A floating resort designed by EDSA helps preserve fragile coastal terrain in the Yucatán.
By Scott Sowers
At the Etéreo beach resort on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the typical vacation experience is transformed into a floating holiday amid a carpet of pygmy mangroves. Pathways to the resort’s pools, restaurants, and beaches are rendered as boardwalks constructed of treated hardwood and mounted on timber pilings. The walkways serve as a staging ground for nature walks and photographic safaris. “The boardwalks feel like they’re floating in the mangroves,” says Devon King, a landscape architect and vice president at EDSA, which led the site’s design. “We wanted to create an ethereal journey and make the walk from the hotel to the beach with moments of discovery, seating areas, and educational moments that made people slow down.”
The immersive nature of the hotel is a direct response to a drawn-out environmental battle that started in the early 2000s and lasted until a modified plan was approved in 2018. Located roughly 40 miles south of Cancún along the Riviera Maya, the hotel, which opened in December 2021, was developed by GIM Desarrollos. The original design concept for the coastal, 25-acre site included clearing the pygmy mangrove trees. But research conducted by the Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute (CINVESTAV-IPN) in Yucatán helped encourage low-impact development while preserving the natural environment.
“Biodiversity in mangroves is very high,” explains Jorge Herrera-Silveira, a professor at CINVESTAV in Mérida. “We have registered white-tailed deer, ocelot, coyotes, jaguar, anteater, 50 species of birds, turtles, lizards, and countless species of fish and insects.” Mexico has the fourth-largest population of mangroves in the world, and the trees are especially comfortable in the Yucatán. Development has taken a bite out of their habitat, but awareness about blue carbon ecosystems—carbon captured and held by coastal ecosystems—has since slowed deforestation.
Evolving environmental attitudes halted the mangrove clearing at the Etéreo site but also added significant complexity for the design team. “Fast-forward to now and the land is in really odd shapes,” King says. To compensate for a flat, wet, ecologically important site, the design team had to get creative. “We created a single slab that was floating at the level of the mangroves so that the hotel operations could be below,” he explains. This part of the Yucatán also took a direct hit from Hurricane Wilma in 2005, which required dredging, beach restoration, and a new permit to build while preserving the mangroves.
Mexico began working to preserve mangroves in the 1980s, began establishing a climate action plan in 1998, and signed on to the 2015 Paris Agreement. In September 2022, UNESCO launched its mangrove restoration project in Mexico. “The preservation of mangroves in Mexico is important due to the multiple benefits they provide to communities,” says Herrera-Silveira, “mainly in fisheries, recreation, and protection [of] property and wildlife biodiversity.”