CANCUN, Mexico - Ramon Abascal leaned back in his chair at Cancun's Plantation House restaurant and pointed westward.
Across a peaceful lagoon, the orange-red sun made its descent. The image stopped all conversation. If it had been a painting, one would have insisted the artist had embellished it.
Abascal sees it every day, but it still amazes him. As does the crystal blue ocean, as do the native Chit Palms, as do the white sand beaches. This, contrary to what is portrayed in the reality-based movie of the same name, is "The Real Cancun."
Behind Abascal, however, is a busy road that begs to differ. It snakes through Cancun's hotel district, and along it, in addition to a plethora of hotels, is a Pat O'Brien's, a Carlos and Charlie's and enough all-you-can-drink specials and wet T-shirt contests to satisfy a nation of party-seeking spring breakers.
To Abascal's dismay, this is Cancun as most people know it. With the success of low-end hotels, all-inclusive resorts and, of course, spring break, downtown Cancun is no longer Mexico but "a bad copy of Miami," Abascal says. But, thanks to the $1.35 billion Playa Mujeres Resort under construction just north of downtown, such notions likely will change.
"Cancun deserves to be what it was planned to be in the beginning - to serve the highest-end markets in the world," says Abascal, who is the Development Director for Playa Mujeres Resort. "We have everything. We have the most beautiful ocean, we're next to the biggest market in the world, the USA. And we have the largest airport in Mexico in terms of flights."
Playa Mujeres is located in the northeastern part of the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, just west of Isla Mujeres, 4.3 miles from the city of Cancun. Upon its opening, the property quickly should take its place among the most exclusive resorts in the world. Its 930 acres, which include four miles of white sand beaches, eventually will offer four luxury hotels, 50-plus exclusive waterfront homes with plans for nearly 100 more, private residences divided into neighborhoods, a 250-slip private marina, and a 12,000-year-old Mayan Temple which will be studied, restored and opened for tours.
It is a wonderland, a playground and so much more. Think "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" and you've got a picture of what Playa Mujeres has to offer.
According to Abascal, there are five critical ingredients to a successful luxury resort destination, and Playa Mujeres will have all five.
The destination is easy to get to (Playa Mujeres is just 17 miles from Mexico's busiest international airport, in Cancun).
• The property itself is easy to get to once one arrives at the destination (new roads bypass downtown Cancun and provide a direct route to Playa Mujeres).
• The area has natural beauty (the property's dense jungle, white sand beaches, lagoons and wetlands are reminiscent of Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs, and nearby Isla Mujeres provides a natural barrier that makes the ocean along Playa Mujeres calm and cool.
• The project must have strong financial backing (land owner Hendricks Hankes and Ritz-Carlton COO Horst Schulze (developer) are firmly behind the project, as is the government).
• To quote Abascal, "Golf, golf, and more golf."
Central to Playa Mujeres' high-end image is world-class championship golf, and the property has two gems in the works. Greg Norman is designing several courses on the property, the first of which is set to open in the spring of 2005.
"I know this golf course will be one of the greatest golf courses you'll ever want to play," Norman says.
Though the land is flat for the most part, the wetlands, lagoons, the ocean, the palm trees and heavy brush give Norman a great place to start.
"The terrain is very unique in its own right," Norman says. "When you first walk out here, you say, 'Oh my gosh, not another dead-flat piece of property.' But I'm one of the few designers who walks the virgin site before he agrees to do anything, because I want to see what mother nature has for us out there. And the more I walked this site, the more beautiful it became."
Norman's golf course design company has established a reputation as being environmentally friendly, and he plans to use that philosophy in building the Playa Mujeres courses.
"Mother Nature has been here long before we were, and it's going to be here long after we're gone," Norman says. "It's our responsibility to look after the environment. My No. 1 philosophy is the 'least-disturbance' approach. When you walk on that first tee within the first year of our building this golf course, it's going to look like it's been there for 20 years."
The first course will measure 7,246 yards and play to a par of 72. Many of the holes will play toward and along the ocean. The second course will play toward and along the lagoon at Playa Mujeres, and when both are open, they will be split into four nines that can be played in any order. Once those courses are done, a third is planned across the lagoon. To reach that course, golfers will be shuttled in a boat.
The courses should begin to fill a substantial high-end golf void in Cancun.
"What's going to happen here in Playa Mujeres is very similar to what happened over there in Puerto Vallarta and Puerto Mida," Norman says. "It's going to take Cancun to the next level."
For more information, visit www.payamujeres.com.mx
October 6, 2003
Jake Schaller resides in the Adams Morgan section of Washington, D.C. He grew up in Bethesda, Md., where he attended Walt Whitman High School and played football.
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