photo of Puerto Morelos

Turquoise waters in Puerto Morelos. (ThinkStock)

What to do in Puerto Morelos

Location, location, location. Vacationers looking for an up and coming destination—one with low-key, traditional charm and without the glitz, pulsing nightlife, and spring-break crowds of other popular Caribbean coastal cities—should look no further than Puerto Morelos. Located between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, just 20 minutes south of the Cancun airport, Puerto Morelos is a gateway to all that Cancun and the Riviera Maya offer, yet it remains blissfully a world apart.

On a Friday night, the small square is filled with local families rather than tourists. There are no trendy nightclubs in which to dance until dawn, and high-end jewelry shops and boutiques are nowhere to be found outside of the most expensive hotels. You can leave your fancy clothes at home.

What locals—many of them ex-patriots from Scandinavia, Europe, and the United States—and visitors enjoy here is a friendly, easygoing, and supremely relaxing atmosphere, but with easy access to the best of Mexico: archaeological wonders including Tuluum and Coba, world-class golf at nearby Mayakoba (home to Mexico's only course hosting a PGA championship), exceptional dining and shopping, and nightlife.

Puerto Morelos may be a town in transition—its tourist infrastructure is not as highly polished as that of Cancun and Playa—but it is not lacking in amenities. There are five-star hotels with spas and blue pools bordered by brilliantly colored bougainvillea and manicured lawns. There's a serene stretch of beach with a reef and National Marine Park just 500 meters offshore, and a long dock out into the water from the beach near Ceiba del Mar is THE place for a romantic sunset wedding. The scuba diving rivals that of the coast's better-known areas. On land, local activities include horseback riding and strolling through Jardin Botanico Yaax Che (botanical gardens) or Crococun Zoo, and most hotels arrange eco-tours and other excursions.

Puerto Morelos is not for every visitor. If you want to mingle with locals and experience authentic culture without busting the budget, if relaxing and dressing down is your vacation ideal, it may be just the place for you. My advice: See it soon. Change, with all of its accompanying positive and negative attributes, is already happening. Meanwhile, Puerto Morelos remains a charming anomaly, resting quietly between two of Mexico's thriving Caribbean resort cities.

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