Quintana Roo, Riviera Maya, Mexico
This beach is for nature lovers. It is a sea turtle sanctuary but if you want to see them, you will need to come here as a volunteer. Otherwise, just enjoy your swim in the sea or the cenote, just off the shore.
The reef-protected beach has several different ecosystems: jungle mangroves, chit palms, coastal dunes, coral reefs, and a large, open cenote. However, it is also home to other threatened species in the region, such as skunk, rattlesnake and black hawk. There are no hotels and no restaurants. Just nature.
In the Mayan language X'Cacel (pronounced sh-ka-cel) apparently means 'Place of the Stinging Jellyfish'. It seems that even in ancient times this place was a nature sanctuary and nothing else. You can come here just for the day as a 'tourist' or as a volunteer to work with the turtle association. That involves staying the night and sleeping in hammocks with the rest of the group who come here between April and October.
I came here for the first time in 2016 with my friends Ximena, Jim, Janet and my husband Rhod. Ximena is from Chile and she comes to Playa every year for a few months. She likes to work at the turtle sanctuary as a volunteer, looking after the nests so they don't get destroyed (either by humans or animals), cleaning the beach and releasing the turtles into the sea. She was so proud to show us 'her kingdom', the friends she made here and the sand dunes with the turtle nests. The local association in charge of protecting the species cordon off the area to ensure that no one steps over the buried sea turtle nests. You will need to respect all roped-off areas of the beach as well.
I found this beach very natural, with a lot of coral on the shore at one end. The rest of the beach was nice and sandy. However, in places it was rugged and rocky and at times the waves were unpredictable as I found out when I went for a swim. The iguanas lingered on the beach and crawled along the sand, passing the empty green coconut shells. There are no coconut palms on the beach that could be used for shade; they all sit in the jungle strip where the sand ends.
Services at this beach include restrooms but here are no restaurants so you will need to bring your own food and drinks.
As for the turtles, they migrate long distances between feeding grounds and hatching beaches. The green sea turtle (Chelonian mydas) usually lays her eggs a month or two before the Loggerheads (Caretta caretta). And they both come here because turtles have the ability to remember where they were born and they come back to the same spot to lay their eggs. Females crawl out of the ocean onto the beaches, dig nests and lay as many as 120 eggs during the night. Later, hatchlings emerge and scramble into the water, as the photo above, provided by Ximena, shows. Those that survive the initial journey to the sea (and many don't) may live up to 80 years in the wild.
They are both endangered species. Despite all efforts they are still in danger due to human activity. In some countries, turtles and their eggs are hunted for food. Pollution indirectly harms them; many die after being caught in fishing nets. By the way, the green turtle's name does not derive from a green external colour but from the greenish colour of the turtles' fat, between the inner organs and the shell. So don't look out for a green-coloured turtle. In any case, you won't be able to spot them during the day as the birth and the initial journey to the sea happens at night.
Another attraction of the beach is a small cenote called Xcacelito, down a short trail from the beach. We did have to queue for a long time to get in as they only allowed a certain number of people at a time. The access to Cenote X'Cacelito was across a wooden bridge inside the fenced-off area. The waters are cool and transparent; the cenotes in Riviera Maya never disappoint. It is a special experience.
How to get there:
To get to this beach you can drive south from Playa del Carmen on the 307 Highway. It is just past Bahia Principe’s large condo development on the right with the massive concrete arch. You will then pass the entrance to Chemuyil pueblo. The dirt road will soon be on your left. You can take the Playa-Tulum colectivos; just tell the driver the name of the beach and he will stop for you. And then walk for about 15 minutes from the highway to the beach. When you arrive at the beach, there is a ramp and security guards. We were asked to pay an entry fee of 20 pesos per person. Think of it as a donation that goes towards preserving these rare species of turtles. It also covers the entry fee to the cenote so it is a good deal.
However, the beach has been closed for a while in 2018 and after reopening the prices have changed: for the residents of Quintana Roo it is 24 pesos, for Mexican nationals 40 pesos and for foreigners 81 pesos. The cenote remains closed in 2018 (for renovation) but hopefully will open soon. There are no services added so you will still need to bring your own drinks and food. The beach closes at 4pm. By then it is time to leave the turtles in peace.