Vacation for the Gods: Punta Nizuc


Legend has it that Punta Nizuc is a gift from the gods. The verdant location in a secluded bay in the Riviera Maya has been treasured throughout the ages; first by the Mayans, who, centuries ago, declared that this was a place where subtle complexity arose from elemental simplicity, and more recently by the Mexican government, who used the lush grounds as a setting for the Presidential Retreat. Today, the celebrated region is welcoming a development that is paying homage to the area’s sacred past while bringing the hospitality of the region into the future, a retreat simply called Nizuc.

When building a development amidst the sacred grounds of Punta Nizuc, it is important first to understand the mysteries and intricacies of the land, and then, just as importantly, to fully comprehend the direction of the brand as it applies to said resort. Upon winning the rights of development at Nizuc, Alan Becker, a man with inherent developmental know-how coursing through his veins (Becker joined his family business, Becker Arquitectos, in 1994 when he was just 13), knew immediately the direction he wanted the resort to take.

 Nizuc is where Maya steps out from history and into the future.

“I’ve been an Amanjunkie for the last 14 years,” he explains. As such, Becker invited Adrian Zecha, the driving force behind Amanresorts and GHM hotels, to join him on this project. While Zecha had been, time and again, invited into the region, no project had piqued his interest enough to persuade him to lend his hospitality expertise to a development-until the call from Becker. It took mere days before the two finalized the deal.

With the understanding that Nizuc would share the same qualities of the celebrated Amanresorts, Becker was determined to define the brand itself, in order to ensure that all of those working on the project were on the same page about direction, dedication, and quality. It took three years for this concept to evolve to where it is today, but, upon reading the manifesto of Nizuc, there is little room for question that it promises to be one of the most sacred destinations for revelers of tranquility in the Western Hemisphere.

The Philosophy

There is no better way to discuss the mindset behind Nizuc than through the brand’s positioning statement:

Nizuc is where Maya steps out from history and into the future. It’s where the ancient commingles with the modern to form a new idiom, a new voice, a new vocabulary. It’s where the lost secrets of a vanished civilization are once again brought to life-but in a fascinating new iteration. It’s where the beauty, mystery, and geometry of the Maya are the inspiration behind the creation of a whole new world. A world where art and architecture are elevated to the level of religion. Where time uncoils in accordance with a new calendar, and the rhythm of life is as timeless as the movement of the stars.

It goes on to say that “Nizuc was once a home to the Maya. Now it is an homage,” with the influence of the great civilization felt throughout the $180 million resort. But more than simply a reinterpretation of Maya, the resort is taking some of the basic Mayan philosophies and infusing them into the Nizuc concept. “Mayans really knew how to live like kings,” says Becker. And Nizuc will be built for those who appreciate the finer things in life, with sophisticated offerings that simplify the resort experience. “Today, in the luxury game, everything is so complicated that even to order a coffee, you need to make 10 decisions: non-fat, decaf, short, tall,” Becker says. “We think our clientele shouldn’t be forced to decide. We are not one of those companies that will offer you a menu of 10 different pillows. We only have the right one.”

The Physicality

Just steps from the largest coral reef in the Western Hemisphere, Nizuc is set along a kilometer of Caribbean beachfront only minutes from the accessibility of Cancun. The resort, which spans 28 acres, will entail three beachfront villas, 88 two-bedroom residences, and 72 one-bedroom residences, all turnkey and available for purchase. The site will also feature rentals, consisting of 16 one-bedroom Club Suite Condominium Residences and 45 hotel rooms. While Mayan influences will run rampant through the development, unlike the Mayans, who at the height of their power were one of the most densely populated societies of their time, Nizuc is taking the opposite route. Becker explains, “What we are creating is a product of quality with very low density. Because really, at the end, density and quality are against each other. It is very difficult to achieve quality when you have density as part of the objective.” On the same note, while Mexico is known for the sheer quantity of tourists that continuously flock to their beaches every year, there has been a severe void when speaking of the quality of the tourism market. The Mexican government, under the guidance of former President Fox, recognized the need to elevate the class of resorts in the area and offered the former presidential estate as a development site. While many developers across the globe put in bids on this land, all hoping to be selected to create a destination that would call to the global jet-setters, it was Becker Arquitectos that stood out from the crowd, thanks in part to their Mexican roots, but mainly to their environmentally friendly vision that will ensure Nizuc’s place in history.

In order to preserve the beauty of the land, more than two years have been spent laying the foundations for the strong environmental program, which entails creating a nursery and rehabilitating all of the plants on site that may be disturbed by the construction process. To date, they have regenerated hundreds of thousands of mangroves, which will be placed throughout the resort. The mangroves are native to the area, but the plants had been damaged during some particularly devastating hurricanes that rolled through the region. While other companies may have resorted to bringing in non-indigenous plant life, Nizuc is dedicated to preserving the local environment. Through the specially designed mangrove initiative, years have been cut off of the mangrove regrowth timeline, thus breathing a second life into some 350,000 plants in a short time frame. The project has been so successful that the Mexican government is thinking of making it mandatory during the construction of other resorts and developments. This process employs more than 200 people, further enhancing the positive impact of Nizuc on the region.

To ensure quality, Becker is using an integrated concept that allows in in-house control of every aspect, from market research and architecture to contracting and design. “The only way to achieve the quality we are aiming for, as well as to control the timing and cost issues, is to maintain control of the whole process,” he explains. The beauty of the area proved to be the biggest challenge for Becker to overcome. “We were fortunate enough to acquire the land,” he explains, “and we knew we had a huge responsibility not only with the government but also with ourselves. It was really a challenge, being that the place is so beautiful and magical, to create something without spoiling it.” It was at this juncture that Becker decided to partner with the one hotelier who is known for creating stunning destinations amidst the local flora and fauna. “One of the things that caught my attention when I was a traveler in [Zecha’s] resorts in the Far East or Asia was the way he involved the local culture into the experience, and that, for me, was one of the most important assets that none of the other hotel brands have. And for me to make the community a part of it is important, because in the end we’re not only creating a space. What people will remember is the human factor.”

Once Zecha was on board, the pair decided to bring in Jean-Michel Gathy of Denniston International Architects & Planners, the award-winning firm responsible for The Setai, Amanyara, One & Only Resort Reethi-Rah, amongst others, as lead architect for the project. Jaya Ibrahim of Jaya & Associates has been appointed as interior designer. “Jaya is considered one of the most important interior designers in Asia,” says Becker. With his vision, Nizuc is going to reflect a combination of Asian intrigue fused with Mexican culture. “It’s looking at Mexico with Asian eyes,” Becker says. “We focus on Zen-like atmosphere with the warmth of Mexican culture.” For example, one of the three restaurants will serve Mexican regional cuisine, but it will be presented in a very Asian style. To further enhance the native feel, custom works by local artists will be displayed throughout the resort.

In addition to the intricate beauty found at Nizuc, which is just steps from the white sand beaches, the resort boasts six sculptural swimming pools that welcome guests. Taking the cue from the Mayan culture, whose palaces typically faced the ocean, all of the hospitality options provide spectacular views of the beautiful waters. Nearby, two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses are available, while on-site, guests can revel in the serenity-inducing offerings at the 30,000 square-foot ESPA. Water sports, unbelievable snorkeling, fine restaurants, a cigar lounge, tennis facilities, and more round out the resort’s list of offerings and amenities.

The Past Meets the Future

With Nizuc set to open in 2009, the only way one can currently experience the wonders that await is through the impressive sales pavilion, a 5,000-square-foot masterpiece that reflects the experience that Nizuc is going to deliver. The center, which opened in March, also serves a strong purpose for the local community: Everyone who worked for the presidential estate is still working for Nizuc, many in the sales center. The presidential estate’s chef can now be found heading up the full kitchen, while the service staff wait on the day guests hand and foot, as this sales pavilion is as close to the Nizuc experience as one can get right now. In the coming months, three bungalows will be constructed to allow for guests to indulge in the Nizuc experience for full 24-hour intervals.

While the concept of Nizuc is surely marketable on a global scale, Becker is quick to let us know that Nizuc won’t be brought worldwide, although he is open for other projects. Nizuc can’t be duplicated. Nizuc is as precious as the land itself: irreplaceable, stunning, and eagerly awaited