Call it the Comeback Kid: Built out of nothing and decimated by storms, the Mexican port of Costa Maya continues to not only survive, but thrive – and has ambitious plans for future growth.
Located near the former fishing village of Majahual (also spelled Mahahual), Costa Maya receives regular year-round calls from Carnival Cruise Lines and Disney Cruise Line, with Royal Caribbean International, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Holland America Line, Oceania Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line arriving this winter (Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises have also called). Despite extensive damage from Hurricane Dean in 2007, Costa Maya’s port terminal – owned by a private development company – has been rebuilt and overhauled, containing a dolphin enclosure, a pool and a small manmade “beach,” brand-name bars such as Carlos’n Charlie’s and plenty of shopping opportunities.
But for cruisers now, the port terminal itself is not enough, said Robert Shamosh, Costa Maya’s vice president of marketing and sales. So the company has turned attention to Mahahual itself, improving and encouraging access to the Malecon and building more attractions specifically designed to appeal to cruise passengers.
Three major projects are on tap:
*A Mayan-themed water and adventure park, placed within walking distance of the terminal. The project will be similar to Xcaret and Xel-ha, popular attractions farther north on the Riviera Maya, Shamosh said, and include a river for floating, ziplines, a self-propelled roller coaster and more. A fake pyramid with a parachute drop game – which will be built large enough to be visible from the cruise ships – will anchor the attraction, with construction tentatively set to begin January 2014.
*The Uvero beachfront, which currently houses the port-owned Jungle Beach Club used as a base for cruise line excursions, will add several new features. These include private cabanas that passengers and groups can rent, with butler service and other amenities similar to those that you’d find on cruise line private islands such as Labadee, Shamosh said.
Another idea, this one borrowed from Cancun, includes an underwater snorkeling attraction, where customers with masks can peer through the water at submerged airplanes and classic cars. It will be housed in Uvero’s former dolphin enclosure, which was moved to the port terminal after Hurricane Dean. Both features could be in place by December 2013, Shamosh said.
*Perhaps most exciting for archaeological geeks, a new excavation – Ichkabal, about two hours from the port – will become open for tourism, perhaps as early as this December. Cruise lines plan to offer VIP tours, which include ATV rides through the jungle, to see the dig in action. Some of the profits will be returned to the National Institute of Archaeology, an arm of the Mexican government, to pay for the excavation itself, Shamosh said.
Although many independent tour and beach club operators privately express frustration with port regulations that keep them well outside the terminal, most agree that more attractions – and an increased focus on the region’s Mayan heritage – will be good for Costa Maya overall.
While several tour companies, such as Native Choice, already have Mayan-themed excursions, more are coming. Fueled by the interest seen last year when the Mayan calendar allegedly predicted the “end of the world,” Koox Hotels is planning to add astrological-themed excursions aimed at kids and use a temazcal – a Mexican structure often used as a sweat lodge – located on one of their properties, said Maria Iglecias Rouco, marketing director with Koox Hotels.
With all of the additions, Shamosh hopes that Costa Maya, which receives 200 calls a year, can compete with the ports considered “marquee stops,” such as Belize and Cozumel. “We’re planning to make it all a better experience,” he said.