I can’t speak for the economy for the whole Yucatan, Mexico but I can speak for where I live, in Valladolid, which is mid way between Cancun and Merida. There are probably three tiers of the economy – agriculture, education, and tourism. The town I live in has roughly 70,000 people. It acts as the county seat, so there are a number of small towns that are satellites.
The town has over nine institutes of higher education, so there are a lot of students here at any time, plus a lot of teachers, and because of that, there are a lot of cultural activities that show up in various schools. The only things that aren’t here are hard sciences and medicine. Almost anything else you can get as an undergraduate degree here. And a lot of the kids who go to school here live in small villages, so on Friday afternoon the bus station is packed and Sunday evening it is packed again when they’re returning from home.
Before I ended up coming here, I had planned to retire in the US somewhere in New England in a college town because I like the idea of being around the culture that a college town brings that you can be exposed to.
We also have agriculture here. People drive in from Cancun and all they see are trees; the road is absolutely boring. Behind those trees are fields and farms, but you can’t see them. Many people still grow crops the way their ancestors did. The northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula is limestone with a very, very thin coating of soil, so far mechanization does not exist here. People plant like they did a thousand years ago. They use a 4-foot stick with an iron point on it; they poke a hole in the ground, put the seeds in, cover it over, and look for the next spot deep enough to get the iron point in.
Once you leave the town, people live here literally like they did a thousand years ago. They might have a bicycle now, a machete, something like that, but they don’t necessarily have water in their house, they don’t necessarily have electricity and they cook on the floor with fire. it is a juxtaposition of – and it is one of the reasons I’m here, very specifically – indigenous Mayan culture and the colonial culture that the Spanish brought some 470 years ago.
From Cancun, Valladolid is the first colonial city that you hit going west. It is named after Valladolid in Spain, which is not unusual, as are many places in Mexico and Latin America that are named after places in Spain. In the town itself, there are probably 50,000 to 55,000; in the county roughly 70,000.
(Traditional Mayan farming technique, milpas, where various crops are grown on one field, pictured.)