When you think of Mexico, what comes to mind? Mustaches, sombreros, and mariachi bands? Tacos and tequila? Perhaps the sepia tones used in shows like Narcos?
Although these stereotypes might accurately illustrate small tidbits of its culture, Mexico is really so much more than that. It has a rich and interesting history and some of the most incredible beaches in the world.
While most visitors to Mexico’s east coast head directly to the beaches of Cancun, that’s not what you’re going to do. You’re going to proceed to some of the amazing alternatives.
There are beaches that are just as beautiful if not more so than those of Cancun. They tend to be less expensive and less overrun by hotels, resorts, and tourist attractions. So, fly into Cancun International Airport, then check out some of the beaches listed below.
Alternative Beaches to Cancun
1. Xpu- Ha, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo
The first beach of Xpu-Ha is the closest to Cancun, so if you are set on staying relatively close to Cancan, Xpu-Ha is a great option. Just 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, near Puerto Aventuras, Xpu-Ha beach looks like it leaped right off a postcard and into reality.
You’ll quickly fall in love with the cool, calm waters and traditional restaurants. Locals love Xpu-Ha, so you’ll get to see Playa del Carmen from a locals perspective. It’s great for kayaking and swimming, and it’s not uncommon to see beach go-ers playing volleyball. Mexicans are really friendly people, so I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if you joined in on a game!
2. Playa Ruinas, Tulum, Quintana Roo
About an hour from Cucun is a vast exhibit of Mayan architecture that stands right above the exotic beach known as Playa Ruinas in the Tulum Archaeological Zone.
Playa Ruinas’s pristine white beaches, brilliant blue waters, and cliffside ruins at the far north of the beach provide picturesque views. I suggest finding a local guide so that you can see the ruins from the water while snorkeling among the sea turtles.
Keep in mind that it is quite touristic, and it’s much more expensive than some of the other beaches on this list, but it is still a notable beach to visit that is outside of Cancun.
3. Playa de Holbox, Isla Holbox, Quintana Roo
Located about two hours from Cancun, and only accessible by ferry is Playa de Holbox. Ferries leave from the port of San Pedro and take visitors to the island.
This is one of the most peaceful beach destinations in Mexico. It’s the perfect place for travelers wanting to get away from the crowds as there is not a single resort on the island.
While there aren’t any high-rise resorts, there are plenty of bungalows, hotels, and hostels. The main beach is referred to as Playa de Holbox and it runs along the entire northern shore; it might just be the best beach in the entire country. Yep, you heard me right – it is that breathtaking.
The beauty of this Caribbean island is like something out of a dream. The waters are a gradient of turquoise, greens, and blues, and the sand is as white as snow.
Playa de Holbox has shallow water that stretches out for hundreds of meters. The shallow water also attracts flamingos from October to May, and you can go on an adventure hike through the shallow waters to a viewpoint where it’s possible to spot hundreds of flamingos in their natural habitat.
Holbox Island is best for rest and relaxation but there are also a few island activities right by the beach – one of which is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. What do I speak of? Swimming with the bioluminescent plankton that lives in the water surrounding Punta Cocos. This plankton emits a glowing light at night when the water is disturbed by swimmers or waves. You have to see it to believe it!
4. Progresso Beach, Progresso, Yucatan
Progresso Beach is one of my personal favorites. It has a lively atmosphere, especially on weekends, and it’s just a short twenty-minute drive from Merida, Yucatan which is 4 hours from Cancun.
Right off the coast of Progresso, an asteroid hit millions of years ago – not just any asteroid, the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs! Today, there is a museum dedicated to Progesso’s unique history where you can see fossils. There are also cenotès (natural sinkholes with clear blue water) at the El Corchito bio reserve which is just a few minutes from the beach.
It is a beautiful beach that does not have the same problems with seaweed as many of the Cancun beaches do. Oh, and did I mention it has the longest pier in the entire world? It stretches for four miles and has become a common stop for cruise ships passing through the Gulf of Mexico.
You can rent a palapa ( umbrella made of straw) and a chair for $250 pesos ($12) and get drinks, coolers, and fresh seafood brought right to you. Once you have worked up a sweat lounging on the beach (I know it’s hard work), take a dip in the Gulf of Mexico.
The waves are calm, so it’s not exactly the best place for surfers, but it’s the ideal place for those who wanna wade into the water with a Tecate Light (Mexican beer) in their hand. The water is warm and serene all year round.
At night take a stroll along the boardwalk and experience Progresso happening nightlife -You can find live music at many of the bars and if you walk under the pier, you will find rides and fair games for adults and kids alike.
5. Celesutun Beach, Celestun, Yucatan
Celestun Beach is truly off the beaten path. It’s an underrated and undiscovered beach haven. Located about, an hour’s drive from the city of Merida, and about 5 hours from Cancun is the quaint little town of Celestun.
There are a handful of national tourists, but it has remained almost completely untouched. With dirt roads and a few quaint beach bars, it is the epitome of laid-back.
After a long day of R & R, top off your day with an afternoon boat tour. The tour includes a ride through the mangroves – watch out for crocs – and Ojos de Maya ( clear shallow spots in the ocean), pink salt lakes, and bird watching. If you’re lucky you will spot flamingos flying overhead! All this for just 400 pesos ($20 dollars).
During the months of November, December and January you don’t have to get lucky! There are thousands of flamingos! Keep that in mind if you’re going to travel during the holidays.
To Sum Up
There are countless beautiful beaches to visit in Mexico, and 5 beaches outside of Cancun stand out in particular. There are a few simple ways to decide if a beach is right for you. Find out where it is exactly, and don’t be afraid to choose one off the beaten path; sometimes those are most magical anyway.