Mexico banking on new resort destination

Even though the name Huatulco may be hard to pronounce — try “what-tool-ko” — you’ll be hearing a lot about it in the future. It’s going to be Mexico’s number one destination in the next century.

Just 14 years ago, Huatulco was nothing but a few fishing villages sprinkled along the Pacific coast of southern Mexico, almost at the Guatemala border. Fewer than 700 people lived there and fished the clean, clear Pacific waters in the shadow of the majestic southern Sierra Madre Mountains. It was accessible only via a bumpy dirt road linking it to the provincial capital of Oaxaca, 172 miles away, remote, peaceful and beautiful.

It’s still beautiful, still peaceful but no longer remote. The Mexican government has constructed an airport capable of handling the largest jets, and has added multi-lane highways and a port for deluxe cruise ships and luxury yachts.

But this wasn’t the first time the Mexican government had created seaside resorts from scratch designed to lure North American and European sun-seekers. The first such development took place in Cancun in 1974, followed by Ixtapa, Los Cabos and more recently Loreto in the Mexican Baja. All have proven extremely popular, oviding a huge boost to the Mexican economy.

“Las Bahias de Huatulco” (The Bays of Huatulco) is number five in this string of successes, and will be, according to government officials, bigger and better than its predecessors. And Huatulco has gone all out to avoid mistakes of the past. For example, the water at the major hotels is pure and safe to drink — a rarity in Mexico. The ocean waters are clear and clean, and a joy to swim.

The Mexicans couldn’t have picked a more inviting area to create a tourism retreat. It rains off-and-on from May to October but boasts more than 300 sunny days a year. The average temperature is a temperate 28C.

Government agencies took control of 32 kilometres of pristine beaches on the coast plus 21,000 hectares of land, of which 16,400 will be designated as an ecological reserve to protect the region’s flora and fauna. The remaining 4,600 hectares which shelter 33 spectacular beaches in nine huge but secluded bays will be developed for tourism hotels and resorts plus towns, schools and all the infrastructure necessary to service a region housing hundreds of thousands of people. It’s scheduled for completion around 2020.

The government is responsible for everything except resort construction — roads, electrical power, sewage and water treat-ment plants, and wells for pure water — ultimately selling off the beachfront land to hotel chains and resort developers. Since the government is developing the land, it has strict control of the location of the new resorts, avoiding the helter-skelter construction of private developers. As an example, buildings are restricted to nor more than six stories.

The government is opening up the nine bay resort areas one at a time. The first is the four-kilometre wide Bay of Tangolunda, ringed with beachfront hotels such as the Sheraton, Royal Maeva and Club Med.

Signature Vacations is the only major Canadian travel operator going into Huatulco this winter. It’s offering all-inclusive packages at the 5-star Royal Maeva, a 300-room resort featuring a massive swimming pool and one of the finest sand beaches you’ll find anywhere.

The Maeva also features gourmet dining, four bars which serve imported wines, a disco, tennis courts and a wide variety of water sports, including scuba, snorkelling, windsurfing and kayaking. A fine place to enjoy a week or so of sun, sea and sand away from the Canadian winter. Prices for seven nights at the all-inclusive Maeva start at $1,579 and run up to $2,059 per person, including airfare. Fourteen nights cost from $2,529 up to $3,099.

It shouldn’t be long before Signature finds itself competing with other Canadian travel companies as Canadians seek new sun escapes. Many U.S. and European travel companies now have Huatulco on their “must-go” lists. Several Canadian and U.S. hotel chains are looking at Huatulco, including Marriott, which is pondering a 1,500-room hotel complex on the next bay south of Tangolunda.

One drawback: It takes five hours flying time from Toronto non-stop to Huatulco, a trifle less from Vancouver. However, that’s a small price to pay in order to sample the sun-kissed charms of the Royal Maeva and Huatulco.

Wondering about the uprooted fishermen and their families? They were relocated from the seaside to inland settlements. One of the resettlement areas was Salina Cruz, which was farmland prior to 1984. Today, it’s a bustling town with over 10,000 residents, a shopping and entertainment centre with many of the former fishermen and their offspring doing very well driving taxis and operating touristy boutiques, souvenir shops and restaurants — even one featuring, of all things, Japanese sushi.