If you build it, they will come. Costa Maya, located on a peninsula along Mexico's Caribbean coast, about 100 miles south of Playa del Carmen, feels like a private island created from scratch expressly for cruisers. That's because it was; developers created the port terminal/faux village complex not far from the Belize border solely to woo cruise lines, and everything -- from the manmade malecon, a beachfront pedestrian path in nearby Mahahual, to the beach club used for shore excursions -- has been created with passengers in mind.
The port itself, which opened for business in February 2001 and was rebuilt after Hurricane Dean in 2007, features myriad facilities in its village -- pools, restaurants, brand-name bars such as Carlos 'n Charlie's, shops, a dolphin experience and a small beach (though it's too rocky to swim). The port developers also own a club and water sports area on Uvero Beach, which is actually away from the terminal and is typically used by cruise lines as a shore-excursion option. Besides the amenities that tourists see, developers took care of the essentials outside the village -- brick-paved roads, concrete cottages for employees, who all come from elsewhere, and a water-sanitation system. (Yes, it is safe to drink water within the Costa Maya confines.)
Beyond that, the folks who created Costa Maya also invested in and remade Mahahual (also known as Majahual), a one-time fishing village of 200 people that's about a 30-minute walk or $5 cab ride away. An attractive malecon anchors a row of seaside hotels, restaurants, dive shops and beach clubs that serve fresh ceviche and offer water activities along lovely white sand beaches with shallow surf (perfect for families). Although development is restricted to low-rise buildings, Mahahual's growth has attracted a small group of entrepreneurs, including a sizable Italian community, interested in making the town the «next Tulum.»