Travel south from the top of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and you’ll pass through tourist-metropolis Cancun, resort-packed Playa del Carmen, and laid-back Tulum. These towns all have something in common – beautiful beaches and plenty of tourists.
If you prefer your beaches with less tourists, keep going south. Soon, you’ll leave the Riviera Maya and enter the Costa Maya. In this area the Mexican government has restricted the development that transformed Cancun and Playa del Carmen from sleepy fishing towns to bustling cities.
Welcome to Xcalak, Mexico (pronounced ish-ka-lak). Its remoteness means few visitors, and the lack of mega-development means you’ll experience what it’s really like to live on a Caribbean beach.
Why you should visit Xcalak
The people who enjoy Xcalak are independent travellers who appreciate traditional Mexico – and can go without a daily trip to Starbucks.
Xcalak is isolated, which means you won’t find tourist amenities like souvenir shops or shopping malls – but you also won’t find any beach sellers or pushy touts.
A visit to Xcalak means slowing down. Expect plenty of hammock time, snorkelling the offshore reef, and preparing meals in your kitchenette…all at your own pace. Want to spend all day in a hammock alternating between reading a book and napping? Go for it.
How Xcalak escaped development
The rapid development of the beachside towns in the northern Yucatan did not go unnoticed by the Mexican government. The government established the Parque Nacional de los Arrecifes de Xcalak to protect the village and its natural surroundings, preventing it from growing too rapidly.
Development in the Parque is controlled by limiting the number and size of hotels. Today, the village of Xcalak has a population around 400, and boasts around 20 tourist accommodations.
Getting to Xcalak
Located at the southern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, the drive south from Cancun to Xcalak takes around six hours. Most of the 250-mile journey is on well-maintained highway 307; the last 70 miles takes you on the paved side road towards Mahahual, then the jungle road to the village.
Once you arrive in Xcalak, it’s all dirt roads. Although maintained in town, the north beach road (where you’ll find most of Xcalak’s accommodation) is famous for potholes. Here, drive slowly and budget plenty of time even to go a short distance.
It is possible to reach the village by boat from Belize. There’s also a private airstrip located just outside the town (which mostly handles charter flights for fly fishing tours).
Where to stay in Xcalak
There is a range of accommodation in Xcalak, from budget palapa huts to luxurious sea-view suites. There are only a few choices in the village, but many more along the coast north of town.
Accommodation in the village doesn’t offer much in the way of amenities. These basic rooms are mostly used by fly fishers whose tours leave early, from the pier in town.
For a comfortable, living-on-a-beach experience, head for the north beach road. There, colourful, low-rise accommodation offer private beaches, rooms with kitchenettes, and rooftops with panoramic views of the brilliant blue Caribbean Sea. Rooms decorated with local crafts, soft beds, and hot water showers will have you forgetting that you’re “roughing it” in Xcalak.
Suites with a fridge, stove, and blender are pretty standard (note: there’s no air conditioning in Xcalak, but with the sea breeze you’re not likely to need it).
You don’t have to rely on the area’s few restaurants when you visit Xcalak – look forward to doing your own cooking. Grocery trucks sell fresh local food like tomatoes, onions, pineapples, mangoes, fresh meat, seasonal fish, and more. Locally-made tortillas are available by the kilo.
Ready to visit?
Xcalak isn’t for travellers looking for an all-inclusive experience. There are no concierges, no smoothie stands, and no jet-ski rental kiosks.
It is for those who want to experience a piece of authentic Mexico (without having to give up hot water showers). For independent travellers looking to escape noisy resort-towns, crowded beaches, and rowdy spring-breakers – welcome to Xcalak, one of Mexico’s last pristine beach towns.
About the author
Heather is a travel copywriter, Mexican beach enthusiast, and lover of fresh avocados. She frequently house-sits in Xcalak and offers her insider’s guide to visiting Xcalak.