Tulum and Southern Quintana Roo
Tulum has long been favored by travelers who cringe at the splashy resorts and package tourism found in Cancún (and increasingly the Riviera Maya), and in that way is a fitting bridge between Quintana Roo’s booming northern section and its far-less-traveled south.
Tulum has so far managed to avoid the impulse to fill the coast with ever-bigger resorts; prices have certainly gone up, but there are still no megadevelopments here, or even power lines for that matter. Its beaches and cabañas remain as idyllic as ever.
If Tulum is the anti-Cancún, you might call southern Quintana Roo the non-Cancún. Though fairly close in distance, it’s worlds apart by any other measure.
Immediately south of Tulum is the massive Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, one of the Yucatán’s largest and richest preserves, whose bays, lagoons, mangrove stands, and inland forests support a vast array of plants and animals, from dolphins to jaguars; there’s even a large Maya ruin and several smaller temples.
Beyond Sian Ka’an is the “Costa Maya,” a fancy term for the sparsely populated stretch of coast reaching down to the Belize border; the largest towns—villages, really—are Mahahual and Xcalak, with numerous small bed-and-breakfasts and seaside hotels (and a highly incongruous cruise ship port). Most of the beaches aren’t postcard perfect like Tulum’s, but the isolation—not to mention the far-less-expensive lodging—are hard to match.
Inland is the multicolored Laguna Bacalar and several significant but all-but-forgotten Maya ruins. Chetumal, the state capital, isn’t much of a destination itself but has some unexpectedly appealing areas nearby.
© Gary Chandler & Liza Prado from Moon Yucatán Peninsula, 9th edition