Mexico Wants to Run a Tourist Train Through Its Mayan Heartland—Should It?

Mexico Wants to Run a Tourist Train Through Its Mayan Heartland—Should It?

Gabriel Diaz Montemayor

Security, Americas

A proposed new train in Mexico would connect the archaeological site of Chichen Itza, on the Yucatan Peninsula, easier to reach from Cancun.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has a dream for the Yucatan Peninsula. He wants to build a train that will leverage the tourism economy of Cancun by bringing more visitors inland to the colonial cities, Mayan villages and archaeological sites that dot the region.

The Yucatan is a unique Mexican cultural crossroads. Many Maya here continue to farm, live and dress according to indigenous traditions developed millennia before the Spanish colonized the Americas. Travelers also come from across the globe to sunbathe along the modern, highly developed Riviera Maya. Over 16 million foreigners visited the area in 2017; three-quarters of them were American.

The Mexican government thinks that a tourist train could turn Maya villages into destinations, too, bringing an infusion of cash and jobs into one of its poorest and most marginalized regions. Commuters would also benefit from rail travel.

But there are social and environmental consequences to laying 932 miles of railway tracks across a region of dense jungle, pristine beaches and Maya villages. And in his haste to start construction this year, López Obrador – whose energy policy is focused on increasing fossil fuel production in Mexico and rebuilding the coal industry – has demonstrated little concern for conservation.

 

Pristine forests and Mayan ruins at risk

 

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