The little beach town of Mahahual sits in the southernmost part of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, close to the border with Belize. It is 225.5 km south of Tulum, and 103 km from Lake Bacalar, respectively.
The town’s somewhat remote location means that charming Mahahual doesn’t see a fraction of the tourists that you see in Cancun, Tulum, Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox, and other more popular destinations along the Riviera Maya. Over the last few years, more visitors have started to slowly trickle into the region.
After all, Mahahual is beautiful and it makes a nice travel pairing with Lake Bacalar, and the nearby ruins of Chacchoben. But still, you can expect a much more laid-back, relaxed, paradisical Caribbean vibe here. It definitely isn’t crowded with tourists and you can still very easily find your own secluded patch of coastline.
The highlights of visiting Mahahual are centered around the beach and the bars and restaurants along the seafront Malecon. But Mahahual’s beach is a beautiful one and it makes a great place to spend a few days doing little more than swimming, snorkeling, lazing on the sand, and drinking juice straight out of a fresh coconut.
The waters of the Caribbean sea are turquoise and crystal clear and they run parallel to a coastline of soft, powdery white sand that extends as far as the eye can see. There is a reason that the Riviera Maya is known for having some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Mexico.
Yucatan beaches, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, and the Pacific coast are all stunning in their own right but none of these places have the same water color and quality. A pedestrianized promenade runs all the way from the Mahahual lighthouse (Faro), through Mahahual center and Mahahual beach, and on towards La Bamba Beach and Maya Chan beach.
Pose for photos at the Mahahual lighthouse
Did you know that the Mahahual lighthouse (faro) is the southernmost lighthouse on the Caribbean coast of Mexico? The little viewpoint beside it provides a great vantage point for gazing across the sea to watch ships sail by, and all manner of colorful bird species soar overhead.
In front of the lighthouse, you will note that the word ¨Mahahual¨ has been written in giant, colorful letters, as is the case in most Mexican towns and cities. You can get some great photos in front of the letters with the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean in the background.
Mahahual beach is the main playa in Mahahual beach town. There is a small, rocky cove to the left of the lighthouse which is seldom crowded and a great place to sit with a picnic as you watch the sea swell crash against the rocks on the shore.
The main stretch of the beach sees its share of tourists, particularly at weekends, but you can still easily find an area with plenty of space and privacy. There are several bars and restaurants here where you can rent a sunbed and an umbrella for the day for just a couple of pesos, or where you can enjoy traditional Yucatecan cuisine right on the beach.
As you continue south down the coast, the number of tourists dwindles, and you are met with more gorgeous virgin beaches. La Bamba beach is a 40-minute walk/10-minute drive south of central Mahahual and offers all the amenities that you may need.
Further south, Maya Chan beach is a private, all-inclusive beach club that allows you to experience the Caribbean in absolute luxury. Enjoy relaxing beneath your own private cabana, with waiter service, exquisite cocktails prepared with mezcal, tequila, and other quintessentially Mexican agave liquors, and indulge in an all-you-can-eat Mayan buffet.
When you are ready to leave, the beach club offers well-equipped, luxury bathrooms for you to shower and freshen up in. Guests can also use glass-bottom kayaks, life jackets, and other water sports equipment items for free.
If you want to venture even farther off the beaten path, you consider driving down the coast towards Xcalak village. Southern Quintana Roo is best explored by car, although transport options are also available.
Sample fresh seafood
Mahahual was originally nothing more than a little remote fishing village. It has only been in recent years that tourism has reached the area.
The little village has just 2,636 inhabitants, and many of these people still work in fisheries. If you spend a night or two in Mahahual, you will see the fishermen pushing their little boats out to sea early in the morning, hoping to have a successful day out at sea.
Of course, an additional highlight of this is that there is an abundance of restaurants in Mahahual that sell fresh seafood. Mouthwatering ceviche, fresh shrimp, crab, and lobster dishes grace the menus of the eateries here.
If you want to sample something specific to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, you can’t go wrong with ajillo camarones. These are local shrimps that are sauteed with chili, garlic, olive oil, and white wine.
All of the seafood restaurants along the Mahahual Malecon are very good, and although some predominantly cater to western tourists, they are far from tourist traps. Malecon 21 is one of the more upscale dining options with seating right on the beach, Tulum-style bohemian decor, and a diverse menu that changes with the seasons. Maramao, Nohoch Kay beach club, Sulumar, and the Krazy Lobster are all also very good.
You will find many colorful coral reefs beneath the surface of the water in Mahahual and around the wider area of Southern Mexico. Corals are alive, so you should take care not to step on them or drop any trash in the water.
Banco Chicharro is an atoll that you can visit on a day trip from Mahahual if you want to do a spot of swimming, snorkeling, and animal watching. This protected area is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second-largest of its kind in the world.
While traveling between Mahahual on mainland Mexico, and out to the atoll, you will pass by several shipwrecks that date back hundreds of years. There are said to be more than 60 of them contained within a small area! Some, such as an English sailboat that dates back to the 18th century, were only discovered as recently as 2020!
Various sharks and rays live in these warm waters, along with loggerhead, green, and hawksbill turtles. Groupers can also be seen among the reefs and wrecks.
There are lots of local legends surrounding the shipwrecks around Banco Chinchorro. Two of the most famous vessel submerged here are the “40 Cañones” and “ The Angel”.
If you hire a boat and a guide to take you to the area, locals will be happy to share the various legends and stories that they know with you. Since the community around Mahahual and Banco Chicharro is so small, everyone seems to personally know someone who discovered some shipwreck, historical artifact, or another.
In this area, you will also find some islets where you can dock your boat and explore. Cayo Centro is the largest and is home to stilted fishermen’s houses that provide an interesting glimpse into life in the Caribbean.
Mahahual by night
The Mahahual Malecon is full of life all throughout the day and night. There are countless coffee shops, bars, and dining options here, as well as several stalls and street vendors selling all manner of interesting traditional Mexican clothing items and handicrafts.
Things like Yucatecan huipils and Ancient Mayan ritualistic masks make great souvenirs from Mexico. Mahahual is a relatively sleepy town, so don’t expect any nightclubs or raucous nightlife here.
However, many of the beach clubs and hotel bars make a great place to watch the sunset with a beer in hand. Since this area is relatively remote, you can see the stars in the night sky very clearly from Mahahual.
For an unapologetically Mexican beverage, order a michelada. This beer cocktail is made by mixing beer (often Tecate or Dos Equis) with tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and hot sauce. It sounds questionable but you may be surprised by how tasty they are!
Lake Bacalar & surroundings
Lake Bacalar is just over an hour’s drive from Mahahual. In an ideal world, you would dedicate a couple of days of your Yucatan itinerary to staying in Mahahual and a couple of days to staying in Bacalar Lagoon. However, if your schedule doesn’t allow it, you could at least see Bacalar as a day trip from Mahahual.
Lake Bacalar is known as the lagoon of seven colors due to the various shades of blue and turquoise of the water here. The lagoon is home to an ancient population of stromatolites that are over three billion years old!
Stop for a spot of brunch or lunch in one of the restaurants in charming Bacalar town, a Pueblo Magico. One of the most popular things to do here is to take a boat tour through the lake to check out the various points of interest the 42 km² body of water has to offer.
For instance, you will stop by various cenotes (sinkholes) of varying depths, each of which is home to a unique ecosystem. Some of the little islands in the center of the lake are home to migratory bird species.
One particularly interesting spot to add to your checklist is the abandoned Bacalar hotel. This ultra-luxurious property was built to accommodate the mega-rich but it never opened to the public.
It boasts 625 rooms, several swimming pools, a spa and conference center, an on-site church, and other facilities in an area of 85 hectares. Mario Villanueva Madrid, a Mexican Politician and the fourth governor of the state was the mastermind behind the property.
However, he was found to be corrupt and have links with organized crime gangs and money laundering. So, the Mexican government demanded that work on the hotel be halted, and Madrid found himself in jail.
If you are interested in learning more about Mexico’s history and cultural heritage, you will love visiting Chacchoben (Cha cho ben). This is arguably one of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico, and sits close to Bacalar, approximately 76km away from Mahahual.
There are actually several ancient Mayan cities in this area that are worthy of your attention. Besides Chacchoben, Oxtankah, Kohunlich, Dzibanché, and Kinichná are all fascinating places to visit.
The thing that makes Chacchoben so unique, is its setting, and just how engulfed by the jungle the ancient structures are. Records indicate that a settlement has existed here since as early as 1,000 BC.
Chacchoben is the largest pre-Colombian city found in the Los Lagos region. It thrived around 360AD. As it stands, many of the structures and pyramids here have not been fully excavated. You can just see the tops of them poking out of the ground.
Various animals have made a home out of the remnants of the city. This includes peccaries, deer, spider monkeys, gray foxes, and armadillos. Deeper into the jungle, you will find Yucatan wild cats like ocelots, pumas, and jaguars.
Entrance to Chacchoben is 70 pesos ($3.50 USD) per person. Do note that Chacchoben village and Chacchoben archeological sites are not located in the same place, so take care when entering the address into your GPS.
What are your thoughts on Mahahual Mexico? Does it appeal to you?
If you are planning a trip to Mexico for the first time, you may also enjoy this selection of Mexico travel tips to know before you go. Safe travels! Buen Viaje! xo