Going Green in the Riviera Maya

Sustainability comes easy at Hacienda Tres Rios Resort, Spa & Nature Park By: Crystal Lie
Hacienda Tres Rios is built on stilts to allow water to flow naturally. // © 2010 Hacienda Tres Rios Resort, Spa & Nature Park
Hacienda Tres Rios is built on stilts to allow water to flow naturally. // © 2010 Hacienda Tres Rios Resort, Spa & Nature Park

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The Details

Hacienda Tres Rios Resort, Spa & Nature Park

As the name suggests, Hacienda Tres Rios Resort, Spa & Nature Park rests at the meeting point of three freshwater rivers and the Caribbean Sea. The result: pristine, mineral-rich waters that nourish a lush yet delicate ecosystem of mangroves, crustaceans and fish.

To minimize its impact on the surrounding flora and fauna, two years of meticulous environmental planning went into the construction of the 326-acre, family-owned resort. I was struck by the Arroyo family’s determination to set the bar so high for sustainable tourism, as manifested in such concrete, immediate ways. From the architecture of the resort and its innovative back-of-the-house facilities to its conscientious use of natural materials, Hacienda Tres Rios is attentive to both the large and small aspects of sustainability — and without sacrificing luxury.

Building Smart
Hacienda Tres Rios is built on a series of elevated stilts and a bed of permeable rock, ensuring the free flow of water to the surrounding wetlands.

“It doesn’t look perfect,” said Gabriel Santoyo, chief environmental officer, pointing out a few inconspicuous cracks in the cement outside of the lobby. “But that’s what happens when you allow water to move naturally. Minimizing the [environmental] impact is more important than looks.”

The aesthetics of Hacienda Tres Rios, however, are nothing short of charming. The all-inclusive resort currently has 273 suites, all of which feature fine Egyptian-cotton linens, down-filled pillows and comforters. Cozy and sophisticated, the rooms are accentuated with locally sourced mahogany furnishings and Mexican marble floors. There were also more than enough modern-day luxuries in my room — a large, flat-screen television, a DVD player, an iPod docking station and high-speed Internet accessibility.

More impressive, however, were the eco-centric details. The infrared-reflective film in between the windowpanes was so effective that I never used my air conditioning. But if I had, in-room motion sensors would have shut it off every time the balcony door opened.

Each room also had oxygenating showerheads that reduced water usage without compromising pressure and all-natural toiletries — from the soap right down to the mosquito repellent.

Behind the Scenes
Hacienda Tres Rios has an advanced desalination plant that filters and recycles seawater, obviating the need for freshwater aquifers.

Furthermore, the resort conserves energy by using the cool water stored in wells to pre-cool air-conditioning systems. The heat generated from the air-conditioning system is also extracted to heat the resort’s water.

A vital component to the property’s commitment to sustainability is its plant nursery. Hacienda Tres Rios maintains more than 4,000 plants, including 11 endangered and protected species.

“For every mangrove that had to be removed in the construction of the resort, we have committed to planting 10 more,” said Santoyo. “We have also planted six acres of forests previously impacted by hurricanes. We do everything naturally. For example, instead of fertilizers we use a natural fungus that, after powdered and mixed with water, attaches to the roots of plants and enables them to absorb more nutrients. Instead of trying to enrich the soil, we enable the plant to be more self-sufficient.”

All-Natural Fun
With 150 acres of nature preserve for exploring, Hacienda Tres Rios prides itself on offering guests the opportunity to not just look at nature but to connect with it. The highlight of my stay was swimming in some of the 10 cenotes — sinkholes containing fresh ground water — connected by the rivers on the property.

The cenotes are believed by the Maya to be sacred entrances into the underworld, and the resort invites guests to experience the magic of these waters on a number of guided tours. The Tigrillo Tour, for example, begins with a visit to the plant nursery, snorkeling at Cenote Aguila and finally a return to the beach via kayak.

On a rainy day, I explored the rivers and cenotes on my own. Paddling my kayak, I watched countless crabs dart in and out of the exposed mangrove roots and innumerable fish swim in the clear waters below. Undoubtedly, Hacienda Tres Rios has gone to great lengths to preserve the natural beauty that the Riviera Maya has to offer.