Welcome to the Beaches In Cancun series from Marginal Boundaries. We explore some of the best beaches in and around the city, ranging from the busy strip of the Hotel Zone to the hidden stretches of sand that only the locals know about. You can’t visit the heart of the Mexican Caribbean without spending some time on the beach, and we’re here to explore not only the favorite tourist hangouts, but also share some of our own best-kept secret locations.
This week’s installment focuses on one of the family-friendly beaches known as Playa Tortuga, or Turtle Beach.
Situated next to one of the several Rui hotels in the Hotel Zone of Cancun, Playa Tortuga might seem as though it is the perfect tourist hotspot due to its location, but the reality is that it’s actually far enough away from the primary “heart” of the tourist zone that only a handful of foreigners actually ever make it this far out of their all-inclusive resorts.
Instead, this small stretch of sand is famous with the locals, especially for families, due to the fact that the reef beyond and the small indentation that make up the cove equal shallow water with almost no wave action, perfect for children who want to spend their day romping in the water without their parents stressing over any drowning accidents.
You first enter from Kulkulkan Boulevarde and once you hit the sand there are several restaurants on either side where you can rent a table and palapa (umbrella) for the day. If you pick up some food, the table/chairs are included in the price of the food and you can hang out all day in a private section of shade, which is what many Mexican families do.
There’s plenty to do if you hang out at the entry point; not only are there restaurants and tables and chairs, but there’s also live music plus the bungee jumping platform for those who have had a few drinks and want a little extra adrenaline for the day. However, for us, we prefer getting off the beaten path when it’s just the two of us, and if you head to the right you can walk onwards for a bit until you reach the private beach areas between Playa Tortuga and Coco Bongo/Playa Chac Mool.
There’s a small stretch of rocky shoreline where you can either walk in the shallow waters or climb along the pathways honed out by thousands of feet walking along the shoreline. On calm days in the heat of summer, the waters are far enough receeded that there’s actually a 10 foot wide (more or less) stretch of sand along the rocks; on days when the wind is up, and the weather has changed, the water will come right up to the rock walls themselves.
It’s a bit of a hike (10-15 minutes) to get beyond the rocky section, but from there you enter into the private beaches of the townhouses, condos and time shares, and this is where Cris and myself like to spend our afternoons when we have downtime.
This isn’t the white, imported sand of the Hotel Zone, but the waters are still the turquoise blue on calm, sunny days, or when the wind is up they turn an aquamarine. There’s seaweed along the beaches because these aren’t the tourist areas, which means there aren’t workers continually raking the seaweed away from the sand, so if you get offended by a little bit of nature, you might not enjoy it as much as us.
For us, we like it because there’s plenty of shade in a few sections, and there’s rarely any people passing by. You can walk for 20 to 30 minutes, find a private stretch of beach, put out your towel and then enjoy a day of swimming, picnic lunch, watch the pelicans eat throughout the afternoon, diving and gulping, as well as catch plenty of other wildlife in the evening hours when they come out to feed…birds running along the waves and eating the worms from the sand, crabs and beyond.
The only downside is that there aren’t any amenities once you get out beyond the entry point, so if you want to spend the afternoon in the private, off-the-beaten-path areas where we like to go, you’ll need to bring a cooler and supplies: food, drinks, etc., because once you get out there you don’t have any options for food or bathrooms.
But if you enjoy the quiet solitude there are few beaches in Cancun which are as secluded and away from the tourist areas as Playa Tortuga. If your Spanish is up to par you can mingle with the locals, or if you want a little bit of privacy you can hike up the coast a bit and find your own slice of paradise for the day.
View Playa Tortugas in a larger map
Don’t forget, if you are looking for more information on Cancun or Mexico in general, you can pick up our Live Like a Local guide for the city, packed with other restaurant recommendations, apartment and condo referrals, tips on navigating the public transportation system, local negotiation tips and strategies, market and discount day overviews and more!
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