Few divers make the 4.5-hour trek from Cancún to Mahahual, as the village’s remote location deters some, but for those who do, the underwater payoff is pristine diving. Beloved by divers, much of the Costa Maya interior is blanketed by a thick tangle of mangroves. This critical habitat serves as a small, tropical nursery for marine life, and all these creatures eventually find their way to the region’s offshore reefs.
Along Costa Maya, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef dips to form three distinct terraces at different depths. At each level, the reef is defined by a series of rolling formations. All of this lies close to shore, so boat rides to sites are within 10 minutes.
That is, unless you’re targeting the much-desired Chinchorro Banks, a coral atoll 21 miles offshore and the final home of many an unfortuate shipwreck. Isolated from the Yucatán Peninsula by swift currents and nearly bottomless water — it’s a nearly two-hour boat ride — Chinchorro is an intricate ecosystem with few rivals, featuring eagle rays, dolphins and whale sharks.
The towns here haven’t yet shed their sleepy vibes, thus preserving atmospheres ideal for those courting the corona-commercial lifestyle. The majority of open-air beach bars substitute rope swings for stools, further lulling you into the soothing, local rhythms. Duck in for a cold one while strolling the pedestrian promenade known as the Malecon, shopping and haggling over the price of a beachside massage.
If you think Mexican food means only tacos, burritos and enchiladas, think again. Head to Xcalak for a cooking class at the Leaky Palapa restaurant, where menu offerings and curriculum change frequently, from snapper in a mandarin habanero glaze to tequila-infused seafood chowder. You’ll pick up local knowledge, such as what cotija cheese is, plus some Spanish to help you better navigate the local markets.
"It’s easier to fly to Chetumal but cheaper to Cancún. If you don’t want to drive, take the ADO bus from Cancún to Mahahual for a simple, affordable option." Luis Enrique Ruiz Munoz, owner of I Love Mahahual tour company