Quintana Roo, Mexico
I liked Puerto Morelos beach instantly, on my first encounter. Wide, long, laid-back, with a bit of a bohemian vibe. Its icon is the leaning lighthouse right by the pier. It tells a lot about the place. It was built with the stones of the Mayan ruins and it was damaged during Hurricane Beulah in 1967. It reminds us how vulnerable the coast can be to the powers of both politics and nature. Today it is not in use, although it is still a fishing village (they have a new working lighthouse).
I have been here many times since my first visit three years ago and I like it every time. No wonder they call it 'La Joya del Caribe' (Jewel of the Caribbean). The real name of the town is in honour of the Mexican War of Independence leader José María Morelos, hinting at the troublesome past.
The main source of income today lies in tourism. But it was not always like this. A former Mayan site belonged to the Mayan province of Ekab (meaning 'Black Bee') and was rebuilt as a natural harbour under Spanish rule, to export by boat the products of the selva (jungle) around it, such as chicle (gum), vanilla, tobacco, cedar and cork. In 1900 Puerto Morelos was referred to as 'Punta Corcho' (Cork Point). A road was specifically built for transporting the products from the jungle to the port. Today it is called Ruta de los Cenotes and it is packed with cenotes open to the public. Today Puerto is an independent municipality which was created in 2016 (previously it belonged to the municipality of Benito Juárez). So I presume we can now expect some changes and new developments. Let's hope they will be all eco-friendly.
The town is divided between an area around the highway and then 2km down a road through the mangroves is the beachfront community. The town has just two principal streets and you can walk from one end to the other in about 15 minutes. In the centre of the beachfront area there is a pier and boardwalk. There are a few tourist shops (nothing special) and restaurants. Although it's become a favourite of Canadian and American expat artists, painters, and poets, it's still essentially a seaside village.
The main beach is located in the centre of town by the Pelicanos Restaurant, just off the zócalo (main square). Fishing boats line the beach and for me the sight of the boats always brings a feeling of romance and adventure to my heart. At the side of the pier there are boats offering snorkelling tours to the reef but I never tried them, as I am not much of a snorkeller (I use a photo for illustration from the Pinterest internet source). The reef is just 100m off the shore and is part of the Great Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest reef system in the world. The reef is a protected National Marine Park. They say snorkelling here is truly great. You can spot rays, turtles, barracudas and dozens of other fish.
On both sides of the main beach there are beach clubs, private properties and vacation rentals. I always go to the north side, towards Cancún. There are usually no big waves because of the reef here. The sand is fine but some areas of the beach have rocks. It is not easy for me to recommend the best part of the beach as it depends what everybody prefers. Most beach restaurants are very similar in the menu choice (typical Yucatec cuisine), in my experience. The best sea entry without rocks is at the beach clubs Cieba del Mar, Excellence Riviera, Paradisius, Dreams and Ocean Coral and Turquesa. Rockiest Beaches are Azul Sensatori and Secrets Silver Sands. Some bars have live music. The other day we went for lunch with my husband Rhod to La Playita restaurant right on the water, with good music and a simple menu (ceviche, guacamole, prawns, burgers).
My best memory of this beach is when we brought our friends Orsolya and Nick from England straight here from the airport in Cancún. When they arrived in the afternoon, they wanted to jump in the sea straight away so we decided to come here (it is a half-hour drive from the airport). We would have missed the last sun if we had driven further to Playa del Carmen, as it is another half an hour drive from here. They had their swimwear in their hand luggage (I strongly recommend this trick to any visitors!). The sea was not at its best on that occasion (a bit of sea grass) but the dip was all that was wanted. We watched a delightful sunset over a drink afterwards. How better can you land in this paradise?
I came here on a couple of occasions even when it was slightly raining, with visiting friends. It makes for a nice stroll around the zócalo. My friends always want to see quiet fishing villages, not just Playa del Carmen. There are pergolas with benches in the zócalo and palm trees, a very pleasant large open space with sea views. I always go to the bookshop Alma Libre as it is the only bookshop with English books along Riviera Maya that I know of. Last time I came here with my husband and our friend Jonathan and I managed to buy a book about the ancient Mayan cities by the renowned Mayologist Michael Coe. What a joy to be able to do that! Then a cup of coffee at Café De Amancia on the square, followed by lunch at Pelicanos with a great view of the bay (you can also choose the view of the zócalo, as we did, as the restaurant terrace goes around the corner). By then the rain had stopped and we headed for a stroll on the beach. The colours of the sky and the beach certainly change with the storm!
How to get there:
Puerto Morelos is half way between Cancún and Playa del Carmen. By car, it takes about 35 minutes from either town. After leaving federal route 307, drive 2km to reach the village and the beach. Many colectivos (vans) travel along the highway and stop at Puerto Morelos. Then you have to walk or take a taxi to the beach.
Mix and match:
You can try one of the cenotes on the road Ruta de los Cenotes (the road to Leona Vicario) or the botanical garden of Dr Alfredo Barrera Marín right on highway 307.