Costa Maya, Mexico • The Making Of A Cruise Port
The cruise industry, over the past three or four decades, has changed the world. Growing exponentially from a handful of ships to literally hundreds and thousands and along with that growth has come an ever expanding demand for ports of call. Large seaports, capable of accommodating numerous cruise ships have prospered from that growth. Smaller ports created dedicated cruise recreation and shopping areas to attract ships and a number of cruise companies developed cruise destinations of their own with the Caribbean offering six of these cruise company destination islands. In a couple of cases businesses and regional authorities have partnered to develop cruise destinations and probably the most ambitious being a patch of wilderness on the coast of Mexico named Costa Maya.
Where Your Ship Docks
Puerto Costa Maya is a developed destination port. The pier complex can accommodate up to six cruise ships and there are public facilities in the attached port village. Good beaches and a resort village complex are right at the foot of the piers.
Puerto Costa Maya is in an isolated area of Quintana Roo without any options for travel beyond the port area unless you take an organized tour.
The local currency is the Mexican Peso with 1 Mexican Peso (MXN) = 0.05 US Dollar (US$). Credit cards are welcome but avoid using credit cards in stand-alone automated systems as harvesting card information is a common practice.
Costa Maya is primarily a tropical recreation cruise port that’s famous for its great beaches, crystal clear water, coral reefs and bargain shopping and includes opportunities to visit a number of Mayan ruins within 65 miles of the port.
Dolphin Discovery-Costa Maya – Located just north of the cruise piers in the town of Mahahual. Swim with dolphins at this dolphinarium complex sitting on a beautiful beach and conservation area.
Mahahual is a picturesque town on the coast about a mile and a half north that is also popular for its beaches, fishing and is the residential area that supports the cruise port.
The Story Of The Development Of Puerto Costa Maya
Costa Maya is a municipality in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. The location is north of the border with Belize and 120 miles south of Cozumel. It was originally developed as Mahahual and was founded in 1959 when the Mexican government gave land to fisherman from other areas in an effort to jump start some limited development. At the time, this vast wilderness area was part of the Yucatan Territory that didn’t even have statehood status in Mexico. Within a few years the fishing town began to take shape and the economy grew slowly until 1971 when everything was literally swept away by a devastating hurricane. Any survivors fled the area.
By the 1980s Mahahual was growing again as a fishing village with some expansion in nearby coconut plantations, but progress was still slow.
Things changed quickly in 2001, as the result of a joint effort between Mexico’s government and local Mexican developers and Puerto Costa Maya was created near to Mahahual. The first project was the construction of a large privately owned pier to attract and accommodate large cruise ships and the cruise ships quickly began to add Costa Maya to their Caribbean itineraries. The town of Mahahual quickly grew to support the port facility. By 2006, the new Puerto Costa Maya was the 2nd busiest port in Mexico behind Cozumel. Over 600 ships visited the port that year and the town was suddenly growing at much faster pace. The local economy was booming and shops and restaurants were opening, tour operators rushed to take advantage of the opportunities created by the cruise ships and ground was broken for a couple of new beach resorts. Foreign investors began to open more businesses and many built their own homes in the area, creating a vibrant local ambiance. The location had become a boomtown in 2004-2007.
Then on the night of August 20th, 2007, a category 5 Hurricane named Dean hit Costa Maya and Mahahual. It destroying the pier at Puerto Costa Maya and closed down the area’s cruise ship industry completely. The destruction of the port forced ships to move to other locations signing new contracts that lasted two years or more. With the town and the cruise ship infrastructure shut down, the local economy collapsed.
Within a few years the beaches, turquoise Caribbean waters, coral reefs and cheap land were again too inviting to keep the area from being developed and the Mexican government jumped in along with private investors to resurrect Costa Maya.
Today the cruise piers are bigger than ever and the Costa Maya port has a new and modern tourist shopping mall. The center of Costa Maya, generally open only to cruise ship passengers, has a central plaza with saltwater pools and ‘swim-up’ bars. There are all the major duty free stores along with many small shops selling inexpensive souvenir items and as always there are the beautiful beaches.
A thriving excursion industry again serves the cruise passengers with boating trips, snorkeling excursions and continues to develop Costa Maya’s potential for tours with it being the nearest cruise port to a number of Mayan ruin sites in the southern Yucatan that include Chacchoben and Kohunlich.