The 'Happy Coast' of Mexico is unlike any other beach destination you have ever visited

The 'Happy Coast' of Mexico is unlike any other beach destination you have ever visited
Courtesy of Expedia 

Would it be possible for the Costalegre to be Mexico's "last coast"?

After riding my now-husband's motorcycle through Mexico, I fell in love with the country. During our early years, we spent months exploring Puerto Vallarta's secret beaches, sleepy fishing villages, and quiet coves by car. 

When I was 30 years old, I first encountered the Costalegre when we wobbled down an unpaved, sandy road on two wheels. As we emerged from a gentle arcing curve of sand backed by towering mountains, there was no sign of any hotel or building. This was the closest thing to paradise I had ever experienced. I felt a pang in my heart as I munched on freshly grilled fish tacos beneath a thatched palapa, knowing that these places are like buried treasure that never stays secret for long.

A stretch of coast running south of Puerto Vallarta toward Manzanillo is known as the Costalegre. The name Costalegre translates to "happy coast," and you can imagine why. There are miles of pristine, golden sand that are swept by churning Pacific waves. A lush jungle carpets the mountains that creep back from the coastline. A landscape that resembles Hawaii or Southeast Asia is dotted with groves of palm trees sprouting from low-lying creek beds. The scene is beyond dramatic and goes against everything you thought you knew about Mexico.

Courtesy of Audley Travel

In this scenario, all-inclusive resorts, restaurants, and nightclubs would have a blank canvas to work with. The Costalegre, however, has remained remarkably low-impact for decades, unlike other destinations in Mexico. 

The burning question is whether Costalegre will remain Mexico's "last coast," or will it suffer the same fate of overdevelopment as the other multimillion-dollar luxury development project Xala, due to the recent opening of the Four Seasons Resort Tamarindo.

The Gatekeepers of Paradise

There is an abundance of raw, wild nature in Costalegre, which makes it so unique, according to Rich Report. The glamorous hoteliers and deep-pocketed developers haven't yet discovered this part of Mexico. In fact, quite the opposite is true. In addition to local government regulations and guidelines, a handful of developers own a large portion of the coastline and control the surrounding area. 

Courtesy of Inside Hook 

As a result of Costalegre's vision, it remains untouched on purpose and designed with the greatest intent. As far as the gatekeepers are concerned, Mexico's "last coast" is meant to remain undeveloped as long as possible. 

"Costalegre is a very unique area within Mexico because between five different developers, we control more than 40 kilometers of coastline," said Ricardo Santa Cruz, president of RSC Development and Xala project founder. "All of us have this vision of ensuring Costalegre never gets overdeveloped. We want to be more than just sustainable. We actually are trying to become regenerative."

The Early Years of Costalegre

Careyes put Costalegre on the tourist map, even though it has always existed. In this stretch of coastline, Careyes was the first luxury community to be developed. Gian Franco Brignone, an Italian banker and philanthropist, visited this area of Mexico for the first time in 1968. Costalegre was completely inaccessible when he visited. Roads were not yet constructed, and jungle remained unfiltered. But he had a dream: he wanted to coexist with this land and make it a hideaway for art, music and poetry lovers.

Courtesy of Vogue 

As a thriving residential and tourist community, Careyes today boasts villas perched on clifftops, beachfront bungalows, and colorful hillside casitas. A lot of people with money are involved, but it's an approachable community of artists, writers, designers, and creatives. Although homes here cost millions, and regulars enjoy watching polo on Careyes' private polo field, tiaras are not required.

Moreover, Careyes prides itself on protecting local communities and the natural environment. There are more than 20,000 acres of land protected by a sea turtle sanctuary, a school for the local community, uninhabited coves, and secret beaches. You wouldn't even know Careyes was there unless you knew exactly where to look, and that's exactly how its residents like it.

Players of the New Era

The Costalegre is anything but stagnant despite its emphasis on preservation and conservation. As Mexico develops at a lightning pace, the Costalegre plays a crucial role, even if it is highly regulated. Newest on the scene are the Four Seasons Resort Tamarindo and Xala, two projects that will bring more tourists, but maintain the region's spirit.

The fact that they aren't luxury destinations doesn't mean they aren't. The housing lots in Xala, for example, sell for millions of dollars, and three billionaires live there already. Bringing one of the most recognizable luxury brands to Mexico for the first time, an anchor hotel has been signed for 2024. Wellness, gourmet cuisine, infinity plunge pools, and all the trimmings are on the menu. The communities that have always existed here will also be devoted and loyal to each other.

Water must be brought to Xala via a waterway that travels through local communities, for instance. It was important to Xala to ensure the communities had access to potable water all year long. More than 200 local farmers and cattle ranchers are able to grow more value-added crops through the provision of clean water in these areas where rainfall is scarce throughout the year. Locals benefit directly from this by having more money in their pockets.

There is more to the impact than that, however. Children in Xala have access to an after-school program, a skate park where Olympian Johnny Schillereff runs skate clinics with the local communities, and a psychologist for mental health counseling. Reforestation efforts, organic mango plantations, and other environmental projects are part of the program. 

"You always have to listen to the community," explained Santa Cruz. "Developers come in and tell [the community] what [they] need and say 'let me help you.' In reality, it's the community that knows better than any of us what their needs are, and the order of their priority."

Courtesy of Four Seasons

A major news item for this coast in 2022 was the opening of the Four Seasons Resort Tamarindo. This particular Four Seasons property was designed and developed with the spirit of Costalegre in mind, despite the name Four Seasons. 

"Imagine you are the first person to arrive on this land. You come off the boat and you will first be completely impressed by the natural richness of the area. The spirit, the service, the quality — that's the feeling when you come to the Four Seasons for the first time," general manager Felix Murillo explained.

Courtesy of Four Seasons

Located on 6,000 acres of land, the resort has been designed to blend into its natural surroundings. Although the design is impeccable, the materials are top-of-the-line, and the service is five-star, nothing about the hotel is flashy. There is nothing to take away from the natural environment.

"Our dream is that things will come into the resort, but we won't let waste go out," Murillo stated. "Anything we consume, we send to an organic compost. We brought pigs in to eat the compost. We actually have farms of compost, so we prepare everything to go back to the land again."

The "Last Coast" of Mexico

This is not the first time Costalegre has been mentioned. It is not unusual for travelers to seek out new and "undiscovered" destinations. There is something refreshing and new about developers who are not interested in high density developments. There is hope that this coast will be kept as pristine as possible with this united vision.

Courtesy of Expedia 

"[These families] are visionaries. They saw it before others," Zach Rabinor, CEO of Journey Mexico, an ultra-high-end travel company based in Mexico City. "The consumer interest has come around to this because of the post-pandemic mentality. This type of interest existed before the pandemic. Everyone wanted to know what the next Tulum was — low-rise, small-batch, boutique feel. But the pandemic turbocharged the desire for remote, low-density, secluded destinations even more."

It is impossible for anything to remain the same forever. A lot of development is taking place. Private airplanes will be able to land at the airstrip near Xala in 2023, reducing the transfer time from Puerto Vallarta to Costalegre to 20 minutes. There are plans to accept commercial airlines at that airport eventually. As a result of a dramatic increase in tourism, Puerto Vallarta is also expanding its airport. There is a change in the landscape and a lot of people are coming.

Costalegre, however, is unlike anything you've ever experienced in Mexico before, thanks to those who hold the keys. When you experience Costalegre, you will never want to return to anything else.

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