Things That Matter

Drugs Are Poisoning Tulum’s Water And Leaving A Trail Of Destruction In Their Path

Tulum is arguably Mexico’s most Instagrammable destination, with thousands of tourists arriving every day to live their influencer dreams – even if just for a few days. With the influx of tourists comes the need for massive infrastructure projects, diesel fuel (since the beach destination doesn’t have its own electricity) and also their appetite for drugs.

These same tourists who claim to want to experience beautiful Mexican culture are destroying the original pueblo and character of Tulum and having dire consequences on the region’s environment.

Tulum’s tourists are wreaking havoc on residents and the environment.

In barely more than a decade, Tulum transformed from a backpacker’s beach into the next stop after Ibiza on the global DJ party circuit. It now has 40,000 residents, with 200,000 expected by 2030, and the town hasn’t been able to keep up with the arrival of wealthy jet-setters and the people who follow them on social media. 

Home to the world’s largest underwater river system and once pristine reefs and beaches, Tulum is especially susceptible to changes in the environment. According to recent report by VICE News, once thriving coral reefs are now completely black and void of wildlife.

Tulum is built upon a massive underground aquifer thanks to its very porous rock – this is why the area is surrounded by the very popular cenotes, which are also Instagram hotspots. The water from Tulum’s hotels, and restaurants is often left untreated and allowed to seep into this delicate ecosystem. Scientists have run tests on water found in these cenotes and discovered they contain trace amounts of popular street drugs like cocaine.

The drug trade is also leading to increased crime and violence.

In fact, the situation is becoming so bad that a National Security Council representative believes that the ongoing success of the Quintana Roo tourist destination is at risk. Between 2019 and 2020, small-scale drug trafficking offenses soared 783%!

Homicides in Tulum increased 109% in 2018, surging to 23 from 11, before rising 47.8% in 2019 to 34. The upward trend continued last year with homicides up 44.1% to 49. Several other crimes including home burglaries, muggings, domestic violence and extortion have also increased over the past three years.

According to the Quintana Roo government, six criminal groups operate in the resort town including the powerful Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the Zetas Vieja Escuela (Old School Zetas) and the Sinaloa Cartel. The main lure for the gangs is the retail drug trade: many tourists go to Tulum to party and take drugs in a “tremendous way,” James Tobin, a Quintana Roo-based citizens’ representative told Reforma.

Another problem, he said, is there aren’t enough police officers in Tulum, which became its own municipality in 2008 after separating from Solidaridad, where Playa del Carmen is located. “…[There are] 150 police for 80,000 residents, … they can’t deal with the situation, they’re overwhelmed,” Tobin said.

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