The Future of Nayarit
The late 90s were a time of many changes in communication, in business and in tourism. Some of those changes were due to the technological advances allowed, and even forced, by the Internet, which is rapidly becoming a major power in itself. Other changes were due to education.
There again, the Internet had a major impact. Beyond that, changes were made due to the swiftly shrinking world and the realization that the viability and survival of this planet is affected by each corner of the world. No longer was it possible to think that nuclear waste could be dumped in a neighbor’s back yard with no consequences. No longer was it possible to think that trees could be cut with no effect. No longer was it possible not to think about this.
As the changes became apparent, laws began to be changed and plans for the future were brought to the table. In our neighboring state of Nayarít, just north of the airport on the other side of the Rio Ameca, the state government held a round table with planners. The governor requested that the secretaries of tourism, transportation and public works draft a measure as a response to the pressure from environmental groups. Costa Rica, a country that had built its reputation on ecoturism and put the term on the world map, was used as a model. Figures were presented to prove that, in a country roughly the same size as Nayarít, over one million visitors had been received, earning more for the country than all combined exports of Costa Rican products.
In Mexico, similar projects were beginning, on a smaller scale, with mixed results. But it was too early to produce data. In conjunction with new laws presented on a federal and state level, the euphoria was high as plans proliferated. The coast north of Punta de Mita toward San Blas would become the ‘Riviera Nayarita’, named after a similar program south of Cancun in what is called the ‘Riviera Maya’. Essentially, this corridor, rather than attempting to compete with the type of tourism in Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta, would offer a new alternative. Guidelines included that the properties would be small, no taller than two levels, rustic in design, and integrated with the natural surroundings. Each hotel, hostel or pension would offer spaces for camping, cultural events and a center for information and assistance. The construction of each mini-complex would be of palapa, wood or tile, depending on the surrounding area.
In conjuction with this plan, development would begin on a series of national parks and reserves, as in Costa Rica. A corresponding infrastructure would be required for maintenance and public access, as well as services. Some of the more outstanding examples for this project are La Tovara, the estuary that serves as sanctuary for many of the 460 bird species in Nayarít as well as the native crocodile; San Pedro Lagunillas, with its fossilized trees; and the volcano of Ceboruco, with its panoramic views. Each distinctive zone or region would be developed with the idea of preserving habitats for future study as well as enjoyment.
The development of La Tovara would be styled after Xcaret near Tulum, creating a fantasy experience in which the wildlife could be experienced. A larger complex was designed with viewpoints from boardwalks made of natural woods of the region and a shopping complex with items for sale to benefit the region and preservation of the ecological zone. The hotel would include meeting rooms for conventions and retreats of lesser magnitude, with restaurants and services for relaxation and enjoyment.
Some of the towns would be developed, with San Blas on the coast and Compostela inland as hubs, with the third tip of the triangle being Nuevo Vallarta to the south. In addition to the international airport in Puerto Vallarta, the Tepic airport in the capital would be expanded with customs and immigration added to create an international airport especially for charter flights. The infrastructure of roads would be widened to accommodate four lanes between the cities to create the corridor. The signage would be modernized for visibility and clarity. Traffic signals would be added and security checkpoints increased.
The plans were sound, it seemed, and reports were written, CDs delivered and backs slapped as congratulations went around. But in the year 2000, a new administration came to power in Mexico and it was revolutionary. With it came the new ideas of the PAN. Party and the Senate sat on bills, among them plans that required funding from the municipal, state and federal levels.
A few properties have been developed despite the slowdown. One of the most notable is Playa Tortugas, which has been in the process since the late 90s with building begun in 1998. Playa Tortugas, or Turtle Beach, was designed as an off-the-road haven for rental and purchase. The unusual element is that the complex includes a total of eight acres of common area in addition to over five square kilometers in the environs set aside as a protected habitat. The estuary and the mangrove swamp in the surrounding area is home to about 330 of the bird species native to Nayarít. Three of the eight sea turtle species nest in the area beaches. The proposal for an environmental law to increase the area to over 500 hectares of saltwater tidal estuary and eight kilometers of turtle nesting habitat is awaiting legislation at the state level. This project is in part backed by Puerto Vallarta’s Fher, a member of the rock group Maná, with his pet project, Selva Negra. So far, six homes are ready for rental or sale in the complex and plans are in the works for three more to be completed by May 2003.
At a recent conference on Ecotourism sponsored by the students of CUC, Centro Universidad de la Costa, UDG, the effects of tourism were discussed. Among the speakers was Dr. Juan Luis Cifuentes Lemus, recent honoree of the Premio Vallartense in Ecology, who warned, “It’s not marine life, it’s the two-legged animal that walks the land that is in danger of extinction.” Dr. Cifuentes, as well as Dr. Jorge Sánchez Becerril, says that even the word ‘ecotourism’ is merely a buzzword for a decades-old idea dressed in new clothing. Meanwhile, Professor Angel Nieva says that the difference is that ecotourism, as an alternative, assures less damage to the ecosystem, as the facilities would not be on a large scale and would be more integrated within not only the ecosystem, but also the local communities. They would also offer better opportunities for a direct cultural experience.
Examples of workable alternatives abound. A unique response has been in Sierra Norte de Oaxaca, a mountainous region of pines, varying elevations and habitats. Eight communities have formed a cooperative, creating eight walking paths, two mountain bike paths, and small rustic accommodation facilities with not more than eight rooms. The quarters are small, but clean, with hot running water, eating facilities and a center of communications and information. “Communication is the most important,” says Guadalupe López López, and she’s not referring to the two-way radios they use. Much closer, in San José del Tren near El Tuito, an investigative site on an estuary has been expanded to include accommodations, not only for students studying the environment but for tourists as well.
In the meantime, the government continues to consider traditional ways of developing the area, even when those methods have been proved unsound. Just this May, a report surfaced that Nayarít is considering a proposal for La Tovara, mentioned earlier, to include a mega-complex of 7,300 rooms, three golf courses and a 150-slip marina. This seems to fly in the face of the trend toward smaller, less-invasive development in this time of better care of our resources and surrounding ecosystem. Time will tell which plan, or which part of each plan, seemingly so contradictory, will come to fruition as work continues toward developing a tourism industry that includes the economic well-being of the residents of Nayarít and preservation of the environment.