Forget Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, this beach takes the cake!
The beach is a symbol for relaxation, but there is nothing relaxing about fighting for a square meter of beach space while passers by are kicking up sand as you try to catch some rays. A crowded, hectic beach defeats the purpose of the beach itself and although Cancun, and Playa del Carmen are known for their beautiful beaches, the places you will find up and down the coast will put those shores to shame.
If you are leaving the resort, and want to explore some more private beaches, selecting what you want, and how long you are willing to spend to get there, will narrow down your options. If you are in Playa del Carmen, you are spoiled for choice because of the accessibility to the "collectivo" busses. so you can get up and down the coast very easily. If you are starting on the Cancun Hotel Zone, its a little bit more effort, but totally worth it when you reach this little paradise.
What are the other beaches on the Riviera Maya?
The Caribbean is paradise no matter which angle you look at it, but it can't be enjoyed when you can't see it. To me, what dictates a great beach, is the beach's beauty in its original state. I am not one for big fancy beach clubs, the water speckled with tourists doing water sports, and drunk, sunburned old men trying to roll onto an air mattress. I want nature. Clean sand. Sound of the waves. Untouched palm trees. Beautiful water.
Once you get outside Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum you will have access to beaches that fill this criteria, with beaches like Xpu-Ha Beach south of Playa del Carmen, Maroma Beach north of Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos south of Cancun, Isla Mujeres' North Beach, across from Cancun Hotel Zone and more. But the best beach, that I have found in the area, is a little protected strip of paradise called Xcacel, pronounced Esh-Ka-Sel.
Sometimes you get ex-pats who have moved or retired to Playa del Carmen, trying to keep this place a secret but in reality, the cat is out of the bag. Since I have been going there a few years ago, to my latest trip, the amount of people has increased but it is still managed at the front entrance, and the money (by donation) to enter, is used to keep the area clean and in good condition. On site, there is even a small cenote, or fresh water swimming hole that you can jump into after burning up in the hot Caribbean sun.
To get to Xcacel without a rental car, you will want to catch the collectivo bus, from the center of Playa del Carmen at Avenida 15 and Calle 2, heading down towards Tulum. These busses are usually new, Toyota shuttle busses with air conditioning that go on a consistent basis (no time table) as soon as the seats are filled. When you get in, the guy with the clip board will as you where you are going and ... (read on)
...you can just tell them Xcacel, and they will know the drop off point. I suggest clarifying with the driver and getting a nod or thumbs up, but they are usually good at remembering. Most of the time, when they are approaching a common stop, as there are no actual designated stops, they will just call out the location, and you respond "Si!" if you want out. As you approach Xcacel, you will hear the driver mention it, pay in small bills, usually a couple dollars per person, and walk down the sandy path towards Xcacel beach and cenote!
As described above, there is a donation to enter. This place could be developed and commercial, but it is not, so don't be cheap and hand over your shrapnel. Be generous, set a good example and hand over at least a 20 peso bill ($1.50) per person. There is a bathroom available, and the cenote is included, but bring your own food and drinks as unlike Xpu Ha beach, there are no restaurants or even a snack bar or store to buy water.
From this point on, you don't need me to tell you what to do. Xcacel boasts a gorgeous canopy of palm trees that make for terrific shade to crack open a beer, or have a sandwich, just be respectful and take everything you brought in with you. Between the green plants on either side, you can take the sand path towards the cenote. There is often a guard there allowing only a certain amount of people at a time, to walk the boardwalk to the jumping off point. The Xcacel cenote, known as Xcacelito (small Xcacel) is a petite but beautiful cenote with clear water and a little raised wooden area to leap off and take the refreshing plunge.
Unless you are Mexican, please remember, this is not your home. You are a visitor. You are a guest. Be respectful to other beach bums, the wildlife, nature and guards at the entrance and cenote. Be a good example, and enjoy Xcacel. It's hard not to.
Ever been to Xcacel?
Do you agree its the best beach on the Riviera Maya? Share this blog to anyone going down to Playa del Carmen, Tulum or Cancun and enrich their vacation! Let me know if any information has changed, or if my memory has failed me and I got something wrong.