It dawned on me recently that I have never given my 2 cents worth on this blog as to what I might do in the area, if I were visiting for the day on a cruise ship. Since I have lived here for more than a few years now, I guess I might know, as well as any, what a day guest can do in the Costa Maya area and have a really fun day. So I asked myself, what would I do if I came here, and only had 5-6 hours to spend, before I had to go back to the ship. There really are a lot of fun things to do here and after careful thought … I decided I would not get back on the ship. But assuming most are not as inclined to tequila and dumb behavior as I am, and actually will need to get back on the ship and go home, here are a few of my favorite things to do in the area, and all can be done on a typical cruise ship stop.
First and foremost, Mahahual, the town in which the Port of Costa Maya is located, is a beach destination and one of the best you’ll find all week. If you are one of those people who get on a cruise ship for blue water and white sand, a beach day here is a must. There are several ways you can do a beach day, depending on the type experience you want to have and the level of comfort you have in remote areas like Costa Maya.
For me, I like remote beaches and good food, so I would find a few others to go with me, to split the cost of the taxi, and I would spend the day at one of the remote hotel beaches. Places like Mayan Beach Garden to the north, and Kabah-Na to the south, have great little restaurants and are located on beautiful sparsely populated beaches. I would contact them ahead and make a reservation, because these places are boutique hotels, so any walk-up business is limited. You can relax in a lounger or hammock on the beach, and enjoy great food and drinks all day long, away from the crowds and people. Some places even have amenities like kayaks and snorkel gear. You can pay the driver for the entire day to wait there and most will do that for about $100 US. The actual taxi rate to those places is about $35 US each way and you can negotiate a round trip where the driver gets paid on the return too, but most day visitors would feel more comfortable knowing their driver is there waiting. If you split the cab with 3 other people, the cost is only an extra $25 each plus the cost of the food and drinks, which are very reasonable at most places in the Costa Maya, which means you can have a great day and not bust your bank. About $50-$60 US per person would do most a very nice remote beach day at a boutique hotel’s beach club and is how I would spend my day, if I only had 5 to 6 hours.
For those nervous about getting too far away from your cruise ship, no worry, the downtown beach is close and one of the best you’ll see all week. There is a reef about 100 yards off the shore that protects the beach from almost any wave action, so the water is always calm, clear and easy to enjoy and relax in. It is shallow and a great beach for small kids; no drop-offs, undertows or big waves. There is a malecon, a concrete pedestrian-only walk that is a couple miles long and lined with really great shops, restaurant/beach clubs, bars and small boutique hotels. Our Tropicante Restaurant and Beach club is right in the middle! Take the port shuttle into town, $3 US per person, and find a place you like and set up a day camp there. Most places do not charge for chairs if you buy food and drinks from them, and once you have a spot, you can stroll from there and shop, or do all the usual beach fun. Most beach clubs can help you set up activities like snorkel, fishing or diving trips, as well as paddle boards, wave runners, hair braids, temporary tattoos, massage, you name it. It is all on the downtown beach.
It is a very safe area and takes just a few minutes to get to from the port. Be aware, the shuttle stops all along the street behind the malecon that runs parallel with the ocean, and there are hawkers and hustlers that try to talk you into coming to their place at every stop. No worry, they are harmless and a smile and a “no gracias” usually works just fine. You can get off at any location and the shuttle will stop about every couple blocks. I would stay on the shuttle until you see the soccer field and the basketball dome on the right. That is the center of the downtown. The shuttle will stop somewhere along there, usually at the place that pays the driver to do so, and if you take the street the basketball dome is on, toward the beach, you will be right in town’s center. The beach clubs are about 4-5 blocks each way, so take you pick! Here is a video we did several years ago to promote the downtown beach area that gives you a very good flavor of the ambiance today. Most of these businesses are changed but the flavor you see has not.
There is one other way to enjoy the beaches in Costa Maya for a fast day and that is by bicycle. Grab your back pack, snorkel gear and blanket, (if you don’t have one, you can buy one anywhere along the malecon) and go into town as fast as possible. Along the malecon are several places that rent bicycles by the hour or day. $10-$15 US will usually get you a bike for the 4-5 hours you might want it. Head south on the malecon, away from your ship, and enjoy the ride. From the center of the downtown malecon, it is an easy ride, less than a mile, to the beginning of the sand road and remote beach area. Every few hundred yards there might be a private villa or small boutique hotel, but most of the ride is along undeveloped shoreline, with mangrove jungle on the opposite side of the road. Great bird and wildlife viewing everywhere. Pick an area for a swim or snorkel, or stop in at a boutique hotel for a cold drink. If you know how to plan it, you can have a local restaurant prepare a picnic basket for you ahead, and you can enjoy a private beach picnic. The road is flat and easy enough for most reasonably fit people to do easily. Just don’t get in a hurry, remember, you’re on vacation. A beach bike ride along the remote south beach road would be my second best choice for a beach day in Mahahual.
I know, not everyone wants to spend a day at the beach, so what else can you do away from the beach. Without any doubt, the Chacchoben Ruins, is the best tour. There are many companies that do tours right inside and immediately outside the port and all are pretty good. For me, the local ruins excursion companies are like pizza, none are bad but some are better than others. The Chacchoben experience can be much more than a ruins tour, which in the jungle setting of Chacchoben, is pretty cool in and of itself. However, some companies do full day ruins tours and immersion in the local mayan villages nearby. After the guided tour, you will go into the villages like Chacchoben or No Bec, and meet local families who will even invite you into their homes and show you things like their gardens, how to make tortillas or even for lunch. Great experience and one not to be missed if you enjoy this sort of cultural history.
Okay, but what do you do if you are too hung over from the party the night before? For this person, I can only suggest aspirin, lots of water, not something we are known for here in Mexico, and to party the night before Belize next trip. You are going to miss a very fun place to spend a few vacation hours. Perhaps next trip. Or perhaps some hair of the dog!