Now you’re talking. This is what Playa del Carmen must have looked like 25 years ago. You follow the dead-straight road between the mangroves from the highway to the sea, with a vague awareness that there is water on either side of the road, and then you find yourself on a perfect beach with a lighthouse leaning at an improbable angle (blame Hurricane Beulah back in 1967). Everything else about Puerto Morelos is as laid-back as the lighthouse. Incidentally, it was built with the stones of the local Maya ruins. It reminds us how vulnerable the coast can be to the powers of both politics and nature.
Whaddya want? Accommodation? Maya Luxe has some wonderful villas there. Food? Great restaurants, with fish fresh from the Caribbean. Even a proper bookshop on the central square: Alma Libre.
Once upon a time Puerto Morelos was one of the string of Maya trading ports along the Caribbean coast. A former Maya site was rebuilt as a natural harbor under Spanish rule, to export by boat the products of the selva (jungle) around it, such as chicle (gum), vanilla, tobacco, cedar and cork. In 1900 Puerto Morelos was referred to as ‘Punta Corcho’ (Cork Point). A road was specifically built for transporting the products from the jungle to the port. Today it is called Ruta de los Cenotes and it is packed with cenotes open to the public.
But today, it’s a favorite location for American and Canadian expats who just enjoy life in Mexico. No wonder they call it ‘La Joya del Caribe’, Jewel of the Caribbean. The real name of the town is in honor of the Mexican War of Independence leader José María Morelos, hinting at the troublesome past.
The town is divided between an area around the highway and then 2km down a road through the mangroves is the beachfront community. The town has just two principal streets and you can walk from one end to the other in about 15 minutes. In the center of the beachfront area there is a pier and boardwalk. Although it’s become a favorite of expat artists, painters, and poets, it’s still essentially a seaside village.
The main beach is located in the center of town by the Pelicanos Restaurant, just off the zócalo (main square). Fishing boats line the beach and for me the sight of the boats always brings a feeling of romance and adventure to my heart. At the side of the pier there are boats offering snorkeling tours. On both sides of the main beach there are beach clubs, private properties and vacation rentals.
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