Yucatan has been an independent country outside of Mexico three times and was the seat of the Mayan Empire before the Spanish came to Merida. The local Mayans weren’t really pacified until the 1940s. So for many, many years in the 20th
century there were still Mayan rebels fighting for independence.
The state of Yucatan is one of three states in the Yucatan Peninsula. The others are Campeche (where there are very few expats) and Quintana Roo (which is quite famous for tourists and expats and has within it Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and Tulum; comprising the Riviera Maya). Yucatan has the colonial city of Merida and lots of nice beaches in relatively small fishing villages.
The city of Merida is around 500 years old. It’s probably one of the first inhabited Spanish cities in Mexico. Merida is not only the capital of Yucatan but it is the capital of Southern Mexico. It is the technological and medical center of the peninsula. All the medical specialists are here in Merida and there are many universities here. I just saw the new statistics, which said there are over 114 universities in Merida alone.
When the Spanish came, Merida was a very active Mayan city, which is why the city continued here. It has the existing infrastructure of the Mayan civilization, which was actually still very active in Merida. At that time, Merida was known as “Tho.” I’m assuming that’s why the city continued in the same location, whereas where some of the other well-known ruins such as Chinchen Itza and Ushmal were already abandoned by the time the Spanish came. Many other locations such as Valladolid and Izamal were still active Mayan cities when the Spanish came in, so they just continued on and basically built over the Mayan ruins.
In the early 20th century, before the invention of polyester, there was more millionaires in Merida, Yucatan than in any other city in the world. They prospered and made their money out of Henequen (which in English is “sisal”) and from which they made rope, canvass, and fibers.
Quintana Roo didn’t exist until the 1970s. It was a territory. It was part of the Yucatan Peninsula, part of the independent nation of Yucatan and then when Yucatan joined the Mexican Union, it was part of the Mexican Republic, Lopez Portillo, started and created Cancun. So the Riviera Maya has only been around for 25 years.
Fonatur, which is the trust for tourism, is the agency that developed and started marketing the area of Cancun, so Cancun was created by the federal government. Now, Cancun is one of the most sought after and popular tourist destinations in the world. We’ve got tourists from all over the world. Not only is Cancun a famous destination worldwide, but it’s one of the Mexican nationals favorite areas to vacation.
Playa del Carmen was probably two blocks, and known as where you took the ferry to get to the island of Cozumel. Now, it has grown very rapidly. During the last 7 years Playa del Carmen was the fastest growing city in Mexico. It’s now a good-sized city of about 300,000 people. Playa del Carmen is quite a nice place to live, and a lot of fun to visit. It’s also an extremely popular tourist destination. The cruise ships stop in Cozumel or Playa del Carmen and many walk what is known as Fifth Avenue, which has many shops, restaurants, and lots of entertainment. There’s lots to do in Playa del Carmen. It’s a younger crowd. Playa del Carmen is on the Caribbean so there’s different colors in the ocean. The speed is a little bit faster than what you would find on the other side of the peninsula.
Playa del Carmen is not just very popular vacation destination but there’s a worldwide expat community in Playa del Carmen. You have Italians, Brazilians, French, English, lately a lot of Russians have been moving there, Americans, and Canadians. Playa del Carmen is a very unique melting pot in Mexico. People from around the world live there.
Further south from Playa del Carmen one of the better-known areas is Tulum. There are many other little communities in between that are also expat destinations. Tulum is known for their Mayan ruins right on the beach Tulu, and they are getting world recognition for their beaches. They’ve come up with a beautiful master plan. It’s probably the first city in Mexico that has, from the ground up, developed a master plan on how the growth of the city is going to be developed.
Tulum is a very interesting destination mixed with ancient Mayan ruins, beaches, and planned growth. It’s becoming a hotspot. There are a lot of people buying there and investing in the area because you don’t have to worry that if you buy a house, there’s going to be a gasoline station or a tire shop next door. It is planned and you know what you’re getting into. And certainly, you’re on the Caribbean, so it has that to offer.
Some of the best areas yet to be developed in the Yucatan Peninsula are in the state of Yucatan. The state of Yucatan has great fishing communities that you can very much compare to what Playa del Carmen and Tulum used to be. My opinion is that buying in Celestún or in Sisal, basically anywhere in the Yucatan coast, is going to be your best investment. Imagine if you knew what Cancun and Playa del Carmen or Tulum were going to turn into? Would you like to have bought there before the 1,000%-plus increase in real estate prices? That’s what’s going on in the state of Yucatan and its beach coast. You can get in right now and buy these small fishing communities.
I particularly like Celestún, Sisal, and Telchac because they’re all surrounded by the federal and state natural parks and reserves, so growth is going to be limited. You’re never going to see high rises like you would in Cancun. There are density and height restrictions so anybody that gets into any of these beach areas will always be comforted with the idea that it’s not going to turn into a massive city, not only because there’s nowhere to go because it’s surrounded by reserves and nature parks.
(Sisal fields in the Yucatan, Mexico, pictured.)