At the tail end of a hurricane season that has produced nearly a dozen destructive storms, Hurricane Wilma ripped through Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula October 21-22, disrupting hotel service, transportation schedules and the local infrastructure. Although the storm caused major damage and left some 35,000 tourists stranded in Cancún, Cozumel and the Riviera Maya, government officials believe the outlook is somewhat hopeful.
Of the nearly 35,000 stranded tourists, almost 60 percent were evacuated by October 27, six days after the storm. According to Mexico Tourism Secretary Rodolfo Elizondo, "Many of the 10,000 tourists in the Mayan Riviera have chosen to continue their vacation instead of being evacuated." At this point nearly all guests wanting to leave have safely returned home.
Still, a lingering uncertainty remains for those tourists who have planned trips to the area in November and beyond. Will they be able to get there, and, if so, what will they be arriving to?
The Cozumel airport sustained some structural and flight tower damage, but the runway was, for the most part, unharmed. The airport remains open, with flights operating under visual flight rules.
The situation in Cancún is evolving. Through October 30, the Cancún International Airport (www.cancun-airport.com) was operating in recovery/evacuation status, with preference given to inbound supplies and passenger departures. Normal service was scheduled to resume on or after October 31 for Mexicana Airlines (www.mexicana.com), USAir3000 (www.usa3000airlines.com) and other carriers.
Continental Airlines (www.continental.com) evacuated passengers from nearby Mérida last week and is currently reporting on its website that November 5, 2005, is the earliest possible date for resuming its regular schedules for Cancún and Cozumel.
Most carriers have plans in place to rebook passengers at no cost if they do so by the each airline's specific reticketing date (most fall on our around November 11, 2006). You can read individual policies by clicking on the names of the following carriers:
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Continental Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- Frontier Airlines
- Mexicana Airlines
- Northwest Airlines
- USA3000 Airlines
Hurricane Wilma affected not only airlines, but ferries and cruise lines as well. Ferry service between Cozumel and Playa Del Carmen resumed operation on October 24, and has been running continuously ever since. The ferry has been operating free of charge for both tourists and locals. The outlook for cruiselines is far less positive. Currently all remaining cruise ship piers are closed. Cozumel's Puerta Maya Pier, used by Carnival Cruises, was lost during the storm. The International and Punta Langosta piers are intact but sustained damage, and are being assessed. [Click here to see our complete report on Wilma's effect on the cruise industry.]
Packagers and Tour Operators
The storm also caused problems for vacation package operators. One of the largest operators for package tours and charter flights to Mexico, Apple Vacations (www.applevacations.com), has suspended operations to Cancún through November 2, 2005. For an updated flight schedule with its charter partner, USA300, go to this page, then click "Click here for more information."
Pleasant Holidays (tel. 800/448-3333; www.pleasantholidays.com) continues to accept reservations for the Cancún and Riviera Maya areas while also waiving cancellation and change fees through November 4th. They've asked customers to "change their plans, not their vacation," encouraging those who have an already-booked vacation to the affected region to opt instead for other destinations served by the company. Ken Phillips, Pleasant Holiday's staff vice president of corporate communications said, "Hopefully, flights to Cancún will return prior to Thanksgiving." He recommended checking with your travel agent or travel company, because information on the aftermath of Wilma is being updated almost by the minute.
SunTrips (tel. 800/786-8747; www.suntrips.com) has halted operations to Cancún through early next year. According to Matthew Holliday, president of SunTrips, "Reports from the region indicate that damage is extensive. As such, we want to ensure our clients receive a high quality vacation when traveling with SunTrips. Therefore, we have made the decision not to offer Cancún as a destination until February 3, 2006 to allow the hoteliers and residents to rebuild." The company is allowing ticketed passengers to either reschedule or even cancel their existing reservations without penalty; the company has not yet set a deadline for altering reservations, so we suggest acting as soon as possible.
All hotels in the region suffered some damage, and it's currently a mixed bag -- some hotels are up and running, while others are closed for the near future. In Cozumel, coastal hotels suffered extensive damage, but those inland are reported to be in better condition. Properties such as Presidente InterContinental Cozumel Resort & Spa (www.ichotelsgroup.com) as well as the El Cid La Cieba (www.elcid.com) expect to be closed until January 31, 2006, for example.
In the Cancún resort area (called Isla Cancún), Wilma made a direct hit on properties such as the Sheraton Cancún Resort and Towers (www.starwoodhotels.com/sheraton) and the Westin Regina Resort (www.starwoodhotels.com/westin); those hotels are not scheduled to reopen until December 20, 2005. The El Dorado Royale, however, suffered no structural damage, although some villas were flooded. The storm filled all the Royale's pools with sand and broke windows of the Martini Lounge. The resort expects to open November 20, 2005. The Hilton Cancún (www.hilton.com) is not currently accepting reservations and expects to be closed through the end of the year.
How to tell what businesses have reopened, opened only partially or closed completely (either until further notice or a specific date)? Several websites are publishing detailed listings and/or photos, although none functions as the definitive list.
- Akumal Hotel Photos via Locogringo.com
- Cancún Hotels via Apple Vacations
- Cancún Hotels and Businesses via Travel Notes
- Cozumel Hotels via Apple Vacations
- Cozumel Hotels and Businesses via Travel Notes
- Playa del Carmen Hotel Photos via Locogringo.com
- Riviera Maya Hotels via Apple Vacations
- Riviera Maya Hotels via Pleasant Holidays
For more up-to-the-minute hotel, airline, and package-tour information, consult each hotel, airline or package-tour website for any changes in their policy. We at Frommers.com will continue to provide you with the information on traveling to the Yucatán. You can also check in with the Cancún's tourism information website for the latest on what's open and what's not, at www.cancun.info.
Join the discussion with fellow readers about Wilma's effects on our Mexico Message Boards.
David Lytle, Kelly Regan and Keith Rockmael contributed to this article.