Mahahual, A “Boutique” Destination

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Mahahual is actually two very different tourist cities. It is of course the city it was built to be,  eco-friendly with containable environmental impact from the high volume cruise ship industry that provides the majority of economic impact for the area. However at the same time, it has also become what many refer to as a “boutique” destination for those not visiting from a cruise ships, with small hotels, dive shops, restaurants and bars offering smaller and more personal services for the few guests who visit outside the ships. The same low environmental impact regulations that forced the government to develop the area with high volume-low/containable impact cruise ship tourists, also forced the area toward smaller businesses that also must fit within these same regulations. The result was the boutique style businesses we have today.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the small hotels found in area. Hotels built within the containment area of Mahahual city,  where roads are engineered to contain runoff and all buildings are connected to the sewage treatment plant, are usually less than 15 rooms. The sewage treatment plants in Mahahual are state of the industry and can treat volumes created by 5-6 hour visitors from ships and still have the capacity to service small hotels. But only small hotels. A rooms-to-property size ratio is used and the result is most urban lots in Mahahual can only have buildings with hotels that are small and impact the treatment plant within acceptable volumes. Hence, we have only small hotels.

Luna Plata Front

Hotel Luna De Plata

This same phenomenon has played out even more so in the remote hotels and properties built outside the containment city. Remote hotels, because they are not connected to the sewage treatment plant, must have private systems, which are expensive and can only process even lower amounts. The other variable that affects the hotels size in the remote areas is the automobile traffic. Hotel guests drive cars on the sand beach roads, dropping oil, gas, hydraulic fluid, asbestos and so on, onto the sand, which is washed easily into the ocean and mangroves when it rains. Again, high impact tourism, so the number of rooms to parcel size is reduced, producing only very small hotels, usually under 10 rooms.



Hotel Balamku 5 KM Outside Mahahual

Vacation homes built outside the containment city have followed what might be referred to as the Aspen model, the very best “boutique” model there is, where a set carrying capacity, along with increased demand, makes for unique growth for the area. In the years just after 2000, the entire Mexican Caribbean coast was “zoned” with set capacities for residential areas. These capacities were based on these same low impact regulations that applied to the hotels. Different areas, depending on variables like the distance from the property to wetlands or the percentage of the property that might have wetlands, had different capacities. Capacities are set by the number of bedrooms to the size of the parcel. A typical oceanfront home site will accommodate one or two bedrooms, no more. What that means is if you want a larger house, you must buy a larger parcel. If you want to build a 6 bedroom house, you must buy three times as much beach to spread the impact of your house over a larger area,  reducing the overall impact on the general area. What this caused was vacation home buyers were spending more on the site, perhaps even tearing down a home as well and building larger homes on less dense beach areas. What we now have is large beach villas, many are high end weekly rentals when the owners are not using them, that dot the sparsely populated shore lines outside Mahahual. Again, looking a lot like Aspen.

The whole house viewed from the sea


Villa Casona Palms 40 km North of Mahahual

The people who have been plugged into this town’s unique growth, have also contributed to our more boutique-ish development. The low impact regulations make it such that no large corporate entities would be able to operate at these low volumes. Their large overheads alone would never be covered, let alone any profits. It also brought in investor owners who came, not because of high profits, but because they loved to dive, or cook, sail or whatever it is they do here. These are the sort of people and personalities who run boutique services. These are also the type people most find interesting, and enjoy seeing and sharing the results of their dream.



Gypsea Dive Shop Downtown Mahahual

In town, the restaurants, bars, dive shops, guide services and so forth have all adapted to the boutique style as well. Many operate with larger staffs and different type services for the high volume business the cruise ships bring. However, operating at the slower pace when the ships are not in, allows those same businesses to provide a more intimate and personal side of what they do. A dive shop that might have twice the staff on a cruise ship day, might only have the owners working on other days. The rest of the staff might work as local fisherman or dive for lobster on their off days. Hotel visitors then get to enjoy the dive with someone who very likely is living the dream that same tourist is wanting to experience. That is how boutique service begins!


Forcing Mahahual to develop in a clean and low environmental impact manner has had a profound impact on how the town has grown and its identity today. Physically, we have of course grown with paved roads, sewage treatment, street lighting, eco-landfill and small low impact businesses. And in the process, a very interesting off the beaten path destination has also grown and one with a very fun and interesting boutique mentality that allows visitors to see intimately, the real Mexican Caribbean.

Ahhh … Mahahual!

About talesfrommahahual

Stuck in Paradise!
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