Destination of the Week :: Unspoilt Xcalak, Mexico

Xcalak pronounced “ish-ka-lak” is a town that sits about 40 miles south of Mahahaul beach, or a seven-hour drive from Cancun, and is thankfully mostly ignored by the hordes of tourists visiting the wild Caribbean coast of Quintana Roo in Mexico, due to the remoteness of the village.

The MesoAmerican Barrier Reef is the second longest reef in the world and is 500 meters from the shoreline of Xcalak. With the lack of tourists, speed boats, and cruise ships the reef has been protected and the water is a clear turquoise blue. If fly fishing, you can walk along the saltwater flats for miles while scanning the waters for your next catch or better yet, don some scuba gear or a snorkel and venture out to the barrier reef to spot some exotic marine life.

The coastal trail from Mahahaul to Xcalak takes you along some dense vegetation and buggy mangroves and is generally wide enough for one large vehicle. When encountering another vehicle on these trails, ensure you have your drop off in sight as one wrong move may mean winching your vehicle from the deep waters of the bug infested mangroves. Taking a break along the trail is advisable, for a quick dip in the ocean or to assist the locals in a beach cleanup. The beach trail stops abruptly at a burned out bridge about 20 miles into the trail and you cannot venture further.

You can opt to take the “main road” to Xcalak from Mahahual and then backtrack up the coastal road to the same point of departure before finding a wild camp to settle in for the night or, alternatively, camp out at Toby’s campground in Xcalak and venture further south to where Mexico meets Belize. Unfortunately you won’t be able to cross to Belize on this tiny sliver of the peninsula as a military base is positioned at Canal Zaragoza and the road literally ends where the Belizean Ambergris Caye begins (which is only accessible by boat).

This may be the perfect beach for the lone explorers not interested in the nightlife and crowds as no cruise ships are docking nearby. However, there is the dreaded Sargasso, a strong smelling brown sludge that covers the beach seasonally and makes it virtually impossible to swim. A few theories are circulating as to why Quintana Roo has been experiencing this issue, but our advice is to keep driving along the trails, and you will find that sweet spot where the water is clear and warm and fish nibble at your feet.

How to get there

You can catch a quick flight into Cancun from most states, and once in the center, hire a Jeep for your trip to Xcalak. If you plan on driving any trails, ensure that you have add-on insurance for scratches/pinstripes along the vehicle. To ensure you have a safe journey, fill up with fuel whenever you can and have sufficient grocery supplies before leaving Tulum.

Where to stay

Costa de Cocos – A palapa-styled accommodation with its own private bathroom and restaurant on-site with complimentary kayaks and snorkel gear for guests

Acocote Eco Inn – The perfect Bed & Breakfast with fly fishing excursions

Casa Cangrejo – A lovely fly fishing lodge that offers cabanas or a small house for rent

Tierra Maya Lodge – an upmarket lodge (not comparable to Tulum lodges) that caters to serious anglers with a private beach and a 200-foot dock

Coral Garden Inn – A remote Inn with two suites that features a private beach for fishing bonefish and barracuda

There are several other lodging options in and around Xcalak, and camping at Toby’s Restaurant is popular for overlanders. Wild camping is permitted along the coastline, but please remember to pack it in, and pack it out.

Quick tip:

Be sure to take along cash, as most establishments do not have card facilities, and no cash machines are available. Mobile reception is intermittent, but you can connect to the internet for a small fee at a local restaurant or lodge.

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Luisa Bell has always had a passion for travel, but she never imagined that she would travel the world, with her family, in a self-built Land Rover Defender camper. As the navigator, administrator, and penetrator of bureaucracy, she has led her family to over 65 countries on five continents. Luisa is the wife of Graeme, and their quarter-century together feels like a full century in overlander years. Her two kids and her dog are her pride and joy, and if she could travel with them indefinitely, she would. With a background in immigration law, she has the ability to make the impossible possible and has no plan of settling down or retiring her full-time traveler status. Follow her adventures at