Travel Destinations

Mexico's East Coast - Seven Secluded Beaches

Gulf Coast
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December 2020
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By
Richard
Kern

FORTY YEARS AGO, the phrase beautiful Mexican beach automatically called to mind the country's Pacific coast Acapulco, Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta rather than the tiny undeveloped coastal towns on the fringe of the Yucatan jungle.

What a difference a few decades make. Now, the east coast resorts of Cancún, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen and their vast expanses of beach along the Riviera Maya dwarf the Pacific playas and their relatively modest sands. But you can still find places along Mexico's east coast to get away from it all and enjoy clear Caribbean waters.

These seven secluded Mexico beaches are worth checking out, two north of Cancún, and the others south of the mega-resort strip, on Mexico's East Coast.

North of Cancún

ISLA HOLBOX

Just off the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula lies Isla Holbox, a narrow strip of land that's part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve. Out on the western end of the island is the tiny fishing village of Holbox and its white sand beach. If it feels like you've reached the ends of the earth, that's because you pretty much have.

Holbox is about as laid back as you can get ... unpaved streets, golf carts instead of cars, a handful of shops and restaurants, a couple of hotels. That's it. The water is shallow right off the beach, only about waist-high at its deepest, so it's a great place for families with smaller children. And if you visit between mid-May and mid-September, you might get to swim with the whale sharks definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Isla Blanca - Mexico's East Coast - Marinalife
Isla Blanca from Wikimedia Commons

ISLA BLANCA

he peninsula of Isla Blanca extends north from Cancún, the perfect place to escape the tourists and traffic that clog the Riviera Maya mega-resorts. In the middle of the peninsula at its narrowest point, you'll find Isla Blanca Beach, sitting right where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean Sea.

Breezes from the east and shallowness of the lagoon make this a popular spot with kiteboarders a couple of kiteboarding schools are open if you feel like a quick lesson. Hungry? Try La Mojarra or Isla Blanca for some of the freshest seafood imaginable. Then stretch out on the secluded beach and let the sun and surf do their thing.

South of Playa del Carmen

XPU HA

About 30 kilometers south of Playa del Carmen, Xpu Ha offers visitors the laid-back charm, white sands and turquoise waters that define the quintessential Mexican beach. You'll usually find more locals than tourists here as Xpu Ha is a well-kept secret that has so far avoided the commercialization of its neighbors to the north.

It's the perfect place for anyone who loves snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, parasailing, fishing or just relaxing in a hammock or beach chair. Ready for lunch? Grab a cold beer and some local seafood at one of the nearby beach bars. Throw in a few beachfront hotels and a handful of casual restaurants, and you've got your own little slice of paradise.

AKUMAL

Travel 16 kilometers down the coast and you'll find yourself at Akumal. Well known as a haven for sea turtles — green, loggerhead and hawksbill. Akumal Bay is also a prime snorkeling destination. According to the website Loco Gringo, A wide stretch of Akumal's gorgeous beaches encompasses ‘Las Bahias de Akumal’ — a series of five bays starting to the south of Yal-Ku Lagoon with North Akumal Beach and ending at Aventuras Akumal to the south.”

About a dozen small resorts are scattered along this scalloped stretch of coast, and Lol-Ha at the Hotel Akumal Caribe is a beloved dining spot for a seaside breakfast or dinner. At lunchtime, try the Pizzeria. Visitors not staying at one of the resorts on Akumal Bay are charged an entrance fee of 100 pesos to get to the beach area — a small price to pay for this kind of beauty and tranquility.

Xcacel Beach - Mexico's East Coast - Marinalife
Xcacel Beach, Mexico from Wikimedia Commons

XCACEL

Locally known as Xcacel Área Natural Protegida Estatal, this nature preserve boasts one of the more beautiful, remote beaches on the coast. It's also a prime sea turtle hatchery and sanctuary, releasing around 200,000 hatchlings each year. Respect for nature is paramount here, and the pristine beauty of the place reflects that.

A half-dozen small hotels across from the entrance to the park offer lodging for long stays, and in the tiny village of Ciudad Chemuyil up the road you'll find a few rustic restaurants worth checking out, as well as a small supermarket. The charcoal chicken at the modest, friendly Pollo Aplanado de Félix is first-rate.

Xel Ha Snorkeling - Mexico's East Coast - Marinalife
Xel Ha Snorkeling from Wikimedia Commons

Xel-HÃ

The ruins at Xel-HÃ date from the 1st century, when it was one of several key ports of the Mayan city of Coba, about 50 kilometers inland. Although a small, rocky beach to the north is lovely, the attraction here is the vast lagoon that empties directly into the Caribbean. Now known as Xel-HÃ Park, the inlet and the surrounding mangroves, rivers, cenotes and jungle trails are billed as a commercial aquatic theme park and ecotourism development.

Even though the main emphasis is on maintaining the area's natural beauty and ecological purity, you'll find the requisite water slides, zip lines and other modern attractions. But don't let that deter you. The inlet of Xel-HÃ has been called a natural aquarium where swimmers encounter hundreds of species of tropical fish and other marine life. Also a turtle preserve and marine research center are fun activities, as well as snorkeling, scuba diving and swimming with dolphins.

The park has four restaurants, and the Zona Arqueologica Xel-HÃ (the ruins of the historic Mayan port) is located across from the park entrance. Xel-HÃ Park is open year-round. Admission prices vary depending on what package you select; ticket prices start at $89.99 USD for adults if purchased in advance on the park's website.

TULUM

The Mayan ruins at Tulum are a must-see for anyone interested in pre-Columbian history and culture. Their growing popularity has helped fuel a building boom in the region, which means that once-secluded Tulum beaches like Playa Santa Fe, Playa Tulum and Playa Paraíso are more crowded these days. Still, their rustic beauty makes them worth a visit.

Tulum Mayan Ruins - Mexico's East Coast - Marinalife
Tulum Mayan Ruins from Wikimedia Commons

As with anything, it's all about timing. If you plan to be here in-season (December to April), get to the beach early in the day and save the ruins for later in the afternoon. In May or November (the beginning and end of the rainy season), the beaches are less crowded. Snorkeling and scuba diving are big here (Tulum boasts the second- largest barrier reef in the world), but just lying on the beach is a popular option, too.

When you're looking for food and drink, plenty of beach clubs, bars and restaurants are within walking distance dozens more if you rent a bike and venture into Tulum proper. Standout eateries in town include Pollo Bronco, CrisPac, La Negra Tomasa and Xiximak. Note that the beach clubs charge a fee for chairs and towels, so you can save money by bringing your own.

Editor's Note: 2018 and 2019 saw many of Mexico's East Coast Caribbean beaches invaded by sargassum seaweed. Clean-up crews have been working overtime, and it's improved considerably in 2020. Nonetheless, it pays to do research on which beaches are seaweed-free, as conditions can change with the tides and weather. Go to mexicanist.com/l/cancun-seaweed-sargassum/ for info.

Where to Dock along Mexico's East Coast

Hotel Marina El Cid Spa & Beach Resort

Riviera Maya

+800-866-306-6113

Stay in luxury suites with jacuzzis and a relaxing Caribbean ambiance at this plush beach resort. Located just minutes from Puerto Morelos charming fishing village, the marina accommodates 300 vessels ranging from 25-120 feet.

Marina Hacienda Del Mar

Cancún

+52-998-880-1070

Directly between Cancún and Isla Mujeres, this marina boasts an easy- access port of entry with an expedited immigration process. The 80-slip marina offers fuel at all berths, 24-hour security, laundry and provisions.

Marina Puerto Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres

+52-998-877-0330

Located on the nearby island of Isla Mujeres, this full-service marina is just a ferry ride away from Mexico's east coast beaches. It offers dockage on a protected harbor with 64 slips for yachts up to 80 feet and mega yachts up to 175 feet with a 10 foot draft.

V&V Marina

Cancún

+52-998-234-0100

This gorgeous facility is a full-service boatyard located next to the second longest barrier reef in the world. The marina offers 176 slips and mooring services for vessels up to 200 feet.

Related Articles
Camden, Maine
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True boaters say the real Maine coast doesn’t start until you reach Penobscot Bay. This is “Down East” from Kennebunkport and Portland. The dramatic stretch of coastline from Camden to Mount Desert Island sparkles with granite shores, dotted with archipelagos of pine-tree covered islands and mountains cascading into the sea. This region offers some of the best cruising ground in the world.

Camden is a magical little seaside town in the heart of Maine’s mid-coast. It’s historic but hip. “Where the Mountains Meet the Sea” is their moniker, as Camden Hills and 780-foot Mount Battie stretch down toward the bustling waterfront where this 1769 New England village sits, creating a postcard scene.

Photo Courtesy of Greg Burke

Camden is super foot-traffic friendly, starting at Harbor Park and the beautiful brick Public Library that graces the top of the bay by the Town Docks. Enjoy a picnic on the sprawling park lawn; there’s often a craft festival or free concert at the outdoor amphitheater. From the waterfront, stroll the quaint sidewalks leading to cafés, boutiques, craft stores and art galleries, pubs, and surprisingly trendy restaurants.

You can hike, bike or drive the toll road up Mount Battie in Camden Hill State Park, which encompasses 5,500 acres and 30 miles of trails. Your reward is spectacular panoramic views of the harbor and Penobscot Bay below.

Eaton Point, at the eastern entrance to the harbor, is home to a new Lyman-Morse yacht facility. Camden remains a working harbor with lobster fishermen, boat builders, ferries and tall-masted schooners taking folks out for scenic sails.

Camden hosts festivals throughout the summer season of jazz, film and its trademark Windjammers. In winter, the U.S. National Tobogganing Champion-ships are held at Camden’s namesake Snow Bowl – our country’s only ski area with views of the Atlantic.

Camden is an ideal boater’s gateway with all the services and shops you need in walking distance from the waterfront. Excursions from this protected harbor are countless and legendary. A quick cruise brings you to quiet Lasell Island for a sunset anchorage. Farther on you reach Maine’s Maritime Academy home in beautiful Castine, and the rustic islands of North Haven, Vinalhaven and Deer Isle. Ultimately you can cruise north and east through beautiful Merchants Row, or the more protected Eggemoggin Reach, to Mount Desert Island, home to famed Acadia National Park, Northeast, Southwest and Bar Harbors.

WHERE TO DOCK

Camden Public Landing Town Docks
207-691-4314

Contact the harbormaster for overnight slips, limited but in town, and moorings throughout the harbor.

Lyman-Morse at Wayfarer Marine
207-236-7108

Across the harbor on Camden’s east shores, this revamped marina is a half-mile walk to town, with new docks and a marina facility, home of Lyman-Morse Boatyard and 30 slips plus moorings.

WHERE TO DINE

40 Paper
207-230-0111

Relish artful cuisine locally sourced from farmers, fishermen and “foragers.” In an historic wool mill in downtown Camden, it’s comfy but chic. Savor octopus, lamb, mussels, salmon and more with fresh produce and creative sides. Save room for dessert made from scratch.

Peter Otts on the Water
207-236-4032

Get your chowder and Maine lobster fix from Chef Peter. This classic setting overlooking the harbor is a Camden staple you “ott” not miss. Open for lunch or dinner.

Franny’s Bistro
207-230-8199

With a neighborhood feel, Franny’s serves up lobster fritters, crab cakes, shrimp dumplings and land-lubber faves, too. A fun menu in a cozy setting.

Bagel Café
207-236–2661

For fresh-brewed morning coffee and daily “boiled then baked” bagels or breakfast sammies served all day.

Read More
Jamestown, Rhode Island
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Located on Conanicut Island, Gould Island and Dutch Island, Jamestown welcomes boaters to Narragansett Bay.  Its southernmost point is on Gould Island and marked by Beavertail Lighthouse and State Park. The northernmost point is marked by Conanicut Island Lighthouse.  While Conanicut Island is the second largest island on Narragansett Bay, it is near the western mainland in Kingston, and Newport lies to the east on Aquidneck Island.  Hop on the Jamestown Newport Ferry to get the lay of the land and sea.

Jamestown was settled early in colonial history and was named for James, Duke of York, who became King James II in 1685.  By 1710, many of Jamestown’s current roads were already in place and a lot of its early architecture is well preserved. Soak up some local history at the Jamestown Fire Memorial Museum, Beavertail Lighthouse Museum and Park, Jamestown Windmill, Watson Farm, Conanicut Island Sanctuary, Fort Wetherill State Park, and the Jamestown Settlement museum.

The main town, shops and restaurants are located on the eastern shore of Conanicut Island.  But even from the western side, Dutch Harbor and other attractions are easily accessed with a one-mile walk.

WHERE TO DOCK

Conanicut Marina
401-423-5820

This full-service marina has a ships store/chandlery, gift shop, extensive dockage and a large mooring field.  It’s located in the heart of town overlooking Newport and the Pell Bridge, but bring your fishing poles for the kids.

Dutch Harbor Boat Yard
401-423-0630

Located on the west passage of Narragansett Bay, this small, local marina has good moorings, launch service and facilities.  At times, the harbor can be rolly from a SW wind up the West Passage.  The holding ground is excellent for anchoring, but the dinghy dock is by seasonal permit only.

Safe Harbor Jamestown Boatyard
401-423-0600

Jamestown Boatyard is renowned for excellent workmanship on all types of boats.  It also has a large mooring field and is in a beautiful location on the East Passage.

WHERE TO DINE

Slice of Heaven
401-423-9866

This family-owned café and bakery with an outdoor patio is an ideal spot for breakfast and lunch, especially if you’re looking for tasty gluten-free and vegetarian options.

J22 Tap & Table
401-423-3709

This lively, year-round restaurant specializes in classic American cuisine and local seafood dishes such as New England clam chowder, lobster tail and seared yellowfin tuna while accommodating meat eaters with wings, burgers and steak tacos.

Village Hearth Bakery & Café
401-423-9282

Take a seat inside this rustic eatery or outside on the patio to enjoy wood-fired bread, pizzas and pastries with a cool beer or wine.  To start your day with a smile, order a cup of the eco-friendly coffee.

Bay Voyage Restaurant
401-560-7979

Inside the Wyndham Bay Voyage Inn, this casual dining establishment presents a seasonal menu of American cuisine standards and seafood with fresh ingredients and a stellar view of Narragansett Bay.

Read More
Chesapeake Bay Calendar of Events
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Summer is here, and it’s time to soak up the sun, visit bustling beaches, learn about boating history and relish the small-town charm around the Chesapeake Bay. Read on for hidden gems and tried-and-true events along the Bay, all the way from Havre de Grace to Cape Charles. Whether you’re a fan of watersports, arts and crafts, street festivals, or coastal cuisine, you’ll find something worth docking for a while.

July

Yorktown Market Days, Fun in the Sun Market

Yorktown, VA

July 16 - Fun in the Sun Market;

August 6 - National Farmers Market Week

Experience a coastal Hampton Roads market on the York River. Check out local produce, meats, seafood, gourmet dog treats, art and more every Saturday this summer, and stop by one of the dates above for a themed, family-friendly extended market.

Where to Dock: Riverwalk Landing

Spirit of America

Havre de Grace, MD

July 2

Enjoy this beautiful town through a mid-century Americana lens at the Independence Day festival. You won’t want to miss the Patriotic Pooch contest, 50s throwback entertainers and best of all, derby races on Pennington Avenue.

Where to Dock: Tidewater Marina

Sea Glass & Beach Crafts Market at Annmarie

Solomons, MD

July 2

Kick off the holiday weekend at the Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center’s annual beach-themed market. Browse all things crafty and sea glass at over 50 booths!

Where to Dock: Solomons Harbor Marina

Kent County Waterman’s Day

Rock Hall, MD

July 3

For the first time since 2019, stop by and celebrate watermen who dedicate their lives to working on the Chesapeake! Enjoy a day of family fun, including anchor tosses and a raffle, culminating in the infamous boat docking.

Where to Dock: Haven Harbor Marina Resorts

Tuckahoe Steam & Gas Association’s 49th Annual Show

Easton, MD

July 7-10

Calling all car, truck and train enthusiasts! This multi-day show will be packed with steam and gas engines; antique tractors, trucks and cars; live steam train models; and even a horse pull.

Where to Dock: Easton Point Marina

Chesapeake Stand Up Challenge

Annapolis, MD

July 9 

Sponsored by the Eastport Yacht Club, this open water race has something for all levels. Experienced paddlers can fight it out in the seven-mile Challenge, and recreational paddlers will enjoy the 3.5-mile Challenge or one-mile Just for Fun race.

Where to Dock: Eastport Yacht Center

Plein Air Easton Art Festival

Easton, MD

July 17-24

Plein air painters express their craft from life instead of the studio, so you’ll see artists from across the country painting all around town. Also attend lectures and workshops, and buy art and other goods downtown all week. 

Where to Dock: Easton Point Marina

14th Annual Hampton Heat

Hampton, VA

July 23

Dock at the transient slips in downtown Hampton, then join the landlubbers at Langley Speedway, one of NASCAR’s best weekly tracks, for the annual Hampton Heat races.

Where to Dock: Bluewater Yachting Center

Southern Maryland Boat Club Bash on the Bay

Leonardtown, MD

July 29-31

Since the Calvert Marine Museum opened an exhibit on the golden era of powerboat racing in 2013, this vintage boat club has put on several races a year. Make your way to the historic Leonardtown Wharf to see vintage powerboats in action.

Where to Dock: Combs Creek Marina

2022 Snakehead Summer Slam

July 30

Annapolis, MD

Things are sure to heat up at the fourth of five tournaments in the 2022 Snakehead Championship Series at Anglers Sport Center. Anglers in kayak/shoreline and boating divisions will be up for all kinds of prizes, including one from the Coastal Conservation Association Maryland’s Great Chesapeake Invasive Count.

Where to Dock: Podickory Point Marina

Annapolis Yacht Club Two Bridge Fiasco Race

Annapolis, MD

July 31

Cruise to the southern Chesapeake to witness this pursuit style race starting between the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Severn River Bridge. Look out for all types of boats in the competition, and even a foiler or two if you’re lucky.

Where to Dock: Annapolis Yacht Club

August

Annual Chesapeake Bay Balloon Festival

Cordova, MD

August 5-7

Embrace the Eastern Shore summer lifestyle at this family-friendly festival. Feel the adrenaline rush of hot air balloon rides and keep the thrill going on the mechanical bull and bouncy house on land.

Where to Dock: Easton Point Marina

A Day of Celebration & Remembrance of Harriet Tubman

Cambridge, MD

August 6 

Celebrate Harriet Tubman’s life, bicentennial and antislavery activism on the Underground Railroad just miles from where she lived as a child. Join the commemorative parade through the streets of Cambridge and enjoy local vendors and entertainment at the festival.

Where to Dock: Cambridge Yacht Basin

Pirates & Wenches Weekend

Rock Hall, MD

August 12-14

Presented by Main Street Rock Hall, you can dock at a local bayfront marina ready for an immersive, family-friendly weekend. The whole family will love the marketplace on Main Street, pirate and mermaid performers, and costume contests, and there will be no shortage of grub and grog.

Where to Dock: Haven Harbor Marina Resorts

Solomons Dragon Boat Festival 2022

Solomons Island

August 13

Cruise to scenic Solomons Island to watch 30 dragon boat teams compete for glory on the Patuxent River and explore the local vendor village. Arrive the week before and you might catch a Dotting of the Eye Ceremony or even a flash mob.

Where to dock: Solomons Harbor Marina

Leo Wardrup Memorial Cape Charles Cup Regatta

Cape Charles, VA

August 20-21

Make your way to Virginia’s Eastern Shore for two days of racing on the Chesapeake. While you’re there, lounge on the Cape Charles town beach, stroll around the retail district and check out Victorian homes in the historic district.

Where to Dock: Cape Charles Yacht Center & Marine Services

7th Annual Coastal Craft Beer Festival

Virginia Beach, VA

August 27

Spend your Saturday at the waterfront Neptune’s Park, tasting your way through 60+ beers, ciders and seltzers from 30 breweries. Learn about all Virginia breweries have to offer or branch out with some regional or national craft brews.

Where to Dock: Rudee's Inlet Station Marina

September

The Waterfront Festival

Havre de Grace, MD

September 9-10

Cruise to the northern Bay to round out your summer with this annual festival, kicking off with a lighted boat parade. Enjoy fun for the whole family with fresh crab and seafood, beer gardens, live music, hot air balloons and a youth fishing derby!

Where to Dock: Tidewater Marina

2nd Annual Portsmouth Paddle Battle

Portsmouth, VA

September 10 

Whether you kayak or paddleboard as a novice or a pro, or enjoy waterfront live music, food and drink, there’s a place for you in the Paddle Battle on the Elizabeth River. Proceeds will support the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum and Lightship Portsmouth Museum.

Where to Dock: Tidewater Yacht Marina

TrawlerFest Baltimore

Baltimore, MD

September 27-October 1

Close out your summer season with Passagemaker’s annual boat show held at Harbor East Marina in the heart of downtown Baltimore. The show hosts impression in-water selections of new and pre-owned long-rang cruisers, coastal cruisers and of course, tons of trawlers. Free seminars and educational demonstrations are held throughout the weekend.

Where to Dock: Harbor East Marina

Read More

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