Eco-Friendly Adventures in Riviera Maya
It was about 15 minutes into a Natural Trail Excursion last fall when Tatiana Morfin, Fairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya's ecology and corporate social responsibility manager, had what she considers the most amazing experience of her life. A young spider monkey not only decided to join the dozen people walking on the jungle path, but he stood erect on his hind legs and actually walked along with them for several minutes. Knowing he posed no danger, Tatiana encouraged everyone to relax and keep talking as though nothing was, uhh, different. As they exclaimed to each other about the new member of their group, the monkey seemed to be paying attention, looking from person to person as they spoke. Then, as suddenly as he'd appeared, the monkey was gone, leaping into a tree and disappearing into the branches. “To see this natural beauty so close, to see animals free in their wild homes, being themselves, awakens a feeling inside you'll never forget,” says Tatiana.
Sharing and protecting the natural beauty of the resort's 240 lush, tropical acres in Riviera Maya is one of the things Tatiana loves about her job. A good example of the resort’s stewardship surrounds the hotel. Before the hotel opened, there were approximately 60 native animal species on the property. Now, thanks to the hotel's commitment to the environment and ongoing sustainability practices, there are more than 300. “What we do contributes to the respect of and care for the native animals, plants, beaches and corals and also supports our local communities and their cultural richness,” she reflects. “This fills us with joy and satisfaction.”
Among the Mayakoba Community's many awards and certifications are its Rainforest Alliance certification and Ulysses Award for Sustainable and Responsible Tourism Development from the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Numerous behind-the-scenes activities garner these recognitions, such as water- and energy-saving programs, extensive recycling and environmental education for employees, guests and the community. “I suggest we leave this out…although there are many “green” awards out there, the ones the resort has are not easy to obtain!
Five Ecosystems = Exceptional Experiences
Fairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya is unique in having five distinct ecosystems on its property: mangrove forest, jungle, beach, dune and lagoon. In fact, the word “Mayakoba” means “the city over water.” “The best way for guests to enjoy this abundant biodiversity is to get to know each one, taking time to observe the different areas,” notes Tatiana. “We have a wonderful menu of excursions that give guests up-close-and-personal experiences that add something extraordinary to their vacations. But it's also easy to just walk through the mangrove forest or along the beach, breath the clean air, listen to the birds and revel in the beautiful pink clouds at sunset.”
The resort’s excursions can be quite surprising, such as the on-site Melipona bee sanctuary tour. Mayan tradition holds the honey from these small, low-yield, stingless bees has healing properties, and guests can visit the hives and even take part in a special ceremony by a Mayan shaman thanking the bees. The Coral Reef Restoration Program and the snorkeling it affords is another spectacular excursion. Working hand-in-hand with Oceanus, an international organization dedicated to the conservation of marine and natural resources, the hotel is helping reforest the Mesoamerican Reef—the second largest in the world-- by planting coral colonies at its beach. “Our snorkeling tour offers the opportunity to take part in this incredible activity by visiting the coral nurseries,” says Tatiana. “Because of global warming, the coral is dying, and if we don't do something about it soon, we'll lose an entire marine ecosystem.”
Venice of the Caribbean
Guests of all ages are eager explore the extensive network of canals and lagoons interlaced throughout the property, making the boat tour the most popular activity. It's also why the resort's nickname is the “Venice of the Caribbean.” “Our Nature Adventure is a very comfortable boat tour in a lancha, a small, covered canal boat. You'll see many varieties of tropical birds, animals and plants, pointed out by an expert guide who captains the tour. Kids love it; they feel like pirates going off into exotic, unknown territory,” Tatiana says.
During the Nature Adventure and Natural Trail Excursions, a guide talks about native plants and animals, shares legends of the great Mayan warriors who inhabited the area and explains the ecosystems of the Yucatan peninsula. The finale for both is a visit to the spectacular Burrodromo Cenote, a fresh-water sinkhole hidden deep underground. According to Tatiana, “It's a big cave under the jungle, where the ceiling is full of bats, and the floor is filled with water. It's just amazing!”
Guests might also consider a trip to the magical Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 90 minutes south of the resort. Its 1 million acres is home to hundreds of species of wildlife, including toucans, manatees, jaguars and spider monkeys, as well as an ancient Mayan temple, several cenotes and ancestral communities inhabited by Mayans. Personalized guided tours are available through the Maritur DMC, which has an office off the main lobby of the resort.
From May to October sea turtles nest, a very special time at theFairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya. Four species visit to lay their eggs: loggerhead, white, hawksbill and leatherback. “We carefully collect the turtle nests from our beach and relocate them to a safe zone turtle camp,” Tatiana explains. “When they hatch, guests can help with their release.”
“I love that I can make a difference with what I do, to improve my community and help the planet,” she reflects. “I live in a small paradise that so many people love, and to know that what I do is helping ensure it will last is just a wonderful feeling.”
Janet Blaser is a freelance writer from California based in Nayarit, Mexico. For 30 years, she has been writing about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Her work has appeared in numerous travel and expat publications.