The Story so far …

Last updated: April 10th

On December 16th, Gabriela Rodríguez Gálvez, Tourism Minister for Quintana Roo, was quoted in a CNN.com article as saying:

 "…it’s very important that the tourists know exactly the status of Cancún, because we don’t want them to expect something else and then have frustrated tourists."

This is the raison d’être behind this blog.

So, in a nutshell…

Places such as Playa del Carmen and Tulum on the Riviera Maya are in much better shape than Cancún, Isla Holbox, Puerto Morelos and to a lesser extent, Cozumel.

Some resorts and hotels – especially around Tulum – have even gained a few more metres of white powdery sand.

February was a milestone month as a clutch of hotels re-opened and the Cancún beach recovery project kicked off.

In December 2005, the Tourism Minister for Quintana Roo said that the goal now "is to fill the Riviera Maya and keep Cancún in the tourists’ minds. Little by little, as Cancún re-opens, we will fill the hotel rooms there.”

Some people confuse Cancún and the Riviera Maya, which affects public perception about post-hurricane recovery. 

“What happens is that people who come to the Riviera Maya, on their [air] ticket it says Cancún," the Minister said. "So what we’re doing in all our marketing and our promotions is dividing [the regions]. The Riviera Maya is ready. Cancún… we’re getting there.”

In the words of Rob Birce in Puerto Morelos: "Nobody has forgotten how to smile or make a margarita!"

How has Cancún coped with the effects of the hurricane?

Cancún certainly struggled in the first 100 days after Wilma.

20,233 (74%) of Cancún’s 27,000+ hotel rooms are ‘open for business’, according to the Cancún Hotel Association.

Check the status of Cancún hotels.

Before you commit to your reservation, I advise you to contact the hotel directly, or (if you are using one) insist your travel agent do it for you.

Ask about on-going building work (if any), the condition of the beach (if this is important to you), available facilities that are essential to your holiday (spa, restaurants, pool, etc.) and infrastructure (e.g. are the lifts working?).

Repairs to Cancún got underway quickly. Electricity, drinking water, drainage and phone service are now completely restored.

The city’s repairs to the hotel zone included replanting 40 hectares of gardens, repaving streets, repairing paved areas and cycle paths, positioning 10,000 palm trees and installing 3,000 new street lights and signs – all at a hectic pace. 

Cancún International Airport suffered some minor damage but is functioning normally. Flights are gradually increasing week by week.

What is the Cancún Beach Reclamation Project?

Miles of Cancún’s powder-white sands were washed out to sea in the hurricane.

Work to restore the beaches on the ‘wave’ side – from Punta Cancún to Punta Nizuc (view a map) – began on January 16th and is scheduled to be finished by the end of April 2006.

By April 1st, the beach had been widened from Punta Nizuc, all the way to the Gran Caribe Real. Follow the progress of the beach recovery project here… and timeline.

Much of the area west of Punta Cancún towards downtown (facing the Bahía de Mujeres) has actually had its beaches expanded by the hurricane. View photo taken in front of the Riu Caribe on Feb. 21st.

Didn’t Hurricane Wilma make landfall at Cozumel?

Yes it did, although electricity and water were quickly restored. San Miguel and the waterfront took a battering but repair work is progressing quickly.

Cozumel depends on the cruise market for about 60% of its economic activity. In 2004, the island received 1,304 cruise ships carrying some 2.9 million passengers, or about a third of the North American cruise market’s total passengers. Those visitors spent an average US$80 dollars each while in Cozumel.

The main piers – Puerta Maya (destroyed), Terminal Marítima and Punta Langostawere wrecked by Wilma, but are being repaired.

The world’s two biggest cruise lines – Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruises – gave a boost to confidence and to the local economy when they returned on November 14th.

Until the piers are repaired, both are shuttling passengers ashore by large tender. Another photo.

Avenida Rafael Melgar, also known as the malecón, the seafront, has been cleared (see the ‘streetlight graveyard’) and restoration is underway.

Cozumel’s famed reefs sustained some damage. Shallow reefs near shore received the most impact, while reefs found at greater depths are said to be in good condition.

According to the Cozumel’s tourism office, the hotels on the island were about half full over Christmas / New Year. Many of the larger hotels remained closed in early January, with some taking the opportunity to remodel.

Check the status of the hotels on Cozumel.

Cozumel Airport officially reopened on October 29th. Frontier Airlines started its non-stop service from Denver on December 17th. Mexicana is flying to Cozumel from Mexico City. Continental Airlines is flying to the island three times a week from Houston.

What about lsla Mujeres?

Isla Mujeres is the real after-Wilma good news story.

Although the island was severely flooded, most of the tourist areas dried out quickly.

Playa Norte is in good shape and has even more soft white sand. It was certainly not "washed away" as I read in at least one report.

Check the status of the hotels on Isla Mujeres.

Most restaurants and shops are open.

Electricity and water have been restored to most of the island and golf carts and mopeds are available for rent.

The southern tip of the island was hit harder. The Garrafón Natural Park will re-open on July 1st.

Ferries are running to and from the island from Puerto Juárez.

Is the Riviera Maya open for business?

Pretty much so, yes.

Hurricane Wilma devastated the shoreline just south of Cancún, destroying hotels and property close to the beaches around Puerto Morelos.

But the storm was less intense farther south, and Playa del Carmen’s tourist zone was open for business almost immediately after the storm. Most of the hotels on the road south of the ruins at Tulum are open.

The Riviera Maya Hotel Association says that 97.5% of all hotels [along the Riviera Maya] are now open and functioning.

Check the status of Riviera Maya hotels.

Tulum is 130km (86 miles) south of Cancún on Highway 307. This road was cleared within days, and tour buses and rental cars were quickly on the move.

LogoGringo.com has posted some good photos of the beach at Playa del Carmen. It looks in good shape less than a week after Wilma.

Playa del Carmen’s Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) is bustling, although perhaps a little less busy than normal for this time of year.

Some photos of Playa del Carmen taken on November 13th.

Is the archaeological site at Tulum open?

Yes, it is. Around 1 million people visited the site in 2004.

And what about the "eco-parks"?

Xel-Há opened on December 1st and Xcaret on December 12th.

Will the same thing happen in 2006?

Well, some things are certain. As they say in the Caribbean about the hurricane season:

"June too soon, July stand by, August come it must, September remember, October all over"

2005 was a record-breaking year. Hurricane Emily struck the region just three months prior to Wilma. This year, the National Hurricane Centre and National Centres for Environmental Prediction released their official hurricane forecast on May 22nd.

"You cannot predict the future but you can be prepared." This is what Gabriela Rodríguez Gálvez, Tourism Minister for Quintana Roo, told me in November. I was impressed to learn that hurricane shelters are to become mandatory in hotels in Quintana Roo.

Under plans put forward by tourism officials, hotels in the affected region will be required to build safety shelters and install emergency generators.

Windows on a designated floor would be blocked out and replaced with walls while ballrooms would will be strengthened to protect against devastating storms.

These structures, rather than churches and schools, would then be used to shelter holidaymakers during a hurricane.

The Minister suggested that it may take a year or two for a new law to be enacted, but this is good news.

You too, need to be prepared.