Mexico: The Mainland

If your idea of good H2O involves head-high surf and barracuda-infested reefs, you'll find no better place to hang your hammock

Aug 31, 2001
Outside Magazine

Zapatistas, economic meltdown, corruption, political assassinations—there are so many reasons to cross Mexico off your list these days. Go right ahead; I'll be able to get a better room at a cheaper rate (which is why I don't mind sharing four of my favorite places). Forget the sunsets over the Pacific, the hundred shades of green, the centuries-old civilizations, the relaxing rhythm of life, the gentle humanity of people who honor civility, passion, and grace above all else. It's OK. Go somewhere else. Did I mention the esophagus-eating parasites?

The Yucatán
Cozumel's Palancar Reef is one of the most dramatic places to take on nitrogen anywhere, and its famous 3,000-foot wall is certainly a worth a look—as long as you don't mind standing in line. (I've seen more fish and fewer ugly tourists on the Submarine Voyage ride at Disneyland.) You want to dive and fish and feel tropically soothed? Go to Tulúm, 45 minutes south of Playa del Carmen on the mainland. Not to the ruins (though the setting is spectacular, they're historically inconsequential), but to the little community a mile south, starting at Cabañas Santa Fe. The barrier reef that extends all along the coast of the Yucatán is only 600 yards offshore here; swim out from the beach to see giant groupers, manta rays, and moray eels. Tanks and dive equipment can be rented from the Santa Fe Dive Shop (two-tank dives, $55; 011-52-988-4-2876) right on the sand at Cabañas Santa Fe. The dive shop can also set up fishing trips for tuna, mahi-mahi, and barracuda ($50 per hour includes all tackle).
There's a string of places to stay on Tulúm Beach (including Cabañas Santa Fe, which has campsites and cabañas for $8-$10 per person per night; 987-1-2096), but unless you like the odor of patchouli and the din of rock and reggae blaring from the open-air bars, I'd suggest Qué Fresco (no phone), about a mile south on the road to the town of Boca Paila and the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. The food is legendary, and you can camp ($3.50 per night) or stay in a cozy thatched cabaña ($35). There are four cenotes (deep, freshwater limestone sinkholes) to explore in the area, and it's a handy jumping-off point for exploring the reserve—full of panthers, ocelots, howler monkeys, jaguars, and tapirs. Arrange for tours into Sian Ka'an at Cabañas Ana y José (doubles, $60; 988-0-6022), two miles down the Boca Paila Road from Qué Fresco, or through the Amigos de Sian Ka'an ($40 per person; 988-4-9583). You can also rent bikes at Ana y José for $10 a day to ride the dusty Boca Paila Road. One bonus to staying in Tulúm: The Mayan ruins of Cobá are just 26 miles away.

Filed To: SCUBA Diving

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