The dense jungle of the Yucatan peninsula will get a more solid link with the rest of Mexico in the wake of Monday's announcement by the country's president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Lopez Obrador has pledged up to $8 billion to build the "Mayan train," a massive rail network slated to become operational in four years. That's more than double the previously projected budget of $3.2 billion. Once completed, the rail line will not only connect Cancun to the ancient Mayan site of Palenque but will complete a circuit by adding an extra line to the Chichen Itza ruins and a return link to Cancun. The total mileage of the proposed railway addition will be 930 miles.
Despite the overrun budget, it is projected that the train will pay for itself in the long run, especially with trail accessibility to Palenque and Chichen Itza, but also historic colonial cities like Campeche and Merida. Additional destinations that might also be enticing include the lagoons of Tulum and the nature reserves of Sian Ka'an.
"This will greatly stimulate tourism and will create jobs in the southeast, which is the most neglected region of the country," Lopez Obrador said.
The president-elect also revealed a six-year financing horizon that will involve funding from both private and public resources, the latter from tourism taxes, which account for roughly $370 million that annually reach federal government coffers.
The new line was a plank in Lopez Obrador's campaign platform that was initially met with a lot of resistance, given the terrain. Dense jungle and wetlands with underground rivers that could cause the ground surface to cave in, as well as the potential to ruin archaeological sites and wildlife reserves, were cited by naysayers as obstacles.
But with consumer tourism tastes veering from the tried-and-true attractions of coastal resorts to a desire to visit attractions off the beaten path, supporters hail the new line as a no-brainer.
"Tourists today prefer other types of tourism projects that are more in contact with nature," said Vicente Ferreyra, a sustainable tourism consultant. "They are turning more toward the jungle, and there is an opportunity to diversify for markets that don't just want sun and sand."
An additional bonus is that workers who staff the resorts in Cancun and the rest of Mexico's east coast, yet live remotely from where their jobs are located, can also benefit from using the rail line once completed. The line would not only be faster than the commute by motor vehicle, it would also be a more environmentally friendly transportation option.