Mayakoba is an anomaly. An area smack in the middle of the Mayan Riviera, it is almost the antithesis of everything the resort-laden Mexican coast has become known (and is often criticized) for. Though three of the world’s best-name hotels are on the property – Banyan Tree, Fairmont, and Rosewood – they are, untypically, not skyscrapers, rarely have a view of the ocean, and have been created with the utmost care for the environment. “In nature but sophisticated,” one of the developers called it.
When the Spanish company OHL began planning the 640-acre Mayakoba in the late ‘90s, it first spent a number of years studying the ecosystem of the region, halfway between Cancún and Tulúm, with a view to making as little impact as possible. Now Mayakoba is starting to become a beacon for sustainability in Latin America – it is the act to follow.
While other Mexican resort hotels in the Yucatan Peninsula often tear out the mangrove and destroy the coastal dunes in order to build right on the beach, Mayakoba did not. A network of canals were created using the underground water arteries, which gave access to the sea but also meant that many of the hotel buildings would have to be built virtually out of sight of the ocean. When the land was ready, the first (and what would become the largest) hotel, the 401-room Fairmont, opened in 2006. The 132-villa Banyan Tree opened in 2009. Mayakoba has made provision for six hotels, although only five will be allowed.
Today a third of Mayakoba’s undeveloped land is mangrove, ten percent is coastal dune (much of which has had to be revived after the double whammy of the hurricanes of 2005 and 2007), and the remainder is jungle. When the resort’s PGA-ranked golf course was created, it was done in such a way that not a drop of irrigation water could reach the subterranean rivers below them, and a type of grass was used that needs little fertilizer or chemicals and can be irrigated with salt water.
The thirty or so species of fish, birds, and vertebrates in the area before Mayakoba’s creation have since increased some tenfold. No fishing is allowed on the property. Five on-site biologists led by Luis Ortiz keep an eye on everything from the quality of the water in the canals and the importation of exotic plants species – Banyan Tree, the Asia-based hotel group whose first hotel this is in the Americas, was refused permission to bring in its typical foliage – to rescuing injured wild animals and abandoned dogs and cats (something the Yucatan Peninsula is infamous for). Each hotel also has environmental officers.
Perhaps some of Mayakoba’s most significant contributions have been to the local communities. This being the area where chewing gum originally came from, locals are assisted in revitalizing the tree-gum industry, as well as that of the stingless Mayan honey bee. Both honey and chewing gum are sold at the Banyan Tree, and the profits go to the communities. The other two hotels have their own social programs. The 2010 PGA tournament at the Mayakoba golf course collected one million dollars for local charities, and one day a month the course is open to anyone to come in for a lesson and a free meal.