CANCUN is one of the most visited spots in Mexico. Its crystal blue waters, white sandy beaches, and luxury hotels are hard to resist; however, for those who want to spend their coastal vacations in a more peaceful way, Cancun can be crowded, noisy, and overwhelming.

Here are 7 equally beautiful places in the Mexican Caribbean and Pacific that receive less tourist attention.

1. Punta Allen

Photo: Tim Cage

This small fishing community is situated at the very end of Sian Kaan, a biosphere reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, between the Caribbean Sea and Bahia de Ascension. Due to federal restrictions on construction, the place has preserved most of its authenticity. The hotels and restaurants are modest, and the food is cheap. There are a number of isolated beaches — and the coral reef, the second biggest one in the world, is only a few paddles away.

How to get to Punta Allen:
Google Map location

  • If you have a car, cross Tulum, enter the reserve and drive all the way to your destination. The road can be bumpy.
  • Take a cab from Tulum to the entrance of the reserve and ask for local boats that regularly sail around 4 PM to Punta Allen.
  • Take an organized tour from Tulum or Cancun. (Note that this option is the most expensive)

When exploring Sian Kan, remember to stay on marked paths and bring binoculars to observe monkeys, crocodiles, iguanas and the many birds nesting in the reserve. Use a biodegradable sunscreen to not endanger the protected marine wildlife.

2. Xcalak

 XcalakOthón P. Blanco, Mexico#diving

With less than 300 inhabitants and a couple of hotels, it’s highly unlikely you’ll bump into another tourist in Xcalak — even though the near Atoll Reef Banco Chinchorro is home to at least 9 shipwrecks, and thus attractive to divers from all over the world.

How to get to Xcalak:
Google Map location

  • Since Xcalak is quite remote, the most advisable way to get there is by car.
  • There is also a bus leaving from Chetumal twice a day.

If you decide to book a diving trip to Banco Chinchorro, have in mind that the group has to be formed of at least five divers for the shop to organize the trip.

3. Mahahual

If you prefer a beach with more developed tourist infrastructure and closer to Banco Chinchorro, you need to head to Mahahual. This cruise ship port is much larger than Xcalak, and has a number of hotels, restaurants, bars and souvenir shops.

How to get to Mahahual:
Google Map location
There are several bus connections to Mahahual. The only direct public transport connection with Mahahual is from Chetumal. Buses depart regularly from different bus stations. Another option is departing from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum and transferring in Felipe Carrillo Puerto.

Have in mind that the arrival of cruisers is very unpredictable so you might need to share the beach with 50 or 1000 people.

4. Tulum

 TulumTulum, Mexico#alone # caribbean

Tulum has been a popular spot for backpackers for a long time. With the construction of luxury huts, the village has seen the arrival of high-end visitors with more up-scale needs, such as luxury grill restaurants and chic bars. Fortunately, these are relatively scarce, so Tulum has managed to preserve most of its hippie soul.

How to get to Tulum:
Google Map location
Tulum is only two hours away from Cancun so it’s easy to get there. You can take a bus directly from the Cancun airport or head to the center of town and take it from there — they’re cheaper and more frequent. You can also take a direct bus from Merida, they depart every 3 to 4 hours.

When booking a place to stay, take in consideration that Tulum is approximately 2 miles away from the coast. If you don’t want to walk or bike — or if you don’t want to spend money on a taxi every day to get to the ocean, you might want to stay in one of the fancy seaside huts.

5. Huatulco

 HuatulcoHeroica Puebla de Zaragoza, Mexico#beachlife #oaxaca

Huatulco is a group of 9 bays and 36 beaches on the Mexican Pacific coast, well-known for its sustainable tourism. Huatulco was the first tourist community in America to receive the Green Globe Certificate for its commitment to making positive contributions to people and the planet. All wastewater from hotels is specially treated to be used afterwards for watering golf course and surrounding trees and lawn — and 90 percent of its electric power is produced by wind farms.

The majority of seaside hotels are high-end, with all-included offers. Hotels in Santa Cruz Huatulco, the main settlement several miles from the coast, are simpler and more accessible.

How to get there:
Google Map location

Tangolunda Bay has many hotels, but if you stay there you’ll have to use the pool or take a taxi to another bay because the water is too rough to swim in this area. Chahue and Maguey bays have more tranquil sea and many seafood restaurants but are without accommodation options (they are good for day trips). Chacahual, located inside the National Park Huatulco, is the most untouched area and only accessible by the sea.

6. Holbox

 Isla Holbox MexicoHolbox, Mexico#beach #peace

This island in the north of the Yucatan Peninsula is 25-miles long, less than 2-miles wide, and is located within the Yum Balam natural reserve — which means it’s rich with flora and fauna. At the very right end of it, the beaches are crowded with flamingos and the left part is famous for whale observations. The island has only 1500 inhabitants, sandy roads, and no cars. Although it’s officially part of the Mexican Gulf, the clear blue waters and colorful wooden houses create an authentic Caribbean spirit.

How to get to Holbox:
Google Map location
Take a ferry from Chiquila; it’s a short 20-minute ride.

One of the main activities on the island is fishing, so seafood is always fresh and cheap. Catching lobsters is prohibited between March 1st and July 30th, so if you crave lobster pizza, one of the island’s specialties, reconsider the dates of your vacation. Despite the prohibition, you might be offered lobster in some restaurants; I advise you abstain from ordering it.

7. Isla Mujeres

Photo: MUSA

Only a few miles from Cancun is the less touristy and more peaceful island of Mujeres. Some of the best sites on the island are Playa Norte (North Beach), considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico; Musa Underwater Sculpture Museum, where stone sculptures of different sizes and shapes are sunk to serve as an artificial skeleton for corals; the ruins of Hacienda Mundaca; and a sea turtle sanctuary called Tortugranja.

How to get to Isla Mujeres:
Google Map location
A ferry dock is located a few minutes from downtown Cancun and boats depart every half an hour from 5 AM to 9 PM.

Visit Isla Contoy. This national park, abundant with bird and turtles, has a strict visiting regime. Only 200 people are allowed to visit it daily to minimize the impact of tourism. Ask for the permission in the park’s office.

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