Despite COVID-19, Sisal struggles to manage all its tourists

Tourism in the tiny coastal community has increased 100% since it was designated a 'Magical Town'

Small fishing boats anchored in Sisal, Yucatán. Photography: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Sisal has long been considered one of Yucatán’s best beach destinations. Photo: Courtesy

Restaurateurs and hotel operators in Sisal say that the growth of tourism in the coastal community is rapidly outpacing capacity. 

Despite the pandemic, tourism in the tiny coastal community of Sisal has increased 100% since it was designated a “Magical Town” by Mexico’s federal tourism authority. 

The appointment came in late 2020 amid stricter rules to qualify as a Magical Town, or Pueblo Magico. Only 16 of 121 municipalities evaluated in 2019 met all the requirements, and some towns struggle to remain on the roster.

Aside from infrastructure challenges, business owners say that they are having a difficult time training additional staff capable of meeting customer expectations. 

“Sisal has always been a magical town, but this is a small place. We are thrilled that so many people are now interested but the problems start when visitors come expecting amenities we can not yet provide,” said a local business owner, Jaime Abreu Rosado.

Earlier: Sisal and Maní named Pueblos Mágicos, a double victory for Yucatan tourism

Tour operators and shops along Sisal’s boardwalk can also be seen doing their best to improve facilities to meet greater demand.

Business owners also noted that it is up to the government to improve transportation infrastructure. The narrow two-lane road which currently connects Sisal to the state highway system is no longer wide enough. 

Over the Easter weekend, record numbers of visitors descended upon Sisal’s beaches and businesses. This was likely due in part to the closing of Progreso’s beaches and boardwalk out of fears of a post-Easter COVID-19 surge. 

Critics of the move to close Progreso over the Easter holiday say that it is ridiculous to shut down the most-visited beach in the state and then act surprised when beachgoers crowd into smaller communities. 

Sleepy Sisal, about 70 kilometers northwest of Mérida, was once Yucatán’s main port. Now it is a fishing village of about 2,000 residents boasting a few waterfront restaurants, a pier, mangroves and unspoiled beaches.

Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway.