El Cuyo Yucatan is a small, tranquil fishing village and pristine stretch of coastline that sits in the northeastern part of the Yucatan state. Its paradisical beach boasts miles upon miles of soft, powdery white sand that runs parallel to the translucent turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
This is one of the most beautiful beaches in Southern Mexico and arguably, in all of Latin America. But for the time being, El Cuyo continues to fly under the radar.
You can think of El Cuyo as what Tulum was like 15 years ago before gentrification and the tourist hordes arrived. A visit here is mostly about taking the opportunity to rest and relax on the beach, eat excellent Yucatecan food at the handful of palapa-style restaurants that line the waterfront, and reflect.
El Cuyo is a little awkward to get to if you don’t have a vehicle but rest assured, it is well worth the effort. This is one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets.
This El Cuyo Yucatan travel guide has been written by a British Travel Writer based in the Yucatan. (Me!) I have traveled to El Cuyo numerous times (it is actually my favorite place in the peninsula).
Rest assured, you are in good hands here 😉
Visiting El Cuyo Yucatan in 2023
El Cuyo Yucatan is a nice alternative place to visit if you want to escape the crowds seen by more popular coastal areas like Cozumel, Cancun, Isla Holbox, and Isla Mujeres. Provided that you are not traveling during a Mexican public holiday, you can often find that you have the entire stretch of coastline here virtually all to yourself.
El Cuyo is only five blocks long by five blocks wide. Its main draw is its spectacular beach, but the mangrove forests and the UMA San Manuel protected area nearby are also beautiful places to experience and get back to nature.
Most of the hotels, restaurants, and developments that you see in El Cuyo have only popped up over the last few years. El Cuyo’s humble growth is largely thanks to a handful of locals and a small community of kitesurfers and travelers that fell completely in love with the area and never left.
Up until a few years ago, there was only one restaurant here, no wifi, and little to no phone service. While the amenities have improved a lot (and El Cuyo’s incredible restaurants are giving it an unlikely reputation as a great gastro destination within the Yucatan), traveling here still provides an incredible opportunity to detach from modern life and get back to basics.
Catch an El Cuyo sunrise and sunset
No matter how many sunsets you have seen around the world, nothing comes close to the one that you can witness in El Cuyo Yucatan. Getting the opportunity to witness this can mean waking up as early as 4 am.
Is it worth it? Absolutely.
The sun rises in the east and there is truly no better vantage point for seeing this than on the shores of El Cuyo beach. Most of the time, you will find that the beach is relatively deserted so you have this tropical paradise to yourself.
Even on a cloudy day, an El Cuyo sunrise is impressive. The changes in the colors of the sky are dramatic and you can capture some incredible photos, even with just a cell phone camera.
An El Cuyo sunset is just as gorgeous. Walk down the pier and watch the sun sink behind the clouds in the west from here, with an ice-cold Tecate beer or a churro in hand.
Spend a day at the beach
Days spent lounging on the beach and sipping beverages right out of a coconut are exactly what a visit to El Cuyo Yucatan is all about. The translucent aquamarine waters are perfect for swimming in and the water is calm and clean.
Keep in mind that the beach is not serviced. There is nowhere that you can rent sunbeds or umbrellas here and there are no vendors that stroll up and down the sand selling their wares unlike in Progreso or other Yucatan beach towns.
Beach towels and ocean-friendly sunscreen are a must. Since the heat and sun in Mexico can be so intense, you may want to consider buying a beach tent/sun shelter.
There is very little shade on El Cuyo Beach. Snacks, bottles of water, and beverages can be purchased from the small convenience stores around town. There are a couple of food and taco trucks where you can buy a couple of light bites if you wish.
Try your hand at watersports
El Cuyo Yucatan is a popular travel destination for the kitesurfing community. Several stores around the town allow you to rent or purchase equipment.
If you are a complete beginner and you want to try your hand at kitesurfing, you can head to El Cuyo Kite School. They offer basic, intermediate, and advanced kitesurfing lessons in English or Spanish.
Enjoy El Cuyo by night
There are just a handful of restaurants and bars scattered around El Cuyo but an evening here can be charming. Close to the entrance to the pier and the colorful ¨EL CUYO¨ letters, there is a small tiki shack bar called Playita El Cuyo.
They serve a selection of beers, homemade cocktails, and Micheladas – a spicy tomato sauce and beer drink that is so quintessentially Mexican. Nearby, you will also find a scattering of food trucks selling Yucatecan marquesitas (stuffed crepes) and churros dipped in Nutella.
The restaurants here sell everything. You can find Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, Yucatan food delicacies, fresh seafood, and international comfort foods like hamburgers and fries.
El Cuyo’s proximity to the sea means that you can find some excellent fish tacos here. They are prepared with fresh fish sourced in nearby waters earlier that same day.
Some of the luxury hotels in the area, like Casa Cielo, boast chic rooftop bars. You may also enjoy packing a couple of cans of beer and some snacks and heading down to a secluded part of the beach to watch the stars.
Visit Las Coloradas
Las Coloradas, one of the famous pink lakes of Mexico, is just 114km (approx an hour and 40 minutes drive) away from El Cuyo. If you are staying in El Cuyo Yucatan, you may want to take a day trip out to Rio Lagartos and Las Colorados or spend a night in that area as you continue on with your Yucatan itinerary.
Las Coloradas means ¨“the colored” in Spanish. This is actually a privately owned salt lake.
The lakes are pink because red-colored algae, plankton, and brine shrimp thrive in these salty waters. But they are so vibrant and almost fluorescently pink that they look ethereal and otherworldly.
There is an entrance fee of 75 pesos to enter Las Coloradas. It is best to come early in the morning if you want to visit as the area has unfortunately become very famous due to Instagram. From there, continue onwards to the bio reserve of Rio Lagartos.
Venture onwards to Rio Lagartos
Rio Lagartos is a protected biosphere reserve in the northern part of the Yucatan. It is 96.3km (1 hour and 15 minutes) away from El Cuyo.
You can absolutely venture from El Cuyo to Rio Lagartos and back in a day. However, you can also opt to stay in the charming Hotel Rio Lagartos right on the banks of the lake if you want to explore at a more laid-back pace.
Rio means ¨lake¨ in Spanish although the body of water found here is actually a lagoon that was incorrectly named by the Spanish Conquistadors. Just 4,000 inhabitants live in this little town.
Historically, the fishing trade was a major source of income here. However, tourism is slowly taking over as many travelers stop in Rio Lagartos en route to Las Coloradas.
Rio Lagartos is particularly famous for the 20,000 or so flamingos that migrate here from Celestun during the spring. Between June and September, sea turtles swim to the warm sands of nearby beaches to lay their eggs.
Throughout the year, more than 250 species of birds call Rio Lagartos home. In all, Rio Lagartos is a pretty spectacular place to get back to nature.
Even just strolling along the Malecon and sipping coffee in the waterfront cafes is a great opportunity to birdwatch. For 900 pesos or so, you can rent a boat and your guide will sail you across the lake to see flamingos, crocodiles, birds, and beaches.
Take a boat tour through the mangroves
There are several protected areas and nature reserves across the Yucatan peninsula, many of which are home to unique wildlife, flora, and fauna that is either endangered or native to southeastern Mexico. The closest reserve to El Cuyo is the UMA San Manuel where you can hire the services of a knowledgeable local guide to help you take a sunset boat tour or go kayaking through the mangrove swamp.
The guides take pleasure in educating tourists about the animals, flora, and fauna in the region.
They take you close enough to observe nature, while still maintaining a respectful distance from the habitats.
Several migratory birds flock to this part of the Yucatan every year, most notably, the American flamingos that head east from Celestun every April, the impressive red-breasted magnificent frigate bird, yellow warblers, and brown pelicans which can be seen diving into the waters in search of fish.
Go boat fishing out at sea
If you are interested in fishing – whether you want to try the local form of hand fishing (and join the local fishermen that stand knee-deep in the calm waters that surround El Cuyo with their nets), or you want to try sea fishing or fly fishing, El Cuyo offers plenty of opportunities.
If you wander down to the jetty, you can negotiate a good price with the locals so that you can join them in their fishing excursions, If you want to try fly fishing, you can contact ¨Come Kite With Us¨ – a local kitesurfing school that also offers SUP fishing, pier fishing, and offshore boat fishing tours.
Hang out at the open house at El Lugarcito
With a growing expat and traveler community, new events and social groups are starting to sprout up around El Cuyo. El Lugarcito (translation: ¨the little place¨) is a charming coffee shop where a community of Yucatecans, Mexicans, and international travelers meet up for coffee, cake, and good conversations every Friday at 10 am.
Everyone is welcome, regardless of how long or how little you will be in time. This is a great opportunity to practice your Spanish (it will help a lot once you get to off-the-beaten-path parts of the Yucatan) and make friends from across the world.
Get a birdseye view of the area from the El Cuyo lighthouse
If you have spent a couple of nights in El Cuyo and you are in search of an alternative place to watch the sunset, stop by the local lighthouse (Faro). The lighthouse was built on the remains of an abandoned Mayan city and offers sweeping vistas across El Cuyo, the shimmering waters of the Mexican Gulf, and the Yucatecan jungle canopies.
The lighthouse is in use, but locals are friendly and accommodating of tourists that want to visit or check it out. Since the door is usually locked, you need to head to the Capitaneria office opposite and kindly ask if you can borrow the keys to go inside.
Stop by the little village and cenote of Kikil
Depending on where you are traveling from/to, you may pass through the small village of Kikil on your way to El Cuyo. This isnt a tourist destination in itself, but you will probably pass through the area if you are traveling onward to Merida or Cancun.
Kikil, meaning ¨place of rubber¨ in Yucatec Mayan is centered around the remains of an old, abandoned roofless convent (Ex-Convento Franciscano de Kikil) which you can explore for just 20 pesos. A lot of the people here are rancheros who run farms and live off the land so interesting many of the tianguis (street vendors) sell delicacies like birria which are more reminiscent of Jaliscan cuisine and not typical of the Yucatan.
Birria is a slow-cooked Mexican soup dish prepared with mutton marinated with guajillo, ancho, and chipotle peppers, as well as a blend of spices including garlic, cumin, cloves, thyme, oregano, and marjoram. It is worth a try!
Obscurely, there is always a local man standing outside the old Kikil hacienda with a saddled bull, and domestic Mexican tourists often hand him a few pesos so they can have their photos taken on top of it. On the outskirts of town, the gorgeous Kikil cenote is surrounded by dense jungle.
Enjoy delicious local food at the Cocina Economica El Amigo Omar
Cocina Economica El Amigo Omar is a great place to sample some homecooked Mexican delicacies in pretty little El Cuyo. The menu here changes frequently depending on the season and availability of certain ingredients/what fish the owners were able to catch from the nearby waters.
Their pescado frita (fried fish) makes an excellent dinner choice and is very reasonably priced. Every item that you will find on the menu is locally sourced and prepared in-house – from the salsa and the guacamole to the desserts.
If you order tacos or certain meat dishes, you can choose what type of sauce you want based on the flavor undertones and spice levels. For example, ¨la diabla¨ is a very spicy sauce, while ¨la mexicana¨ is a lightly-spiced thick tomato salsa, and ¨ojo de ajo¨ is a flavorful blend of paprika with garlic.
The portions are generous and the staff is very friendly.
Where to Stay in El Cuyo Yucatan in 2023
There are some gorgeous seafront hotels and guesthouses in El Cuyo. Since there are limited accommodation options available, and a lot of the properties here have only moderate capacity, it is advisable to reserve your rooms in advance.
This is particularly true if you are traveling during a Mexican public holiday. Such occasions can see hotels become completely fully booked.
Casa Cielo, El Cuyo
Where: Calle 15 lote 190 entre calles 12 y 14, 97707 El Cuyo
Casa Cielo is a luxurious, adults-only property that sits right on the sands of El Cuyo Beach. When you wake up here, you can simply jump out of bed and open your door to your own private section of the beach.
Rooms are spacious, and an American-style breakfast with eggs, fresh fruit, yogurt, granola, and coffee is included in the price. The property boasts a pool and jacuzzi, and a gorgeous rooftop bar from which you can watch the sunset as you sip pina Coladas.
Rooms at Casa Cielo start from $192 USD per night including taxes and fees. You can check the latest rates and availability here.
Casa Cuyo Hotel and Restaurant
Where: unnamed road next to the baseball field, 97707 El Cuyo, Yucatan
Casa Cuyo Hotel and Restaurant sit in the heart of El Cuyo town, just a short walk from the beach. Rooms here are affordable and comfortable, with rates starting from just $85 per night for a double/twin room with an ensuite bathroom.
The hotel was built completely from scratch back in 2017 in order to accommodate the kite surfers and off-the-beaten-path travelers that fall in love with the beach community of El Cuyo. Rooms boast private balconies or patios.
An a la carte or vegetarian breakfast can be added for just $8. The hotel’s traditional palapa restaurant is a charming place to dine whether you choose to stay here or not.
The eatery boasts a mestizo menu, merging dishes from several different countries and cuisines and using only locally sourced seasonal products. Vegan options are available and the organic coffee options served hail from the best coffee-growing regions in Mexico.
You can check the latest availability, room rates, and prices here.
LunArena Boutique Beach Hotel
Where: Avenida Veraniega, 97707 El Cuyo, México
LunArena is a gorgeous boutique property just one minute away from El Cuyo Beach. It is surrounded by lush, dense greenery and if you are lucky enough to stay in one of the top-floor rooms or suites, you can hang out in a hammock high above the jungle canopy.
Rooms here start from $170 per night including an exceptional breakfast. A lot of the rooms and suites at LunArena are extremely large and spacious – verging more on being luxury self-contained apartment units rather than just rooms.
Rooms are chic, modern, and stylish. Their Bohemian decor suspended beds, and quirky decorations are a far cry from your average cookie-cutter hotel room.
You can check the latest availability, room rates, and prices here.
Getting to El Cuyo Yucatan
El Cuyo Yucatan is relatively tricky to get to if you don’t have your own transport. Even if you are renting a car in Mexico, it is a bit of a trek.
Is that to say that the journey isn’t worth it? Not at all. Just keep in mind that you are likely to be traveling for a fair few hours depending on where you are traveling from, particularly if you are using public transportation.
The distance and average journey times between El Cuyo and the main cities of the Yucatan peninsula are detailed below.
- Cancun to El Cuyo: 2 hr 50 min (162.5 km)
- Merida to El Cuyo: 3hr 50 min (261.8 km)
- Tulum to El Cuyo: 2 hr 54 min (181.2 km)
- Playa Del Carmen to El Cuyo: 2 hr 50 min (145.5 km)
Driving to El Cuyo
Driving in Mexico is not as intimidating as it may sound. Here, people drive on the right-hand side as they do in the United States and most of the world.
The same road rules also apply for the most part – no speeding, no driving under the influence, no using phones at the wheel, etc. Steep fines and potential jail time are enough of a deterrent to encourage most people here to drive safely.
The roads in Mexico are not as chaotic as you might assume. From Cancun to El Cuyo and Merida to El Cuyo, the roads are very well-built and maintained.
There are no dirt or gravel roads. Perhaps the only thing that you need to be mindful of is the rural freeway immediately before El Cuyo.
Some parts of the road are very narrow and if two cars are passing each other in opposite directions, it’s a bit of a tight squeeze. Driving here at night is best avoided where possible as the road is not well-lit.
Take the bus to El Cuyo
Whether you are traveling to El Cuyo Yucatan from Merida, Cancun, Tulum, Holbox, or Valladolid, you will need to first take the bus to Tizimin. From Tizimin, you can transfer and take the bus to El Cuyo.
Frustratingly, there is very limited information about these buses and their schedules online.
Bus from Cancun to El Cuyo
Two bus companies go to Tizimin from Cancun. Namely, Mayab and Noreste. Tickets can be purchased from the ticket stalls or directly from the driver.
They are 150 pesos ($7.45) per person one way. It is worth noting that some Cancun to Tizimin buses require a change at Kantunilkin so double-check with the ticket office staff before boarding.
The buses currently depart at the below times.
03:30, 06:00, 09:00, 10:30, 12:30, 13:00, 14:30, 15:30, 16:50, 18:50. This schedule is subject to change.
Bus from Merida to El Cuyo
You can take a bus from Merida to Tizimin. Noreste Yucatán serves this route and buses depart four times a day at the following times:
06:45, 10:00, 14:00, 17:30. The journey from Merida to Tizimin takes approximately 2 and a half hours.
If you miss the bus, you also have the option of taking a bus from Merida to Valladolid. From there, take another bus from Valladolid to Tizimin, and another from Tizimin to El Cuyo.
Transferring in Tizimin
It pays to set out early in the day so that you are not worried about missing connections or waiting around in Tizimin. Buses depart from Tizimin to El Cuyo at the following times:
05:00, 09:00, 11:00, 13:00, 13:30, 15:30, 16:30, 18:00. Tickets cost 75-85 pesos each way depending on the specific bus.
If you arrive in Tizimin after 6 pm and you have missed all the connections, you may be able to get a colectivo (shared minivan) or a cab. The colectivos depart regularly from Bodega de México, one block from the bus station, and cost 70-80 pesos per person each way.
Failing that, a cab for up to 4 people should not cost more than around 550 pesos all the way to El Cuyo. There are hotels available in Tizimin if for any reason you want to break up the journey and spend a night here.
Private transfers to El Cuyo
It is possible to take a cab or a private transfer all the way to El Cuyo, though you should keep in mind that this can be pricey. Rideshare apps like Uber and Didi are popular in Merida and the Yucatan, however, they are not available in Cancun or Quintana Roo.
If you want to take a cab or an Uber all the way from Merida to El Cuyo, you are looking at a fare of between 2,000 and 2,500 pesos. A lot of Uber/Didi drivers may not be willing to embark on such a long journey so consider contacting reputable local taxi firms.
FAQs about Visiting El Cuyo Yucatan in 2023
Do you have any further questions or queries about visiting El Cuyo Yucatan in 2023? The answers to some frequently asked questions about the little beach town are detailed below.
Hopefully, you will find the information you are looking for there. If not, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
Is El Cuyo touristy?
For the time being, El Cuyo is not a touristy place. Few international travelers are even aware of its existence (unless they live in the Yucatan or spend a lot of time in Mexico).
This is great because for now, it offers some welcome respite from the crowds and chaos of the Riviera Maya.
Is there snorkeling in El Cuyo, Mexico?
El Cuyo is the perfect place for snorkeling in the Yucatan on days when it is not too windy. The blue waters are so clear that you can see to the bottom and would rival the waters of the Mexican Caribbean for their beauty and clarity.
Playa El Cuyo offers shallow waters for as much as 100m into the ocean so you can wade quite far out to sea before you need to think about swimming. In this section of the beach, you can see some majestic tropical fish but if you have a tour company take you a little further out, you can also go snorkeling and diving at the site of an old shipwreck and some coral reefs.
Does El Cuyo have seaweed?
Seaweed (¨Sargassum¨) is a problem all over the Yucatan peninsula during the summer months but particularly from late June to around October. If you are traveling in the winter (which is the best time to travel here anyway), you shouldn’t see any.
Regardless, the sargassum is a part of nature that cannot be helped and you shouldn’t let it affect your trip or your decision to visit El Cuyo. It doesn’t detract from the beauty of the area in any way.
Is El Cuyo safe?
El Cuyo is a very safe place (and the Yucatan is a very safe state in general). Only 1,750 people call this little fishing village their home.
When my partner and I checked into our hotel, the receptionist let us know that the little town was virtually crime-free and had zero incidents reported for well over a decade. Since it is such a quiet place, you can feel comfortable strolling down the beach at night or getting up very early to watch the sunrise.
You won’t have any creepy feelings in El Cuyo, even if you travel here alone.
Final thoughts on visiting El Cuyo Yucatan
Do you have any additional questions or concerns about visiting El Cuyo Mexico? This is one of the most gorgeous parts of the Yucatan and yes, it is worth the journey.
If you need anything further, please do not hesitate to drop me a line. I have been living in Merida in the Yucatan for the past two years and I have explored the region extensively during that time.
El Cuyo also makes a great stopping point as part of a wider Yucatan road trip along the region’s Emerald Coast (Ruta Esmerelda). The route takes you along 98km of breathtaking natural coastline along the Gulf of Mexico.
If you want to make El Cuyo your starting point and then head west, you can travel onwards past the coconut groves of San Crisanto, the charming beach town of Telchac Puerto, and the nearby Mayan ruins of Xcambo, and then onwards to San Bruno, Chicxulub Puerto, Chuburna, all the way to Sisal and Celestun.
I hope you have a safe trip and a wonderful time in Mexico!
Buen Viaje! Melissa xo