In a very short time, Costa Maya Real Estate has become one of the most attractive choices in for those who prefer a quieter, relaxing place, where you can truly “get away from it all.” The experience of Rebecca Loto, a British expat who has lived in the in the area for 6 years, and is currently the member broker of TOPMexicoRealEstate.com for the area, reflects the change which is happening:
“When I arrived in Mahahual, Mexico 6 years ago, there was 1 computer in the whole town with internet and there were no cell phones,” recalls Rebecca. “There was a small beach bar where we used to pass by and leave messages for friends; we called it the ‘coconut telephone!’ Since then, I have seen lots of development, and there is lots more going on now.”
That was “before the hurricane;” people often refer to “before” of “after the hurricane” as a major reference point. “The hurricane” refers to Hurricane Dean, which hit Costa Maya in August 2007. During the hurricane, you really knew who your friends were! Some restaurant owners had lots of food that had to be eaten before it went bad and others had no food at all; everything was shared for dinner at somebody’s house every night while discussing plans for the future.
After the hurricane lots of changes were implemented. For example, before, there was a group of small vendors on the beach and everything looked a little crowded. There was traffic passing down the beachfront road in Mahahual and tourists couldn’t really enjoy a comfortable walk. Now, the beach is a lot wider, with no construction allowed on the beach; there are only small wooden/thatched (“palapa”) umbrellas that can be removed.
The government also invested a lot into the area. The “Malecon” (boardwalk), which used to be unpaved and full of potholes, now provides a wide comfortable pedestrian area where residents and tourists can stroll, bike or roller blade, and easily take a break to shop or enjoy one of the many restaurants. On the other side, the beach is right next to the Malecon .
Ironically, the hurricane actually added something to the appeal of buying a home and living in Costa Maya; while the area has kept its relaxing, slow-pace of life, the beachfront in town is now more useable and more enjoyable.
The sense of community from before the hurricane – which showed its true strength at the time when things were hardest – hasn’t been lost; it still defines day to day life in Costa Maya. There’s a mix of different nationalities living here. Currently in descending order they are Americans, Canadians, Italians; 3 Brits, 3 Spanish, 3 Argentinians, 2 Germans, 2 French and a smattering of others (S.African, Serbia, Croatia etc.) All of these groups have one thing in common – they made Costa Maya their new home to become part of this strong community atmosphere and relaxing way of life.
As a non-Mexican in Costa Maya you will also get to know the locals – many of them know English, and if you take the opportunity to learn some Spanish, they will be happy to help you out with your endeavors. While the population was originally fishermen, many now work in tourism instead, offering guide services for snorkeling and fishing.
The cruise ship industry provides a source of income for many people in the town and surrounding areas, bringing activity on the weekends then returning to complete tranquillity again during the week.
Real Estate in Costa Maya
In the larger Mexico Real Estate market, Costa Maya is an area thus-far very undeveloped, showing lots of appeal for buyers looking for a relaxing lifestyle. Costa Maya starts at Punta Herrera, at the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve (at the other end of which is Tulum), includes the main town of Mahahual and ends at Xcalak, across a bay from the Mexican city of Chetumal and the border with Belize. The area is a bit more than 200 miles from Cancun, and, with the opening of “Puerto Costa Maya” in 2001 as a cruise destination, has been becoming continuously more popular with visitors. In fact, many people who visit Costa Maya on a cruise ship later return for a longer stay and then decide to invest in real estate here.
In Costa Maya, Mahahual is the main town for expats. In town, there are a couple of condo developments going up, with prices starting at $270,000 US. A bit more than 5 miles to the north there is Rio Indio, which leads into Placer. This zone has been converted into a nice residential area with some huge private homes. Here, beautiful Mexico Beachfront properties start at about $250,000 US.
To the south, there is a gated community, called Xaczil Ha at km 10.4 (about 6 miles). This area has been developed with some lovely private homes. 99% of the owners here are from North America. The other 1% are Mexicans. Owners pay a monthly fee for the gardener and security guard and the area has a nice friendly community feel with many cocktails being shared on the beachfront terraces! Prices start at about $390,000 U.S.
While beachfront is the favourite, there is a residential area next to the cruise ship port, officially called “Nuevo Mahahual,” unofficially called “Las Casitas” (little houses), that is generating more interest. It’s only a 10 minute walk away from the beach and the start of the boardwalk, marked by the lighthouse. It’s also on the town electricity and water supply, so there’s no need to invest in solar panels, wind generators and propane/gas generators. These are an especially good deal for Mexico Homes so close to the beachfront.
There are a few houses already built by the port owners, some of which have been converted/extended, selling at $70,000 and up, depending on the changes having been carried out. There are also privately built homes that are listed for sale for about double that. A few vacant lots are still available for $45,000. The normal lot size is about 33 ft by 100 ft.
While Costa Maya is still sort of a “hidden gem” in itself, there are a few especially note-worthy areas even less discovered; there is an area called “Payotocal” at km 11 (mile 7) south. Some advantages are that the road has already been moved and is at the back of the “good” part of the property – “good” meaning property that can be developed and is not mangrove. That means there is no traffic passing between the beachfront and your house. The part of the property on the other side of the road is all mangrove, which is protected for natural preservation, providing a great home for a variety of tropical birds and other animals.
The sand is a lovely white; some turtle grass gets washed up on shore but it is great to have since it acts as a net and keeps the sand in place and stops your beach from eroding! The reef is near the shore so great snorkeling is only a 10 minute swim away. The lots are at a good elevation for building, and they are zoned for private houses, so getting permits for home construction is easy. Payotocal is close to town, and, for a bit of an adventure, you can drive on the beach road (sometimes full of potholes – it’s hard sand) or on the paved road; the access is at km 14 (2 miles away), which takes you in a loop back to the town of Mahahual. Other than a few houses nearby and a small hotel, the lots are surrounded by beautiful nature.
Another community very worth considering is Puerto Angel at km 14-16 south (mile 9-10). With crystal clear waters, tall palm trees, and white sand the beaches are INCREDIBLE. The reef is a lot further out here which is great for a couple of reasons; there is often some great wave action for those who love to boogey board and there is very little turtle grass. There are several lots available zoned for private houses.
In both of these areas, outside of town, you’ll find that you are really off the beaten track and are at one with nature. The traffic you’ll encounter are iguanas sunning themselves, some goats eating the grass at the side of the road, foxes and racoons, even the odd crocodile has been spotted on occasion leaving the sanctuary of its home in the mangroves. On the beachfront you’ll often see herons and pelicans fishing and the whole coast is a haven for birdwatchers, fishermen and nature lovers in general. With the combination of the band of mangrove running behind the beach, which is protected and cannot be developed, and strict building zones Costa Maya will continue to be a place for those who love being close to nature.
Real estate in Costa Maya is being given a strong “green” emphasis, as an environment-friendly choice. Properties located outside of the town of Mahahual and the cruise ship port area are not on the town grid, and use alternative, environment-friendly power sources, including solar panels and wind power. Residents have generators as a back-up. While this requires slightly more initial investment, it also saves on utility bills in the long run. This point can serve as a little bonus for those who prefer a lifestyle in a relaxing, natural setting that provides an excellent opportunity to participate in a responsible community.
Life in Costa Maya
No matter which part of Costa Maya you choose to buy real estate in, you will find that everything is very laid back. Traffic does not exist, and there is only 1 road that runs along the beach. The great community feeling is definitely shared by the local Mexicans who are very friendly and don’t begrudge foreigners coming to invest here; rather, they encourage it, since they know that it will mean more jobs for them. Now there are more restaurants and bars, but a lot of socializing was, and still is, drinks and dinner at friend’s houses.
Costa Maya is ideal to enjoy nature and sports. Scuba diving is amazing. Chinchorro Banks is 45 km (28 miles) away and was claimed to be one of the best dive sites in the world by Jaques Cousteau. If you like kayaking, snorkeling, beach volleyball, running or swimming, you will be in heaven here. If you haven’t tried them, you will learn to love them quickly. Fishing is also very popular, with the lagoons hidden in the mangrove providing a perfect place for those interested in fly fishing, and also Mahahual hosts several deep sea fishing tournaments every year.
In the cruise arrival area there is a modern shopping area, which includes a luxury jewellery shop and various souvenir shops. While more entertainment is appearing, it is important to note that this area is not crowded with every kind of store imaginable.
The only downside is that, sometimes, a specific service you’re doesn’t exist directly within these communities.
“I do have to admit,” explains Rebecca Loto, “I love playing squash and tennis and we don’t have facilities for that here, yet.”
The lack of malls for clothes and shoe shopping is somewhat of an issue for the majority of females living here; however, a visit to nearby Chetumal, 1.5 hours away, can solve that! A day or weekend trip to Playa del Carmen (3.5 hours) or Cancun (4.5 hours) is also enjoyed by some more dedicated shoppers.
For large supermarkets you will also have to make a trip to Chetumal, where there is a Sam’s Club and a Chedraui (a Mexican superstore similar to Walmart). Chetumal is also the closest point for banking, seeing your accountant, immigration etc. With regard to education, there are government run schools and also an excellent private Montessori nursery school that has been open for a while.
More facilities are showing up for activities like these as time goes on. On the other hand, these little excursions become a part of the laid-back lifestyle that make you choose Costa Maya. Here, you’re not in a rush; you don’t have to finish your shopping in 30 minutes. You have all day. When you shop in the “mini-supers” in town, you’ll probably visit several to find everything you need. Often if a home-owner is travelling to town from their beach home they’ll make the trip a relaxing visit, combining shopping with a stop off at a local bar to refresh themselves and to catch up on the local news. Again, no rush.
Life is relaxing. The conveniences are arriving, sometimes little by little, sometimes a bit faster; you enjoy the ones that are here, but you feel no rush for the ones that aren’t.
When you first decide to live here, you will have to be patient and adapt; yet, this is not difficult, since patience goes hand in hand with the laid-back way of life here. People come here for peace and quiet and a more relaxed way of living, which defines Costa Maya more than just about anywhere else. The warm, sunny days also add to the slower, more relaxed way of life.
“Try and learn Spanish when you are here,” advises Rebecca. “It will make your new home be a lot more enjoyable. The culture in Mexico is amazing and they have lots of celebrations for every historic event. On one hand, this can be annoying if you are trying to build your home and the workers require double pay or are not working for a national holiday; on the other hand, once you join in and take part you will have fun, and come to expect and appreciate this aspect of Mexico.”
Costa Maya is the last part of the Caribbean beachfront in Mexico to be developed. It is an ideal choice for those who really want to get “off the beaten track,” in a place where relaxation is not only a part of life, but it even defines life.
Your Top Costa Maya Real Estate Agent
If you are planning to buy real estate in Costa Maya, there are things you need to know about buying in Mexico, and about the property types available, building permits, etc. While it seems that just about EVERYONE in Costa Maya sells real estate or has a relative that knows someone, you as a foreigner buying in Mexico must be responsible and check things out before parting with your cash.
Your realtor should have a website, should be known around town, and have a positive reputation. Speaking Spanish means they will be able to investigate all possible suitable properties, and that they will be integrated into the community; this integration will mean trustworthiness for you.
Rebecca Loto is a Costa Maya real estate agent who has lived in Mahahual for 6 years, and has owned property here for 5 years. It was her personal experience buying a property, building, and owning a home in Costa Maya that lead her to decide to use her extensive knowledge gained from here degree in Urban Development and travels throughout the world to help other expats find the perfect home or condo in the area. Rebecca is from the U.K. and speaks English, Spanish and French.
About the Author:
Thomas Lloyd, Founder and President of TOPMexicoRealestate.com
Originally from Indiana, and a graduate of Purdue University in the Krannert School of Management, he holds a degree in management with a speciality in finances. Lloyd has several diplomas and certifications in Mexico Real Estate topics and is one of only a few professionals to hold Mexico’s new degree in real estate. This degree is accompanied by a Professional Identification Number, “cedula profesional,” which is issued for trained professionals such as those in the medical field, or in law. He has over 15 years of direct experience in Mexico’s business culture.