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Over the last 15 years, as Cancún’s growth has begun to max out, vacationers and retirees have looked to the Riviera Maya, the 100-mile stretch of blue-green Caribbean and bleached white sand that stretches south to Tulum. There are now a total of 35,000 hotel rooms, condominiums and timeshares on a coast that not long ago was largely fishing villages backed by scrubland and verdant jungle.
The result is a kind of anti-Cancún. That resort town, Mexico’s most famous, is all about the vertical, the high density, the buzz and the next margarita. The Riviera, though, is about the horizontal (resorts can’t be more than four stories), low density (developers can build on only 5 percent of their land), environmental sustainability, diving the world’s second-longest barrier reef (after the Great Barrier in Australia) and exploring the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Coba.Mexican economic growth forecasters expect the Riviera Maya to experience a 15 to 20 percent decline in sales of such seven-figure-and-up properties, like Banyan Tree’s villas, and so appreciation of existing properties may slow as well. But it will be decelerating from a growth of 19.5 percent in 2007
The newest boomtown is Tulum, where the main draw is the ruins of a Mayan seaport. The Riviera can keep propagating fresh generations of condos and villas in a wide range of niches because of that endless beach — development theoretically can extend another 50 miles south of Tulum, with the exception of lands protected by an ecological reserve, to the border with Belize. But the real secret to its success may have more to do with Cancún and less to do with that vast coastline.
The Riviera Maya may pose as an anti-Cancún, but it benefits a great deal from the Mexican government’s emphasis on public safety and quality health care in and around its most valuable resort town. Though Mexico’s nationalized health care system ranks 61st out of 190 systems rated in the world by the World Health Organization in 2000 — the last time the group did the survey — care there can cost less than half what it does in the United States, which was ranked 37th in the same survey.
Public safety in Mexico is difficult to make sweeping assurances about these days. But most of the drug cartel violence that has received so much publicity has usually occurred in the nation’s border towns.
Ultimately, a bigger problem for the Riviera Maya may be continuing to live up to its promise of delivering beauty without the excesses of Cancún. A drive through Tulum revealed the good news that, on the beach side, developments are adhering to low-rise, low-density dictates; but also the bad news that, on the inland side, where developments of “shoe box” housing are serving buyers seeking less expensive homes, the beginnings of a backslide can be seen.
Playa del Carmen
Ciudad de Mexico