Yucatán, the Gulf of Mexico
Laid back and untouched by mass tourism, El Cuyo is a small fishing village on the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula. It is the relaxed atmosphere that makes its charm. Great for a weekend getaway with no razzle-dazzle.
El Cuyo has traditionally been a place where people from the interior of the peninsula come to spend a few days by the beach. You won't see many foreigners here. The village is part of a bird-watching area as it is nestled in the National Park of Ría Lagartos, which is internationally famous for pink flamingos and over 250 species of other marine birds.
Originally it was a ranch called Cuyo of Ancona, the property of Ramón Ancona Bolio in 1895. It was dedicated to agriculture, producing possibly sisal from henequén (cactus) and chicle (gum). Did you know that chewing gum was born in the Yucatán Peninsula? It is extracted from the sap (white resin) of sapodillas, or chicozapote trees, common in Yucatán, by cutting the bark. Known among the Maya as sicté, meaning 'essential fluid', it was completely natural, white in colour and without flavours or added sugar. The Maya used it for hygienic reasons (they chewed gum in privacy, not like us in public) and not everybody had access to this product, only the nobles.
El Cuyo then became a timber port, associated with the enormous production of wood. National and foreign ships arrived to this place in search of the wood of the region. In recent history El Cuyo has become a fishing port surrounded by natural beauty, mangroves, beautiful beaches, and forest.
Today a lighthouse overlooks the town, which was apparently built on a Mayan ruin. Further west along the coast you may notice numerous mounds that were all Mayan buildings in the past. The centre of town is a square with a church, very typical of colonial towns and villages. When we came here with my husband in September 2017, the locals had some ceremony in the church, celebrating an anniversary of the village. The rest of town is just streets with houses, some of them pretty colourful (the village would be very pretty if most houses were painted like that!). The marking point is the pier (it looks very new).
The beach is wide and long, with turquoise waters and white sand and coconut palm trees. This is where the Gulf of Mexico mixes with the Caribbean sea. However, the beach can get seaweed at times (like all the beaches on Riviera Maya) as this is a windy coast (mainly in the afternoons, we were told). Then the waters are brown and the sand can be smelly as they don't always clear the seaweed. This happened to us; we came here for the weekend but decided not to stay the night as the beach was pretty smelly. The seaweed is intermittent; rain overnight can bring the seaweed in or take it away. I recommend checking the status of the beach with one of the hotels by phone before you come.
Fishing tours, kayak tours (through mangroves), and kitesurfing are popular activities here, due to the shallow waters and winds along the shore. There are pay toilets and showers near the new pier and on the main square in town.
During our trip we spotted a bullring on a field just off the beach. Bullfighting was brought to Mexico by the conquering Spaniards and has been illegalised twice in Mexican history since but at this moment in time, it is legal. Interestingly, Mexico banned the use of live animals in circuses in 2015, so maybe bullfighting will follow soon. The biggest ring is in Mexico City (the largest in the world, actually) but bullfights (corridas) in the small towns of the Yucatán are held in conjunction with fiestas in the home-made bullrings (often on the town's soccer fields). They look pretty fragile, in all honesty. Here the bull is NOT killed; it's just a village show for fun. A way to see a bullfight, enjoy the spectacle and not risk your emotions.There was no corrida during our visit, although the village was celebrating. I would not have gone anyway…
As for services, there are two restaurants in town, La Conchita and Miramar. For accommodation, there is a popular beachfront place called Las Casistas. The cabañas in the village range from basic cabin to a full-on mini house. Hotel Aida Luz is the main hotel in El Cuyo with basic and clean rooms with air conditioning (we had a quick look as we did not book beforehand). It is located on the main square, right by the pier. You can also book accommodation via airbnb. There are markets where you can buy a few basic things (alcohol may be difficult to find so you may want to bring your own).
How to get there:
There are local buses that connect Tizimin to El Cuyo. There are also smaller colectivo vans that go back and forth. No schedules are online for these buses. It is best to come here by car. At El Cuyo the road travels through broad grassy savanna and to reach the village, you have to cross a causeway over the pinkish lagoon (due to a large concentration of salt) that separates the village from the mainland.
You will need to leave Playa on the new Playa-Nuevo Xcan Highway. At the end of this toll road (97 pesos) you will go in the direction of Holbox. Go to the town of Kantunilkin and in the middle of town you will take a left at the sign going to Colonia Yucatán. When you reach this small town you will take a right and go in the direction of El Cuyo. It is 38 kilometres from Colonia Yucatán to El Cuyo.
This route will take about 2 1/2 hours but it is an interesting drive passing some small Mayan villages and fields dotted with palms and ceiba trees.
If you are coming from Cancun you will take the 180 Cuota (toll 180 not the old free 180 that is much slower) Highway toward Méridaand get off at the Holbox exit. You will drive to Kantunilkin and follow the above directions the rest of the way.
If you are coming from Valladolid or Merida you will go to Tizimin and then take the road to Colonia Yucatán and proceed up to El Cuyo.
Mix and match
It is best to come here for the weekend and spend the night. If you want to combine with another site, then the pink lagoon at the village of Las Coloradas is an option. Las Coloradas is only about 10km west from El Cuyo, but by car you have to loop back to the road between Río Lagartos and Valladolid, turn west towards Dzonot Carretero, and then up north towards Río Lagartos