“We say we’re in the heart of the Riviera Maya.” – Don Miguel Pani, Uxuxubí community leader
After two days of preparations in Cancún, we loaded into a van and set off for Uxuxubí. None of us knew quite what to expect, but as the van jostled down the 11 bumpy kilometers from Akumal, the nearest city, we knew that it would be quite an experience.
Situated deep in the jungle west of the Riviera Maya, Uxuxubí is home to 20 permanent residents. Four of the five families who live there year-round have young children who attend the community school. The village has a small community center with a large event palapa, a community kitchen, and an impressive bathroom facility. There is some solar power in community areas (enough to charge small devices, like phones and cameras), a communal landline phone, and a wifi router, though we weren’t able to get it to work while we were there. Although it is situated close to the bustling tourism of the Riviera Maya, it often felt like a world away. Being off the grid for a week in this lovely village surrounded by nature was a refreshing change from city life.
Along with the three of us from Aalto, we were joined throughout the week by an Aalto mentor and a team from our partner university, Instituto Tecnológico de Cancún. The team included:
Guiding us throughout the week was the village leader, Don Miguel Pani. Don Pani is the driving force behind the community, and we were often staggered by the depth and breadth of his ideas for Uxuxubí. We were lucky to be working in a community with such a visionary leader who could provide us with a rich treasure trove of information throughout the week.
The rest of the village was also extraordinarily helpful and hospitable during our stay. We’re so grateful and humbled to have gotten to work with a community that was so willing to participate in our research and make our stay as comfortable and memorable as possible.
We’re back in Finland now, and we can’t wait to share everything about our trip. We saw great potential for community members to develop tourism on their own terms, and we think that Uxuxubí could eventually be a model for sustainable community-based rural tourism.
– Liz Miller