It was 240 square hectares of mangrove forest and jungle, lined with a mile of beautiful, untouched Caribbean beach; and it was ear-marked for tourist development. Green campaigners looked on in horror. There was a delicate eco-system here, which could be lost forever. In the rainforest alone, 300 species of plant and 200 creatures made their home. Then there were the cenotes, the ocean, the lagoon... in short, it felt like the last place ever that someone should be considering building.
But they needn't have worried, as the Mayakoba architects had a vision of sustainable tourism. Last night, with the complex now built and fully operational, their efforts earned them the recognition of the Rainforest Alliance. It is the first tourist resort ever to receive such an accolade. Mayakoba's pioneering green construction looks set the lead the way.
Mayakoba's Rosewood Hotel
The hotels are luxurious. Imagine arriving, after a 20 minute drive from Cancun Airport, through the lush foliage of this stunning part of the world. In the Banyan Tree, one of three of the proposed five hotels already operational, the next part would be to step into a gondola.
You and your luggage would drift the short distance along a crystal clear lagoon. You would dock at a private villa. Patio doors open from the living area into the lagoon. You can dive straight from it into the waters. Or else you could use your personal pool, as each separate villa has one.
But, for now, you climb up out of your gondola and into your villa. Your luggage is brought right inside. You have arrived. From now on, the gondola will serve every time you want to leave your accommodation to venture into the main complex, or out into wider Mexico. Alternatively, you could just use the walkways positioned behind the villa, but where's the romance in that?
Lagoon side villas at Mayakoba's Banyan Tree
There are a proposed five hotels, all independently owned, as well as a Greg Norman signature golf club, in Mayakoba. Three of the hotels have already been built: Banyan Tree, Fairmont and Rosewood; as has the golf club. They have each been constructed in ways that appear sympathetic to the landscape. But moreover, their green credentials are unparalleled.
Andres Pan de Soraluce, the president of OHL Development, who created the complex, explained,
"The Mayakoba vision started with a desire to establish a new tourist development where environmentalism was to take center stage. A lot of planning and infrastructure was put in place to preserve the amazing ecosystem that our development sits on, and we are glad our vision was achieved."
OHL worked with many green campaigners, including the Rainforest Alliance, from the onset of conception, through to design and construction. Planners spent two weeks in the area, surveying the landscape solely looking for environmental pitfalls. They then took this data to the planning table and solutions were sought, which then informed what could and could not be done there.
One of their first concessions was to place all of the main infrastructure 500 meters (1,640ft) back from the beach, away from the dunes in particular. This would protect wildlife in the area.
Mayakoba's Fairmont Hotel
Moreover, the developers looked at other methods of lessening the complex's environmental footprint. Energy and water saving devices were built into the architecture itself. Well-documented, sustainable policies and practices ensured that these are utilized to their maximum capacity. All three hotels are run along ecologically friendly principles.
The human cost hasn't been overlooked either. Out in the jungle, there are Maya villages, where the residents feared being swamped by the business developments. OHL Developers met with representatives from the villages to consult with their needs. These too were incorporated.
Now that three of the hotels are up and running, the partnership continues. Tourists are encouraged to venture out into the villages, in order to meet the local people. For the communities, their economy is growing as a result. Who better than the locals to guide jungle tours and boat rides through the wider lagoon? Or to host cultural events, which boost awareness of the Maya? It is also local Maya people who run the traditional purification rituals, on offer to guests at the Mayakoba hotels.
All of this added up to a sparkling gala award ceremony, held in New York, USA, last night. Tensie Whelan, president of the Rainforest Alliance, gave a speech in which Mayakoba was praised for its work.
"Companies are continuing to make bold commitments to sustainability and traceability, despite ongoing instability in the economic environment. The companies and individuals honored during our annual gala deserve recognition for their demonstrated commitments to sustainability. Collectively, their efforts are enormously beneficial to workers, to communities and to the environment."
The Rainforest Alliance campaigns to protect the environment, particularly the rainforests, as their name suggests. They are more likely to be found protesting the concerns of corporations, than handing out awards to them. That Mayakoba made the grade demonstrates just how much work and green practices have been put in place in their complex.
Ocean side villas at Mayakoba's Banyan Tree
Lagoon side villas at Mayakoba's Fairmont
Lagoon side villas at Mayakoba's Rosewood