Full steam ahead on the Mayan train

Meagan Drillinger

The annual Tianguis Turistico wrapped its 47th edition last week in Mexico City. The first time this event was ever held in the country’s capital, it brought together buyers, suppliers and media from more than 90 countries, all interested in learning about and participating in Mexico’s explosive tourism industry. The amount of business conducted at this year’s event exceeded the sales volume from the previous Tianguis Truistico by 87 percent. By the end of the three-day trade show, nearly $70 million in sales had been recorded.

One of the biggest topics on the mind of travel advisors and tourism professionals at this year’s event was the progress of the Mayan train. The Mayan train has been widely talked about since 2018, when President Andres Manuel Lobez Obrador revived the project. The original plan had been proposed in 2012 by the previous president, Enrique Pena Nieto, and was to cost about $1.5 billion. As part of Lopez Obrador’s campaign, he proposed expanding the tourist train from Cancun down through Tulum and to the Mayan ruins of Palenque, as well as to the states of Campeche and Yucatan — a project totaling somewhere between $6 billion and $8 billion.

Now, it seems that we’re getting closer and closer to the actual debut of the mega tourism initiative.

“The Mayan train is a very important project for our country and for our state. It’s a project that is trying to bring more opportunities for tourism in Quintana Roo. For us, the governor and all of the inhabitants, it is a green opportunity to promote more destinations in our state and to bring more opportunities to the people who live in the center and south of the state because of connectivity,” Bernardo Cueto Riestra, secretary of tourism for the state of Quintana Roo, told members of the media at a Quintana Roo breakfast at Tianguis Turistico.

According to Cueto, the train is expected to be inaugurated this December, with the first departures for its first phase to run in early 2024. Construction is already underway, including the stations in Cancun, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. The specific train route to be launched in the first phase has yet to be announced, but Cueto believes that a large portion of it will be in Quintana Roo, since the majority of the miles in the entire route are in that state.

Michelle Fridman, secretary of tourism for the state of Yucatan, told Travel Weekly that the Mayan train is already under construction in that state, as well, and that the connection between Cancun and Merida will also be part of the first phase.

But the Mayan train is just a piece of Quintana Roo’s rapid tourism expansion. One of the train stops under construction will be at the impending international airport in Tulum. 

“The schedule for Tulum airport is that next year it will be open and will start with a lot of connectivity,” Cueto said. “There are a lot of airlines that are very interested in this airport and the opportunity for connectivity for central and southern Quintana Roo.”

According to Cueto, there will be flights to Tulum from the U.S. immediately. The highest demand comes from the U.S., as travelers want to cut the travel time to Tulum. Right now, it takes an hour and a half to drive from Cancun Airport to Tulum, but the debut of the airport will cut this time down to 15 minutes. This airport will also bring the burgeoning destination of Bacalar a bit closer to home. The drive to Bacalar from Cancun is about four hours, but from the Tulum airport it will be an hour and a half.

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