Abstract The need to tackle climate hazards and development efforts simultaneously is widely acknowledged. However, the possibility of alternative visions of development is seldom contemplated. Instead, adaptation research usually assumes monolithic claims about development constructed from the status quo of global capitalism. This paper outlines a critical approach to adaptation and explores the interplay between visions of development, governance structures, and strategies to cope with hurricanes in the Mexican Caribbean, a region at the ‘front line’ of both globalization and climatic extreme phenomena. Critical adaptation formulates the experiencing of hazards as essentially political and tied to contingent development paths, which may eventually become hegemonic. Over a hundred semi-structured and open interviews were held in Cancun, Mahahual, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum including academics, businesspeople, bureaucrats, journalists, non-governmental organizations and tourism workers in order to characterize development visions in the Mexican Caribbean. Findings show a prevalent hegemonic vision supporting mass tourism growth which encourages hurricane coping strategies based on effective evacuation and attracting investments for rapid economic recovery. The actual implementation of this vision increases social inequalities, degrades ecosystems, and amplifies overall exposure to extreme events. Mass tourism is enforced by undemocratic governance structures sustained by a coalition of government and tourism corporations (a government-capital bloc in Gramsci's sense). Some weak signs of counter-hegemony were identified in Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Mahahual. These isolated episodes of resistance might have triggered alternative coping strategies despite having little effect in altering the overall course of development. Further critical research is needed to unveil the socio-political foundations of development visions and their influence on capacities to cope with climatic extreme events.