Quintana Roo, Riviera Maya, Mexico
A charming marine community, built around three bays with calm shallow waters. Puerto Aventuras is currently the only marina on the Riviera Maya coast (apart from the Cancún marinas).
Puerto, as the locals call it, is an exclusive residential complex, surrounded by a golf course and the jungle. It was built by mega-developer, architect, diver, historian and author Ramón Rivera Torres, whose dream and labours over some 25 years essentially transformed jungle into today’s Puerto Aventuras resort, marina and pueblo. I can just imagine how exciting it must have been for him to start building the marina, dig the canals and the lake for marine life…
It is far less crowded than Cancún or Playa del Carmen. The community mostly attracts well-off expat retirees, vacationing families, and snow-birds looking to escape the winter. You can come here for a day trip from nearby Playa del Carmen or Tulum, if you fancy a change. I have a few friends who live here and always come to Puerto as a visitor for the day, mainly for a party.
Our friend Gil lives in Puerto and owns a motorboat. We went out with him and his partner Claudia for a trip and a swim along the coast. It is a very special treat! Just going around the marina full of small boats and yachts makes the day rather special. His apartment is on a canal full of yachts and I love that view from his balcony. Other friends live in a similar condo, with a pool and on the marina. You can walk from their house to the town centre, past the marina boats. On another occasion we came here for Angela and Dave's housewarming party. They decided to live here because of the tranquil set-up of the community, the sailing and golf options.
The village is divided into two parts: west of Highway 307 is the residential subdivision; east of the highway along the Caribbean coast is the tourist zone, a part of Riviera Maya. Like the rest of Riviera Maya, Puerto offers beaches and activities such as snorkelling, scuba diving, sailing, swimming with the dolphins, and fishing. It is family friendly with minimal nightlife.
The town 'square' is rather unusual, it is 'sitting' around a sea lake, which is divided by footbridges into smaller sections where they keep dolphins, manatees and sea lions. Around the lake there are a few restaurants and shops. There is a small island in the middle of the lake. If you want to come here for the day, you can have a cup of coffee or lunch at a sidewalk restaurant and watch the dolphins for free, or take a swimming session with dolphins or the manatees. Personally, I'm strongly opposed to imprisoning wild creatures and using them for entertainment, but I guess that's your choice. There is also a small maritime museum with nautical artefacts that is interesting to visit if you get a rainy day.
The beaches are in three bays, namely Fatima Bay, Chan Yu Yum and Chac Hal Al. The main 2km-long beach is located on Fatima Bay, while the remaining two beaches and bay areas are small, quiet and shallow. If you want to go to Fatima beach, it is located in the centre of town by the Pelicanos Restaurant, just off the zócalo (town square). You will need to approach it via the Hotel Omni. Visitors need to pay for the use of the loungers (you can get a day pass for about 30USD or a long-term pass). A new man-made stone cage breakwater now extends across the bay in front of Omni Hotel, to prevent the migration of the sand. On both sides of the main beach are smaller, more private beach areas that are used by beach clubs and private properties, with beach chairs reserved for condo residents and hotel guests. There is a path to the left of the reception of the Omni Hotel where you can enter the beach without a day pass and walk towards the south where the locals and repeat visitors love to hang out.
The deep-water marina is suited for sailors who love the direct access to the ocean and for the larger yacht owners. It is one of the few marina facilities between Cancún and Belize City. It offers a variety of accommodation: luxury condos, villas and hotels. Long-term rentals are common. Some of the residences look out over a yacht-filled marina, and others back onto a 9-hole course, covered by Bermuda grass and surrounded by palm trees, bougainvillea and the Mayan jungle. Most hotels in Puerto Aventuras are on the water, facing a canal and docking; other condos are on the ocean bays while others have lagoons but no direct beach access.
Just south of the southern marina entrance there is a cove beach Chac Hal Al Caleta (also referred to as Caleta Chakalál). The cove has two cenotes and an ancient Maya ruin. If you approach the cove from Bahia Xcacel Road, you will come to cenote Chac Hal Al. Follow the path from there to a small one-building ruin in good shape. It used to be an ancient Mayan port built between 1325-1521 AD and the remaining building would have served a double purpose: as a temple and a lighthouse at the same time. Today it sits on private property. However, you can walk to it or access it by bike (or by boat from the sea)
It appears that they are now encouraging visitors as there are paths leading away from the ruin with signs describing the vegetation and animals of the area. The ruin is now surrounded by barbed wire but you would not want to go inside, because the locals say that inside the ruin dwells an alux, a sprite-like mythical being that can play tricks on people if you don't appease them. The cove is a mix of salt and fresh water, a perfect spot for a swim in crystal-clear calm waters in a tranquil setting (nobody around). Near the ruin, a few minute walk through the mangrove jungle, there is the cenote Media Luna (Half Moon), a deep and fresh sinkhole with a romantic name but the signs all over tell you to beware of the crocodiles.
It is exactly on this side of the bay where the developer Ramon Rivera Torres is now building a new Phase 4 of Puerto Aventuras. This new development could boost the population here to more than 10,000 in high season. He has planned to develop more Venetian-like canals along rows of distinctive homes, several more waterfront hotels, a wooden bridge to an islet beach club and premier restaurant, a half-dozen new condominium complexes, bike paths and roads lined with vivid tropical foliage.
How to get to Puerto Aventuras:
Puerto Aventuras is located 60 miles south of Cancún, just 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen and about half an hour north of beautiful Tulum. ADO buses and other public transportation (like colectivo minibuses) will take you as far as the town of Puerto Aventuras on the highway, but you will then need a taxi from the highway junction to get to the town centre or the beach (or you can walk; it's downhill, about 700m from the highway to the zócalo).
How to get to the Chac Hal Al ruins and cenote:
To find this ruin from the road, you have to follow Bahia Xcacel Road right to the end; keep following the road through the manned security barriers (you are still inside Puerto Aventuras). Then you will see two bus stops (not serviced by buses). At the side of the bus stops are paths into the mangroves; one leads to a cenote and one leads to these ruins.
Mix and match:
For a fun day, explore the nearby eco-archaeological parks Xcaret, Xel-ha or XPlor. The Mayan ruins at Tulum, only 25 minutes away, are a must-see. Or you can choose snorkelling at one of the nearby cenotes, for example Cristalino, Azul or El Jardín del Edén.