Quintana Roo, Cancún
Playa Ballenas is one of 15 public beaches squeezed into Cancún hotel zone and it has blue flag certification. Expect strong waves.
Blue Flag is an international certification of beaches and marinas, which promotes sustainable management of coasts. The information board claims turtles on this beach (like so many other blue flag beaches) but I could not see the 'turtle area', which is usually cordoned off to protect the eggs that turtles come to lay here.
Its name, Playa Ballenas, literally translates as Whale Beach, but you will not be able to see the whales from this beach either. I think the name comes from the fact that the hotel services on this beach offer trips for swimming with whales. They take you near the island of Isla Mujeres, following the route of whale sharks that come to the Mexican/Caribbean sea from the north, on their way south. It’s the largest (yet gentle) fish in the ocean, and it’s a real representative of healthy marine ecosystems. I have my reservations about people descending on them and swimming with them.
Ballenas is a wide beach, but the allocated public beach is rather narrow. The beach sits between hotels Hard Rock and Secrets the Vine Cancún and not many locals visit it so it is not too crowded. However, the hotel beaches on the left and right are crowded, of course. When you sit on the beach, you will hear the music from the hotels where they often have pool parties. The long beach means you can take a truly lengthy stroll or just enjoy the views across the bay (lined with hotels).
The advantage of pubic beaches in Cancún is that they are always clear of seaweed, when it hits Riviera Maya. They clean it better here than the rest of Riviera Maya, because all Cancún public beaches sit in the hotel zone. Think of it as a good alternative during the 'seaweed time'. Seaweed here is of an intermittent nature; it can come and go overnight, after rain or a storm. When Riviera Maya is hit by it, it is time to hit the Cancún public beaches. The immediate proximity to major hotels also means that this beach is regularly patrolled by qualified lifeguards.
Technically, there are free beach chairs and umbrellas on the beach but the staff don't set them up for the day. Instead, on your arrival you have to ask them to put them up for you and they expect a tip (anything between 20 and 50 pesos will do). When I came here with our family friend Mike in May 2018 we did just so but the staff did it grumpily, in all honesty. Nevertheless, it was worth it.
There are also picnic tables, half shaded, if you prefer that option. Or you can just put your towel down. If you bring your own picnic, don't bring any drinks in glass bottles. Glass is not allowed on the beach, for the obvious reasons (our glass bottles were taken away by the staff).
There are clean toilets by the car park and first aid station. Parking is free. You can also rent water scooters right on the beach.
How to get there:
This public beach is located at Boulevard Kukulcán at Km 14.5, simply meaning that the beach is about nine miles from downtown Cancun.
There is no signpost on the road for this beach. Once you pass Hard Rock hotel, take the first turning right. This street is marked by a sign as Retorno del Rey. Then you will see a road ramp leading to the beach car park. There is a rope across the car park access but the staff will open it for you.
Getting There By Bus: Blue Line Stop #38, Green Line Stop #33.