The penultimate destination during my road trip in Mexico was Mahahaul. It is a 100 kms (1 hr 15 min) drive from Bacalar.
Note: Check out my previous post for things to do and see in Bacalar here.
Mahahaul is truly what you would call a hidden gem of Mexico. It is a small fishing town with a diving problem.
Some may know it as Costa Maya as well, which is an adjacent town to Mahahaul and is a regular cruise stop. When a cruise is anchored at Costa Maya, some of its crowd spills over into Mahahaul, as it is just a walking distance away.
But, the raw magic of this town is experienced only when all the cruise ships are gone and the small town feel is back.
Mahahaul on a map
Mahahaul is a very small town located in the southeast corner of Quintana Roo in Mexico. It is about 2.5 hrs drive south of Tulum, close to the border with Belize.
Why visit Mahahaul?
If you want a real break from your routine life and are looking for a tropical destination that replaces tourist traps with mind blowing sunrises and beach life, with lots of drinking and diving, then Mahahaul is the place to be.
Below are some of the key reasons to choose Mahahaul as your next vacation destination:
Budget Friendly to Luxury Vacation Destination
For the budget traveler, there are a few hostels right on the beach or if you really want to rough it out, there’s an option to camp on the beach too. More on that later.
If you have deep pockets, then there isn’t a shortage of luxury resorts with all the amenities to splurge on too. Mahahul has some good premium hotels lined along its shore line.
It is a destination for any kind of traveler. But, based on my experience, I’d highly recommend it to the backpackers.
Did I mention diving before? Yes, Mahahaul is arguably the best diving destination in Mexico.
Some may question that, in favor of Cozumel. But, one spot, and one spot alone, would be sufficient enough to give it the title of the best diving destination in Mexico.
The Chinchorro Reef, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, is only about 35 kms or a 2 hour boat ride from Mahahul. It is one of the longest reefs in the world and abundant with a plethora of corals – hard & soft and colorful marine creatures waiting to be explored. The only caveat is that you should be a certified diver with good experience to dive in the Chinchorro Reef.
Spectacular Sun Rises
One thing that’s guaranteed in Mahahaul are the magical sunrises on a daily basis. Every morning is a different sunrise, with changing shades of yellows, reds and oranges which lights up the sky as if it is on fire.
Late night parties and bar hopping at beach clubs
There is no doubt that Mahahaul knows how to party and party right!! The entire shore is lined with hotels and shacks that turn into restaurants & bars in the evening.
Mahahaul’s nightlife is different from your usual high end clubbing in big cities like Cancun or Miami. It has several local beach clubs where you’d find loud English, Latin & traditional music playing until the wee hours and people dancing as if there’s no tomorrow.
How many days to spend in Mahahaul?
For those who are short on time, two days are sufficient to explore Mahahaul at a leisurely pace. But, if you’re here to learn to dive, then plan to stay for a minimum of 5-6 days. Generally, an open water diving course takes about 4 days, but keep an additional 1-2 days when you cannot go out for a dive due to unannounced inclement weather, which is common for Mahahaul. If there is a huge storm and the water is choppy, then boats are not allowed to take divers out to sea.
During my 6 days in Mahahul, we had a heavy thunderstorm & rain for an entire day and a half, and could not go out for diving. Instead, we had to stay indoors in the hostel and rest.
Below, I have provided a 2 day itinerary, for things to see and do in Mahahaul.
Day 1: Explore the town, walk to the Lighthouse
When you’re in Mahahaul, turn your chill mode on. As, there’s not a whole lot of things to sight see in town.
You would check in to your hotel/hostel upon arrival and straight away head out onto the beach trail to explore the restaurants and bars that are lined up all along the shore. Mahahaul has only 2 long streets running parallel to the beach. It is easy to explore and navigate around the town. Walking is the best way to get anywhere in Mahahaul.
If you’re here for diving, check out the different dive shops and hook yourself up with one of them for a dive school or if you’re an experienced diver, book your dive for the next day at Chinchorro Reef.
I did my Open Water Certification with Alux Divers Mahahaul. I would highly recommend them.
Note: The recommendation provided above, is solely based on my experience and I’ve not received any form of compensation or affiliation for this recommendation.
Once you’re hungry, stop at any one of the restaurants on the shore for a delicious seafood. Few good restaurants/shacks that I’ve eaten at and would recommend are: The Krazy Lobster, Tropicante, Tequila Beach Club, La Chilangaloense Mezcaleria y Cevicheria, and the local street food vendors on Calle Huauchinango.
You cannot leave Mahahaul without trying a Ceviche. It is available in most, if not all the restaurants in town. Another local delicacy not to be missed is the classic Churros from the street vendors. There is nothing as delicious as the hot Churros fried in front of you, and served fresh with a generous amount of sugar powder sprinkled over it.
When it comes to drinks, seems like Coco Loco is the official choice of drink for Mahahaul. It is available at any beach shack. It is a delicious cocktail made with coconut water, lime juice and rum, served in the coconut shell.
As the evening rolls in and the sun is about to set, walk to the north end of the town. There’s a white lighthouse at the end of the road. It looks very picturesque in the golden light of the setting sun. Later, head back to the center of the town, at one of the many restaurants turned into beach clubs. Let yourself lose to the Latin, hip hop and pop music. The party can go on all night or until you drop!
Day 2: Watch a sunrise and go SCUBA diving
If you’re not already sloshed from the party last night, plan to wake up early next morning, to see the sunrise from the beach. Mahahaul has some of the most stunning sunrises with a picture perfect beach in the background. It is an Instagrammer’s paradise.
When the Sun’s up and your memory card full, head to one of the cafés for a breakfast. Make sure your tummy’s full. If you’ve booked two dives for the day, it’ll be a long day on the water. You may or may not come back to the shore after your first dive.
Boats generally go out between 9:30-10 for the first dive and you should be back by around 2, after your last dive. If you’re going to Chincorro Reef, it will be a longer day, with an early start and a late finish, as the reefs are about a 2 hour boat ride each way from Mahahaul.
Later that evening, grab your last meal in Mahahaul before heading out to your next destination.
Other places of interest in Mahahaul
If you have a car, there are few more things to do and see in Mahahaul:
- Costa Maya Port & Town visit
- Visit Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, an hour north of Mahahaul
- Visit the Costa Maya Ruins
- Explore some high end restaurants in Costa Maya (catered to the cruise crowd)
- Get a massage on the beach
Places to stay in Mahahaul
Mahahaul has a lot of hotels, bungalows, hostels and everything in between to choose from. Here’s a list of the best accommodation options to consider, based on your style and preference of travel (from high-end to budget):
- Hotel Quinto Sole
- Nacional Beach Club & Bungalows
- El Fuerte Beach Resort
- 40 Cañones Hotel
- Luna de Plata
- El Hotelito Mahahaul
- Hotel Panchamama
- Mahasand Hostel (I stayed here for most of my trip – Alux Divers is located in this hostel, so it was perfect for me)
- Camping Luna’s Bar (I camped here for my first night in Mahahaul)
Things to Consider before heading to Mahahaul
Be sure to withdraw some cash in advance, from any big city you’re arriving from. Mahahaul does have a few ATMs, but the transaction fees are too steep.
Also, if a cruise ship had arrived a day or two before your visit, it is highly likely that all the ATMs would be out of cash. It has happened to me and I’ve learned the hard way.
Eventually, I had to transfer the SCUBA course fee online as the credit card transaction fees were high too. Also, I had to keep a track of all my spendings, with the limited amount of cash I had on me.
Phone & Internet
Phone service is at best mediocre in Mahahaul. But hey, if you’re visiting Mahahaul, it is best to disconnect completely from the outside world. That being said, it might become challenging to reach someone you’re traveling with, if you’ll get separated for any reason.
Even the internet is not slow or non-existent in most places. Hotels and hostels may have wifi, but I would not rely on those.
This is unfortunately not a digital nomad friendly location. Those expecting to work while traveling, especially if your job involve meetings and being available online, may face some issues.
If you’re looking for a remote destination, away from the busy tourist traps, Mahahaul is a great little fishing town on the south western corner of Mexico, close to the border with Belize. It is an ideal destination to get disconnected from the outside world. A tropical beach paradise with water adventures like SCUBA diving, snorkeling, kayaking or canoeing awaits your visit.
If you’ve already visited Mahahaul and reading this blog after the fact, I would love to learn about your experience. You can write about it, in the comments section below.