The Maya Riviera is a 40-mile strip of coast on the Yucatan Peninsula, from Puerto Morelos to Tulum. Midway down is the city of Playa Del Carmen, a fast-growing tourist mecca with high-end hotels, cruise ships and a boardwalk packed with shops and cafes. But stroll just a few blocks inland, and you’ll find a very different world: the barrios where the locals live. There, close ties with the centuries-old indigenous Maya culture reveal themselves in subtle ways, through language, cuisine, — even in graffiti: this bee image hearkens back to the Mayan god Ah Muzen Cab, god of honey and creation, and symbolized by the honeybee.
But not the familiar, honeycomb-producing European honeybee. The Maya relied on small, stingless bees native to Mexico.
Today, these little bees are being plowed and bulldozed toward extinction by large-scale agriculture and developers, meeting the voracious demand for hotels and condos. Efraim Cab, a descendent of the Mayan beekeepers of antiquity, is racing to save them.
Efraim lives in a small apartment building a short walk from the Playa del Carmen boardwalk, but a world away in culture. On the ground floor of his building, Efraim and his colleague, Gaël Aliano, have built a honeybee oasis– what they call a Bee Hospital– filled with the hives of native bees that the two have saved from the bulldozers.
I met Efraim and Gaël while vacationing in Mexico. Fortunately, I had a video camera and audio recorder with me, and was able to shoot this short piece about their work.
I also cut together this short “video brochure” for their bee breakfast experience.
Breakfast at the Maya Bee Hospital
If you’d like to visit them and check out the bee hospital, here’s the Airbnb listing for their bee hospital tour and breakfast.
And another article, from Atlas Obscura, about their work.
Gaël has launched a website to promote not only the bee hospital, but a variety of products and experiences that celebrate the food and culture of Playa Del Carmen:
International Living Playa del Carmen tourist video