My mother and I are planning a trip in October/November and we would love to experience authentic Mexico AND the beach. In other words, no big resort towns. Ideally we would stay right on the beach and have access to cenotes, be able to walk to town and authentic Mexican cuisine, and hopefully celebrate Dia de los Muertos. My fantasy? San Miguel de Allende on the beach. From my research so far, it seems like you can have a lovely village, or a beautiful beach, but not both together. Can someone please prove me wrong? Thanks in advance for any guidance you provide!
You can't have both together
Merida is nice but no beach. Valladolid has a cenote you can swim in thats about it.
If you stay in town and visit the beach for a day, you could stay in Merida and visit Celestun. Staying in Celestun might be too resort-y. There are cenotes near Merida and I think tours that will take you if you didn't want to drive or do the bus.
Progressive, or the northern coast will be less touristy.
Can someone please prove me wrong?
Nope, I can confirm that you're pretty much right.
A few things to keep in mind...coastal Yucatan has been one of the fastest developing places on the planet, for about the past 20 years. I first went there about 30 years ago and found exactly what you're describing: quaint, unspoiled authentic Mexican fishing towns with spectacular beaches, low prices, friendly people, easy places to fall for. Unfortunately, over the past 30 years, tens of thousands of people have gone there and yes fallen in love with the places which are now as developed as Miami Beach.
Yucatan can still be a great place to visit, but finding a nice beach that's undeveloped/unspoiled, and also has a nice, authentic Mexican town, is not a simple task. There are places that kinda almost fit the bill, but all I've found have downsides (and I've been all over the Yucatan). For what you seem to be looking for, what you really need is a time machine (set the dial for the 1970s).
One more fly in the ointment you really should be aware of: Hurricane season. Technically, hurricane season in this area runs from July to December, but most major hurricanes there hit from around Labor Day (end of August/early September) through October. Less of a threat (though still a threat) in early November. Late November you're probably safe. Major hurricanes are a real threat in October. Of course, there's no way to know if or when they will hit, but these storms can be deadly serious (which is why the months from September through October are "low season" with great deals for hotels). That can be a great time to go (I know people who love going then), as long as you don't get unlucky.
Tulum has become quite upscale but it doesn't have the feel of a giant resort - nothing comparable to Cancun with its miles of high rise all inclusive hotels. The town itself (Pueblo Tulum) is quite small, the buildings are not tall, and the beaches are absolutely stunning with soft sand everywhere. It's accessible to both Mayan Ruins and cenotes, and there are still rustic type accommodations either on the beach or in the town. Of course there are also high-resort properties that have taken over in recent years along the beach. It's very easy to get to Tulum from Cancun via a nice, modern inexpensive bus (ADO bus). Also look into Campeche, which is also somewhat off the beaten path and is very atmospheric (Carribean feel). My favorite towns in the Yucatan are Merida and Vallodolid (and even Izamal) because they are colonial old towns (very colorful) but no beach in sight for either. I think an authentic Mexican beach town where Mexicans go would be something more akin to Veracruz.
A very understated fishing town type of place very close to Cancun (very accessible by bus) is called Puerto Morelos. Maybe that will do the trick, but it's quite small.
My advice is grab a good Mexico book from the library and you'll run across places you've never heard of or thought of.
Yeah, my first instinct was to say Tulum; then I realized that i was there 15 years ago when part of the beach was topless and kind of bohemian. But then after i Googled i see that it is now overrun there, beach young people dance party like Ibiza stuff going on.
Three words to watch for: cruse ship ports.
Super helpful, everyone! Thank you. Another fly in the ointment I'm discovering is "The whole of the Riviera Maya including some places in Cancun are currently suffering the stink of seaweed on their beaches." So looking further west may be the thing to do. And thanks to your input, I'm considering splitting the trip, maybe half the trip at the beach, half in town. The search continues!
Sadly, the whole of the Maya Riviera is wildly over-developed and is, frankly, out of control. I was just in Tulum in January and in comparison to my last visit in July of 2010 it was night and day.
I can't even imagine how so much hotel and resort construction has occurred in that short amount of time.
I did, however, discover a delightful glamping experience at the beach of Xpu Ha just south of Playa Del Carmen (which is a madhouse). 'Twasn't exactly cheap but was wonderfully relaxed and basic.
@willhaysnoe, thanks for that and I'd love the link of where you glamped, if you're willing to share.
Several thoughts, as background, we have been to the Yucatan maybe 8 times over the last 15 years, I can agree with others in that the entire place has changed dramatically, and in broad terms, finding a place that is "Authentic" and not a "resort" is non-existent in the Yucatan. You can find areas though that are not over run by the All-Inclusive and cruise ship crowds with some opportunity to interact with the locals, eat in family run places, and chill on the beach. We always rent a car or take the buses, stay in small hotels, eat local, shop at the grocery store, basic "Backdoor" strategies.
The only thing I cannot say much about is Dia de los Muertos, I never really had the impression that the Riviera Maya traditionally observes it, maybe more in Merida, much more so in other parts of Mexico, but if you see it in Riviera Maya, it is probably more for the tourists than the locals. In places that it is observed seriously, it is more for the locals than outsiders, so a bit of a Catch 22.
But anyway...Puerto Morelos was mentioned, we very much like it, mostly undeveloped, though it has a strong ex-pat community. Good restaurants, Hotels you can pick up for under $50 a night, good beach, cheap tours to snorkel. Has a feel of small town Mexico on the Beach, gritty enough to feel "rough", but safe and a bit sanitized.
Tulum has probably changed the most, you used to be able to get a shack on the beach for $30 (little electricity, sand floor, shared bathrooms. Now those shacks have a toilet and shower in them and are called Eco-Resorts and charge $200-300 a night. However, you can stay in Tulum Pueblo (The town a couple miles off the beach) for cheap, have access to restaurants, shopping, and hang with the locals, then head to the beach each day.
We also like Playa del Carmen for a bit more action, touristy, but still has charm
Seaweed: Yep, Sargasso seaweed has been a real problem. It piles up on the beach, stinks, and it clouds the water. It comes and goes, even within a few days. There is no cleaning it up, or not easily. I would not make that a showstopper, unless you think somewhere on the west side of Mexico might have what you are looking for.
what about Isla Mujeres? easy to get to. HOLBOX less touristy but harder to get to aftger arriving in Cancun
Thanks again, All! Your input is appreciated. Here is the plan: we are going to fly into Merida, rent a car, drive the 40 minutes to Progreso. We'll spend 4 days there and we found a place away from town, and even better, according to the cruise ship schedule I found on line, there's only one ship while we're there. So that'll be the day we stay close to home. Then back to Merida for 4 days and DDLM. A perfect balance!