Quintana Roo, Riviera Maya, Mexico
Tankah Bay is a low-key seaside residential community. The bay is semi-private and you will feel like you have the place to yourself! It is separated from Soliman Bay to the north by a narrow point.
The beach is truly tranquil and serene. In my four years on the Riviera Maya, this is the only place where our group of four were the only people on the beach in April 2017.
I imagine a lot of beaches in the Riviera Maya were like this ten years ago. What a change this coast is undergoing right now! I should not be writing about this bay if I want it to stay low-key and tranquil. The less people know, the better. But that would be pretty selfish.
The bay's icons are two piers with palapas and hammocks. A pleasant vista and a good photo opportunity too. I had seen those pier palapas in photographs before but had no idea where they were…
Tankah in the Mayan language means 'the centre of town'. You may be asking – what town? In ancient times there was a large Mayan city called Tankah and it was older than Tulum (its beginnings go back to 150 BC). They coexisted together. Tulum was actually a part of Tankah city. In fact, Tulum came into existence because of the need to build a new ceremonial centre placed at a more protected site than Tankah. You can still see the unrestored ruins of Tankah but not in Tankah Bay; at Caleta Tankah, which is the next bay south, nearer to Tulum.
The Tankah beach is great for kayaking and snorkelling because of its shallow parts, and the reef. The dive shop on the beach offers diving either in the open sea or at Casa Cenote, just behind the restaurant, on the mangrove side of the Tankah road. It is also great for walking. Foot protection is recommended for some places, in the water for areas of sea grass, coral, and rocks. There are also little tidepools along the beach.
My husband Rhod and my friend Eva decided to stay on the beach for the day but my friend Jim and I decided to have a swim at Casa Cenote. And what a contrast it was with the beach. Although it is 5m from the quiet beach, the cenote was packed with people. So that is where all the people go here! We saw a lot of divers, but, above all, kayakers. A lot of 'firsts' on that day. I have not seen kayaks in any other cenote so far. The cenote used to be called 'Cenote Manatee', as these charming creatures used to swim in their waters until a few years ago. I don't know anybody who has spotted them recently but during our visit a fellow swimmer claimed that he saw a crocodile! I was glad to hear that at the end of my swim, true or not!
We quickly went back to the tranquillity of the beach. The palapa restaurant Casa Cenote serves some standard classics such as fajitas (photo below left) and seafood but our friend Jim had a Philly sandwich, which is not often on offer in the local restaurants. Perhaps it's because the owner is Texan (he was having his lunch at the next table to us but I didn't peep to see if he also had the Philly sandwich!). Jim's efforts to explain that he was a fireman from Philadelphia and he would report on the authenticity of the Philly sandwich experience fell on deaf ears. Just as would a Mexican's efforts to authenticate a quesadilla in Philadelphia.
The beach is protected from erosion by the chit palms along the bay and apparently the reef is now coming back to life (after Hurricane Dean in 2007). On our visit the beach was affected by seaweed but all other beaches were affected on that day in the same way. We could still find a clean spot for a dip here, unlike in Playa del Carmen.
We walked along the beach but we could not spot the 'Eye of the Sea', perhaps because it was rather windy on that day. Or we are just not good 'eye' spotters. And then we discovered that it sits directly opposite the Casa Cenote Restaurant, where we were sitting. The underground river from Casa Cenote flows here into the bay, making the 'eye'.
Another bonus: if you hunt a little near to the treeline you can find shells, including some huge conches, a rare phenomenon on this coast.
How to get there:
Tankah Bay is located 11km north of Tulum. It is separated from neighbouring Soliman Bay by a point jutting out into the sea in the north and another point in the south separates it from Caleta Tankah Bay. The two are not to be confused. Caleta Tankah is a private beach club, with a restaurant and small but lovely Cenote Maya. Caleta requires an entry fee (of 150 pesos) while Tankah Bay, 4km up north from Caleta, has free entry as it is a public beach. Caleta Tankah is clearly signposted from the road. Tankah Bay is not; instead it has the names of the hotels on the beach.
Basically, Caleta is the first turning after the Dreams Hotel when you come out of Tulum. Tankah Bay is next, 4km further north towards Playa. Turn right and follow the dirt road. You will pass the security guards, then a row of residential villas and the restaurant Tankah Bay. You could stay here for the beach as well or continue until the sign for the restaurant Casa Cenote.