Best Beaches on the Yucatan Peninsula - International Living

Best Beaches on the Yucatan Peninsula

If you are looking for quiet natural beauty, where the only sound is the breaking waves… away from the crowded tourist spots where you can sink your toes into the sand, swim in the ocean, and admire a stunning tropical sunset in peace, then Mexico’s coast is perfect for you.

Mexico’s coast conceals hidden gems where postcard-worthy beaches can be enjoyed by retirees for a fraction of the price of high-profile destinations. We have identified three off-the-radar havens that deserve serious consideration.

Read on to discover the hidden Mexican beaches that could make for your ideal retirement location.


©iStock/marco boldrin
©iStock/marco boldrin

On the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, a couple hour’s trek from Cancún, is the tiny island of Holbox (pronounced ol-bosh). It’s perhaps best known as one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks, who congregate offshore from May to September.

But another draw are the powdery white-sand beaches, with calm azure water. Much of the island is sparsely developed, so you can easily find your own private beach.

The village itself is small with boutique hotels, seafood restaurants, and artisan shops. There are very few cars allowed on the island, so you get around on foot, by bike, or hire a golf cart.

For visitors (as well as a small number of pioneering—mostly part-time—expats and full-time business owners) who make their way here it’s a tropical getaway that’s quite different than spots like Cancún and Playa del Carmen on the nearby Riviera Maya.

Holbox is funky, bohemian, and laidback. Life is all about the white-sand beach and being in or on the water. You can spend your day eating fish tacos and ceviche in a thatched-roof restaurant watching the world go by.

Development has increased in Holbox in recent years but you won’t find any condo towers, gated communities, or large resorts. Construction is on a smaller scale here, so it doesn’t feel too commercialized. The island is 26 miles long but only a small portion is developed.

IL’s Roving Latin America Editor Jason Holland says, “This barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico is the perfect place to relax, with long stretches of white-sand beaches you can have all to yourself. You get around on foot, by bike, or via golf cart. I love the $10 lobster dinners.”



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.

This small beachside town 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, swimsuits, and cold beer.

Getting to Mahahual from Cancún can take four or five hours in the car. You’ll pass through Playa del Carmen and Tulúm, eventually encountering the beautiful Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. The road is in good condition, well-marked, and has easily understood road signs. Keep your eyes open for monkeys, parrots, and the ever-present iguanas along the roadside jungle areas.

IL’s Rivieria Maya Correspondent Don Murray says, “Mahahual is definitely worth your time to visit and may be your first stop while driving south of Tulum. In fact, a relatively small number of expats call it home while a group of snowbirds, seeking the peace of a small, beachside community, return year after year.”

Recent prices in Mahahual and the surrounding area remain a fraction of what they’d be farther up the coast. Five beachfront lots near Puerto Angel, just 20 minutes from Mahahual, were recently for sale for $69,000 each.



On Mexico’s Gulf Coast about 45 minutes from the city of Mérida is the town of Chelem. Once a quiet fishing village, Chelem provides the opportunity for a slower-paced life.

The Thursday market just off the main square is a great place to get fresh fruits and veggies. But for bigger shopping trips, you’ll have to go Progreso or even Mérida. In beach communities like this, taxis and colectivos (shared vans on set routes) are available and there are even shuttle services catering to expats. But it’s much more convenient to own a car.

Expat Geoff Kent moved to Chelem with his wife and two kids in 2018. He says, “We have a pretty typical life for a family with young kids. Get the kids off to school in the morning, help them with homework in the evening. It’s pretty normal.”

While the kids are at school, Geoff and his wife do the grocery shopping and food prep. They may take a walk on the beach. In the evenings, they have dinner at home and help the kids with homework.

They are considering opening a small coffee shop or donut shop. Geoff says there are many expats doing everything from selling real estate to running restaurants.

This simple life by the beach costs $1,800 a month. A bus ride to the nearby town of Progreso is about 50 cents. They spend $150 each week on groceries and another $25 per month on gas for cooking and hot water.

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