South of Puerto Vallarta, but still within the state of Jalisco, running from the southern tip of Banderas Bay (Cabo Corrientes) southeasterly to Barra de Navidad (and to Jalisco’s border with the state of Colima), lies a spectacular coastline that, for the most part, has avoided major development. It consists of just a few small beachside towns scattered along its coastline, interspersed by a number of very high-end, quite private, luxury resorts.
Costalegre begins with the coastal mountain peaks of Cabo Corrientes, lavishly covered in tropical forest, that quite precipitously falls to a rocky coastline interspersed with small coves and picturesque beaches. As the terrain slopes downward and southward it becomes flatter and dryer, more arid, nearly dessert-like. This continues on for miles, nothing but beach and saltwater lagoons, with just a few outbreaks of rock until reaching Chamela where the coast once again becomes rugged and the foliage more lush, extending right down to Barra de Navidad, the southern border of Costalegre.
Costalegre is typically broken down into six sub-regions, which, starting from the north, are Cabo Corrientes, Costa Majahuas, Chamela, Costa Careyes, Tenacatita, and Barra de Navidad. Barra is the largest coastal community within Costalegre with approximately 7,000 people (when combined with Melaque), bordering the state of Colima and close to the international airport of Manzanillo. Next in size, and also with a good-size expat community would be La Manzanilla in the bay of Tenacatita.
Information regarding Costalegre can be hard to come by. The principal players and landowners in the region tend to keep anything concerning the coastline to themselves, partly to protect their privacy and also to inhibit development. There are few real estate companies working in the region, except for a few “coyotes” independent sales people who live in the region and often do not even have an office. They work as intermediaries, putting people who own land and may be interested in selling together with those interested in buying. Their forte is that they have information others have difficulty finding. Making your way around this region is nearly impossible without a “coyote” or the services of one of the few companies that specialize in the region.
Costalegre is very much like a private club that few are privy to. And why it has remained as it is for so long. There are eight very large landowners who are quite content, it seems, for things to remain as they are. They've established urban plans that involve very low-density development, protecting the ecology and natural environment. Most recently, many of their self-imposed regulations have been adopted by the local municipalities (which are actually more like large counties) and are now part of their “Plan de Desarollo,” or Ordinance Plan.
As the government works on infrastructure and better access, real estate development is underway — at differing stages by a few “players” in the region. There are six to eight of them with parcels of around 1,000 hectares along Costalegre. (To put that in perspective, Punta Mita, probably the most well-known mega-development near Vallarta, has 600 hectares.) These owners dominate the region and have considerable influence regarding the region’s development. A number of them have created a businessmen’s association for the region (Asociacion de Empresarios de Costalegre) to work with the government to improve regional infrastructure and assure that there are strong, enforceable rules in place regarding development. There also are probably another 10 smaller players with 200 to 500 hectares, interspersed with ejidatario communities along this whole coastline.
With these plans in place and the land, still mostly ejido, in the process of being regularized, change is taking place, although slowly. It seems that whenever the real estate market heats up in Vallarta, the talk starts about Costalegre. But when the markets slows down, Costalegre virtually grounds to a stop. But change is taking place today.
Large tracts of land are becoming available, and a few large investment groups are establishing master development proposals involving small boutique hotels and low-density homes, home sites and condominium opportunities with common amenities such as golf and marinas — but more are just providing the natural environment with its estuaries, rolling sand dunes and incredible beaches just as they are.
Costalegre is, for the most part, a long-term investment. There are a few new players who want to see growth, but fortunately, they seem to share the same common vision of the others (for the most part) of low-density, high-value real estate development. And now the Jalisco state government has been motivated, perhaps envious of all the attention Riviera Nayarit has received, to get more involved and provide much-needed infrastructure.
Costalegre encompasses nearly 200 km of coastline. There are, however, portions of it that are not conducive to development. About 50 km consist mostly of estuaries and flat, arid land mostly used for farming. Another 40 km are privately owned, with owners who seem to have little or no intention of selling or developing, at least not anytime soon.
The two closest airports are in Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, however, a new international airport in Chamela is slated to be ready in 2017, capable of receiving aircraft with up to 170 passengers. The only marina along this coastline is located in Barra de Navidad within the development of Isla Navidad.
But plans are in place and work has begun to improve existing infrastructure, such as the existing highway system. The first step involves widening the stretch of highway from Boca de Tomatlan to El Tuito, the most difficult part of the whole Costalegre highway as it winds south of Vallarta through the mountains to the coastal plains. Work has been on and off over the years, but when completed it would cut at least a half hour of driving time to principal destinations in Costalegre.
A second phase involves improving and widening the highway from La Huerta to Melaque, which would provide faster access from Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city, cutting access time to about three or three and a half hours for most destinations in Costalegre. Two other highway projects involve the roads to Cabo Corrientes and Tehuamixtle out of El Tuito, improving the existing roads that wind through the mountains to the coastline, which will not be easy to do or inexpensive.
Costalegre Real Estate Options
Along the coastline of Costalegre real estate seems to be situated either at the low end or the very high end, with not a lot in between. Lower-to-moderately priced properties can be found primarily in Barra de Navidad, Costalegre's largest coastal community, Melaque, and La Manzanilla, where there are good-size expat communities, primarily American and Canadian, living either full or part-time.;
The high-end properties that are currently available for purchase reside primarily in Careyes, or to some degree in Isla Navidad, with new projects under development such as Xala in Costa Majahuas and Cheval Blanc in Chamela, but it is unclear yet what will be available and when.
There are currently a few high-end resort hotels under development in the area: The One & Only Santa María de Xala in Costa Majahuas, the Cheval Blanc in Chamela, and a Four Season Tamarindo within Costa Careyes, adding to the already existing collection of boutique hotels such as Cuixmala, the Careyes Hotel, Las Alamandas and the much larger Grand Isla Navidad.