photo of Xcalak

Ocean views in Xcalak, Mexico. (Alison Diviney/Flickr)

What to do in Xcalak

Xcalak (pronounced ish-ca-lak) is the southernmost town in the state of Quintana Roo. It is just a few miles by water from Belize and part of the developing Costa Maya region of Mexico, which is just south of the Riviera Maya. Unlike the Riviera Maya, however, Costa Maya does not have big cities with glitzy nightclubs and posh restaurants. It's still an unknown for most tourists, so you won't find many here. It is a place of stunning natural beauty, lacking, for the most part, the trappings of tourism—which is to say that if you're looking for a developed tourism infrastructure and the kinds of amenities, programs, transportation, lodging, and dining options that resorts to the north have, you're in the wrong place. Telephones, United States newspapers, and ATMs are few and far between. The hotels run on alternative energy sources, meaning you cannot use hair dryers or straighteners, electric coffee pots, or any other energy-draining appliance.

The tourists who know and love Xcalak come for the outdoor adventures, specifically diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing. Some also come to lie in a hammock and veg out while friends take to the sea. Seldom-visited Mayan ruins are nearby and there are only a couple of restaurants in town, so you'll probably do some of your own cooking.

The trade-off for what Xcalak doesn't have is what it does have: deep blue water and skies; the incredibly beautiful Parque Nacional Arrecifie de Xcalak; Cenote Azul; the nearby Mayan ruins of Chacchoben; and guides who know the best bonefishing flats, the best dive and snorkel sites, and the best inlets for tranquil kayaking. There are many places in Mexico that tourism websites and brochures refer to as "authentic" or "unspoiled" Mexico. Xcalak is one of the few for which those designations are undeniably true.

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