The Early Days of Akumal

Many people ask about Akumal’s early days as a tourism destination. It started out not as a tourism destination but as a coconut plantation on a coastline that was all but forgotten. The mode of transportation was on horseback to Tulum, a very small fishing and chicle camp. Supplies were taken over by boat from Cozumel to the one family that lived in Akumal taking care of the coconut plantation and in an emergency they would go on horseback all the way to Valladolid.

Pablo Bush Romero arrived in 1959 to explore a Spanish shipwreck and used it as the base camp for the expedition. Not long after that, he purchased the land, which he subdivided into sections.

Tourism in Akumal started later in the 60s and it was the first tourist destination on the coastline. Cancun did not exist until the 1970.

On the main bay, he founded Club de Yates Akumal Caribe A.C. as a non-profit, whose founding members stayed at one of the 8 bungalows facing the open ocean. These units were rented when the members did not use them to cover the costs of upkeep and improvements. There was also a restaurant called the Zazil. The destination was mostly for divers and adventurers.

The Cancha on Club De Yates property provided the housing for the staff and the maintenance area for the power plant because government power was not available yet.

Initially, the small number of staff needed was hired from Merida and surrounding towns, principally Kantunil and Sotuta and their families stayed in their hometowns. If a husband and wife were hired and they had children, they often left them with relatives in their towns.

The land behind the Club property was all government owned and years later when more development took place in Akumal, especially after 1985 when Aventuras Akumal was developed, the workers that were not provided with housing where they worked, moved in to this area, building homes out of thatch and wood with dirt floors. There were no septic tanks or proper sewage of any kind and no running water. They got their water from over the ground water lines that were run to them from the main water line. Some brought their families at that time. This area became known as “ The Jatos”.

The Cancha area on Club Property became the area for the few services that could be provided. A space was rented out for a small pharmacy, another space provided to the police for a small station, and some families still lived there that worked on the property. The hotels on the bay provided their own housing, but the few homes that did not have a caretaker casita, and eventually the condos that were built, had no where to house their employees, so they settled in the “Jatos”.

The government allowed these families to squat there and build there because there were no other options. The conditions were very poor and very unsanitary, as it is lowlands and any time it rained they had to put boards to walk over to get to their homes. Mosquitos were a real problem and for years the hotels lobbied with the government to get them decent housing.

Anyone legally employed in Mexico contributes to a government-housing fund and their employers contribute to this fund for them too. The government must provide access to government housing and those that have enough points can obtain their own homes. Government housing was not available until the Hotel Association of Akumal lobbied to get the town of Chemuyil opened up, and infrastructure in place, to make it available for anyone that qualified under the “Infonavit” housing system.

When Chemuyil was opened up, most of the people wanted to have decent homes and qualified to get a house, so they moved out of the “Jatos” area gladly and willingly.  It was a huge improvement over their living conditions in the Jatos.

The small number that was left either did not want to move to Chemuyil, and or they did not qualify because their employers did not put them into the system  (household workers and condo and villa employees) or they were self-employed.

That left the few that could not, or would not move as squatters on a piece of land that the government wanted to recuperate in order to sell it.  These people became angry and decided to occupy another piece of government land closer to the entrance of Akumal with the help of a social activist they brought in from Mexico City. This was a time of conflict for Akumal.

When Hurricane Roxanne hit in October of 1995, there were people living at the far corner of the entrance to Akumal by the highway, fighting for that property, but the government decided to give them land across the highway. Granting that land was the government’s quick fix, but was made without proper urban planning.  Because of this, the effects of raw sewage going into the ground are being felt in the bay of Akumal and along the entire area. The underground river systems lead to the ocean and along with it goes all the polluted waters of the pueblo and the residential areas that still do not have proper sewage treatment.

The government never seemed to have enough money to provide for the town of Akumal, and that’s where the local community and the businesses and hotels were, and are  able to help out the schools, community center and a library to name a few.  They help with sports fields and sponsoring the various sports teams.

The residents of the pueblo established supermarkets, shops, restaurants, rooms for rent, and even small hotels now either as part of their own homes or buying more lots. Some of the residents of Chemuyil bought land in Akumal Pueblo and now rent out the rooms or houses. Some that built houses live elsewhere, some as caretakers of private homes, and they rent their houses out in the pueblo. There has been prosperity.

In 1992, the original club members decided to turn the Club de Yates into an Ecological Association and use the Club building on the beach as the base of operations to run the programs. The rest of the land was set up with rental locations in order to fund the programs after covering costs of operation. This organization is audited yearly and cleared to operate as a non-profit with tax deduction status with very strict guidelines for fiscal compliance.

Akumal has had its fair share of turmoil. It started with the lack of housing, and the ensuing problems of an inadequate town, but today there are far more families that had their lives improved both in Chemuyil and in Akumal Pueblo than not. There have been plenty of jobs with all the hotels, villas, condos and homes that have been built in the area and the parallel service industries. New industries like the snorkel tour business, has created new conflicts and more challenges for Akumal. These challenges need to be resolved for the sake of the ecosystem and the future of Akumal Bay.