Mahahaul and Xcalak: Secret Beaches South of Tulum

Mahahaul & Xcalak: Hidden Beaches South of Tulum

A long row of beach clubs and restaurants sits along the coastline. The white-sand beaches are topped with crystal-clear blue water. Snorkeling spots are right in front of you and good scuba diving is just a short boat ride away.

Sound like paradise? Then head down to Mahahaul, Mexico as soon as you can! And if you really want to escape it all, keep going until you hit Xcalak.

The sunset on the beach in Mahahaul

Mahahaul is a small beach community in southern Mexico that is full of picturesque views. It is about 4 hours south driving from Cancun, 2 hours from Tulum, or about 2 hours north of Chetumal. Mahahaul has a lovely stretch of hotels, restaurants, beach clubs, and tour agencies.

Xcalak is another, even smaller town about 40 minutes south of Mahahaul, located at a remote end of a long road. It is best known as a starting point for going scuba diving at Banco Chinchurro, a wreck-divers paradise. Don’t forget to grab your scuba mask, like this favorite from Cressi!

There are two sections to Mahahaul. The main beach area is one of the best beaches near Chetumal and is essentially two streets that stretch along the coastline with about a dozen or so hotels and maybe 15-20 restaurants. Generally speaking, this is the place that most people want to visit. You’ll need to bring some sunscreen so you can enjoy the beach all day long.

There is another section of Mahahaul to the north where there’s a large cruise ship port and a Maya-inspired theme park. Hundreds of taxis wait around to take tourists back and forth between the two areas. This northern section is still quite new. It doesn’t offer a lot of restaurants, some of the accommodations are quite secluded, and the beach area is not as welcoming as the southern section. F

or these reasons, it’s best to stay overnight in the southern section of town. The biggest reason to visit this northern area is to visit the theme park located here. You can see some listings on booking.com.

Some Mexican flags waving in the wind near Mahahaul

Things to Do in Mahahaul and Xcalak

Xcalak and Banco Chinchurro

How to Get to Mahahaul

How to Get to Xcalak

Where to Stay in Mahahaul

Best Places to Eat in Mahahaul

Cruise Ships Destination

Mahahaul’s main influence comes from the large cruise ship port located in the northern section of town. Currently, it can handle three ships at once, and a fourth spot is now under construction. To say that this small beach south of Tulum is growing is an understatement.

During the day, the town can get a little busy. It’s not packed by any means, but if the weather is nice and a lot of ships are in town, the town’s population goes up exponentially. People flock in from the ships, grab a set of chairs by the water, and hang out all day.

There are plenty of things to do in Mahahaul. Hanging out at the beach clubs is the main highlight. You’ll be offered a wide variety of food and drinks, massages, and boat tours. Vendors of all sorts sell small trinkets and souvenirs along the boardwalk.

In the early morning and late afternoon/evening, the town empties out and a calm takes over. The restaurants aren’t crowded, the sunrises and sunsets are beautiful, and a relaxed vibe takes over town.

A view from the hotel balcony in Mahahual, Mexico

Mahahaul Beaches: Crystal Clear Water & White Sand

White sand beaches with crystal-clear water are hard to find. But not here. In Mahahaul, this section of coastline is full of sand so white it looks like snow. And the water is warm and crystal clear.

The best spot to enjoy the beach is in town because the many restaurants and beach clubs regularly sweep up and clear out any of the sargassum (seaweed) that flows into town. These beach clubs all place lounge chairs and palapas right up to the water’s edge. Meaning there is very little space to put down your own chairs.

We loved grabbing a front row spot under a palapa. Our feet sank into the water as we enjoyed the sun on our face and the full service restaurants catering to our every need. At times we’d even hop off the chairs to sit down directly in the ocean right in front of us, drink in hand. Ah, paradise.

It helps to have comfortable sandals to walk around town. We highly recommend splurging on Rainbow ones, like the ones I’ve been using for ten years. You won’t need another pair for years and the comfort will have you never using another brand again.

Chairs on the beach in Mahahaul, a hidden beach in Mexico

Things to Do in Mahahaul and Xcalak Mexico

Mahahaul, Mexico is the perfect location to spend days on the beach, stick close to your hotel, and have a very calm vacation. Since everything is located in one small vicinity, you’ll find little reason to venture out of the area. But if you’re looking for something else to keep you occupied, have no fear. You can find quite a few options for things to do in Mahahaul and Xcalak.

One of the easiest and most popular ways to pass the time is to take a walk along the boardwalk. It stretches about 1.25 miles (2 km) from the lighthouse to the north all the way down to the main municipal pier to the south. You’ll pass by nearly every restaurant, hotel, and vendor in town on this boardwalk.

If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, there are a lot of different tour options in Mahahaul. The most popular are the snorkeling tours. These usually take you on a 15-minute boat ride south along the coast to an area of coral reef that is dense with aquatic life. The water remains quite shallow and the snorkeling is relatively easy since there is usually little current. It’s best to bring your own snorkel and mask like this affordable Wacool package, otherwise you’ll have to pay a fairly ridiculous fee to rent.

If you’re more into scuba diving than snorkeling, you’re in luck here too. Scuba expeditions leave daily from the many shops all over Mahahaul. Most commonly, they dive just off the coastline, making it a pretty quick day of diving. But there’s a more adventurous place to dive near here if you’re up for it. Xcalak. Keep reading to find out more.

The Mayan Lost Kingdom is a large theme park in the northern section of town. This caters to the large crowds coming off of the cruise ships, but it has a lazy river, zip line, kids area, and pool area. The food is served buffet style. This isn’t exactly our cup of tea, but we can see how it might be a great outing for a family or large group.

Some of the street art on a bench in Mahahaul, a hidden beach near Tulum, Mexico

Xcalak and Banco Chinchurro

South of the main Mahahaul area, the houses start to become less dense, eventually leading to an open coastline. Continue south for about 40 minutes and you’ll hit the small town of Xcalak.

The main reason that a lot of people come to Xcalak is to go scuba diving. Leaving from here, boats venture an hour offshore to Banco Chinchurro. This is an ideal location for scuba diving. The coral reef is excellent and you can find an abundance of aquatic life here.

Don’t forget to bring your dive computer. This Suunto Zoop is highly reviewed and will help you have a safer dive.

Plus, there are quite a few shipwrecks to visit with more being discovered regularly. This is a wreck divers paradise. The diving costs around $2,500 pesos and snorkelers can go with for $1,600 pesos.

Xcalak is a small town with a few restaurants and hotels. It is not touristy at all and you can escape much of the crowds found at Mahahaul by venturing down here.

A dive shop in Mahahaul and Xcalak Mexico

How to Get to Mahahaul

By Car: Mahahaul is about four hours south of Cancun, two hours south of Tulum, and less than two hours north from Chetumal, if you’re driving in your own car. We rented a car in Playa del Carmen, but you can also easily find one in Tulum or Cancun.

From either Cancun or Chetumal, take Highway 307 and turn east onto El Cafetal-Mahahaul. After driving about 30 minutes, make a right just before you reach the ocean. You’ll likely see loads of taxis coming in and out of the road. It is the one and only entrance to Mahahaul’s beach area.

By Bus: If you’re using public transportation, ADO buses come from Tulum, Bacalar, or Chetumal. You generally have to pass through Bacalar, where you can purchase a one-way ticket to Mahahaul for $80 pesos from the ADO station. Before you do so, however, consider using one of the colectivos instead.

Haven’t heard of Bacalar? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Bacalar and uncover a new destination that is full of beauty and fun!

The colectivos regularly run between Chetumal and Mahahaul, passing through Bacalar. These are on a first-come, first-served basis and cost $90 pesos. We hopped in one that was impeccably clean, had great A/C, and was completely empty. Meanwhile that same day, the ADO bus was packed to the brim and people were waiting in Bacalar for the next bus.

The sign of Mahahaul, just south of Tulum

How could this be? Because the ADO buses in this area do not require a ticket beforehand. And having a ticket on the ADO bus does NOT save you a seat. Yes, you read that right.

Even if you purchase a ticket in advance, you are not guaranteed to get on the bus. And even if you do get on the bus, seat assignments are not respected; many times people have to stand until a seat opens up. We saw some very confused and unhappy travelers who purchased tickets just to realize that they had no seat and had to wait for the next bus. Read more about how to ride ADO buses in Mexico here.

For this reason, you can simply wait outside the station in Bacalar and hop on the first ADO bus, Caribe bus, or random colectivo headed to Mahahaul. You’ll pay as you enter usually, but sometimes not until you get off. So avoid buying the ticket at the station and just hop on the first one you see to Mahahaul. We recommend getting here by noon if at all possible, and avoid relying too heavily on this transportation on Sundays since they can be extremely busy.

Kristina from Off Path Travels on the beach in Mahahaul

How to Get to Xcalak

As of February 2019, buses depart twice daily from Mahahaul to Xcalak: 8:30 am and 7:30 pm. It costs $52 pesos per person. You can check in with the ADO office in Mahahaul to verify the current details.

Buses depart Xcalak, heading back through Mahahaul, then Bacalar, finally ending in Chetumal, twice daily as well. 5 am and 1:50 pm.

Where to Stay in Mahahaul

Mahahaul has many options for accommodations along the beach. Most go for around $1,000 to $1,500 pesos ($50-$75 USD) per night. But there are a couple of lower-budget options as well.

Resort Boutique El Fuerte (Calle Róbalo Manzana No. 16 Lote 01, Mahahual) is a great option with balconies overlooking the beach and an onsite restaurant. The rooms also come with a kitchenette so you aren’t forced to eat out at every meal. The rooms cost around $1,500 pesos per night.

The kitchen at Resort Boutique El Fuerte in Mahahaul, Mexico
A bed in the Resort Boutique El Fuerte in Mahahaul

The best budget option we found was Hotel El Profe. This basic accommodations spot is on the back block of Mahahaul, so there are no beach views. But they have A/C and the proprietors are onsite and very friendly. We did notice the top level rooms lack sufficient water pressure, so make sure to check your room carefully before paying. These rooms cost around $700 pesos ($35 USD) per night. Hotel Sorez is across the street and has similar options.

Cabañas del Doctor is a popular hotel with cabins. It is located just outside of the main beach area (but still on the beach), south of town. The rooms are sizable, some have A/C, and during the busy season, there is a small restaurant on site. These usually go for around $800 pesos per night.

Blue Kay Eco Resort is probably the most popular accommodations in Mahahaul. On paper, this place sounds very cute. Two-person cabins are located right next to the beach. There are a large gym and restaurant onsite.

However, these are located in the area where many of the cruise ship crowds are at. And the cabins lack privacy. The bathrooms are shared, outside of the cabins. The going rate in early 2019 was around $1,000 pesos. We recommend checking out other hotels in the area which offer superior accommodations for a similar price.

The front of a hotel on the boardwalk in Mahahaul Mexico

Best Places to Eat in Mahahaul

With so many options along the beach, how do you choose?

We like to shoot for authentic Mexican cuisine without the tourist prices. And we have a few hidden gems to recommend. One is just behind The Krazy Lobster. It is called Comedor Económico and offers all sorts of sopes, tacos, empanadas, and more. Incredibly cheap prices for flavorful, real Mexican food.

Loncheria El Primo is another great place for authentic Mexican food. Tacos and sopes are the go-to items here as well. Unbelievably cheap. Just be prepared to seek out service when you need something.

In the morning, there is a small stand that serves up great tacos and empanadas. This is right by the public access point next to Hotel Mahahaul. Get here early though! She starts selling out by around 7 am. But you’ll be hard pressed to find a better value in town and some of the options are incredible. She’ll open up each of the coolers to show you what’s currently in stock.

If you want to find a restaurant on the water, a lot of the beach-facing restaurants are all quite similar, to be honest. Most serve decent quality food at tourist prices. Some even accept USD. Your best bet is to find a location you enjoy, check out the menu, and go from there. The Krazy Lobster, Maya Bar, and Jamie’s are three of the biggest and most popular places.

There are some fairly nice restaurants in Mahahual too. Divino Delicia Italiana is a town favorite, with a lovely atmosphere off the beach. Ibiza Sunset is known to have some of the best food in the area. Pizza Papi will serve up a great pie. And Nohoch Kay is a bit farther south, known for great seafood and friendly service.

As you can see, there are plenty of places to eat in Mahahaul. Like a lot of authentic Mexican towns, the food is a highlight of the area.

The restaurant on the lower level of Resort Boutique El Fuerte

Summary of Mahahaul

With pristine beaches and tons of beach clubs lining the water, Mahahaul is the perfect place to go for utter relaxation. You can be served food and drinks all day, get a massage, go snorkeling, and much more. If you’re willing to look, you can also find excellent authentic food at cheap prices.

Just be aware of the cruise ship mania, avoid the biggest traps in town, and you’ll have a blast. It’s likely that this area will continue to grow quickly, so try to get here quickly if you can!

Did you know Mahahaul exists? Or do you know of any other secret beaches near Cancun or Tulum? Leave us a comment below to share!

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Secret Beaches in Mexico- Mahahaul & Xcalak
Mahahaul & Xcalak- Secret Beaches in Mexico

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