Note: we wish the best of luck to David and Ilana Randall in their retirement. They certainly have lived the dream life so far, and we know that they will continue to do so. And many thanks for introducing so many people to our beautiful little corner of the Caribbean – Xcalak. Dream on!
The year was 1986, and I had been on a road trip for the last three months. My catfish hatchery in Missouri was frozen for the season, so I had some time off to travel. I just wanted to drive around, maybe look for some property in a warm spot, something to hold on to for my retiring years, and perhaps build a little home later on. After growing up in Minnesota, and then spending time in Missouri, where the winters are also cold, I was seeking some nice warm climate for a change.
After traveling through Belize, and Mexico, I landed in a little town at night time and ended up camping on the beach, because the last hotel room I saw was 120 miles away, in Felipe Carillo Puerto, a small village off the main road in the north, or Chetumal to the south. You would have to picture that the road in getting to Xcalak from Mahahual was the now, old beach road…which took over two hours to travel the 30 miles, not counting the time wasted to jump out of the car to see if each water-filled pot hole was safe to travel across. But it was well worth the effort because the road ended in Xcalak.
Xcalak, as it turned out, was the farthest south one could travel in the Yucatan Peninsula without falling in to the sea. Needless to say, at this point I was tired, had my share of mosquito bites, and all I wanted to do is have a relaxing drink on the beach, and sleep. I discovered a piece of property with about 38 meters of beach front that had a nice spot all cleaned out set among the mangrove, but yet right on the water….and that’s where I collapsed into a coma like sleep for the night.
When I awoke I couldn’t believe my luck at finding this gem of a place as the whole area was so pretty. And, by 8 am that next morning, I found the owner of that property, or so he says, and purchased the land that I was camping on. By Mexican standards it didn’t even take very long (about 8 years) to get the paper work done! Ironically, this is the lot that we have just finished building our house where we plan to retire…here in the town of Xcalak located in Quintana Roo, Mexico.
Xcalak was at one time a fairly prosperous fishing village, located at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, near the Belize border. An electric plant, ice factory, movie house….and a pretty good size population, made it a candidate to become the capital of Quintana Roo, Mexico. Along with being a fishing village Xcalak had a fairly good coconut industry. From the coconut plantation cocos were shipped by rail from Xcalak to La Aguada, located in the back by Chetumal Bay, and from there they were distributed for sale on the mainland.
The only access in or out of Xcalak was by boat, from 30 miles across the bay to Chetumal, or in through one of the ‘cuts’ in front of Xcalak. Xcalak, the Maya word for twins, is named for the two cuts in the reef in front of town. However things changed for the residents in Xcalak in the 1950’s when a hurricane pretty much destroyed village and most of the inhabitants moved out to the inland spots. Just a few of the families stayed on and these people, along with a small stream of new residents from nearby Belize, maintained the traditional fishing industry.
Chetumal, unlike Xcalak, could always be accessed by car. After the hurricane, it became the capital of the Yucatan and today has grown into a fairly large city of about 200,000 with lots of amenities. In Chetumal you’ll find a Sam’s Club, a yacht club, a shopping mall, lots of government agencies, low cost medical and dental facilities…so pretty much all your supplies, wants and desires, can be found in Chetumal.
Costa de Cocos:
But back to my discovery of Xcalak. In 1987 I purchased 2 hectors of beachfront property, 1km north of Xcalak. In retrospect, I am not really sure why I had purchased it so quickly – it was just that land was so inexpensive back then and the area so very pretty. And, you can’t go wrong with that sort of investment.
At the same time I had met two other Americans in town, all with visions of grandeur: one was going to open a dive business and the other a sports fishing business, and so I jumped on board the business venture train and piped in, “I can build some rooms to rent out.” And with those words the idea of Costa de Cocos was born, and that quickly my newly acquired property had a purpose.
As it turned out those two other guys never came back to Xcalak to open their businesses as one fellow ended up with the Black Rock Hotel and gifts in Belize, and I’m not sure whatever became of the other guy…once the night’s gin wore off and words and promises were forgotten!
I had never built anything before this, but with the help of my family we were soon in full swing and started our Costa de Cocos, initially with five individual cabanas and an outside bar.
As the years progressed we kept adding on, and as of today, we have 16 rooms -with number 17 almost finished. All of the cabanas are made with a stone base, local hardwood varnished siding, topped with the infamous thatched roofing known to these areas, and have screened windows all around for trade wind breezes to keep you cool. The bar and restaurant has been in operation for the last 18 years…serving a family style local fare, including but not limited to, the catch of the day delivered by the local fishermen, shrimp, conch, chicken as well as lobster mango pizzas.
People have asked why we decided on the traditional housing instead of the Americanized block and cement housing and I tell them there is a reason why they say, “when in Rome, do as the Romans.” Basically, I figured why fight 400 years of tradition that has proven to work very well in this environment.
SAPPHIRE BEACH RESORT – BELIZE
“Luxury Penthouse Beach Condo. This 3-Bedroom, 3-Bath Penthouse offers gorgeous views of the Caribbean Sea from every room. The Master Suite is located in an upstairs “tower” and has a private balcony and verandah.
The main Living Area has two bedroom suites, living room and kitchen. All have balcony access and great ocean views. The Penthouse features tile floors throughout, granite countertops, hardwood cabinets and trim, stainless steel appliances and much more!
The Sapphire Beach community features multiple pools, on-site restaurant and bar, spa and fitness center, convenience store, and all owners have complimentary use of recreational equipment like kayaks, snorkeling gear, fishing equipment and more! Inquire about our free 3 night hotel stay so you can come see the property in person.”
The rooms are octagonal in shape, with screened windows all around, so catching a breeze from any direction was possible. The roofs are high thatch to trap the warm up top and keep the rest cool. The base and foundations are solid rock and concrete, the top parts are made from local hardwoods and hardwood siding. These little structures are very sound, strong, and aerodynamically built to withstand a head on wind from any direction, like one would see in a hurricane. Because there is a restaurant on the grounds, the rooms do not contain a kitchen…plus visitors would not be accustomed to cooking in a grass roofed room, anyway!
I started this project from the ground up, and have owned and operated it since its birth, 22 years ago. We a have fairly large following of clients that have been coming down year after year for about a decade. They enjoy the surroundings, some like to dive, some like to fish, some have purchased property, and most just like the atmosphere we have to offer as well as the company.
In the beginning, most of our clients learned of us by word of mouth, and we also had one booking agent at that time. Up until the last six years, we really didn’t have any means of outside communication, so our weekly drive in to Chetumal was our only contact with our agent.
Now, we have internet service which has changed our business dramatically. Also, we have a nice web site, and a great web master who keeps us at the top of the browsers. Right now we still don’t have landline telephone service but, because we have an antenna on one of our towers that reaches the repeater in Chetumal, we do have cell service. And, indeed things are changing here as technology is finally, albeit slowly, coming to Xcalak.
Costa de Cocos was Xcalak’s first form of tourism, with our diving business being one of the area’s highlights since we began. We are located just a half mile off the Mesa Maya reef, which is second only to the Great Barrier Reef. This reef starts near Isla Mujeres in Cancun and runs all the way down to Honduras. So, what we have in front of the resort is akin to a big bath tub, with a sandy area, dotted with coconut trees, where you can hang out or just hang in – your hammock. The reef protects the waters, so there are no waves, just a lot of calm water offering excellent snorkeling. The down side (well, to some people) of this sort of environment is that we do not have the white sandy beaches with all that wave action and constant noise of the surf.
THERE ARE OVER 30 DIVE SITES – ALL WITHIN A SHORT 5 TO 15 MINUTE BOAT RIDE FROM THE RESORT’S DOCK.
There are over 30 dive sites – all within a short 5 to 15 minute boat ride out from the resort’s dock. We have such a wide variety of corals, formations, and fish, so no matter what your diving skill level, there is something to see at every depth. The resort has a 33 foot Panga with twin Honda 115 four strokes that we use for diving, as well as a 28 foot twin engine Yamaha 60s.
We have also been fly fishing the waters of Chetumal Bay for the last 13 years, and now have a little fleet of seven flats boats just like the locals who all use 23 foot pangas for these tours. You’ll find Bonefish, Permit, Tarpon and Snook - are the recipe for a super slam… in these waters.
The Bay is 40 x 60 miles, dotted with mangrove flats, white sandy bottom, and numerous lagoons, both explored and those yet to be discovered, all teaming with these catch and release species. Xcalak has become a saltwater fly-fishing destination, published in numerous magazines, books, and articles…and the good news is that this area remains fairly untouched compared to its counterparts to the north.
We have 22 miles of protected waters for snorkeling, and now that this area is in the national park, the coral is protected, as well as the fish…so there is a lot to see and enjoy. And, when the weather doesn’t permit us to go outside, we can also do our “micro dives” on the inside of the reef.
Up the road about 30 miles to the north of us is a town called Mahahual. It is the home of the Grand Costa Maya, the cruise ship pier. Before Hurricane Dean in 2007, the Costa Maya Port was very popular, and brought tourism to this area…without affecting the small town of Xcalak. Unfortunately, Hurricane Dean took out the dock, but the good news is they are almost done rebuilding the pier, and have finished a few needed infrastructures in the town of Mahahual as well.
To get here, most people fly into Cancun, rent a car and drive the 4.5 hours down. The roads are all in great shape, mostly new, widened and improved so it is a pleasant drive. Other options in getting here are to fly into Merida and make the same trip over. Although Costa de Cocos is at the end of the road, we are centrally located to many key places in the region:
• 35 miles to the capital of Chetumal, Yucatan, Mexico with all the shopping and ‘big city’ delights and industry.
• 35 miles to the town of San Pedro, Belize – a great day trip in another country, with another scene.
• 35 miles to Mahahual, Mexico.
• 35 miles to Chinchorro, one of the great atolls that is known as a diver’s Mecca.
XCALAK IS AT THE TIP OF THE YUCATAN PENINSULA, AT THE END OF THE ROAD, SURROUNDED BY WATER, JUNGLE AND WILDLIFE.
Present Day Xcalak:
The ‘present’ Xcalak is still the last village on the Mexican Caribbean coast. It has about 250 full time residents, and the feel of a small sleepy fishing village. Situated on an old coconut plantation, the Caribbean is to the east, Chetumal Bay is to the west, and the English-speaking country of Belize is just eight miles to the south. Xcalak is at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, at the end of the road, surrounded by water, jungle and wildlife. We have seen about eight different jaguars since we have been here, as well as other wild life, from birds to snakes, to animals to spiders to just about everything…after all, we are 70 miles in to the jungle.
There is a growing community of non–Mexican home/hotel owners along this stretch of coast as well…most involved in their businesses. There are some nice social affairs such as the Wednesday night chicken BBQ, the book club, and the community park projects, to name a few.
About five years ago, this area was turned into a national park, and so fishing, diving, building, and overall expansion has become limited to maintain the beauty of the underwater world, and provide a life line to the indigenous people.
This is an important point because to start building from the ground up, at this time, no one would be able to accomplish what we have here at Costa de Cocos with the full 17 rental rooms, an apartment, bar/restaurant/kitchen, numerous bodegas, and areas for workers quarters all on 103 meters beachfront x 105 meters deep property. As we are off the grid, and an eco-hotel, we operate with a Bergy 10kW wind generator on the property, as well as 10W of solar panels, all wired into a new trace inverter to supply enough electricity to run the compound. There is also a back up diesel generator for the cloudy, non windy days.
Now, here we are 22 years later and we still love the area, but must admit that all good things must come to an end, so we will be retiring in the near future, and allow the future owners of Costa de Cocos the pleasure of an incredible life style change ….and to hopefully, as we did, discover a new way of life and living. However, Xcalak is part of our souls, so once we sell our property and retire, we’ll still be in the area as we have just finished our retirement home.
Neither of us are lyrical writers who can describe the various colors and hues of blue in the water and sky around us, nor the unique freshness in the air, as Xcalak is just one of those places that you have experience firsthand to appreciate its pristine beauty. Our mission, in writing this article, is to introduce the readers to this undiscovered spot at the tip of the Yucatan in Mexico. Hopefully, we’ll meet some of you down here in the near future.
Authors : David and Ilana Randall have lived in beautiful Xcalak for the past 22 years and are the developers, owners and operators of Costa de Cocos, an eco-lodge and diving facility.
Comments on this article by Trans Caribbean Trust Real Estate: if you are this deep into our site, you know that we represent coastal real estate in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. We specialize in three niches: Costa Maya below the Riviera Maya, Cozumel, and the Sunset Beach stretch northwest of Merida. After reading this article you certainly know that Xcalak and Costa de Cocos are at the southern tip of the Costa Maya. The information on diving in this article will be very important to some of our customers looking to relocate to the Caribbean. We here at Trans Caribbean Trust also wish David and Ilana well. We have certainly taken many a visitor to stay in their lovely place. Some of our best real estate listings consist of beachfront and ocean-view properties on Costa Maya; however we also have some inland estates on Cozumel Island starting at ten acres for $185,000 and we have some suburban lots between the Merida beltway and the Gulf Coast of the Yucatan where Sunset Beach and Sunset Shores are located. Baby-boomers, expats, and soon-to-be retirees from around the world interested in a new life in the Caribbean come to us for advice on investing in beachfront real estate as a foreigner. Contact us today to set an appointment to see our Caribbean beach lots and ocean-view properties in Mexico’s warm and wonderful Yucatan Peninsula.