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YUCATAN PENINSULA BEACHES
There are the north side beaches and east side beaches. The east side beaches are the most popular. Even during high season the beaches are not really crowded, due to the amount of beach footage.
PLAYA DEL CARMEN
The coastline east of Progreso is pretty desolate except for fishing huts and docks.
If you're dreaming about lush tropical vegetation and beautiful beaches then this coastline is not the one your looking for.
NOTE: We receive e-mail from time to time from somebody complaining that our depiction of the Progreso beach and Gulf water is not accurate. We state at times the water can be murky and not appealing to swim in as anyone who lives there can attest too.
Merida is not close to any beaches. The best beach near is Progreso.
To get to the beach, take a taxi or bus and head southwest on Av Ruiz Cortines for about 30 km. There you will find a quaint beach called Payucan. Snorkeling is not any good here.
There is an island off the coast called Ciudad del Carmen that has a number of beaches that come highly recommended. We have never visited the island. Apparently there is diving and good snorkeling there.
Cenotes are big holes in the ground that usually collect water. Small villages once grew up around them. The outlines of these villages still exist.
By and large most of the Costa Maya coastline is rugged pristine landscape with absolutely no habitats. There is the odd fishing camp but that is about it.
According to the labels on much of what floats ashore the main polluter is Brazil. They do not appear to have any misgivings about throwing their garbage into the ocean.
FLAGSDepending on the weather, wave and tide conditions, each section of a beach is marked with a flag indicating whether it is safe to swim there:
SANDCancun beaches used to have white powder sand, pre-Wilma. Because new sand had to be dredged in to rebuild the beaches, gone is the fine white powder beach. It is now a combination of powder and coarse.
We prefer coarse sand to powder sand because it is easier to get off you. Powder sand sticks to you like glue.
The Mayan Riviera and Cozumel are predominately coarse sand beaches.
The ocean water temperature reaches its highest point in late August early September. Then some days it can be like swimming in a warm bathtub. Even during the coolest times of the year the water is still okay to swim in. It is always hot outside!
SAFETYMost Cancun beaches have lifeguards. Around the main beaches in Playa del Carmen and Akumal there are also lifeguards on duty and warning flags posted. Resorts have lifeguards who double as dive instructors etc.
Beaches in Cancun and around Playa del Carmen are also patrolled by the Mexican Navy who walk up and down the beaches in their uniforms with submachine guns. How these guys handle the heat we will never know. We assume as soon as they get out of visual range they jump in the water to cool off!
The local police also patrol the beaches driving up and down on 4-wheelers.
The Northern beaches in Cancun are the most swim friendly. The ocean waves and winds are buffered by the small island of Isla Mujeres which lies off the coast.
Some women go topless on the beaches in Cancun, however this is more prevalent on the beaches in Playa del Carmen and the Mayan Riviera. Thongs are very popular as well.
There are no nude beaches in Cancun and the Mayan Riviera. These beaches are by and large family orientated. There is however a very hedonist beach located in Tulum, [far south of the ruin's beach] that has a very open minded policy.
We understand that some parents are concerned with the topless issue but you may be surprised to find it not as prevalent as one might presume.
Cancun and the Maya Riviera are international destinations and there are many fashion conscious Europeans. You will see the latest trends in beach-wear on the beaches and there are also countless stores to purchase designer beach-wear and gear.
It is interesting because you can tell where people are from by what they wear on the beach. Canadian and American men wear shorts, sunglasses and hats while Europeans wear speedos, jewelry and sunglasses. The Mexican men wear shorts, usually no hats or sunglasses.
European women have the most stylish bathing suits, especially the Italian women.
There is of course a "beach culture". It is made up of a cross section of tourists on that one vacation a year trip, party animals who can't get enough, locals, and a small group of beach-bums who fly in from all points of the globe. Many earn their living by performing some unusual but entertaining feat. Many are bilingual and find jobs as well. They are a colorful crowd and can be found from Cancun to San Cristobal in Chiapas.
The beaches in Mexico surprisingly are not as entertaining as beaches in Cuba. This will all change after Fidel dies and the Cubans are allowed to travel. This will mean a dramatic export of musicians and general freaks to Mexican beaches, Playa del Carmen in general. Until then, beaches along Cancun and the Maya Riviera remain by and large very family orientated.
The greatest concentration of beach-subculture can be found in Tulum - Playa del Carmen. To find it in Playa del Carmen walk along the beach at night and look for the bongo-players or fire jugglers!