Posted by: ecodestination | January 13, 2009

Puerto Morelos: Is there hope?

Local activists have been fighting developers and winning in a little place called Puerto Morelos on the Riviera Maya, between over-developed Cancún and Playa del Carmen. Green activism is keeping a village of about 5,000 people set on the beach smelling like fish and seaweed (a good thing!).

The beach isn’t full of sunbathers, there is consequently less sunblock grease on the ocean surface, and it won’t remind you of the plastic scenery of Miami’s South Beach like Cancún can. It resembles “the real Mexico”—e.g. you won’t run into any Wal-Marts. This New York Times article describes peaceful Puerto Morelos as a green mom and pop village. Has anyone been there who could share some impressions?

But if the NYT begins to make a habit of calling attention to little-known eco sanctuaries such as Puerto Morelos, the effect may be detrimental. This article in the paper’s Travel section starts by painting readers an idyllic picture of a genuine, untainted, eco-friendly area, and before you know it, enthusiastically touts Puerto Morelos as it would any “hot spot”: by reviewing the restaurants, recommending dishes, and telling you how much you’ll save by taking advantage of the USD/MXN exchange rate in addition to the already low prices. That is, the NYT article switches to robbing it of its eco virtues and natural wonders and violently shifts perspective to reel you into the commercial possibilities, inviting you—the average, non-eco conscious, tourist—to help rape it.

It might as well read, “Come visit Puerto Morelos! Pretend that you care about the environment and come help deform this tourist spot by transforming it from an anti-corporate haven to Cancún 2.0! You’ll be the envy of all your friends at the next cocktail party.”

Of course you will find hotels and tourist shops in the area, but only a modest amount. Additional tourists means increased amounts of sewage, coral reef-damaging sunblock in the water, fishing (it’s already a fishing village), diving—all sorts of penetration and slow (or quick) destruction of nature.

Puerto Morelos might or might not speed downhill in the near future. opines that in this village, “tourism is just beginning.” At the very least, now we know we can’t count on the NYT for genuine support. Which means we must count on ourselves.

What can we do? Raise awareness through word of mouth, blogs, online communities, and by example: practice conscientious travel habits and support eco tourism.

Here is a short list of useful links – please add to the mix:

Green Travel Tips on

Go Green Travel Green

Green Hotels Association’ s 31 Tips to Save Money & Environment’s tips


Also, see SaveEcoDestinations’s blogroll, organizations, and websites links.



  1. Puerto Morelos HAS grown a lot in the past several years. I remember visiting it several years ago, and then again about three years ago for the last time. It’s gotten “nicer,” and it’s still small but there’s definitely a lot more development. It might not be safe from all the AIs cropping up everywhere along the coast. But then, how do you avoid this kind of development?

  2. Excellent question.

  3. I live in Puerto Morelos. In spite of the growth of all-inclusive hotels up and down our coast, it has had very little effect on our town.

    The sad truth is that most people who go to AI’s do not set foot off the resort property. They are discouraged by the management and many guests do not have much interest in exploring the area. They are most concerned with the restaurants and bars at their resorts. They are unfamiliar with the area and don’t even realize that there is a town nearby.

    We own a small bookstore in Puerto Morelos and we monitor where people are coming from. We get a few “brave” souls from the all ins, but the majority of our visitors are those who are staying in town or daytrippers from other place along the coast.

    Now we are more concerned with population density increases and plans to build housing on our mangrove and flood plains.

    Visit Puerto Morelos!
    alma libre bookstore

  4. Rob, that’s a shame. Sometimes tourists can only get so much of the exotic, though, huh? It’s ironic – people go on vacation and seek out others of their own heritage, Americans seek out Americans and so on. What’s the point?

    It could be about taking baby steps, or not. In my experience having friends who travel abroad, they gravitate toward their “own” and turn down the possibility of honing a second language and other valuable and unique experiences.

    I wish Puerto Morelos tons of luck fighting off burgeoning invasions by capitalist nature exploiters.

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