Bill La Macchia Jr. of the Mark Travel Corporation was taken
aback when he visited the Cancun area shortly after Hurricane
Wilma’s relentless attack. Windows were shattered throughout
Cancun’s hotel zone and its famed white-sand beaches had
“Then I was very, very surprised and pleased with the rapidness
of how they cleaned up,” he recalled.
La Macchia toured Cancun, then went south to the Riviera Maya
and Playa del Carmen.
“I walked around Fifth Avenue [Playa’s shopping and dining
district] and wouldn’t even have known a hurricane went
Wilma raged over the northwest wedge of the Yucatan Peninsula
from Oct. 21-23, whipping up winds of more than 140 mph and
flooding the peninsula with relentless rain and storm surge. The
news couldn’t have been worse for Mexico’s most popular and most
lucrative tourism destination. Then President Vicente Fox arrived
in Cancun and declared that the Cancun area would be fully
operational by Dec. 15.
His proclamation may have been overly optimistic, but the area
is recovering at an amazing pace. Hotels and tour companies are
fighting to get back their share of the tourism market as tourists
look toward Los Cabos and Mexico’s Pacific Coast as desirable
“As Cancun, Cozumel and the Riviera Maya resume their tourist
activities, we expect to see travel bookings to those affected
areas rise,” said Lynne Biggar of American Express Consumer Travel.
“In the meantime, customers whose travel plans have been
interrupted still have Mexico on their minds, and they’re asking us
for advice on alternate destinations in the country. Among some of
our customer segments, hotel bookings for the more popular Pacific
Coast Mexico destinations are way up over this time in 2004.”
But tourists are returning to the Mexican Caribbean and hotel
rooms are hard to come by in some places. Clients who love the
region and wouldn’t dream of going elsewhere are willing to forgo a
few luxuries and adapt to the circumstances.
“Although tourism in Cancun is still scarce, the planes that are
arriving are full,” said Anna Camacho of Mayaland Resorts in
Cancun. “Most of the passengers are going to Playa del Carmen and
Riviera Maya. People wanting to come to that area should hurry up
and book as it will definitely be full starting in January.”
Cancun’s hotel zone is slowly recovering. Real, Riu, Blue Bay
and other companies have opened hotels on the north-facing beaches,
which withstood the storm. On the longer, east-facing strip, much
of the sand was washed away and the government is evaluating plans
to restore beaches. For now, hotels are shuttling their guests to
better beaches. Le Meridien is one of the few luxury hotels open in
that area; others are racing to reach Fox’s Dec. 15 goal. Some,
including the Ritz-Carlton won’t reopen until next spring. Tourism
officials say Cancun will have more than 11,000 hotel rooms
(including downtown hotels) available by Dec. 20.
Many popular restaurants, clubs and shops are open. La Isla and
the Forum are scheduled to open Dec. 15. Most travel agencies and
tour companies are functioning at normal levels. According to
Camacho, tours to Chichen Itza are operating and the Mayaland
resort by the ruins is fully functioning. Tours to Tulum are
operating as well, along with the ever-popular dolphin programs at
Isla Mujeres and Puerto Aventuras.
The airport is functioning normally and flights are gradually
Isla is the post-hurricane success story. Its main beach, Playa
Norte, is wider and has sandbars stretching into clear water.
Hotels along the beach are open and most are functioning as if the
storm never occurred, as are restaurants and shops throughout the
downtown area. Buildings have been spruced up with bright orange,
green and yellow paint, and the bougainvillea is thriving.
The island’s southern tip still shows the affects of Wilma, with
potholes in the road and sand, concrete and debris piled on the
sides. Garrafon Park is closed at least until the end of January.
Ferries are running regularly from Puerto Juarez, and electricity
and water have been restored throughout the island.
Cruise ships returned to Cozumel on Nov. 14. Passengers are
being tendered to the main downtown pier until the cruise piers are
rebuilt. Avenida Rafael Melgar, also known as the malecon, has been
restored and many restaurants and jewelry and souvenir shops are
Most resort hotels north and south of San Miguel were severely
damaged, as were the beach clubs and the all-inclusives on southern
beaches. The Hotel Cozumel Resort is open, along with smaller
coastal hotels including Villablanca. Some, including Playa Azul
and Casa del Mar are scheduled to reopen by Dec. 15. Most downtown
hotels are open.
The shallow reefs close to shore were damaged, but Cozumel’s
famed deeper coral reefs and dive sites are in good shape. The
archeological sites are open, but Chankanaab is closed until at
least Dec. 20. Larger tour operators are offering horseback and
Jeep tours. The road along the windward side of the island is open,
as is the coastal Ventanas del Mar hotel and Coconuts
The Cozumel Airport reopened on Oct. 29. Mexicana is flying
between Cozumel and Mexico City. Continental Airlines is flying to
Cozumel three times weekly from Houston. American Airlines will
resume Dallas-Cozumel service on Dec. 16.
Electricity and water have been restored to all areas.
Caribbean Coast/Riviera Maya
The northern sections of the coast, including Puerto Morelos,
were slammed badly and most hotels are closed. Ikal del Mar and
Esencia are opening in mid-December, and Maroma in mid-January.
The destruction decreases farther south and many large
all-inclusives are fully functional. Five days after the storm,
tourism officials announced that Playa del Carmen, just 42 miles
south of Cancun, had not experienced any major damage in tourism
infrastructure. The archeological site at Tulum is open, as are
most of the hotels on the road south of the ruins. Xcaret is
scheduled to open Dec. 12 and XelHa on Dec. 1.
Funjet Vacations is running flights to Cancun and taking groups
to the Riu, Palace and Barcelo resorts in the Riviera Maya, and
some of the smaller hotels are fully booked for the holidays.