The southern part of Mexico’s Caribbean coast is a mostly undeveloped stretch of stunning, isolated beach called the Costa Maya. Unlike the tourist-driven beaches of the Riviera Maya further north, this length of coastline snuggles up against lowland jungle for some 62 miles and is largely inaccessible by road.
The small beachside town of Mahahual is one of only two places (the other being Xcalak, 37 miles to the south) to access this spectacular environment, and it is literally at the end of the road. Turning off the main coastal highway and driving through lowland jungle with only a few small, primitive dwellings to interrupt the sparse landscape, this small village is the idyllic image of the place you think of when conjuring an out-of-the-way beach retreat. No traffic noise, no high-rise condos, no hustle or bustle. Only hammocks strung between pier pilings and beach bars with sandy floors, swim suits, and cold beer.
For better or worse, the cruise ship industry has discovered Mahahual and once a week, between May and November, a ship or two will dock and cruise passengers will share this special place, most remaining near the port area. The other months are the “high season” for tourism and there can be ships in town three days a week, with passengers remaining from four to six hours each day.
Getting to Mahahual from Cancún can take four or five hours in the car. You’ll pass through the heavily populated and touristy Playa del Carmen and then the less dense and more natural Tulúm, eventually encountering the beautiful Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. The road is in good condition, well-marked, and has easily understood road signs. It’s a good idea to fill your gas tank in Tulúm before continuing, and as you head south, keep your eyes open for monkeys, parrots, and the ever-present Iguanas along the roadside jungle areas.