Fearing tourist trap, Sisal residents fight new beachfront project

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
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. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Sisal has some of Yucatán’s most beautiful beaches, but now locals warn that greed may destroy their practically pristine village. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Locals of the coastal community of Sisal argue that a new oceanside housing development threatens the health of its ecosystem.

But as the project has already been granted approval and begun construction, Sisal’s community is vowing to use all of its lobbying power to make sure no developments are approved. 

The Paraíso Sisal project is the first of its kind in the community, but many locals fear it will not be the last. Photo: Courtesy

The approval process for the controversial project has been marred in irregularities that critics attribute to corruption and cronyism. 

Aside from boasting its location and oceanside views, on its website, the developer also mentions that the region offers great hunting opportunities, which has further incensed the community.  

Sisal’s ecosystem is made up of hundreds of species that rely on a delicate balance between fresh and seawater which can be altered by modifying the landscape through construction that does not allow for the flow of water and nutrients. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Critics of the project which include a growing group of environmentalists have commented that the new development will not only impact the immediate area of the construction site but the entire ecosystem.

“This area is full of lagoons and freshwater springs. There is a reason the roads around here are mostly sandy, the area can’t take such a large influx of people and construction,” said Sisal resident Josué Carvajal Catzín.

This project may only be the first of several developments that will turn Sisal from a pristine community to a tourist trap.

Some residents say they don’t want their community to have the Pueblo Magico federal designation any longer.

Several signs across town demand that Sisal be removed from the Pueblo Magico program. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

“We are not Cancún and we certainly do not want to be. Our town is not for sale and neither are we,” said local resident Claudia López.

Throughout most of its history, Sisal has been a popular destination for folks from Mérida and surrounding communities to spend a day at the beach. But lately, more and more tourists from abroad are looking to take in the magic and share it on social media platforms like Instagram. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Environmental costs and the impact of over-tourism are not the only reasons locals are unhappy. One of the unexpected consequences of the Pueblo Magico designation has been that electrical tariffs have skyrocketed. The town is now labeled a tourism zone by the CFE, Mexico’s state-run power company.

Along with the noble t’ho, flamingos are Yucatán’s most beloved bird. They can be seen in Celestún, Sisal, and Río Lagartos in great numbers, but smaller groups can also be seen around Progreso and Telchac. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Less than an hour from Mérida, Sisal has long been recognized as one of Yucatán’s best beaches but has in the past few years been a victim of its own success

Locals have also expressed dismay at seeing large domestic and international retail chains popping up around town and threatening — and in the case of a new Oxxo — to replace local businesses. There is also a perception that well-heeled outsiders are gobbling up all of the best real estate, especially on the coast, and inflating prices to unhealthy levels.

Sisal is home to under 2,000 full-time residents, but this number will balloon unless action is taken.

Aerial view of Sisal showing the town, seaside, and wetlands. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine 

A further complication is that because Sisal is not a municipality, but rather a commissary of Hunucmá, the local and state tax burden levied on the community does not even stay in town.