We all have our favorite beach in the Mexican Caribbean whether it is a crescent of soft white sand bathed by gentle waves, a sheltered palm-lined bay or a breezy strand for a morning walk. Five hundred miles of stunning shoreline means a new beach to discover every day. Why not plan a beach-hopping day on your next visit? Grab your swimsuit, hat and a picnic and set off in search of paradise. Here are some of our favorite spots in Cancun, the Riviera Maya and the Costa Maya. We’ve gone even further to include some of the beaches on the Gulf coast of the neighboring state of Yucatan.
Sweeping vistas of Cancun’s powder-white sand and turquoise waters first alerted the world to the beauty of the Mexican Caribbean. Whether it is the open ocean shore of Cancun Island or the sheltered bay side protected by Isla Mujeres, 22 kilometers of beach await sun worshippers with names such as Playa Las Perlas, Playa Langosta and Tortugas, Playa Gaviota Azul, Marlin, Ballenas, Delfines and Punta Nizuc.
With their gentle surf the bayside beaches looking out towards Isla Mujeres are ideal for small children and you shouldn’t miss the chance to stroll along the Caribbean shoreline from Punta Cancun to Punta Nizuc.
Some of Cancun’s beaches have the Blue Flag, an international seal of approval, they are Playa Delfines, Marlin, Ballenas, Chac Mool, Coral, Playa Las Perlas and Playa del Niño.
Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres
Just a 20-minute boat ride away from Cancun, Isla Mujeres boasts several beautiful beaches but the jewel in the crown is Playa Norte. This swathe of white sand bathed by impossibly turquoise waters is a magnet for sun lovers who while away the hours on sun beds or at bars under the palm trees. Go snorkeling, watch the yachts sail past and stay on for spectacular sunsets.
A two-hour boat ride to the north of Cancun lies Contoy island. This narrow strip of land is a bird sanctuary with colonies of frigate birds, cormorants and ibis nesting in the mangroves, but it also has beautiful palm-lined beaches. Visitors on eco trips to the island can spend their time relaxing on the sand on the leeward shore, swimming with stingrays in the bay or walk the coast path on the windward side where the surf is stronger.
This peaceful fishing community has its own slice of paradise, it is nestled on a wide white beach that stretches to the north and south and is sheltered by an offshore reef that is a National Marine Park. The waters are calm and the corals harbor a variety of colorful fish and other sea creatures.
Walk along the beach from the iconic leaning lighthouse that is a Puerto Morelos landmark and enjoy the enchanting views of sparkling water and life in a traditional coastal village.
This peerless stretch of dazzling white sand has featured in many an international travel magazine and was once hailed as the world’s most beautiful beach. A secluded hideaway, it is still possible to wander along the beach here in the morning and enjoy the solitude.
Playa del Carmen
Whether it is for sunbathing, a game of beach volleyball or candlelit parties at chic waterfront bars and clubs, Playa del Carmen’s shoreline draws an international crowd. Playa Mamitas is one of the most popular beaches and is the venue for the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival at the beginning of December. Just imagine, rustling palm trees and mellow music by the light of the Caribbean moon.
Another popular stretch of soft white sand in the Riviera Maya lined with a mix of large resorts, intimate boutique hotels, beach homes and a couple of rustic beach bars.
A perennial Riviera Maya favorite, Akumal is a picture-perfect beach dotted with palm trees. The bay is protected by a coral reef and the shallow waters are calm and crystal-clear, making it an ideal spot to take children. Spend the day building sand castles with your little ones – Mayan pyramids, fish and turtles are popular subjects – and snorkeling, you’ll see a variety of colorful fish and you may even see one of the turtles that gives this idyllic spot its name. In Maya Akumal means “place of the turtles.”
A short drive along the coast road to the north of Akumal beach is Half Moon Bay, a rocky cove dotted with coral heads where the reef is closer to shore. The snorkeling is even better here and you can laze on the sand after swimming. There’s a funky tropical beach bar with swings, hammocks, thatched lookout towers and tables and benches made of tree trunks. Order a cocktail and enjoy the view. The water is so clear that you can sometimes see turtles coming up for air and rays and parrotfish swimming in the shallows.
Located between Akumal and Xel-Ha, the beach at Xcacel is an important nesting site for sea turtles and is a sea turtle sanctuary declared by the Quintana Roo State government. Access is via a dirt track but it is a magical spot, a crescent of powder-white sand backed by a palm grove and dunes covered in native shrubs such as the ciricote and sea grape.
Tulum is breathtaking. Mexico’s most visited Mayan city perches on a cliff top overlooking the Caribbean and wooden steps lead down to a tiny beach where trading canoes once rocked gently at their moorings more than 1,000 years ago. The views along the coast from such a majestic vantage point are of headlands and white bays stretching as far as the eye can see.
In ancient times Tulum was known as Zama, which means “Dawn” and this magical place is certainly a great spot to watch the sunrise.
There are more beaches to the north of Tulum archaeological site, and south towards Boca Paila in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Known as the “Zona Hotelera de Tulum,” the southern stretch of shoreline is lined with thatched cabaña resorts, open-air restaurants and bars, boutiques, yoga studios and even jungle spas. With an artsy bohemian rustic chic vibe, Tulum has become a travel hotspot and New York designers, models, musicians and Hollywood stars all vacation here.
To visit lovely Boca Paila beach you must venture into the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, one of Mexico’s largest protected areas. Drive along the bumpy coast road (there are lots of potholes), and across a wooden bridge and beyond that you’ll see a white beach and the Caribbean. “Boca Paila” means the “mouth of the pail” and it is the only place in northern Sian Ka’an where a freshwater canal fed by cenotes and underground rivers inland flows through the mangroves and into the Caribbean, and fish from wetland and marine ecosystems can move between both worlds.
Sit in the warm sun, enjoy the soft Caribbean breeze and take in the view. Ospreys nest in an abandoned watchtower, terns and pelicans dive into the waves and herons stand in the shallows on the lookout for prey.
A 30-minute ferry ride from the small port of Chiquila on the north coast of Quintana Roo, Holbox is the fourth member of the Mexican Caribbean island quartet. It is an island of fishermen on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. White beaches, aquamarine and green waters and rustic charm are its hallmarks. This is a spot to laze on the beach and watch the catch of the day being unloaded, go for long strolls along the shoreline or charter a boat to explore the surrounding wetlands and Yalahau Lagoon, part of the Yum Balam Reserve. During the summer, you can go in search of whale sharks, dolphins and manta rays that feed in area waters.
Most visitors make a beeline for Cozumel’s world-famous coral reefs for diving and snorkeling and the sheltered beaches along the west coast of the island, however, the east coast also merits a visit. While many stretches of this windswept shoreline are not recommended for swimming due to strong currents and undertow, there are many pristine beaches and bays that are perfect for a stroll and have magnificent views of the Caribbean.
Southern Quintana Roo also has a chain of beautiful beaches known as the Costa Maya, stretching to the fishing village of Xcalak. The waterfront village and cruise ship port of Majahual is the gateway to this part of the Mexican Caribbean, which also offers good diving, snorkeling and fishing.
Gulf Coast Beaches in the Yucatan
From San Felipe and El Cuyo in the east to Celestun on the west coast of the peninsula, Yucatan’s Gulf coast beaches also have white sand and endless views of blue-green water. Drive west along the shoreline from Dzilam de Bravo via Telchac Puerto and you’ll pass through peaceful fishing villages before coming to the port of Progreso with its long pier and bustling boardwalk. All along the coast, the shallow lagoons rimmed by the mangroves are rich in wildlife.
Watch the sun go down over the Gulf of Mexico at Dzilam de Bravo and you may catch a glimpse of flamingos flying back to Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve to roost after a day foraging for tiny shrimp and other crustaceans in the coastal lagoons. Keep your eyes on the horizon and as the sun sets you may even spot the famous green flash.
Planning your Mexican Caribbean adventures
Beach hopping in the Mexican Caribbean, trips to Tulum, Isla Mujeres, Cozumel and much more, Thomas More Travel can help you plan unforgettable sightseeing adventures for your next vacation.