How are Latin America’s coastal regions faring? I was one of the panelists trying to answer this question in National Geographic’s annual Geotourism survey. As usual, some places got failing grades (like Louisiana after the BP oil spill), while ironically oil-rich Norway scored the highest. In general cool climate places to better: fewer people are moving there and building vacation homes and resorts.

See the full report here, but the top rated destinations included spots in Chile and Argentina. These were places rated as “In excellent shape, relatively unspoiled, and likely to remain so.”
Chilean Fjords
Argentina: Valdés Peninsula

These were rated as “doing well, with a few surmountable problems.” (Scores out of 100)
Antarctic Peninsula 70
Costa Rica: Caribbean coast 70
Brazil: Bahia, northern coast 69
Brazil: Rio de Janeiro beaches 66
Colombia: Cartagena coastal region 65

Then “A mixed bag of successes and worries, with the future at risk.”
Mexico: Tulum to Sian Kaan 61
Chile: Viña del Mar 60
Belize: Coast and barrier reef 58
Honduras: Northern coast 57
Costa Rica: Pacific coast 55

Thankfully, only one Latin American destination showed up in either of the bottom two categories, that being Zihuatanejo in Mexico. It’s nice little town that is unfortunately a cruise ship stop, with the ships’ massive footprints overwhelming the fragile marine system and the thousands of visitors totally changing the character of the town itself.

Overall, the biggest problem on the coasts is over-development, with poorly planned and minimally supervised building projects quickly transforming coastal regions, not always for the better.

“From Costa Rica to Nova Scotia, native residents are getting priced out of their own oceanfronts. Some places cope with these changes. Others teeter at a tipping point,” says the intro.

There’s an inherent struggle that a publication like ours has to face. Sure, it’s great to buy your piece of paradise on the ocean, but at what cost to what was there before?

We do what we can to steer people to developments that preserve what made the place special instead of obliterating it in the process, but there are few locals anywhere who won’t take crazy gringo money in order to leave their fishing village shack with an unfathomable wad of cash in pocket. We can only hope that the positives—new jobs, better infrastructure, the sprouting of new outreach programs to help the poor—will make up for some of what has been lost along the way.

Please tread lightly when finding your place in the sun and ask that your builders and architects do the same. Do what you can to support the less fortunate in the community. If you can get to some place by some method other than on a cruise ship, that’s nice too. There’s only so much coastal land on this Earth and we need to take care of it.