Cruising the sights and scenes of the Costa Maya.
La Costa Maya is the area south of the Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve all the way down to the town of Xcalak. This includes the blossoming coastal town of Mahahual which is now a major Caribbean destination for cruise ships.
We had not been to Mahahual for years, since the days when there was only a palapa on the beach for the Navy and the first support piers for the cruise ship dock were being put in place. Mahahual is cute, quaint and caters to the cruise ships. It has the feeling of a Caribbean island with people hawking cold beer, T-shirts, kayak rentals, tours and more. Today's Mahahual conjures up the atypical tropical fantasy with piña coladas, palm trees, sand and blue sea. We were at a slight disadvantage since our trip was during the peak of low season and the waves of hurricane Ivan had washed lots of debris on the beaches. We are happy to report that there was no damage to any buildings and the beach clean-up was complete in town. Outside of town on vacant lots there is no one to rake the beach so the beach trash remains.
Mahahual's new economy
Mahahual lives and breathes the cruise ship industry. When the ships leave some stores close their doors until the next one comes in. This will probably change as tourism grows here and people venture down from the Riviera Maya. Once you get passed the heart of the village you'll find businesses who cater to anyone whether there's a ship in town or not. The local residents are friendly and hospitable, hoping to one day be the hopping beach destinations that Tulum and Playa del Carmen are today.
North of Mahahual
We traveled as far North as El Placer where we met the owners of the Mayan Beach Garden, a little hotel with nice rooms, beach and tranquility. Another place to stay is Kailuumcito, a small version of the long established Kailuum north of Playa del Carmen. Also to the north of Mahahual is Tampalam, which we did not visit but will try to see next time. Tampalam is reported to have a Maya ruins site and some nice beaches.
Where we stayed
We spent the night south of Mahahual at Hotel Maya Luna. We arrived well after dark so the owners were happy to offer us a room at $50 per night. It was a basic no frills room, newly built, and the following morning we realized we had our own little rooftop deck that would have been perfect for stargazing. Unfortunately the owners never mentioned it to us so we were a little bummed we didn't know about it. The room had a few flaws (we are very picky since lodging is our business) but the breeze was nice. The bed was comfortable and we were right on the beach.
Where we ate
Some of the spots we enjoyed were Restaurant Mahahual which had delicious seafood and Cafe del Mar which has the best breakfast in town. Iris the owner was delightful having escaped booming Playa del Carmen some 6 years ago to start over in Mahahual.
Getting to Mahahual
For landlubbers, you can get there by going south on Highway 307 from Tulum. Once you pass the pueblo of Limones you'll see a big sign and intersection for the Costa Maya/Mahahual/Xcalak (left here). Miles of beaches line the coast from Mahahual to Xcalak; some wide, others not so wide. You'll find a few rustic beach bungalows, small hotels and waterfront restaurants where you can enjoy local seafood and a cold beer under the shade of a coconut palm.
Coconut coastal road surprise
The next day we drove to Xcalak via the coastal coconut road. I would recommend that tender-foot tourists take the fast paved road just outside of Mahahual to get to Xcalak. The beach road we took is somewhat rutted and could be intimidating for the unseasoned traveler. We saw great beaches and vistas. At one stop we found a boardwalk and so we parked and walked the planked walk. It led to a big lagoon with two air boats tied to the dock. To our surprise there were thousands of jellyfish that lined the mangrove shores.
Arriving in Xcalak
At times we thought we would never get to Xcalak but as we passed Sin Dudas we knew we were not far off. We stopped to visit our friends at Casa Carolina and Costa de Cocos and then had a late lunch at Silvia's in the village of Xcalak, which remains almost untouched by tourism.