Puerto Morelos: An Idyllic Seaside Village
By Don Murray
Puerto Morelos is an idyllic seaside village that begs you to walk slowly, preferably hand-in-hand, as you explore the small shops in the central area and wander aimlessly down the sugar-sand beach. As you feel the sand between your toes, whatever problems you imagine become seemingly non-existent. Plop down on the sand, sipping the nectar from a chilled coconut, and watch local children jump from docks into the aquamarine Caribbean Sea. You won’t care what time it is. It’s that kind of place.
People of all nationalities meander along the small malecón taking photos. Restaurants are plentiful and the freshest seafood offerings are numerous. But there are usually a few food carts present, allowing you to sample some local street food. The old, leaning lighthouse provides the perfect backdrop for photos. And although it has clearly been discovered, Puerto Morelos remains the place you imagined it would be.
Dozens of small fishing boats bob at anchor, just offshore, as sea birds perch on the gunwales. The peaceful vibe almost demands that you awaken early to see the sunrise while walking barefoot on the beach, sipping champagne. The seafood is as good as it gets and the guacamole and margaritas are always perfect.
You’ll find Puerto Morelos centered between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, along Mexico’s famed Riviera Maya. It’s a 30-minute drive south from Cancun or north from Playa del Carmen. You must take the exit from the main coastal highway. Puerto Morelos has two main sections, separated by about two miles of mangroves.
As you exit the highway, you will encounter a couple of small strip malls, two supermarkets, a pizza parlor, and other stores just off the roadway. Behind all of that, you will find a rather substantial neighborhood. This is the west side of Puerto Morelos and the area where most locals reside, along with a double handful of expats. This is the part away from the beach.
Cross the highway and continue east, through a marshy mangrove area and you will dead-end into the Caribbean Sea and the other half of town. This enchanting village-like community comes complete with an old leaning lighthouse.
This eastern half of the town is filled with charming restaurants, memorable watering holes (many along the beach), a few small bed & breakfasts, some low-rise condos, plenty of touristy shops, and even a well-stocked English bookstore. When folks talk about Puerto Morelos, this is the area they are talking about.
The climate along the Riviera Maya is tropical Caribbean with most days seeing temps in the 80s F, sometimes in the 90s F. Plenty of sun is the norm. That said, the east coast of Mexico, along the Riviera Maya, is subject to hurricane threats.
Retire in Puerto Morelos
Mexico offers an easily obtainable retirement visa, providing for quick, permanent residency for those meeting the simple qualifications. Check the criteria as a temporary residency visa is also easily attainable and the differences between permanent residency and temporary residency are noteworthy.
The straight-forward process begins at the Mexican consulate in your home state. There, the consulate officer will verify your income based on the documents you provide, review a nominal number of other documents, and your completed application. After a short interview, if approved, you could depart with your residency visa affixed to the inside of your passport.
Once on the ground in Mexico, you have only 30 days to finish the process by obtaining your residency card. This is a separate process from obtaining your visa but is integral with becoming a resident and, while not difficult, the process must be followed, precisely.
Those over the age of 60 qualify for a discount card from INAPAM (Instituto Nacional para las Personas Adultas Mayores) facilitating discounts on a wide variety of goods and services.
Medical care in Puerto Morelos is provided by a number of local physicians, a couple of clinics, and the new Costa Med Hospital that provides a full range of services including surgery and emergency medical care. They offer an ambulance service to transfer patients requiring elevated care. If needed, larger hospitals with all specialty areas covered, can be found in Playa del Carmen, an hour south. Nearly all medications can be purchased directly from the pharmacy without a prescription (narcotics and strong antibiotics are obvious exceptions) and cost only a fraction of prices north of the border.
Expat residents can qualify for Mexico’s health insurance plan called Seguro Popular or the IMSS program.
Note: Both programs are currently under revision at the time of this writing.
Lifestyle in Puerto Morelos
As you might expect, Puerto Morelos attracts those with a close connection to the sea, as well as those who prefer a smaller village-type lifestyle. And because Puerto Morelos is close to both Playa del Carmen and Cancun, residents can have the benefits of a nearby larger city without the traffic hassles of actually living there.
The barrier reef is very much alive and teeming with life and is only about 400 yards offshore. Dive and snorkel tours are readily available at the marina through many operators. Offshore fishing is also quite popular with several gamefish tournaments held each year. Local restaurants will happily prepare your fresh catch for a small fee.
No need to hurry with anything here. Those who want to become involved can join several efforts directed toward the local ecology and reef health. There are always campaigns to clean the beach and/or the reef. Stray animals are also in need of assistance and a couple of rescue operations regularly address that issue, as well as protecting the fragile sea turtle population. Yoga classes can be found most mornings on the beach and a walking group was recently started. Along with a good number of permanent expats who live here, a large number of snowbirds fly down during the cold months up north, swelling the normal population and providing a welcome boost to the local economy.
Cost of Living in Puerto Morelos
In a word, living in Mexico is extremely inexpensive. The reduced cost of living (compared to a similar lifestyle north of the border) is across the board. Housing costs, food, entertainment, public transportation, medical care, and the purchase of all goods and services are normally only a fraction of costs up north. Exceptions are those goods imported from the U.S. But why pay those elevated prices when local goods can be equally good/reliable?
Generally, costs can be estimated at only 25% to 30% of what you might expect to pay in the U.S.
Sample Monthly Budget for Puerto Morelos:
|Housing Rental (two-bedroom, one-bathroom)||$500-$700|
|*Electricity (depending upon AC Usage)||$75-$300|
|Bottled Drinking Water||$20|
|Food (Groceries and Dining out)||$425|
* Personal Budgets Can Vary Greatly Depending on Your Choices
Things to Do in Puerto Morelos, Mexico
By Bel Woodhouse
About halfway between the Mexican Caribbean’s iconic Cancún and Playa del Carmen you’ll find the small beachside town of Puerto Morelos, a haven where you can spend your days snorkeling, swimming, relaxing oceanside, sailing, or exploring around town.
It’s a quieter seaside town that nature lovers will adore. For those who prefer to dig their toes in the sand while reading a book or enjoying a cocktail, you will enjoy the relaxed beachside Caribbean vibe.
But don’t be fooled, there is also a lot of fun for adrenaline junkies, who can spend their days in or out of the water scuba diving, ziplining, horseback riding, riding an ATV through the jungle, and much more.
Full of charisma and characters, the locals are friendly and that includes the local celebrity–a huge resident crocodile they throw some chicken to each morning. They joke that he is getting too fat and they may need to put him on a diet, so I’m pretty sure you could outrun him if you get scared. If you’d prefer a safer crocodile experience, then you’ll enjoy number one on my list of the best things to do in Puerto Morelos:
1. Hold a Crocodile and Snuggle With a Boa Constrictor
What used to be a crocodile farm, Croco Cun Zoo is now a sanctuary for local rescued animals. Big or small, it doesn’t matter; they have a huge albino Burmese python freed from the Cancún tourism scene and a 13-foot crocodile rescued from the canals of Cancún.
There are also weirder animals like hairless dogs (sacred to the Mayans), snorkel-nosed soft-shelled turtles, and vibrant green vine snakes so well camouflaged that spider monkeys have mistaken them for branches and thrown them at people…eek!
Don’t worry, there are lots of cuter animals too, like adorable baby spider monkeys and endangered parrots full of vibrant color. It’s an interactive tour where you can embrace a boa constrictor, hold a crocodile, feed birds and mammals, and even pat the hairless dogs.
2. Cook BBQ with Netflix Chef’s Table Featured Chef
Mexico Lindo Cooking is an extraordinary opportunity to cook with Rosalia Chay, featured in Netflix’s Chef’s Table: BBQ–Rosalia Chay Chuc.
Rosalia is a traditional Mayan cook and has been cooking BBQ in the traditional Mayan way (underground) her whole life. Just as her grandmother taught her, and her grandmother before that since the Mayans created the first BBQ in the year 400.
Learn how the Mayans cook pork (from a species of domesticated wild boar over 1,000 years old) underground in a pib that produces the most succulent, delicious, and tender meat overnight. The meat is used in one of Mexico’s most beloved and famous dishes, cochinita pibil. It’s a true foodie and nature lovers delight as the Maya believe in growing everything themselves, giving back to the earth, and living the traditional life.
3. Explore the Jungle Canopy on a Suspended Boardwalk Bridge
Mexico’s most biodiverse botanical gardens, Jardín Botánico Dr. Alfredo Barrera Marín, are in Puerto Morelos. The gardens are a 160-acre living museum where you can hug a 300-year-old tree, enjoy mangrove boardwalks, jungle trekking, waterfalls, and the most fun suspended canopy bridge I’ve ever been on.
The $25 fee (for two people) was great value for a 4.5-hour tour with Gill, a botanist and fellow tree hugger who runs Gill Bioexperiences. He spoke English and took us to every corner of the gardens (even some that looked less visited).
You’ll learn about Mayan legends, medicinal plants, bubblegum lumberjacks (yes, they’re a thing, they are the men that lived in the jungle collecting sap to make bubblegum), and encounter the king iguanas of ancient ruins. Oh, and stingless bees.
He shared legends of local tree spirits stealing drunk men from the towns until they sobered up. It was the highlight of our trip. Not something you normally say about botanical gardens.
4. Sail a Yacht to Isla Mujeres
Sailing the Caribbean is one of those things that even non-sailing folk love. Just kicking back and relaxing it’s easy to lose yourself in Neptune’s palette of vibrant blues, from the turquoise and aquamarines of the shallower water to the azure, sapphire, and cobalt depths. There’s no better way to spend time.
If you’d like some adventure thrown in, you can sail to nearby Isla Mujeres and swim with whale sharks (if it’s the season) or explore one of Mexico’s most treasured islands.
5. Swim, Snorkel, or Dive a Cenote
The Yucatán peninsula is one of the most unique environments on earth. With over 6,000 cenotes spread throughout the Yucatán, submerging yourself in their cool waters is something you will want to experience. For those who have never heard of a cenote, it’s a natural sinkhole that is filled with the clearest calcium-rich freshwater you’ve ever seen. They have been sacred to the Mayans since Aztec times.
You’ll see calcified skulls and animal bones in some, and most are connected by a vast network of underground rivers. Depending on your comfort level underground, you can snorkel, scuba dive, or just paddle around in them.
Don’t worry, if you’re in a cavern the bats are super tiny and friendly, not the giant blood-sucking vampiric kind of nightmares. They’re actually cute. But if you’d prefer a bat-free experience, there are many fully-open cenotes where you can swim in the sunshine instead.
6. Enjoy Amazing Food
The locals brag that people from Cancún and Playa del Carmen come to Puerto Morelos to eat. I’ll be honest, I was impressed by the range of cuisines and found some amazing food while we were there.
The highlight for me was La Sirena, a Mediterranean, or as the owner calls it, a Greek-Mexican fusion restaurant down by the waterfront. Honestly, it is the best food I’ve had in years, and will go back the next chance I get.
There’s a great ice cream shop in the heart of town right next to the church and of course, being a coastal town there’s fantastic seafood by the ocean. Try restaurants like Pelícanos or La Petita where you can enjoy an amazing meal with a glass of wine and Caribbean sunset.
There’s even a cochinita stand if you’d like to try the iconic Mexican pork dish.
7. ATV, Ride Horseback, or Zipline
If you’re an adventurer at heart, there’s plenty to see and do by land or sea around Puerto Morelos.
For the water lovers, there’s sailing, scuba diving the Mesoamerican barrier reef, parasailing, snorkeling, or swimming with dolphins.
For the landlubbers, there are plenty of adrenaline-packed activities available. Take an ATV tour through the jungle to get all muddy or 4WD tours if you’d prefer to be less muddy.
You can jungle surf as you whizz through the canopy on a zipline or, for a slower pace, enjoy a horseback ride to see the jungle and its wildlife.
There’s every kind of cultural, historical, and nature tour you could ever want. And for nature lovers, there are great birdwatching and wildlife tours as well.
8. Explore Puerto Morelos
Like all smaller Mexican towns, Puerto Morelos has a laidback kind of feel to it. Laid out in a grid pattern it’s impossible to get lost as there are only two main streets running the length of the town. Behind that, it’s all mangroves.
Strolling around you’ll find lots of friendly locals wanting to take you to their shop, so souvenir shopping isn’t a problem. You’ll find everything from beachwear and sunhats to high-class jewelry, so it’s up to you what kind of shopping you are after. There’s also a flea market that is fun to get lost in.
There are plenty of places to duck in to sit down for a cool drink or something to eat.
It’s fun to wander around Puerto Morelos, enjoy a beachside stroll, or partake in adrenaline-packed activities. And who knows, maybe I’ll see you there.