Where & Where Not To Go On the Mexican East Coast
I had been anticipating arriving in Mexico since the start of this world tour in November. I had heard so many good things about it that I just couldn’t wait to see for myself. Naturally I was most excited to gorge myself on the incredibly tasty food, but I was also looking forward to soaking up some sun on the beautiful beaches of the Quintanaroo coastline. From first crossing the border to catching my night bus inland, here’s my honest opinion of the go-to destinations along the east coast.
If you cross the Belize border by land, you’ll more than likely find yourself in Bacalar. Bacalar is a smallish town which sits right next to one of the most beautiful bodies of water I have ever seen. The lake is called la Laguna de los Siete Colores, which translates to Lake of the Seven Colours. Just looking at it from the shore you can see why! So many different shades of blue, green and anything in between bombard your eyes and it just makes you want to go for a swim! The best place for a dip is a secluded little area to the left of the waterpark, you’ll quickly discover why Bacalar is a holiday hotspot for Mexicans! Treat yourself to a delicious breakfast at El Manati and then lunch on the lake at La Playita Restaurant.
Summary: Perfect location for your Instagram account, swimming, tanning and eating. Not a bad combo!
Tulum (and more specifically Mama’s Home) was my base point and safe house for travelling around the east coast of Mexico. Mama’s Home is the best hostel I’ve stayed at in Mexico, and with a different gourmet breakfast each morning included with your bed you will quickly feel the same. Tulum is famous for its unusually warm, turquoise beaches and cenotes. You can either go to the public beach which is next to some ancient ruins, or you can go to the private beaches to chill with some fish tacos and cocktails. Most of the private beaches are pretty pricy but the regular spot is Eufemia who do a mean mango margarita and the best fish tacos in Tulum. The cenotes in Tulum are mostly easily accessible via collectivo, bike or walking, with a few of the further out ones requiring a quick taxi ride. These natural fresh water lagoons have formed over years, revealing some incredible rock formations and making for some crazy cave diving!
Summary: Easy to spend a few weeks here especially if you get to know the crew at Mama’s Home. Cenote diving and snorkeling, beaches, ruins, nightlife and some tasty, cheap eats if you do some exploring!
A 1 hour-ish collectivo drive from either Tulum or Playa del Carmen (Akumal Bay pretty much sits in between) and you’ll find yourself at a pristine beach home to only one all-inclusive and a few other buildings. This beach is absolutely ideal for swimming with turtles! Go early (I’m talking 6 AM kinda early), dodge the guys trying to sell you tours, bring your snorkel gear and after a few minutes of swimming around you’ll find yourself sharing the water with multiple turtles! There’s not much else to do at Akumal Bay but its in the perfect location for a day trip from either Playa or Tulum.
Summary: Turtles, snorkeling and sun. And it’s all free (if you ignore the tours)! What else do you need?
Playa del Carmen
First off I’ll say I didn’t like Playa. The cruise ship tourists, mass souvenir stores and the general tackiness similar to an Americanised Surfers Paradise was just too much for me. It probably didn’t help that I was very, very sick for about a week here (which meant I couldn’t escape) but in my opinion the only reason to come to Playa is to catch the ferry to Cozumel. The beaches were packed with people and really not that impressive at all. If you like a party you’re in the right place though with Coco Bongo’s being a highlight. $70 USD entry gets you unlimited drinks and access to some cool shows! The best place to eat is at the corners of the central park where there’s heaps of delicious street food. You can easily reach the most popular cenote, Dos Ojos, from Playa del Carmen too, collectivo is the way to go!
Summary: Super touristy, rubbish beaches, massive (but expensive) nightlife and tasty street food. Cozumel ferries run from here multiple times a day. Not really a place for the super chilled backpacker – if you’re anything like me you’ll avoid it like the plague. Unless you catch the plague while you’re there and get trapped like me!
I went to Puerto Morelos in an effort to escape the horrors of Playa del Carmen. Located roughly halfway between Cancun and Playa, there’s only one hostel (and relatively it’s pretty expensive) but it’s brand new and has a pool. It’s a short collective ride to the beach where you can relax and escape the hustle and bustle of the big tourist towns. There’s not much to do here yet, but in a few years I see it turning into the next Cancun/Playa so try to see it before that happens.
I hardly spent any time in Cancun at all, other than to pass through on my way to snorkeling with whale sharks off the coast of Isla Mujeres. From what I understand it’s like Playa del Carmen on steroids so I didn’t have any inclination to visit here. But if you went to Coco Bongo’s in Playa and loved it, you’re in luck! There’s also one in Cancun.
Summary: Booze, beaches and bikini’s sounds pretty good to me, but at the price of thousands and thousands of tourists around you? I was warming the bench on this one, only visiting to see me some whale sharks!
Cozumel is famous for its world-class diving and it didn’t disappoint. We had incredible visibility, which was later deemed to be ‘only ok’ by my hostel owner. I had a hard time imagining what great vis would look like! There was still signs of reef damage by hurricanes over the last few years but there’s still some awesome dive sites, not to mention the temperature of the water! I dived with Maple Leaf Scuba and had a brilliant day out with Denisse and the crew, just look for the red flag with the diving beaver (not a beaver diver ;)) and try to aim your trip with bull shark season – you won’t be disappointed.
If you haven’t already seen enough of them, there are a few different ancient ruins spread over the island. I rented a bike with some new friends and rode to the San Gervasio ruins on the middle of the island, and then to the opposite side to Mezcalito’s, an awesome bar right on the beach!
Summary: Excellent for diving and seeing bull sharks. Rent a bike and ride around the island, visit the ruins and then relax with a beer or 6 on the beach. There’s also a nude beach next to Mezcalito’s if you feel that clothes restrict you too much and need to get your junk out.
Now I’ve managed to miss a few stunning places like Isla Holbox and Isla Mujeres which I blame on a combination of spending too much time on my death bed in Playa and falling in love with Tulum that I spent so long there. It just means next time when I visit I’ll know where to go first!
Keep an eye out for some more detailed posts on these places in the coming weeks, plus some awesome drone footage!
Maybe you had a different experience in these places? Let me know in the comments section below!