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Visitors to Mexico’s Riviera Maya can now take the Mayan Train from the resort city of Cancun to Campeche on the west coast of the Yucatan Peninsula—the first piece of a planned 950-mile, $20 billion rail project promising service throughout Mexico’s Caribbean resort region and beyond.

The partial opening of the Mayan Train on Dec. 16 marks a modest but significant milestone for the project, a centerpiece of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s economic development agenda. Built over existing rail lines, the 290-mile Cancun-Campeche route starts at Cancun International Airport and includes stops at the historic colonial city of Merida and the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza and several smaller Yucatan towns.

Mayan Train Slated for 2024 Completion

Once completed, the remaining two-thirds of the Mayan Train will connect Cancun to Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and other Mayan archaeological sites at Calakmul and Palenque. López Obrador has pushed for the completion of the project by 2024, but the remaining route requires running a new track through jungles dotted with limestone caves and filled with sensitive archaeological sites, which has slowed construction. Mexican government officials have said the next segment, from Cancun to Palenque, will debut in February 2024—a claim met with much public skepticism.

Construction on the Mayan Train began in 2020. When complete, it will have 29 stations in the southeastern Mexico states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo. The final segment slated for completion will run from the small city of Escarega to Campeche, completing the main circular route with a spur line south from Escarega to Palenque.

Segments of the Mayan Train are under the control of the Mexican military, which also has aided in its construction. The local business community has supported the project, but it has garnered opposition from environmentalists, indigenous rights groups, and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a leftist revolutionary group that controls significant territory in Chiapas state.