What the Local Pharmacies Tell Us About the Riviera Maya and its Future
It’s like going to Disneyland to buy Viagra.
That was my first impression upon arriving at the Maya archaeological ruins in Tulum, along Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
Seems like everywhere you go in Mexico, you find a farmacia—a pharmacy. Like, everywhere.
In the truest sense, these are walk-in, self-medication emporiums…though that might be overselling the ambiance. They’re small and sterile, really. Just a counter and a wall of meds beneath super-white, fluorescent lighting.
But whatever you need—or desire—la farmacia beckons.
Antibiotics? Would you like amoxicillin, penicillin, Ciprofloxacin, or a Z-pack? Pain relief or muscle relaxant: Tramadol and Flexeril right here. Sleeping pills, steroids, anti-depressants, heart meds…
Welcome to the Candy Shop. You want it, we got it.
Oh, and here’s our card—free delivery to your hotel or condo!
Perhaps most amusing was arriving at the Tulum Maya ruins, one of Mexico’s most sacred archaeological sites, to find a Main Street Disney feel and a welcoming farmacia right at the front of the line, a sandwich board out front advertising all the ways one can self-medicate, including those little blue pills for…well, let’s call it modern-day Maya fertility rituals.
Which, I guess, seems oddly appropriate as one begins the walk into a remnant of ancient Maya civilization, where fertility rituals once included human sacrifice.
Frankly, I love this kinda stuff. As a globally focused investor, I see this as a mark of a country on the upswing, doing what it can to propel its economy forward. I’ve seen versions of this in action all over the world.
In Indonesia, it was a father and son who had converted a piece of Jakarta sidewalk into a make-shift scooter-repair shop. They had a backlog of a dozen or so bikes when I passed by.
In Accra, Ghana, it was entrepreneurs buying old metal shipping containers, carving them up in various ways, painting them bright colors, and creating “container shops” along local sidewalks that sell fractionalized consumer goods: a sachet of milk powder good for one glass…or enough washing powder for one load of clothes…or enough shampoo for one or two hair washings.
It’s small beer, no doubt, but it’s consumerism on the ascent. And it’s innovative people thinking “How can I make a business out of this growing demand I see all around me?”
La farmacias are just a much more advanced version of this. They started off much smaller and less organized years ago. Now, they’re a formalized part of the Mexican economy. Chain stores, really. No different in function than Walgreens or CVS in the States.
You can grab a soft drink from the cooler, some cosmetics, a few personal hygiene needs. But the main draw will always be the prescription meds you can snap up in whatever quantity you want without a prescription. Like buying aspirin over the counter.
Not gonna lie, I did a bit of shopping.
After completing the tour of the ruins (which are truly spectacular), and heading back to the condo that my colleague, Ciaran, and I are renting in a planned community in Tulum called Aldea Zama, I popped into our local farmacia for a Red Bull.
But I also bought a few bottles of Azithromycin and amoxicillin—both antibiotics. I did so because I travel a lot and because, frankly, getting a doctor in Prague to prescribe antibiotics requires penance and an act of presidential intervention. Also grabbed a med for my wife that she can’t get her doctor in Prague to prescribe.
I understand there are risks to self-medication. But it’s not like I’m gonna snap up a bunch of meds I’ve never taken and know nothing about. I know enough about antibiotics, however, to know when I probably need them. And I do know enough to consult reputable medical sites online to determine dosage.
So, I see nothing wrong with having antibiotics I can travel with when I’m heading into places such as Oman and Morocco, which I may be hitting in June and July.
Will this last? Will Mexico’s farmacias survive? Could some over-zealous national government official or worries about antibiotic-resistant superbugs one day shutter these medical candy shops?
It’s possible. We shall see what happens.
For now, though, the candy shop is open. La farmacia beckons. And I am heading home with meds I and my wife can’t obtain in Prague.
I have no moral angst. I enjoy the medical freedom these businesses offer. What I see is locals filling a need and finding a way to grow their local economy legally.