Cozumel rebuilds, new ports sought

Almost a year after Hurricane Wilma destroyed or heavily damaged the two piers that handled most of Cozumel’s cruise ship traffic, both are still months away from being reopened.

The Punta Langosta pier near San Miguel, Cozumel’s only city, might be open by the end of the year, a spokeswoman for the island’s tourism board said last week. But Punta Maya, a much larger dock with a sprawling complex of restaurants and shops, was destroyed and will reopen “sometime” in 2007.

Most visiting ships will continue to ferry passengers to the downtown pier by tender boat.

The rest of the country is making up for some of the lost capacity with new or modernized ports accommodating bigger ships and providing year-round service. With 3,100 cruise ships and 6.5 million visitors, according to its tourism board’s 2005 statistics, Mexico is the world’s top cruise destination.

Ensenada, hub of Baja California’s burgeoning wine industry and Mexico’s second-most visited port, is working with cruise lines to create more West Coast itineraries. Puerto Vallarta’s port is expanding to berth multiple megaships at one time, including two new docks. Chiapas completed a cruise terminal in February and expects to serve 10 ships next year. Campeche, in the Yucatán, is negotiating to bring cruise business into its historic port.

Pacific coast recovery

Recovery from Hurricane Wilma has overshadowed hurricanes John and Lane, which slapped Pacific Mexico around this August and September but did little lasting damage.

Mexico Boutique Hotels, with properties in Los Cabos, Acapulco and Zihuatanejo, reported they were up and running a week after John swept through. Mazatlán, granddaddy of Pacific resort cities, invoked “business as usual” a few days after Lane brushed by.

Some hotels seized upon a marketing opportunity, announcing new hurricane policies appealing to hurricane-wary travelers. Palace Resorts, for example, with all-inclusive properties in Cancún, Riviera Maya, Nuevo Vallarta and Cozumel, is offering rebooking, relocation and rescheduling with rate guarantees, and cancellation within 72 hours of scheduled arrival at no penalty.

First things first

Frequent travelers to Mexico know Mexicana is one of the best airlines going, so they also need to know that flying Mexicana out of San Jose means a terminal change. Mexicana’s move from Terminal C to Terminal A, beginning Wednesday, is the first of a series of changes at Mineta airport. Passengers currently depart from Terminal C and arrive at Terminal A.

Cancún, Mexico’s second-busiest airport, is now using movable counters to check passengers in and print boarding passes anywhere in the airport via wireless link to its central computers. The new process should reduce waiting times and might lead to special services such as group check-ins without standing in line.

Sinaloa, the state including Mazatlán, raised its hotel tax from 2 percent to 3 percent this summer. The additional funds will pay for tourism promotion in the state, which has increased air service from the United States and Canada and is building new roads, some connecting with western U.S. states.

The great outdoors

Two Mexican navy patrol ships have given their lives to revitalize Cozumel’s famous but hurricane-battered reefs. The 85-foot Laguna Mandinga and 42-foot Patzcuaro were submerged in June as attractions for divers. In the coming year, three more ships and an airplane will be sunk outside the National Marine Park to maintain the draw of Cozumel’s extraordinary underwater ecosystem.

Ecotourism in Chiapas got a boost recently from a new information center in San Cristobal de las Casas. Travelers can also make reservations with the many organizations and agencies operating among the region’s mountains, rivers, volcanoes, forests and canyons. The Chiapas Ecotourism Info Centeris operated by SendaSur, which manages ecotourism in Mexico’s southernmost state.

Puerto Vallarta villas

Mexico Boutique Hotels, a reservation and marketing association for small, independent hotels in Mexico, has created a group of villas modeled after its collection of 45 hotels.

Costa Vallarta Boutique Villas includes six luxury properties in and around Puerto Vallarta, chosen and inspected by the association’s management. Plans call for 25 additional properties by the end of the year. Villas include concierge service and a staff.

At the original Mexico Boutique Hotels collection, meanwhile, rates are unexpectedly low through the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. For as little as $75 a night, visitors can stay in unique lodging in intriguing destinations, such as Posada de las Minas in the rustic, artsy mining town of Mineral de Pozos; Azúcar, a bungalow retreat in tropical Veracruz state; or Xaloc, a resort of nine palapa bungalows on a virgin beach on the small Caribbean island of Holbox.

In Jalisco, the state whose town of Tequila earned World Heritage status this summer, the CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort is offering a tequila-themed Secretos Reposado package through Dec. 16, starting at $222 per night for three nights, including a bottle of tequila and a tasting with the resident tequila sommelier. The resort serves 60 brands of tequila, including its own brand produced from agave azul growing on the property.

And if that’s just too … ordinary, a mere $4,000 a night will get you the villa in Costa Careyes (south of Puerto Vallarta) that graces the cover of September’s Architectural Digest: three bedrooms, including a 200-foot infinity pool, stargazing tower/media room, 270-degree ocean view and staff of seven. Previous guests include Rothschilds, Gates, Armani, Tarantino and Gere.

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