Quintana Roo, Riviera Maya, Mexico
Three reasons that make it worth coming here: a tranquil beach, a cove with fresh cenote water flowing in and another cenote for a dip.
For now, this is a quiet place that has not been discovered by mass tourism. When you enter the hotel/club lobby, you will immediately have the sea view. On your left there is a gorgeous natural garden full of flowers, and a jungle trail that leads to a small but clean cenote.
The best bit is that fresh water from a cenote flows right into the cove, making the water cool and clean, refreshing in the summer. And the turquoise colour is just amazing! I spotted some fish coming out of the cave mouth. The access to the small cove with the fresh water flow is sandy. Just bliss! There is a warning sign before you enter the cove that the currents may be strong. That is a relative term; there were small children in the cove when I had a dip and they were fine, along with the adults. One just needs to keep one's feet on the sea floor… It is nice to just sit there and observe the pelicans; they love preening themselves on the rocks that surround the cove.
The rest of the beach is nice too. It has coconut palms and sandy access to water everywhere. From the beach you can see the Tulum ruins. The beach south towards the ruins is long and bushy in places. If you are after a walk, it is better to go north, passing the beach hotel. On your walk, you may find seashells (like those displayed in the club lobby) or sea beans (also known as hamburger beans or deer eye, very popular here for making necklaces).
The beach and the cenote sit within the Tankah Natural Park and you can indeed see a lot of different coastal plants here, such as turtle grass, salicornia, chestnut grass, sea perslane, baybean (canavalia rosea), mangrove vine and octopus bush (also known as soldier bush, heliotropium foertherianum). The most prevalent are beach cabbage (scaevola taccada) and sea grape (coccoloba uvifera). My personal favourite is perfumed spiderlily. These tropical bushes protect the sand dunes. The rest of the natural park is a commercial eco-park with a separate entrance from the other side of the highway and it offers a cluster of cenotes with ziplines and a visit to a Maya village. A different experience altogether.
The cenote Caleta Tankah is small but cute. No crowds; you may have it to yourself. It is about a five-minute walk from the beach, accessible along a jungle path. It is not to be confused with Casa Cenote, also known as cenote Manatí, which is in the next bay (Tankah Bay). We spotted a young egret here, just sitting on the cenote rock (I could not take a photo as we were in the pool) and we walked around the circular cenote, a rugged path lined with parlour palms. Beware of mosquitoes in this part of the bay.
Caleta means 'cove' or small inlet. Tankah means 'the centre of town'. You may ask: what town?
Well, this place is home to the 'original' Tulum city. Then it was Zamá Xamanzamá, which appears to be a corruption of Zamal (morning or dawn), a fitting name for a settlement on the east-facing beach, and Xamanzamá (north centre of town). It dates back to 150 BC, much older than Tulum. From the 12th century onwards, Tankah was undoubtedly a port and trading city and needed more protection. So they decided to build a new ceremonial centre in a better protected site. This is how the Maya chose the clifftop site for what we now know as Tulum. You can still see the unrestored ruins of Zamá/Tankah on your way to the beach, along the jungle path.
Do not confuse the ancient ruins with the modern Maya sculptures along the path; you need to focus your eyes into the jungle, where a few heaps of stones can be still seen.
Apparently in Tankah there is a tradition of offerings to Ixchel, the goddess of the Moon and fertility. I have seen a modern stela (stone slab) of Ixchel on the way to the beach (along the jungle path) but did not see any offerings so I can't vouch for this tradition.
Caleta Tankah is another of the beaches that receives turtles from May to November. In the nesting season their nests are marked on the beach, so watch where you step and do not remove the sand.
The entrance fee to Caleta Tankah is $150 pesos per person. This includes access to the cenote, the beach and inlet, as well as the sunbeds, bathrooms (clean) and showers. Not bad, considering that most cenotes along Riviera Maya now cost between 100-300 pesos, with no other services on offer but rustic toilets. Consumption of food at the beach club restaurant is optional and the menu includes snacks, ceviche and burgers. The food is basic but OK. The average consumption per person is about 250 pesos. You are not supposed to bring your own food or drinks although I have seen the locals here drinking their own water and eating crisps and snacks.
The beach has a hotel of the same name and it is also available for exclusive events like weddings, romantic dinners and other private celebrations. You can take a long stroll along this deserted beach, passing the hotel.
How to get there:
Caleta Tankah is not to be confused with Tankah Bay beach (the next bay).
Caleta Tankah is situated 5km north of Tulum (and 68km from Playa del Carmen). Drive from Tulum towards Playa along highway 307 and you will see a sign on the road (just before Dreams Tulum resort). You will then drive for about 5 minutes (note the heaps of rocks, i.e. ancient ruins in the jungle). The car park outside the beach club is spacious.
You can also take a colectivo (minibus), from Playa del Carmen (2nd street between 15th and 20th avenue) and Tulum (main street). You will have to get off at the main road and walk 1km to the beach, on a shady jungle path.