Zona Hotelera Beaches
Cancún’s beaches are back! A series of severe hurricanes had left the famous shoreline rocky and sloped for a few years, and everyone wondered if the beaches would ever recover.
The Mexican government took matters into its own hands, importing hundreds of tons of sand to fill in spots that had been stripped bare. The result is the beaches are as wide and glorious as ever—in some places, even more than before.
Will it last? That’s the million-dollar question. Everyone has their own theory and prediction, but the fact is only time—and a few hurricane seasons—will tell. Keep your fingers crossed.
Be aware that the surf along the Zona Hotelera’s long east-facing leg can be heavy. You should pay attention to the colored flags on the beach: Green is Safe, yellow is Caution, red is Closed.
There are lifeguards near all public access points, but drownings (and near-drownings) do occur occasionally. The beaches along the short north-facing leg are much calmer.
For really calm waters head to Isla Mujeres, where the water can be waist deep more than 75 meters (250 feet) from shore. The Laguna Nichupté is not recommended for swimming because of pollution and crocodiles.
Playa Caracol (Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 8.5) has a small stretch of beach right at the public access point, but it’s not too pleasant and often very crowded. The beach is much better just east of there, in front of the Fiesta Americana Coral Beach, but you have to cut through the hotel to get there.
Visible from the Forum by the Sea mall, the beach and water at Playa Chac-Mool (Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 10) have some huge rocks right at the access point but are totally rock free just a few hundred meters south, in front of the Le Blanc and The Royal. There is parasailing here, and the hotels cast afternoon shadows on the beach, in case you forgot your umbrella.
The City, a popular nightclub, has a beach club called Playa Cabana (Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 10, tel. 998/848-8380, ext. 115, www.playacabana.com, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, US$10 pp) on Playa Chac-Mool. It’s namesake cabanas—more than two dozen of them—are raised wooden platforms with flowing linen curtains, water misters, private audio system, and room for six. There’s also a DJ, two narrow infinity pools, and a full bar and restaurant, and, of course, that gorgeous beach just steps away. Right in the heart of the Zona Hotelera, it’s definitely a scene, but that’s pretty much the point.
Playa Marlín (Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 12.5) is a clean, attractive beach—narrower and steeper than it was before Hurricane Wilma, but still a nice spot. Look for the access point between Plaza Kukulcán mall and the police and fire station; there’s plenty of parking on the dirt road parallel to the beach, and the mall has restaurants and a kids club just a few steps away.
Playa Ballenas (Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 14.5) is a long, pretty beach located between the Ritz and the Marriott hotels. A kiosk near the entrance rents personal watercraft and boogie boards, and offers parasailing and banana boats. As at other beaches, walk a little way in either direction to get away from the crowds. There is no food or drink service here. Parking is at the entrance.
The access path to Playa Delfines (Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 17.5) is on a bluff affording a panoramic view of the beach and water unobstructed by hotels. The beach has become more inclined, thanks mostly to large storms shifting the sand around, but it’s still scenic and enjoyable. There’s a mix of tourists and local families, and you may even see surfers. (The waves can be strong here—take care swimming.)
Beach umbrellas and chairs are often for rent here, though there are also public palapas in place. The beach is across the road from the El Rey ruins, which makes a nice side trip. There is no food or drink service here. There is a parking lot at the entrance; the bus also stops here.
Beach Access in Cancún
There is a notion that the high-rise hotels have monopolized Cancún’s best beaches, but this is only partly true. While most hotels do front prime real estate, all beach areas in Mexico are public (except for military zones). Hotels cannot, by law, prohibit you or anyone else from lying out on a towel and enjoying the sun and water.
Many high-end hotels subvert this by making it difficult or uncomfortable for nonguests to use “their” beaches: Very few maintain exterior paths, and others spread guest-only beach chairs over the best parts. (In the hotels’ defense, they also typically do a good job of keeping their areas clear of trash and seaweed, which can mar otherwise beautiful beaches.)
If your hotel has a nice beach area, you’re all set. If not, you can just walk through a hotel lobby to the beach — as a foreigner, you are very unlikely to be stopped. (Sadly, locals are likely to be nabbed if they do the same thing.)
But even that is unnecessary: The city maintains several public access points marked with large white signs along Boulevard Kukulcán. The area right around the access point is often crowded, but you can simply walk a couple hundred meters in either direction to reach less-crowded areas.
One public access point — Playa Delfines, at the southern end of the Hotel Zone — has no nearby hotels and is used by a refreshing mix of Mexican and foreign beachgoers.
© Gary Chandler & Liza Prado from Moon Yucatán Peninsula, 9th edition