It has taken more than $1.1 million and more than a year of post-Hurricane Dean work, but Costa Maya — the newest major cruise port and tourism complex in the Mexican Caribbean — is ready to receive travelers once again.
And while major cruise lines have temporarily rerouted ships calling in Mexico ports as a precautionary measure against the swine flu pandemic, Costa Maya and neighboring tourist stops remain operational.
Costa Maya can accommodate three ships at once
“We are hopeful that this situation will return to normal and look forward to welcoming tourists to our shores,” said Teofilo Haumi, president of Costa Maya.
Indeed, Costa Maya has proved resilient — its recovery following Hurricane Dean was steadfast and speedy, and much work has been done since the hurricane struck in August 2007.
When passengers from Holland America Line’s Westerdam arrived in Costa Maya toward the end of last year, they were the first to experience the new and improved facilities.
All of the port’s former cruise lines, except for Disney Cruise Line, have returned this year, and the total number of port calls for 2009 is 144, according to Cesar Lizarraga, vice president of marketing and sales for Costa Maya. New ships slated to arrive include Norwegian Cruise Line’s Epic, which will make calls to Costa Maya beginning in the summer of 2010.
In order to have the necessary infrastructure and facilities to receive these ships and future ships, however, Costa Maya needed a state-of-the-art upgrade.
“Specifically, we had to rebuild the pier, which was left with three large gaps following the storm,” said Lizarraga. “It can now berth the newer, larger generation of ships, including the Genesis-class and F3.”
The port can accommodate three cruise ships at one time, and it features a shopping complex, saltwater pools, folkloric shows, spa services, restaurants and a variety of excursions.
The nearby town of Mahahual has been spruced up as well, with a new boardwalk that spans the length of the beach and a new lighthouse that is now the tallest structure in the region.
“Being closed for more than a year, Costa Maya wanted to give guests more reasons to visit with an array of all-new offerings, including BioMaya Bacalar, a first-of-its-kind zipline adventure offered as a three-part excursion,” he said.
Lizarraga added that the refurbished and expanded port offerings will help Costa Maya reclaim its buzz as a growing port.
“We expect to be, once again, Mexico’s fastest growing port of call,” he said. “This growth will be evident through more calls, more tour offerings, and an enhanced Mahahual. Also, the excavation of newly found Maya sites will begin soon. In the long term, this will add another layer to the already unique cultural experiences available in the area.”
Costa Maya officials have plans for further improvements and a strategy to diversify its customer base beyond cruise passengers, with hotels and activities for land-based vacationers.
“As part of Quintana Roo’s macroeconomic plan to develop this region, Costa Maya has taken many steps to turn itself into a complete tourism destination,” said Lizarraga. “For example, the area’s infrastructure has been modernized, including paved roads, electricity and phone lines.”
The port is also working with the local and federal government to ensure responsible economic and social growth. This sustainable-development plan calls for careful integration of the local Maya community that has populated the region for centuries.
Lizarraga added that the region will be developed on a smaller scale than other nearby destinations.
“Instead, the development strategy calls for a maximum of 10,000 rooms, all to be developed as eco-friendly structures,” he said. “Ultimately, the region will be mostly comprised of smaller boutique hotels catering to adventure-seekers, cultured-travelers and visitors looking to enjoy its unspoiled land, sea and beaches.”