Memo to travelers to Mexico: Make room in your closet for a bunch of new tee-shirts proclaiming your love for places like Teacapan, Esquinapa, Las Cabras and particularly for Playa Espiritu.
You may have to squint to find these spots on the map -- if they show up at all -- but look for them about half-way down the west coast of Mexico. What's happening there? Playa Espiritu is going to be the country's next tropical Eden in its line of built-from-scratch super-resorts a la Cancun, Ixtapa and Huatulco.
Workers are already buzzing around Espiritu's more than seven miles of golden beaches, leveling land plots, building roads and putting in power lines. Among distinctive features of the nearly 6,000-acre site -- over a third of the size of New York's Manhattan Island -- will be a Venice-like community on an island surrounded by winding waterways.
Humberto Avilez, regional director of Fonatur, Mexico's resort development agency, said Espiritu will be built in phases over a 30-year timetable. The first few hotels are slated to open in early 2014.
He said Espiritu eventually will welcome guests to a whopping 17,000 hotel rooms integrated with 26,000 residential units. Living areas will be flanked by marinas, a golf course, shopping malls, plazas, year-round verdant parks and all the other trappings of a world-class vacationland.
According to a brochure, the project has been designed "to make nature our priority by accenting sustainability in everything from water recycling systems to using renewable energy sources."
The creation of Espiritu, Avilez noted, could prompt private developments along the 25 miles of beaches between the new resort and the eco-tourism haven at Teacapan at the southern tip of the state of Sinaloa.
To be left intact in the development of Espiritu and its surrounding areas will be miles of meandering lagoons, mangroves and estuaries, home to millions of birds such as pink and blue herons, parrots, pelicans, storks, fishing eagles, ducks, hummingbirds and orioles. Besides coexisting with bird sanctuaries, Fonatur maps show the development areas sharing the landscape with current farmlands, cattle ranches and shrimp beds.
Tourism planners say Espiritu could spark privately backed tourism projects on its neighboring northern beaches as well as southward developments. On-going growth in the area, they predict, could some day create a 100-mile-long resort corridor anchored by Mazatlan at the northern end, running all the way to Teacapan.
Mazatlan's international airport, 20 miles down the coast from that city, is the closest terminal to Espiritu. It's about an hour's ride south of the airport to the new resort, mostly on a modern highway to the regional capital of Esquinapa. From there, it's a short drive on a secondary road to the town of Las Cabras and then Espiritu.
The Mazatlan airport is a jet hop of two or three hours from US gateways such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Dallas/Ft. Worth and Houston. Flight time is a little over four hours from Seattle.