Photo Essay: Mayakoba Earns Top Global Awards for Ecotourism and Development


Fairmont Mayakoba (Brad A. Johnson)

Mayakoba Resort near Playa del Carmen in Mexico’s Riviera Maya has just won two of the world’s most prestigious honors for its commitment to sustainability and responsible tourism. 

The resort, owned and created by Spain-based developer OHL Desarrollos, includes three of the Riviera Maya’s most luxurious properties: Rosewood Mayakoba, Banyan Tree Mayakoba and Fairmont Mayakoba. Together, they have won the Ulysses Award from The United Nations World Tourism Organization. The UNWTO is a specialized agency of the United Nations that plays a central role in promoting the development of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism. The Ulysses Award is considered the world’s most prestigious prize for ecotourism development.

Mayakoba has also just received certification from the influential Rainforest Alliance, making it the first resort in Latin America to be recognized as a Rainforest Alliance Verified Destination. The Alliance also honored Mayakoba with its esteemed Sustainable Standard-Setter Award for the resort’s commitment to conservation, its efforts to improve the environment and its outreach to the local community.


Rosewood Mayakoba (Brad A. Johnson)

I’ve written about Mayakoba several times over the past few years. The spas at all three resorts are among the best in Mexico (or better yet, worldwide), as are some of their restaurants (more to come on that in a separate post). While I’ve received dozens of press releases about Mayakoba’s environmental practices, I’ve never really stopped to think about what this has meant for this entire region of Mexico. 

And that’s actually OK, says Andrés Pan de Soraluce, president of OHL Desarrollos. “Nobody, or at least hardy anybody, chooses Mayakoba because of our eco policies. But they will definitely return as a result of what they experience when they see the resort—whether they fully realize the depth of our commitment or not.”

“From the beginning of our development,” Pan de Soraluce says, “We wanted to achieve two things: First, a resort that touched the environment lightly, leaving an unspoiled landscape for the enjoyment of our guests and future generations. And second, we wanted the resort to be among the finest in the world, an enclave within an enclave of natural yet magnificent hotels. So we are delighted and honored to receive these awards.”


Fairmont Mayakoba (Brad A. Johnson)

Anyone who traveled to the Riviera Maya 20 years ago—when most of the coastline was still undeveloped—will now marvel (and possibly shudder) at some of the changes. The area between the main highway and the beach used to be solid jungle—a dense thicket of mangroves and wildlife. But as the area grew, most builders looked at the mangroves as a nuisance standing in the way of progress. They gutted the jungle to make room for their resorts. 

Mayakoba was the first large developer to say, “Hey, wait a minute. We need to protect this ecosystem.” Thus Mayakoba built only a small line of villas and restaurants next the beach, then established the bulk of their hotels, pools, restaurants, spas and golf course on the other side of the mangroves, leaving hundreds of acres of jungle and natural waterways intact—which has created the most authentic sense of place of any resort in the region. 


The Mayakoba canals (Brad A. Johnson)

The property’s three hotels are linked by more than nine miles of canals, many of which previously existed as underground cenotes, which feed into lagoons, which feed into the sea. Each of the three resorts employs its own biologist, with whom guests can tour the canals by electric boat to spot all manner of birds, iguanas, fish, deer, sometimes monkeys and, yes, even crocodiles. The area provides an important refuge for nesting birds and shelter for the hatcheries of young fish and turtles. Since the resort debuted in 2006, wildlife in the area has increased from 35 species to more than 200, while vegetation has increased by 100 percent—without introducing a single plant from outside the region. This formula is now being studied and copied by other resorts in the area (and around the world).


Banyan Tree Mayakoba (Brad A. Johnson)

Up next for Mayakoba: There’s a fourth hotel being announced in January, when they’re expected to break ground (in the spot that was previously to be filled by Viceroy, who pulled out when the economy stumbled). I’ve been sworn to secrecy as to which brand is joining the project. All I can say is that it’s pretty exciting—the first tropical resort location for this ultra-hip brand, which has so far concentrated its hotels in major international cities. Also in January, Mayakoba will debut a new water taxi system that will allow guests to travel between hotels by electric boat (rather than being shuttled between resorts by Suburbans or Escalades, as is the case now). 


One of the acient waterwaya at Sian Ka’an biosphere (Brad A. Johnson)

And, fyi, there’s still a part of the Riviera Maya that has remained relatively untouched and unchanged. The protected biosphere of Sian Ka’an, located just south of Tulum (about 45 minutes south of Mayakoba) is an extraordinary oasis with which Mayakoba has created a partnership. While anyone can tour this amazing biosphere of lagoons, canals and Mayan ruins, hardly anyone does. There are no crowds. No buses. No glossy billboards. Just you and nature, in one of the most blissful places in the world.


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Full disclosure: I am being compensated for syndicating my content in the Mexico Today program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today never tells me what to write or say, nor does the organization limit or restrict the scope of my articles or critiques. I&rsqu
o;ve always loved Mexico, and I will continue to share my honest, unfiltered thoughts and commentary about the places I visit south of the border. 



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