Yucatan in Mexico has become increasingly popular with tourists and travellers alike, with places like Cancun, Isle Mujeres and Playa del Carmen booming with tourism. But you know me, and you know I'm looking for the path less trodden, off the tourist tracks where the crowds haven't yet found. So let me introduce you one of the last unspoilt destinations in Mexico; Xcalak.
Where is Xcalak?
Xcalak is the southernmost town on the Mexican Caribbean coast, on the border with Belize and within the Xcalak Reef National Marine Park.
On the tip of a peninsula that borders the Caribbean sea to the east and Chetumal Bay to the west. It is about 4.5 hours South of Playa del Carmen in car - let's talk about how to get there.
How to get to Xcalak
Nothing worth doing ever came easy, hey? There's a reason not many people make it down to Xcalak. Especially as most towns in Yucatan are so easily accessible, but this gives Xcalak its extra charm, and in my opinion worth every hour of travel.
Really, this is your only option (or group private transfer) . Xcalak is actually really easy to get to from Playa or Tulum, it is literally one road with no traffic. It will take about 4.5 hours from Playa and 3.45 from Tulum. You can hire a car from around 600 pesos a day from wherever you are leaving from. Just make sure you fill up on gas before you leave. There is only one Permex (gas station) once you have left Tulum.
There are only 2 busses that go to Xcalak from Mahahual, one super early around 6am and one at 6pm. You can get an ADO bus to Mahahual which is about an hour from Xcalak. From Mahahual you will have to get a taxi to Xcalak which will cost you around $30 if you miss the bus (or however much the taxi driver wants to charge you - at this point you don't have much of an option).
So, yeah, hire a car.
Things to do in Xcalak
First up you need to know you aren't coming down to Xcalak to go wild and fill your days with activities, second up, you need to know Xcalak is home to some (if not THE) best scuba diving in Mexico. So, if you scuba dive you are in for a treat, if you don't, well isn't it time you learnt to scuba dive?
I honestly think Xcalak has some of the best scuba diving in Mexico, the reefs and corals are untouched, the fish aren't over-fished, the waters are free of other divers, and the manatees.... oh, the manatees. It is also the gateway to Banco Chinchorro a biosphere reserve with a collection of inhabited islands and the Northern hemisphere's largest coral atoll. I've written a full guide to scuba diving in Xcalak over on Girls that Scuba so head over there and check out what dive sites you shouldn't miss!
So, this is a thing I've never done. If there's an ocean I'm going to be in it, and not looking up at the sky. BUT, one thing I do know is there are some awesome birds flying around on surface intervals ;) For more information on bird watching go to a much more reputable source (which isn't hard) like XTC dive centre excursions.
I know nothing about this also, I didn't even know what it was until I asked in Xcalak. So... fly fishing....you can do that in Xcalak. I think.
Where to stay in Xcalak
There a few places to stay in Xcalack so you really don't have many options. Because competition is low prices are fairly high and there's no real budget options in Xcalak.
This hotel is apart of XTC dive centre, located right on the beach looking out onto the ocean. It's clean, spacious and really you never need to leave the 'complex' if you are a diver. You can eat, sleep and dive there - they even offer packages for exactly that.
Rooms start from $100 a night.
A great restaurant which also has some basic accommodation starting from $75 a night (note, I haven't stayed here, and it hasn't come very well recommended).
Located in the 'town' not on the beach this basic guest house starts at $72 a night
Super nice villas on the beachfront, family run, starting at low season at $110 per night.
Great for big groups, but equally awesome for couples wanting a baller house all to themselves. We had friends staying here (2 people) and they hired the whole house for $60 a night, and it's HUGE. It sleeps 12 people, has 5 bathrooms with a huge kitchen, beach area and includes kayaks. It's kind of creepily big for 2 people, but good for a party! Only available on AirBnB - get £15 free AirBnB credit from me here.
There are random AirBnB accommodations that pop up based on availability across Xcalak and it's worth checking up to see if there are any deals. You can also get £15 free AirBnB credit from me here.
Where to eat in Xcalak
If you thought there were limited options on where to stay there's even less on where to eat. If you are staying in an AirBnB or hotel with cooking facilities you may want to cook some meals - but if you are like me and can't/won't cook you can eat out every day at these options:
The Coral Bar and Grill
Part of XTC dive centre, this will be your go-to option with tables and chairs on the sand looking out to the beach. GOOD coffee, a selection of Mexican and international food (no fish served here - they are conscience divers) all at super reasonable prices. Also if you're in to the "who's who" in the diving world you may just meet some big dive and photography names, or at least a Girls that Scuba member ;) Great for post-dive and evening drinks too, opens late.
Costa de Cocos
A little bit further down the beach is Costa de Cocos which brews its our beer - yeah, seriously - called Tarpon ale, and you absolutely can't come to Xcalak without drinking a few of these IPA's. They also do awesome pizzas and Mexican food. Great for an evening out, if that's even a thing in Xcalak.
Who said there couldn't be luxury cuisine in Xcalak? Leaky Palapa combines gourmet cuisine and friendly service in a tropical garden setting to achieve the perfect balance between fine dining and the casual charm of the Mexican Caribbean. Run by two Canadian expats, the Leaky Palapa is more like a supper club than a restaurant. There is a set menu with different themes on different nights. Many have said its worth the trip to Xcalak just to come and dine here alone. Opens in November each year until around April.