Mexico boasts over 6,000 miles of coastline, and some of the country’s most sought-after shores are in the Mexican Caribbean.
From the wide swaths of powder-white sand in Cancun to Tulum’s turquoise water framed by Mayan architecture and the islands dotting the coast—there’s a reason why travelers return year after year for a beach vacation in the Mexican Caribbean.
Take in the Views
In Cancun’s Hotel Zone, resorts line the 15-mile-long sandbar, meaning you can admire the water from the comfort of your balcony or on a lounge chair along the beach. Many of the hotels offer beachside services that include hand-delivered cocktails, seaside dining, and watersports rentals.
For those looking for something on the quieter side, the tiny town of Puerto Morelos, just a 35-minute drive south, is the perfect option for more of a village vibe. Here, you can enjoy the sound of the ocean waves as you relax. In Playa del Carmen, along the Riviera Maya, many of the hotels sit parallel to the shore on the main strip, La Quinta Avenida, or “Fifth Avenue.” Lounge under palapas in between dips in the calm water, or take a seat at one of the many beachfront restaurants and bars, which buzz from morning until late in the evening, making Playa del Carmen a popular nightlife spot.
Quintana Roo also boasts part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Stretching nearly 1,000 kilometers along the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, it is the largest reef system in the Americas, second only to the Great Barrier Reef.
This reef habitat is home to an abundance of marine life. In fact, various protected areas and parks are located within this reef system, including the National Reef Park of Puerto Morelos, the Cozumel National Reef Park, Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, and the Arrecifes de Xcalak National Park. Just off the coast from Cancun, the Riviera Maya, and the Grand Costa Maya, the reef and the surrounding beaches makes it perfect for those interested in scuba diving and snorkeling.
Make A Splash
South of Playa del Carmen, in Akumal (which means “place of turtles” in Mayan), visitors can snorkel with the destination’s namesake marine life. The turtles migrate here in summer during nesting season.
You can also find diving opportunities across most of the region, but one spot in particular that stands out is Isla Mujeres. In addition to sunken ships, divers can also explore Manchones Reef, home to the submerged bronze Cross of the Bay—a photographer's favorite and must-visit for divers. You can also catch a glimpse of whale sharks as they migrate annually each summer. Back on land, the main beach of Playa Norte, on the north shore, is ranked one of the 10 Best Beaches in the World and features calm, shallow water perfect for swimming or simply floating and soaking in the sun.
Over in Grand Costa Maya, Mahahual’s beaches stretch north to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and south to Xcalak, which is a favorite for fishing. The water is shallow enough to allow snorkelers to see the colorful coral reefs and its abundant marine life.
Near Playa del Carmen, the Mexican Caribbean’s largest island, Cozumel, is not only a popular port for cruise ships, but it’s also a paradise for divers. Reef walls plunge to impressive depths ranging to 30 meters, or 100 feet, with limestone tunnels and caves whose inhabitants include turtles, sharks, and parrot fish. While the eastern side of the island is better suited for surfing, the western side—where the main town of San Miguel is located—features snorkeling right off the coast, as well as picture-perfect sunset shots from the boardwalk.