Ah, the Caribbean coast, its dreamy blue waters, perfect white sand beaches… when one can afford them. Cause we need the budget to spend some time on the water here! Of course, not a big budget. For a good reason, so many people come around here to rest and tan in an all-inclusive resort for a week in winter. But this budget is beyond our reach in the context of our trip. Anyway, an all-inclusive Caribbean cruise is really not our thing. So what do we do here, then? We look for weaknesses. Ways to stay on the Riviera Maya for less. Not easy, but doable if we work hard enough. Let’s see.
The last village
Our first contact with the Caribbean coast is at Puerto Morelos, the last authentic village on more than 200 km of shore, which could keep its fishing roots. At least until now, as so many hotels are built here every year. First, we find one – the only one, actually – which has camping spots on the beach. But when we hear about the price… Next! We finally find a decent small hotel right in the centre, a few blocks away from the beach, with all amenities, including access to their kitchen, for an excellent price. It is ideal for resting two days and wandering on the beach, along its quiet pier and its bent lighthouse, still standing after the hurricanes.
Then we start a tour ride down south, along the very, very, very dull highway running along the shore. Imagine riding on a North American highway on a busy day, with advertising boards every 50 meters.
Here’s our day to reach Playa del Carmen, our next stop. On paper, nothing attracts us in this hyper-touristic place. In this place, consumerism leads the way, especially on 5th avenue, where we can find every Mexican thing we want. Authentic or fake, no matter what, as long as it can be sold. So why are we here? Well, we don’t really know. Or maybe yes, for two reasons: to meet our really nice Warmshowers host Clara (and her three dogs), with whom we’ll stay two days. And to spend time on the lovely, although crowded sandy beach, where the white sand is incredibly thin.
From Playa, starts our quest of the perfect beach, further south. Our goal, in fact: find a spot to camp on the beach. Well, wish us good luck: all along the road, we’re surrounded by forests, no further away than 1 km from the coast. Which remains out of reach: private property. Wired fences, private security services… not really inviting. The rare places where we can reach the beach are some private beaches. Yes, we can camp there. Sometimes. For a crazy price, though. Let’s go back on saddles.
Eventually, on the 80 km between Playa Del Carmen and Tulúm, we find just one spot to camp, and it’s not on the coast, but in the forest. But we’re not disappointed because we discover a tiny place hidden in the woods, right next to a little cenote, taken care of by a Mayan family. And here we are, under a palapa roof, the cenote just for us and discovering quite a few religious artefacts mixing shamanism and Christianism in a curious syncretism.
Tulúm: A little paradise in Riviera Maya
Finally, we go back in love with the Mexican coast when we arrive in Tulúm. We expected it a bit, as many sold us this place. In fact, there are two Tulúm: the village itself, along the highway, 2 km away from the coast; the hotel zone, which spreads over more than 10 km of perfect beaches and creeks. Expect that here the hotels are way smaller and nicer than in Playa Del Carmen or Cancún, and some have cabañas and even camping spots. Yes. But as we plan to stay around here for a few days, camping is not the best option as we don’t want to leave our things unattended while we’re away. So remain the cabañas, but they’re still too expensive for us.
Then we fall on this little place, hidden between two hotels, a few basic cabañas and a tiny fisherman’s house nearby. Welcome to Fidel’s place, born and raised here some sixty years ago, a fisherman in the morning, beer drinker the rest of the time, who rents us a cabaña for almost nothing. Well, there’s no beach in front of us, but a little creek, perfect for us: once passed the first rocky meters, sandy water await us for a few dozen meters. So here it is, our ideal spot.
Two days doing nothing else than relaxing, watching the sea from our hammock and swim in it when it’s too hot. We’re good at it, now.
Temples in Riviera Maya
Tulúm is also the famous ruins we see on all the touristic leaflets about Mexico. And if the ruins are not incredible, compared to the previous sites we’ve seen, the sight right over the turquoise waters makes this place a must.
Luckily we came here early enough to avoid the crowds which, past 10 am, come by full buses.
We can’t leave Tulúm without going to the Xcacel beach, some 20 km North of Tulúm, where hundreds of green turtles come to nest every summer. The place is protected and managed by an official conservation group that welcomes people wishing to volunteer. We can come to witness baby turtles being released in the sea at night. It’s so cute and emotional to watch these little ones crawling like crazy to reach the water and go live their lives. With a lot of luck, one in a thousand will survive and come back here to nest in a few years. Good luck!
Tulúm is the south end of the Riviera Maya. Further south, the laguna is back, and the coast becomes again quiet and wild.
Bacalar and its seven colours
Finally, we head to the Laguna Bacalar or the seven colours’ laguna; for the seven blues, its water takes depending on the day and the depth. To get there, we have to cover some 250 km of boring and straight forest road. We can also find quiet villages where we can free camp with great views over the Laguna along the roads.
Oh, we did well to stop in Bacalar. This quiet village is perfect for staying longer than expected. So quiet for not being on the famous Riviera and not on the coast per se, it kept its charms and remains very accessible. As about the water… Indeed, it’s beautifully coloured and hot, for the laguna is never more than a few meters deep. And guess what, we found a spot to camp next to the water and a nice wharf to jump from. So let’s stay here for two days.
With our trip to Riviera Maya, Mexico ends here for us and will have been a long but so beautiful endeavour. We’ll have spent five months here and will have discovered 5,000 km such a wealth in the landscapes, heritage, history, and encounters we would never have imagined. So we leave this great country with some emotion.