The Mayan Riviera's Best Kept Secret

Poised with little fanfare between flashy Cancun and trendy Playa del Carmen is the quiet pueblo of Puerto Morelos. This village is a throwback to Mexican towns of old. In fact, it has been a working fishing village for probably a millennium - first with native Mayans and later with the invading Spaniards. Today's locals are a mix of the two, and fishing, for the time being, still feeds a number of families here.

With a fast growing tourist culture on all other fronts, many wonder at the tranquility and essence of time standing still that is the trademark of Puerto Morelos. During the dog days of summer, locals refer to it as Muerto Morelos.

With natural beaches and a fair share of turtle grass at certain times of the year, it is clear why Playa del Carmen "won out" for the tourist dollar. But Playa's lack of mangroves like those surrounding Puerto Morelos, has also made it the poster child for uncontrolled growth. In Puerto Morelos, the mangroves form the barrier of the town's limits as they are protected by national law and cannot be filled. In Playa del Carmen, with no mangroves and flat, open terrain, the sprawl continues to the North, South and West. Tourists who had fallen in love with romantic Playa del Carmen ten years ago are slowing moving on and discovering the one town on the Maya Riviera that has not sold out to development and irresponsible growth.

Strolling on the uncrowded beaches of white sand, you’ll notice pelicans gliding gracefully in formation over the surf. It is possible to walk for miles and only encounter a few others going about their way. This is also a great area for swimming since the reef shelters the shore from large waves. To the south of town is "Magic Beach," where a break in the reef allows the waves to come directly upon the shore bringing with them many varieties of seashells and driftwood.

One of the most fascinating operations in Puerto Morelos is the tortilla factory. Still the staple of the Mexican diet, tortillas are made fresh daily. Edelberto, the baker, will hand you tortillas hot off the fire, along with a smile. Another local favorite is Niko’s BBQ chicken. A friendly outgoing Mayan, Niko will take your order in the morning, barbeque it slowly over charcoal while he bastes it with his special “secret Mayan sauce” and have it ready for you at the time you choose. Absolutely mouthwatering, it is something you must treat yourself to. One large chicken is 50 pesos and worth every centavo! Both of these essentials are only steps from the back door of Casa Merlot.

It may seem mere providence that has kept this pueblo intact while the rest of the Yucatan's beaches experience exponential growth. It is hardly that. The peacefulness of Puerto Morelos has been preserved solely through the directed and hard-earned efforts of a serious group of Puerto Morelos citizens and environmentalists who have been actively campaigning against the powers that be to turn this town into yet another emerging market for tourism.

Puerto Morelos was declared a national reef park by presidential decree to preserve the beauty of the Palancar Reef which lies less than one-half mile off the coast. The irony of this move is that now many more tourist snorkeling boats from Cancun come down to this beautiful reef to enjoy the clear blue waters.

Puerto Morelos dive masters tend to be sensitive to this natural wonder and have a more environmental style with their clients explaining how fragile the reef is and that even a mere touch can destroy what took thousands of years to create. A local agency is now in place that monitors activity within the confines of the reef park, which will help to better preserve it.

Puerto Morelos has everything you need to live comfortably and simply. It has all amenities: restaurants, ATM's, gift shops, grocery stores, fruit market, book store, church, drugstore, travel agency, car rentals, water sports concessions, money exchange, Internet cafe, a medical clinic, and a wonderful town square where people of all ages come to gather.

The ambiance of Puerto Morelos is very different from its larger and more developed neighbor, Cancun and Playa del Carmen. "Tranquil", "friendly", "artistic", "inclusive", "peaceful", "ecologically-minded', "restorative", "quaint", "relaxing", "unique", "quiet", -- these are words that locals and sojourners alike use to describe the town.

We can not forget our exotic flora and fauna all around us. Breathtaking sunsets and sunrises, accompanied by the sights and sounds of birds in their natural habitat, are commonplace. In Puerto Morelos, you are surrounded by the simple beauty of nature and realize very quickly that humans are but one small part of a very vast and complex universe.

Those who choose to stay in Puerto Morelos come to adopt its unhurried pace and lifestyle, enjoying the unique opportunities for both community and privacy that this tropical paradise offers. Visitors repeatedly return to experience the renewal that being in this environment brings to their lives.

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