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Cancun to ruins by train

Mexico's president-elect wants to bring tourism revenues to remote and forgotten stretches of Mexico, but some are scratching their heads at his main proposal: to build a $3.2 billion train that would run from the resort of Cancun to the Mayan ruins of Palenque, 830 kilometres across the Yucatan peninsula.

The route is dotted by low jungle, wildlife reserves, pre-Hispanic archaeological sites, wetlands and underground rivers that can suddenly cave in. It would take years to build, and soak up scarce money, just to reach ruin sites like Calakmul, which now gets only about 35,000 visitors a year — the number better-known sites like Chichen Itza have in a week.

For those who like the plan proposed by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, it's all about getting people off the beaten track — the heavily travelled tourism route of Cancun-Riviera Maya-Chichen Itza-Xcaret visited by millions of tourists per year.

"Tourists today prefer other types of tourism projects that are more in contact with nature. ... They are showing less interest in the coast," said Vicente Ferreyra, a Cancun-based consultant whose Sustentur company specializes in sustainable tourism. "They are turning more toward the jungle, and there is an opportunity to diversify for markets that don't just want sun and sand."

So, imagine if you could hop on a train at the Cancun airport and step off two hours later in one of the communities at the edge of the Sian Ka'an nature reserve, south of Tulum, where the coast turns into lagoons and mangroves.

Villages like Muyil are offering tours such as floating down fresh-water canals dug by the Mayas, visiting local pre-Hispanic ruins, seeing local craftsmen and sampling regional foods.

Few doubt that the first stretch of proposed train — from Cancun through the Riviera Maya to Tulum — would be heavily used. Almost 7 million international tourists visit this stretch of coast every year, many of them arriving at the Cancun airport and then taking buses or driving down the coast.

While resorts have been popping up south of Cancun since the 1990s, most hotel workers still live in Cancun, which was founded in 1974. So huge numbers of tourism workers could also use the train to get to their jobs, a trip that can currently take them an hour and a half or more.

But it's not clear whether the train would have stops at Playa del Carmen or other busy resorts that would be destinations for the tourists and workers. The initial plan shows it making its only Maya Riviera stop in Tulum before heading farther south.



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