Fonatur's Long-Term Plans

Organization focuses on Baja, Yucatan and area north of Puerto Vallarta

By: Mimi Kmet

LOS ANGELES Fonatur, Mexico’s National Tourism Development Trust Fund, announced the launch of aggressive, long-term developments on the Sea of Cortez, in the western state of Nayarit and on the Yucatan Peninsula at a recent press conference here. The projects Escalera Nautica del Mar de Cortes, the Nayarit Integrally Planned Resort and Costa Maya will spur private investment and tourist dollars in those regions, according to John McCarthy, Fonatur’s president and CEO.

All three projects, which will take place over the next eight to 20 years, emphasize low environmental impact and seek to draw high tourist expenditures.

“We’re looking for high spending power,” McCarthy said. “We’re focusing on quality, not quantity, of tourists. The product here is the environment.”

Yet he acknowledged that value is important to visitors from the United States. He cited a recent Conde Nast Traveler poll indicating that 79 percent of respondents feel Mexico offers good value for their money.

In terms of investment, McCarthy called Mexico one of the most stable, open and deregulated emerging economies and pointed out that, thanks to a change in the law a few years ago, Mexico now permits 100 percent non-Mexican ownership in most economic activities, including real estate and tourism-related companies.

Escalera Nautica del Mar de Cortes

The largest development, Escalera Nautica del Mar de Cortes, spans the Baja Peninsula, the Sea of Cortez and the West Coast of Mexico’s mainland. It encompasses three programs.

First, the Integral Tourist Regions program will develop tourism infrastructures such as roads, restaurants, bars and shops in three regions: from Tijuana and Mexicali near the U.S. border south to Santa Rosalita; from Rosalita south to Topolobampo; and from Topolobampo to Nuevo Vallarta.

So far, officials have drawn up a master plan for the regions and began creating tourism development strategies for areas within them, such as Loreto, a small resort town in the state of Baja California Sur on the Sea of Cortez, El Vizcaino, a natural whale sanctuary on Baja’s Magadelena Bay and Copper Canyon, a national park in the western state of Sinaloa.

Among the amenities will be a ferry from Loreto to Los Moches on the mainland, where disembarking passengers can ride a train to Copper Canyon, according to a Mexico tourism spokesperson.

Secondly, the Integral Coastal Town Improvement Project will develop and embellish coastal towns throughout the three regions, from San Felipe in the north to Nuevo Vallarta in the south, with infrastructure improvements such as water-treatment facilities.

In addition, a land bridge, which McCarthy dubbed a “dry Panama Canal,” will cut horizontally across Baja California Norte, linking Santa Rosalita on the Pacific Ocean with Coronado on the Sea of Cortez.

To date, officials have drawn up urban development plans for five towns and a master plan for the bridge, which is scheduled for completion in 2006.

The third component of the development is a network of 27 ports of call in towns such as Puerto San Carlos on Baja’s Pacific shore and Altalta on the mainland will facilitate the safe navigation of charter yachts and other small vessels. The Mexican government will create an operating and franchising company called Singlar to oversee the ports, ensuring that each offers the same high level of quality and is not overdeveloped, according to McCarthy.

“It’s not our plan to build 27 Cancuns,” he said.

Fonatur officials forecast that these developments will attract $1.7 billion in investments into the five states covered by Escalera Nautica: Baja California Norte, Baja California Sur, Sonora, Sinaloa and Nayarit. Those investments will include hotels, restaurants, bars, entertainment centers, charter fleets, theme cruises, yacht and sports clubs, spas, galleries and handicraft markets.


Thirty-three miles north of Puerto Vallarta, near Punta Mita, the Nayarit Integrally Planned Resort will encompass 2,138 acres in three zones along 16 miles of coastline when fully built out in 2025.

Officials are targeting the development at affluent visitors who enjoy activities such as golf, sailing and exploring nature.

Among the planned features are 14,500 lodging units, three golf courses, a 150-berth marina, beach clubs, commercial and entertainment centers, a marine park and an aerodome.

The first phase, the Litibu Polygon, will include six hotels totaling 1,930 rooms and a capacity for another 1,270. This phase also will feature a PGA golf course, beach clubs, entertainment venues and residential units.

The subsequent phases, Capomo Polygon and La Penita, will include 5,900 rooms and 5,400 rooms, respectively. Construction dates were not yet available.

Costa Maya

While McCarthy stressed sustainable development as the key element in all three projects, it is paramount at Costa Maya. In fact, 82.6 percent of the area’s nearly 32,000 acres is earmarked for a nature reserve; the rest will encompass tourist and urban development.

McCarthy called the proposed area a “Mexican Bora Bora,” with low-rise, palapa-style hotels integrated into the environment.

The first phase will include 13 luxury hotels with a total of 2,260 rooms, as well as three PGA golf courses, entertainment, retail shops, residential units and a water- and forest-themed park.

In all, 6,000 hotel rooms will be available after build-out.