a genuine Mexican pueblo feel. Its red chair establishment, a sure sign of a good eat, are owned and ran by locals, and still serve the best and most fair-priced Mexican food in town. The main highway flows right through town to ensure you get that authentic dust-coated taco. It's just unfortunate that the total environmental and societal destruction of Tulum will only bring further poverty and resentment from the locals to anyone wanting to visit, all the while the vitriol is diverted from those foreign investors who will continually line their pockets as they turn yet another quiet coastal pueblo into another Bali.