Paige R. Penland
On a beachfront section of Mexico that hasn't been developed to death yet-Bahías de Huatulco in Oaxaca State-the ambitious Cosmo real estate project aims to balance luxury living with a sustainable ethos.
I arrived with a couple of hours until sunset, plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely drive through the expansive resort community of Bahías de Huatulco (wa-TOOL-co), its elegant whitewashed architecture and immaculate tropical gardens overlooking 26km (16mi) of premium Pacific Coastline. Drenched in sunshine some 330 days of the year, this celebrated shore has been carved into six stunning bays and 36 beautiful beaches. The area offers everything from the soft golden sands of Tangolundia, framed in five-star hotels and fine dining, to isolated and idyllic San Augustín, inside Huatulco National Park, where simple seaside restaurants serve the day's catch, fresh and delicious. Paradise.
Shaun Wymes, the London-born president of Cosmo Elegant Oceanfront Living, had spent more than two decades traveling in Latin America and Europe, always with an eye out for some superb seaside idyll where he would build his own home. His interest in ecologically sound developments led him to look into several spots such as Costa Rica, "but they just couldn't compare with Mexico's sophisticated developments, their high level of maintenance and infrastructure."
Then, in 2000, Mexico's first ecologically minded integrated living community got started. It was designed from the outset with consciously eco-friendly architecture, design, and environmental extras, such as a water reclamation system that keeps the challenging 18-hole golf course green. It earned a prestigious Green Globe 21 award. It was the first community in the Americas and third in the world that earned the designation, attracting the attention of eco-minded luxury lovers, including Wymes. "After 20 years of searching, I found the perfect spot for my own home, right here in Huatulco."
Unlike other Mexican development areas, such as nearby Acapulco, Huatulco is still considered a national treasure, frequented mostly by wealthy Mexican families who come to enjoy the endless variety of beaches, colorful seaside towns, and bustling neighborhoods packed with restaurants and shops. But as Huatulco grows to fulfill its promise, the international vanguard is beginning to discover all that these beautiful bays have to offer.
"People don't really know about Huatulco yet," explains Cosmo Director of Sales and Marketing Abe Zimmerman. "It's like San Miguel Allende before that hit big. Huatulco didn't really have great air access, now it does. [Mexican President Felipe] Calderón has made the development a focus of his presidency, and has pledged US$1.4 billion to the project. They're building a new toll road from Oaxaca City that will cut travel time from seven to three hours by 2011." As accessibility and infrastructure improve, Huatulco is becoming the first choice for the savvy traveler, though there are still a few reasons why less seasoned investors may want to stick with Cancún.
"Another big obstacle," chuckles Zimmerman, "was the name. Who in the heck can pronounce Huatulco?"
More and more people are learning, however. International Living recently featured a cover story entitled, "Invest Here Today and Watch Prices Boom," which included not only Bahías de Huatulco's pronunciation ("ba-HEE-as day wa-TOOL-co"), but also pages of praise pegging today as the time to buy, if readers had already missed out on opportunities at more mature developments, such as Cabo San Lucas.
A few condos, a lot of nature
And, while options are endless-Huatulco offers scores of upscale hotels and rental villas-Cosmo offers the community's first "luxury ecodevelopment," currently being constructed overlooking one of the region's most desirable shorelines. Atop a ruggedly beautiful peninsula, the steeply pitched property offers sweeping views from each of only 69 units that are built into the 7-acre (3.3ha) seaside retreat. To one side of the peninsula, where a pool will be inlaid amidst smooth granite boulders left in place and lush gardens landscaped with local plants, is a tranquil and crystal-blue bay framed in boulders and carpeted in delicate reef, which Cosmo plans to protect by building a floating swim platform that will not touch the fragile ocean floor. To the other side is an isolated and pristine crescent of white sand, Playa Arrocita (Little Rice Beach).
Puig and Zimmerman admire the peninsula where the development's second pool is being constructed.
"Of course, there are no private beaches in Mexico," explains Commercial Director Rudolf Puig, smiling as the small, perfect half-moon beach revealed itself from behind the thick tropical foliage. "But we are the only residential development in Huatulco that has a beach surrounded by our properties, a beach with easy access from the restaurant and club, a beach that we, Cosmo, maintains and keeps clean."
About three quarters of the land surrounding Playa Arrocita is owned by Cosmo, but only 30-35% of the property is slated for development. The rest will remain in its natural state, preserving the local dry tropical forest, one of the most endangered ecosystems in the American tropics. In the buffer zone, gorgeous gardens of native plants will shade paths that connect the residential area with the beach, bay, restaurants and gymnasium. "Many plants that have been removed for the construction phase are actually in storage at a local vivero, or greenhouse," says Puig. "They'll be returned to the property as part of the final landscaping, no harm done." More fragile inhabitants, such as the massive, century-old "organ cactus," with heavy branches that form a natural candelabra above the peninsula-top pool, will remain in place for the duration, untouched, a magnet for local wildlife.