January 3, 2016: After a week together in Mérida, on December 26 our friends flew home, and we decided to return to the Caribbean coast.
We ended up heading for Acamaya Reef Cabañas, about 3.5 km north of Puerto Morelos. We chose to spend a few days there in large part because we needed to dump the van’s tanks, and Acamaya has RV hookups, which are not too common in these parts. Plus, it’s right on the Caribbean.
Acamaya was overpriced for an RV stay, as the spot was essentially a parking lot cut off from the sea breeze (without enough electricity to run AC), and they weren’t exactly vigilant when it came to keeping the bathrooms and showers clean. Plus, they wanted RVers to bring their own toilet paper, unlike their other guests. What kind of nonsense it that? Still, the staff was friendly and the beach was nice (and generally unoccupied. Almost no one came to use their beach facilities while we were there.)
Puerto Morelos is one of the many gorgeous spots along the Mexican Caribbean, and you can be there in less than a half hour after leaving the Cancun airport. Unlike Cancun, you won’t find a Sr. Frog’s or a Margaritaville or a Coco Bongo. If you’re looking to club, this is not your spot. Like Cancun, you will find pretty much everyone in the service industry speaking English, if you find that helpful.
Surprisingly, like a lot of this coast, it’s also full of Minnesotans. We watched the Vikings play the Giants in a restaurant where many people were watching the game, and no one was cheering for the Giants. We chatted with a couple from Brooklyn, but of course, he grew up in Minnesota. This Sunday, we hope to watch the Vikings play the Packers with a whole different batch of Minnesotans.
There is one obvious issue with the beach at Puerto Morelos, however:
Sargassum (that brown stuff piled on the beach). And it’s not just here, it’s everywhere.
This free floating seaweed has always been a part of the local ecosystem, occasionally showing up in large quantities on the beach. But for more than a year, there has been an unprecedented, constant assault on beaches all across the Caribbean. Various explanations have been put forth, including warmer seas. No one knows when, or if, the Sargassum will subside. The weed is unpleasant to walk on and to swim through (though it really isn’t a big deal when snorkeling) and it gives off a sulfury smell as it rots on the beach. On different beaches, different methods are employed to deal with the daily deposit, from crews with rakes and wheelbarrows to tractors and trucks pulling machinery (mostly ineffective) along the beach.
There’s talk of building a floating barrier off Cancun extending (by this winter, according to one report) all the way down the coast. The idea is the barrier would stop the Sargassum and boats would run up and down and collect it. So far, we’ve seen no evidence of any such barrier.
After 3 days in Puerto Morelos, we headed down the coast to Mahahual, 200 miles to the south.
We spent our first two nights at Blue Kay. The cost was less than 1/3 of what we paid in Puerto Morelos for RV camping. The accommodations were…interesting.
We asked if there was electricity, and were told there was. We went to the spot they suggested we park (next to a moving truck being used as a wood shop), and there was nowhere to plug in. We went back to the office, clarified what we were looking for, and had better luck on the second try. The really nice maintenance guy showed us where to park, then plugged our extension cord into an outlet located inside their hostel room (unplugging what appeared to be another guest’s electronics in the process).
There was no water or sewer hookup, but having just taken care of those needs in Puerto Morelos, we were all set to camp for a few days. We went out to explore Mahahual. On our return, however, when we attempted to use our air conditioning, we managed to shut down all the electricity in the van. We are still not entirely sure why that happened, but gave up on the AC.
Mahahual is home to Mexico’s southernmost cruise port on the Caribbean, (referred to as Costa Maya by cruise lines). In fact, if you were 60 miles further south, you’d be in Belize. Because of the cruise ships, you see things in town like Segway tours and drink prices in US dollars that vastly exceed the price in pesos. At one bar we were asked whether we came in on the boat. When we said no we were quoted a cheaper price.
Mahahual was hit hard by hurricane Dean in 2007, closing down the cruise port for more than a year. But after the storm, the government built the nice malecón (seawall) that you see in the photos above.
Also because of the cruise ships, you see things like the fish pedicure, a somewhat bizarre trend we’ve seen in multiple places during this trip.
With spots like this one along a nice pedestrian walkway, Mahahual has a little bit of the feel of the Playa of Carmen of old. They just need some roving mariachis!
One reason that we decided to venture to Mahahual was the encouragement of new friends and (of course) Minnesotans, Natalie and John, a couple of serious entrepreneurs. They spend half their year in Minnesota, where they each run their own businesses, and half here. When in Mahahual John runs Good Viz Diving, showing folks the good stuff underwater. We met them in Minnesota last summer after a mutual friend (thanks Lucy!) made introductions. They encouraged us to see what Mahahual was all about.
We met up with Natalie and John on our second night in town for dinner at Nohoch Kay where we had delicious fish tacos. They graciously invited us to move out of Blue Kay and camp on their land a few miles up the coast from town. They are right next to Sarita’s Camping, if you’re looking for a remote getaway.
Tired of camping behind the laundry, we happily agreed and drove out on December 31. There we found a great palapa, a beautiful white sand beach and a dog happy for new friends. We rang in the new year with John, Natalie and their friend Lisa, another local dive instructor. John is a seriously good cook – he grilled chicken with his own jerk seasoning.
We might be here for a while.
Note: Just before publishing this, the food truck came by and we spend $1.47 on some groceries: