Mexico's Eco-Friendly Hotels

A peek at three eco-friendly hotels in Mexico's Riviera Maya region
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Cabanas Copal, Riviera Maya, Mexico
Cabanas Copal, Riviera Maya, Mexico (Dylan Lloyd)

Cabanas Copal
I inched back toward the bed, my headlamp flashing over the crevices in the cement floor and walls and up along the mosquito net draped over the bed. Before climbing through the net, I peeked around to the other side of the mattress. There it was, clinging to the bed, where I was supposed to sleep. I froze. My heart raced and goose bumps tore across my bare skin. Its eight legs stretched out about two inches each and its body appeared large and gray in the dim light. The spider seemed to stare back at me, its shining eyes reflecting the rays of my lamp.

This would prove to be the only time I questioned my decision to stay in eco-friendly lodging during my trip to Mexico. And, for all the arachnophobes out there, this was the only close spider encounter I experienced during my entire week-long visit to the Riviera Maya. Of course it had to happen the one night I spent alone before my brother arrived to vacation with me. Hours earlier, when I first spotted the creature in my cabana, I'd raced down the dirt path to the front desk and tried to explain in broken Spanish that there was a gigante aranya in my room and someone needed to kill it. I'm fairly certain I heard someone mutter "loca" before a grandfatherly man led me back to my room carrying a plastic cup (apparently he planned to capture it and let it go) only to find that the spider was out of sight. As we walked, I muttered with panic, "muy grande," behind him. He turned around and spoke. "This is Mexico!"

I had reserved the most rustic of the three eco-friendly lodging options that I would visit for the first two nights. And this was about as rustic as I was willing to go. The Cabanas Copal consists of a number of cabanas tucked in the jungle on the edge of the Caribbean Sea in Tulum, Mexico. An all-natural, laid-back, beach town, Tulum offers a very different vacation package from that of its all-inclusive resort-filled, touristy neighbor to the north, Riviera Maya. Tulum's lodging consists mainly of off-the-grid beach huts bordering the Caribbean, with a jungle backdrop.

The cabanas vary in price and types of rooms—from spacious, romantic rooms overlooking the ocean with bathtub and shower to family rooms with bunk beds and private bathrooms to smaller cabanas with garden views, the least expensive of which have shared baths. My brother and I stayed in a seaview quad—a room steps away from the ocean with two queen-size beds and a private bathroom with shower. Note: Although it doesn't have a door, the toilet and shower area of these rooms is partially hidden by a small curtain; i.e. this may not be the best place for shy people.

The rooms don't have electricity, gas, or telephones, but they do have running water and small gas tanks that heat it up. The ocean breeze flowing through the huge screens covering the front of the hut served as our fan. A small generator provides electricity for the restaurant and lobby, where guests can charge anything electronic they may have brought—you can also bring a laptop to the restaurant and connect to the internet. I had cell reception on my iPhone and was able to use that for important calls (although I paid a lot for that when I returned home), such as one to my fiancé requesting a voice of reason when I first spotted the spider.

Cabanas Copal offers a nature-oriented experience. Close to camping, but with amenities that camping sometimes lacks, these rooms work well for the adventurous and those who yearn for adventure but also desire warm water and a bed. I must credit the hotel for clearly stating on their website:

"We embrace the jungle and make every effort to help guests feel at home in this natural experience. However, if you prefer air conditioning and your hair dryer to the fresh sea breeze and candlelight, then Copal is probably not the best choice for your vacation."

In other words, you must be a bit braver than usual, but you'll be rewarded with the opportunity to leave behind the stresses of daily life—phone calls, appointments, emails, Facebook updates, oh…and work. And you get to view the wildlife that most of us are fond of—and not so fond of—including iguanas, geckos, hermit crabs, foxes, and possibly even some monkeys. And then there are the beautiful, azure waters that stretch forever in front of a soft, white-sand beach steps away from your room.

A true eco-lodge, the Cabanas Copal offers a different experience from the typical hotel. It doesn't have an endless supply of hot water and the rooms aren't scrubbed down with bleach and other toxic chemicals between guests—you'll find some sand on the floor. The roofs are made of palm leaves, in traditional Mayan style, using local resources, and are mostly watertight but it's possible to have a bit of leakage during a storm. When visiting a place like this, you must prepare yourself for the unexpected (check out our packing list). You won't have all the amenities of a Marriott, but you'll return home with better stories. I left Cabanas Copal with the confidence that I'd had an adventure and maybe, just maybe, a little less afraid of spiders.

Published: 28 Apr 2010 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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