If you smile at a crocodile…

In the heart of Cancun, Laguna Nichupté is another of the regions natural wonders. It is a system of lagoons that comprise over three thousand hectares, it has seven lakes and communicates to the Mexican Caribbean ocean through two channels. Nichupté is full of mangroves and an astonishing biodiversity of plant and animal species. Including large crocodiles known to have attacked dogs, a few distracted tourists and silly pedestrians who don’t mind the warning signs. So best see the Laguna Nichupté from the safety of a boat.

Entrance to the underworld

The South of Mexico is rich in history and natural beauty. Mayans inhabited this area of the country and studied natural phenomena. Even though they were great astronomers and scientists at their time, they also believed in many Gods and explained some natural events with beliefs.

Cenotes were used as both, source of water; and, for Mayan people they were believed to be the gateways to the underworld or afterlife and their god Xibalba. Being sacred, these water wells, were protected by the Mayan people with Alux – a clay made spirit. Mayans used to perform sacrificial offerings in cenotes.

Cenotes are limestone cave-pools with crystal clear water due to the slow filtering through the ground of rain water. The word derives from the Mayan tz’onot or ts’onot, which means water well or abyss.

Near Cancun, Gran Cenote, a semi-open cenote, provides access to the second-largest cave system in the world, Sac Aktun – with over 215 km mapped passages. The opening of the cave has enough light to see the underwater columns of stalagmites and stalactites while still being in the dark. In the cave you can see bats flying around and the refreshing crystal clear water makes it possible to see the small turtles and fish swimming around.

Hurricane approaching

Tulum is an ancient walled city perched on the edge of a cliff in the Mexican Caribbean. A city of its kind in its era for it is the only archeological site close to the sea. Tulum is believed to have been a major trading and religious center between the 11th and 16th centuries. Goods like turquoise, jade, cotton, food, copper bells, axes, and cacao beans were traded here.

It is estimated that the population of Tulum was once 1,600 people and was one of the few Mayan cities that were still inhabited when the Spaniards invaded Mexico. Its population was, however, mainly wiped out by diseases brought by the Spanish and the rest killed by the intruders.

The word Tulum means “wall, trench or fence” in the Mayan language. A fitting name as the wall around the city is three to 5 meters (16 ft) in height, 8 m (26 ft) thick and 400 m (1,300 ft) long on western wall parallel to the sea. Though the original ancient name of the city is said to be Zama, meaning “dawn” or “sunrise”.

Mayans were superstitious and feared thunder and lightning but were amazing astronomers and scientists which meant they predicted astronomical manifestations with stunning precision. The wind temple in Tulum is said to whistle whenever a hurricane is coming.

Eventful history of a beach resort

Perched at the top of the Caribbean, around 23 kilometers of white sand beaches are the home of 700,000 residents and attract a few million of tourists every year. Cancun beaches are actually made of crushed coral, this the sand will generally feel cool underneath bare feet – despite the weather.

These white beaches and turquoise crystal clear waters see thousands of turtles return to their original home to lay eggs around May. The turtles nests are located right in the middle of the Hotel Zone in Cancún. Fortunately, the eggs are protected and safe from harm as residents, hotel owners and tourists alike are encouraged to participate in this labour.

Cancun’s history has been eventful. The development of the resort area for tourism began in January 1970. Before then, it is said that only 3 residents called this island a home. Then, in 2005, Hurricane Wilma hit Cancun and wrecked almost half of the beaches. Over $70million was invested into a restoration project, which dug up gallons of sand from the sea bed to rebuild the white beaches of Cancun.

Additionally, Cancun has been battling with sargassum seaweed for the past several years; especially this past year was a very difficult year for the tourism sector. Sargassum is a naturally occurring phenomenon in the summer, but it has increased over the last several years. Its increment is an indication of pollution and increased damage caused by human activity.

This rapid intensification of sargassum represents a latent threat for the destruction of reefs, the erosion of beaches, the tourist contraction and an impact on an important income of the national Gross Domestic Product for Mexico. Despite the allegations of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who does not consider the seaweed to be particularly problematic. Even after the government has contributed $2.6 million USD towards removal efforts.

It is not all gloom though. Sargassum has triggered research and experimentation for its uses and recycling. It recently has been used in the preparation of blocks or bricks to be used in construction, where it is ecologically more friendly and economically more profitable than its alternatives. Other uses for the sargassum are in the pharmaceutical and textile industries, or the seaweed has been converted into biofertilizer. 

With all its ups and downs, for now, Cancun remains a favourite holiday destination. Though beware of the season for it will define the type of fellow tourists you share these white sandy beaches with.