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How Sisal’s new ‘Magical Town’ status became a burden

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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.
Locals in Sisal say that the only magic going on in their newly ordained Pueblo Magico is the disappearance of their beaches, mangroves, and lands. Photo: Courtesy

Residents of Sisal say they don’t want their community to be a Pueblo Magico — Magical Town — any longer. 

A group of locals Tuesday marched to block roads in and out of the coastal community.

Protestors say that the Pueblo Magico designation has done more harm than good and brought with it an acceleration of beach erosion and land deals that only benefit rich outsiders. 

“The Pueblo Magico title has meant beach erosion, the destruction of mangroves, and lots of outside interests only interested in exploiting our town and its people,” said municipal leader Miguel Antonio Ek Pech.

The destruction of Yucatán’s mangroves further exposes the Peninsula to erosion and natural disasters such as hurricanes. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Sisal was named a Pueblo Magico in December 2020 by Mexico’s ministry of tourism after several years of lobbying by the state government.  

Although tourism in Sisal has pretty much doubled since the town became a Pueblo Magico, business owners report that demand is rapidly outpacing capacity.

Small fishing boats anchored in Sisal, Yucatán. Photography: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

“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.

Mexico has 132 Pueblos Magicos, including Sisal, Maní, Valladolid and Izamal. Only 16 of 121 municipalities evaluated in 2019 met all the requirements, and some towns struggle to remain on the roster.

Earlier: Popular priest in Sisal angers church leaders, but the parish has his back

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, as the town is now labeled a tourism zone by the CFE, Mexico’s state-run power company. 

Locals have also expressed dismay at the sight of large domestic and international retail chains popping up around town and threatening — and in the case of a new Oxxo, replacing — 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. 

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. 

Sisal’s relationship with Hunucmá has long been a complicated one, with locals of the former complaining of problems such as over-policing and a lack of investment for infrastructure. 

Aside from visitors looking for some fun in the sun, large numbers of wildlife enthusiasts visit Sisal every year in hopes of spotting the region’s most famous bird, the pink flamingo. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

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, great biodiversity, and beautiful beaches.

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