A good Yucatan spot for a long weekend, well away from crowds?
January 26, 2011 7:24 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I are taking a short (4 day weekend) vacation to the Yucatan in mid February. We're looking for a place to go that's really cool but well away from crowded, touristy areas. A nice beach would be great, but it doesn't have to be on the Mayan Riviera itself; as long as it's within a few hour of Cancun airport, that works. I'd like to spend around $100/night, but I can go a little higher if the place is awesome.

We'd like to snorkel and maybe do some day trips, like to ruins or cenotes, but we don't need to be near nightlife or shopping. We're flying into Cancun; renting a car is an option if need be. A place in a smaller, unheralded town or village on the coast would be ideal. I speak enough Spanish to get by in most situations.

We looked at Tulum already, but it seems like that will be quite crowded and difficult to find a cool place at our price point. Isla Mujeres is another option we were considering, but not sure how crowded that might be. Any ideas?
posted by crookedgrin to Travel & Transportation around Mexico (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Based on my experience, Tulum is not really that crowded, but if you want to be on the beach, then your price point will be tough. When I was there in March of 07, the beaches looked like this, in terms of crowds. If you stay in town, you can probably find cheaper lodging, but all the fancy places are at the beach.

We flew in to Cancun and took a bus to Tulum, stayed in a hostel for a night and found a place on the beach the next night, where we stayed for about two weeks. It was easy to get taxis to cenote diving, snorkeling trips, etc. Also, renting a car was easy and you could drive to Belize if you got adventurous.

I'd recommend it highly for what you want to do if you can find a place that fits your price point.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:00 PM on January 26, 2011

Best answer: Ah, I hate to give away my fave place, but since I originally found it here on askme, I should pay it forward.
Try Puerto Morales.
It's a 15 minute cab ride from the cancun airport (you can book a car service for about $60 US roundtrip before you leave-or take the $5 bus to the edge of town then a $3 cab ride).
It's a small fishing village that gets skipped over by most, but it's delightful, a little bit rundown, very laid back, a good beach, and any day trip that you can take from tulum or playa or cancun you can take from there, eliminating the need for a car.
There are several decent restaurants in town (including the requisite italian places), and seafood is the towns specialty-espeocally ceviche. The casual restaurants are better, and some are them are excellent. Talk about the best fish taacos for a dollar ever.
There are numerous hotels and guesthouses to rent. There are a lot of canadian snowbird condos on the north side of town, but they are pretty unobtrusive. There are also quite a few all in one resorts, but they are on a different road from the highway, and unless you go for a pretty long walk on the beach, you don't notice them at all. They rarely come into town, it seems.
On sundays the beach is popular with mexican families taking a vacation beach day. There is snorkeling and scubaing right there, in addition to kite boarding and day fishing trips. I think that there are also boats to isla mujeres...I would need to double check that, though. On the main square you can book day trips to chitzen itza, tulum, the cenotes, essentially anything in the yucatan.
It's the easiest no-brain-cells-needed vacation spot I've found in a while.

Right off the beach on the town square is a nice vegetarian restaurant with free wifi.
It's my new favorite no thinking place in mexico.

My opinion on Tulum is that it's a bit overrun, but still better than playa.
I can make recommendations on places to stay and restaurants in Puerto if you're interested.
I've gone there a few times in almost peak season and it was never once anything I could call crowded.
Mainly I love it because I leave NYC at 6 am and am on the beach by 11 am.
posted by newpotato at 8:39 PM on January 26, 2011 [13 favorites]

How about a smaller town like Puerto Morelos? It's not touristy at all. It's a small fishing village and TripAdvisor is showing some lowered priced hotels with good ratings.
posted by kathryn at 8:40 PM on January 26, 2011

Jinx with newpotato! Please do recommend specific places to stay & restaurants.

You probably won't notice the resorts at all because they all have their own beaches, after all.
posted by kathryn at 8:43 PM on January 26, 2011

For Puerto Morales a recommendation for a hotel right on the beach, with a nice swimming pool to hang out at if you get sick of the beach, is Carmen Hacienda. If you book them in advance they are around $140 a night, but if you walk in off the street you can get a double room for about $75 a night.
The hotel itself isn't five stars, it's quite basic, but clean, and the location right on the beach and being able to hang out right outside your room next to the pool on the beach is worth it to me (ask for one of the rooms on the first floor).
Just avoid the restaurant. Not good. Go to the coffee shop on the corner in the main square like everyone else does.
posted by newpotato at 8:52 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

If I were in your shoes I'd probably just go to Talum. We went there in December and it was very nice. We stayed at this place. It was nice enough, and I'd stay again. We followed Rodger Dodger's advise and called Edwardo to setup a snorkel tour. Not sure if he's still in business but it was well worth the dough for the whole day trip.

Or, you could rent a car, drive west a bit, hop on a water taxi for a half hour and end up at Isla Holbox. Beautiful place but not much reef snorkeling I don't think. I only saw one car on the island, everyone drives golf carts. Very remote, and very nice. We stayed at this joint and would stay there again.

P.S. If you need a place to stay IN cancun, Rey Caribe will not rip you off and if nice enough.
posted by pwb503 at 8:54 PM on January 26, 2011

okay a list of some restaurants in Puerto Morelos is here.
My recommendations: for basic all around food, el pirata on the square-good for breakfast, and they have some specialty stew there that I can't remember the details of right now. For excellent fish tacos, Pescayitos. For a great place that the locals go, open daytimes, La Petita, it's only fish there, and maybe french fries but the ceviche rocks. Spaghettino for pretty decent Italian. The sunday brunch at Posada Amor is all home style mexican dishes. It's right next door to the nightlife, Barra Barra. Across the street is the argentinian steak place which is really good. Also the Sunday all you can eat barbecue on the beach at la Suegra. At other times I love their chicken tacos. When I was there last there was a spot that opened right next to Pescayitos that had french baguette sandwiches that were pretty good.

There are a few little places that look like shacks that make excellent food that I can't remember the name of, but be adventurous. If you don't like, just try again somewhere else. It's cheap enough.

The only thing I found is that the restaurants on the south side of the plaza (a mexican one and an italian one) weren't that great. There is a bar there however that has live music that people seem to like.
Also, avoid the very fancy place on the beach/corner of the square, it's not very good and a bit expensive. You'll know exactly which place I'm talking about once you see it.
posted by newpotato at 9:36 PM on January 26, 2011

Best answer: Puerto Morelos is nice and definitely gets my vote if you'd like to stay in a village. If you'd like something more remote and nature-oriented, we had a great couple days at Centro Ecologico Sian Ka'an. It was honestly one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. Very few people and great ecotours of the lagoon. It's about 45 min. south on a little road from Tulum. They can pick you up in Tulum if you don't have a car. It would be hard to day trip to the Chichen Itza ruins, although you could stop on the way in or out if you had a car (or just see the much smaller ones at Tulum).
posted by mkuhnell at 8:19 AM on January 27, 2011

I've spent quite a bit of vacation time in Tulum, and have never found it particularly crowded (the picture tylerkaraszewski echoes my experiences), which is good as I hate crowds and most resort-type "nightlife." I'm going there again in a few months, and had no trouble finding something around $100, but I'll be going on the cusp of high season and not smack dab in the middle of it. I think we'll be staying at Cabanas Tulum on the beach, after my well-liked Zahra went downhill. I've also stayed in private rentals in town, which are much cheaper, but also hotter and you need a taxi or rental car to get to the beach. I would *definitely* avoid Playa if you hate crowds, as there were hordes of people even in the middle of summer.

But after reading about Puerto Morelos, I'm going to have to check it out when I'm down there. Especially if car-rental is unnecessary. The towns' populations appear about equal, but if Puerto Morelos is more laid-back and undeveloped, I am pro-that. Thanks, newpotato and kathryn!

(I've also stayed in a tiny, tiny fishing village on the north shore of the Yucatan near Progreso, and I wouldn't recommend it. The beach is not nearly as nice as on the Riviera side, there were no good restaurants without taking the colectivo into Progreso, and everything was extremely, extremely run-down.)
posted by wending my way at 8:28 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

nthing Tulum. My traveling buddy and I were down there earlier this month and we had a blast. We stayed at Cabanas Copal for three nights - two nights in one of the sand-floor cabanas right on the water, for US$35/night, and one night in a caban set back a little ways and with a private bathroom, for US$90/night. The beach was deserted and gorgeous, and the staff were friendly.

It's a short drive to downtown Tulum, which had plenty of good restaurants. I don't think we ate a bad meal or had a bad experience for as long as we were there.

There are some great ruins right in Tulum and some spectacular ones in Coba, about a 40-minute drive to the northwest. We didn't go snorkeling or diving in any cenotes, but we did spend a day snorkeling at Xel-Ha, an open-sea aquarium not too far from Tulum. It was a bit expensive (~US$70 maybe?) but you get to see tons of wildlife and the ticket includes things like meals and equipment rental.
posted by xbonesgt at 11:05 AM on January 27, 2011

I'll add another recommendation for Puerto Morelos and specifically this place to stay: Rancho Sak-Ol . I stayed there with my family last year and it's a really nice mix between a B&B, hostel, and hotel, right on the beach, and run by a really friendly mexican family. They have an amazing included self-serve breakfast every morning and free snorkels and bikes for use of guests. You can walk about 1/2 mile down the beach and take advantage of the hand-groomed beaches in front of the all-inclusive resorts or just relax on their private beach or 3 story screened porch overlooking the ocean.
posted by btkuhn at 8:40 PM on January 27, 2011

Response by poster: So, we ended up going to CESiaK (Centro Ecologico Sian Ka'an), as suggested by #mkuhnel above. It was spectacular, secluded, and really not very expensive, and the staff was incredibly friendly and helpful. We had originally intended to do some tour or day trips, but it was so nice at CESiaK that we just stayed there the whole 4 days, and we don't regret it at all. They offer boogie boards and other items at the front desk, and you can catch some fun little waves right from the beach in front of the office. The beach itself is beautiful, with nice soft sand that doesn't stick to you, and it's well-maintained by the staff every day. If you venture more than a 1/2 mile in either direction, you will, unfortunately, come across all the trash that washes up from distant locations. Pretty nasty. But mostly, the beaches around the site are quite nice.

I would definitely recommend the spot for the time of year we went (mid February), although I'm not sure how nice it would be in the heat of summer. There's no electricity in the cabins, and no fans, so it might be a bit hard to deal with in the heat. (There is quite a strong natural breeze, though, and the cabins are all positioned to take advantage of that). Also, there weren't any mosquitos there during our stay, but apparently they can get pretty fierce when it warms up some.

The restaurant on site was somewhat disappointing, especially since we didn't have transportation and couldn't get anywhere else to eat. The food's not terrible, but not particularly good, and it's pretty pricey for what it is. However, you can stop off at a grocery store in Tulum and bring food and drinks with you, and the staff will even let you store stuff in the fridge if you need to. I'd highly recommend stocking up that way, since a cab ride to/from Tulum costs about $25 each way.
posted by crookedgrin at 9:44 AM on February 25, 2011

« Older What don't I know?   |   What is the name of this book? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.