Today we started off our morning with a quick breakfast before we hitched a ride to the Maya ruins of Tulum. When we arrived, we were greeted by our tour guide, who then took is through the walled city of Tulum and explained to us the importance of this Maya port city. The complexities of Maya trade routes and economy were explained, as well as an extensive introduction to many of the various Maya gods. Tulum was the only walled city of the Maya, and was one of the first port cities that the Spanish ever bore witness to, calling it "a city that would rival that of Seville." After the tour, we were given time to explore on our own. Some of us climbed down the stairs of the cliff that the city sits on to the beachfront, while others opted to stay on the edge of the cliff for its outstanding photo opportunities. After the exploration at Tulum, we were picked up and brought to Xel-Ha, an "ecologically friendly fun-park" just a few minutes from Akumal. Xel-Ha is billed as a minimal impact tourist destination, with eco-friendly attractions. We spent hours snorkeling, swimming, floating, sliding, and even catching a nap in the sun at the park.
Tulum was an important economical center for the Maya, due to its close proximity to sea, and its protected ports. The Maya traded with each other throughout their empire from the Yucatan to Guatemala. It was also a highly educated city, with religion and astronomy highly valued and practiced within its walls. The structures in the city were filled with astrological symbolism just as the ruins in Chichen Itza were.
Modern Xel-Ha is an important tourist site because it shows that the lucrative tourism business can still be ecologically responsible. This is important because its is a model for how the tourism business can work hand in hand with environmental conservation efforts. Xel-Ha does this by incorporating an extensive recycling program at their park, including an organic compost system. The park also has low flow and no flush toilets to reduce water use, and enforce the use of biodegradable sun screen, so that the chemicals do not washout into the river system and effect the fish and plant life there. Xel-Ha is a Silver Level certified ecologically friendly attracting, with numerous other awards that attest to their eco-friendly efforts.
We felt that we could envision life in Tulum more than in any other ruin that we have visited. Where as Chichen Itza was a religious center focused around the main temple, Tulum was spread out and residential buildings with beds could be seen.
Xel-Ha seems to be a good model for responsible tourism. We were wondering how successful their efforts to be ecologically responsible have been, especially in comparison to other tourists parks. Receiving over 5 millions tourists a year seems like it has a huge impact on the environment, just by sheer volume of guests.
Meghan and Tom