Quintana Roo, Riviera Maya, Mexico
Esmeralda is a Spanish word meaning 'emerald', a green gemstone, indicating the combination of two qualities: colour and clarity. In addition, the crescent-shaped beach offers a unique fresh water lagoon (cenote) flowing into the sea. The beach is wheelchair accessible.
Playa la Esmeralda, known as 'Punta Esmeralda', is found almost at the end of the Colosio neighbourhood (right next to the hotel Paradisus). So technically it is within Playa but I think it deserves a separate post, as it is remote. It opened to the public recently, in 2011. Until then it was a gated community as the community offers a number of condos, town homes and villas (you can't actually see them from the beach as they are hidden behind the palm trees). There have been attempts to close it to the public but this has been resolved and the beach remains federal property.
The beach is popular with the locals and perfect for families with small children as the cenote is shallow. In most places it is 15 cm deep; the maximum depth is half a metre. This cenote is in essence a spring bubbling up and creating a small river. The fresh cenote water is colder and mineral in its content and it mixes with the warm salt water of the sea. As the two waters mix, you get a different experience when swimming.
There are palm trees next to the cenote and tree area around it, in which the locals like to have picnics, especially at the weekends. If you want a spot under a tree, you would need to come in the morning or during the week. There is a second cenote in the tree area; it is deeper and popular with local teenagers as they can jump in from the rocks. There is also a playground here for children (this is very rare along the coast) and the beach is accessible by beach wheelchairs. You can hire them on the beach and there are wooden paths for their use.
The bay has several different ecosystems: jungle bush, coconut palms and coastal dunes. The coastal dunes are natural; they back up the beach. They are the first line of defence against storms and beach erosion. The vegetated sand ridges are built up by dry sand blown inland and trapped. The plants act as a windbreak. Coastal dunes are vulnerable and are threatened by human activity. They are eroding due to increased sediment loss (because of increased coastal human activities). The dunes are therefore protected here, and there are signs along the beach telling you so. The bay is also good for bird-spotting. We spotted pelicans and seagulls. Frigate birds are also common. We had no luck spotting any fish but we were not snorkelling.
I come to this beach frequently as I like to be away from hotel resorts. We always bring our own food, drinks, chairs and umbrellas. However, there are a couple of street vendors with tricycle carts offering Mexican snacks and a few locals walk about offering freshly cut mangos and hot pizzas. There is also a permanent food truck on the beach with a large veranda built on top for the views. They serve tacos and drinks and they have tables and chairs for sitting. If you want to use their loungers, they are rather costly (250 pesos per person). There are also massages on offer. If you go around the corner from the food truck, there is an almost deserted beach, beautiful, but with rocky access to the sea. The other side of the bay is the beach of the hotel Paradisus; here they rent kayaks and paddle boards. There are no bathrooms on the beach so plan accordingly. Dogs are not allowed on the beach.
How to get there:
Punta Esmeralda is found at the limit of the Colosio neighbourhood, next to Nicte-ha. You can walk to it from the town beaches of Playa del Carmen. It will take about an hour. If you are going by bike, car or taxi, go to the Paradisus Hotel. There is an entrance road on the left of the hotel, if you are facing the sea. The hotel is on Street 110. The path to the beach is on street 112 (one block away). You can drive the car all the way to the beach and park on the access road. Avoid going on Sundays; it is usually crowded.