A rental car takes you to less-crowded stretches of sand.
Some beaches encourage relaxation, inviting you to prop up an umbrella and open a good book. Others offer opportunities for diving on reefs brimming with countless colorful fish. Some provide seasonal wildlife watching, and some are lined with restaurants and eclectic shops. With a rental car and a sense of adventure, you can find all of the above along Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
On a sun-drenched road trip, three friends and I explored a handful of far-flung beaches just off Highway 307, which stretches 230 miles from Cancun south to Chetumal. For part of the trip, the resort town of Playa del Carmen, an hour south of Cancun, served as our home base. When exploring beaches farther south, we stayed in the sleepy lakeside town of Bacalar, about 40 minutes northwest of Chetumal. Every day we ventured out in search of uncrowded spots to soak up some vitamin D and enjoy being together.
As luck would have it, the 700-mile-long Mesoamerican Reef — the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere — lies in the Caribbean Sea right off Playa del Carmen. Some 500 species of fish live on the reef, and sea turtles or dolphins are often sighted. Numerous dive centers in both towns offer SCUBA and snorkeling tours.
At Playa Akumal, 35 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, we donned snorkels to go in search of the turtles that swim in the warm, shallow water. The beach opens at 9 a.m., and the earlier you arrive, the better your chances of spotting the turtles, as they tend to move farther out when surrounded by a lot of swimmers. Touching or harassing the turtles is illegal, as they are protected by the Mexican government.
At Xcacel Área Natural Protegida, a nature preserve about 15 minutes south of Playa Akumal, green and loggerhead sea turtles nest from May to November. During that time, recreational activities are restricted to one side of the beach, and staff members explain how to keep the turtles safe. You won’t find much in the way of amenities or facilities here, but you likely will find an empty patch of sand to spread a towel.