This article is from the March 1998 The Mexico File newsletter.
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In and Around Puerto Morelos

by Deborah Miller

Deborah Miller is a travel writer and Mexicophile fellow traveler living most of the time in Vacaville, California, when she’s not luxuriating in Mexico.

The palapa’s kitchen windows open to an intensity of color that penetrates my being. I felt the separation between me and my surroundings literally drop away. The white of the sand, the green of the jungle, and the turquoise sea seem to have a life of their own, reaching out, permeating the viewer. In the background, the calls of birds, unfamiliar, compelling. Closer at hand, the shy iguanas sun themselves along the cement walls — and everywhere, tiny jungle crabs rush to the sea to leave their eggs. Our exotic home provides the comforts of hot water showers and a modern kitchen. We watch the sea from the stone patio overhung by palm fronds. Brown pelicans skim the surface of the water. Sandpipers scurry here and there.

My friend has beach front property in Puerto Morelos. She had a small palapa, a traditional Mayan house, built there last year as a vacation retreat and a means of generating some income. She invited me to spend a week at Thanksgiving there with her. I was thrilled! If you have been to this part of the Yucatán, just thirty minutes south of Cancún, you will understand my excitement. If you have not been to this magic part of the world, and you have a taste for beauty, pleasure and adventure, then you have a treat in store. (Editor’s Note: for more information on renting this palapa, see the Classified Ads/A Mayan Hideaway.)

To begin with, Puerto Morelos is a small fishing village lightly brushed by tourism. It’s Mayan, and expatriate inhabitants proceed with the discourse of life at a health enhancing pace. I am talking about leisurely — no need to hurry. If you can stay long enough, you may remember an earlier time in your life when time itself seemed to move at a slower pace.

My friend’s property is about ten minutes out of town on a road paralleling the beach, winding through the mangrove. It is not far from town, measured in miles, but the road makes any speed over ten miles per hour unthinkable. The palapa is a jewel of architectural simplicity. Suited to the warm climate, around 70 degrees F. on our trip, the bedroom, comprising the entire second level, is open to the sea. With its steep palm frond roof and screened walls all around, it is ideally comfortable. If you have slept to the sound of the sea gentled by a protective coral reef, yet undiminished by solid enclosure, and if you have awakened to the sounds of tropical birds calling from the coconut palms just outside, then you too have been to heaven.

We took several beachcombing trips, some to beaches newly discovered and others familiar from previous trips. The new discoveries were reached by taking a few of the narrow pothole pocked roads, turnoffs from the highway between Cancún and points south, roads that dove straight into the jungle, making a beeline to the sea. And at the end we would find a row of large vacation homes, deserted but for caretakers. Who owned these homes? We would walk the beach and gather the best of what the sea had left that day, giant conch and chunks of coral to take back to the shell garden at the palapa. There we would sit on the patio sipping Margaritas and contemplating the remarkable beauty of our treasures.

The Cancún area, a part of the Yucatán, is home to the Maya. It is strewn with and surrounded by the ruins of their civilization. Just an hour south of Puerto Morelos, the ruins of Tulum rise above the sea. Tulum is the only significant Maya site built directly on the sea. This stunning village makes it an oft photographed location. Those visitors with a rental vehicle can arrive early and enjoy walking the site before the crowds of tourists arrive.

Another archaeological site, my favorite, lies an hour inland from Tulum. It is Coba, a huge site and one of major import. It is a mysterious place only partially excavated. Relatively few tourists frequent this park, adding to the impact of the experience. One walks along well cleared pathways canopied by many tall trees. Between those temples which been cleared of jungle growth, and on either side of the pathways, lie buildings untouched, shrouded by trees and vines like sleeping giants. Occasionally a Maya will appear from a small path and, as quickly and silently, disappear in the jungle growth. This is still the home of the Maya...Coba — out of the way and worthy of the journey.

Not only are the official, designated sites here for all to visit, but the countryside is strewn with smaller ruins, all but invisible through the tangles of the jungle. The main road between Cancún and the south is being widened right now and the crews have stumbled upon some of these ancient Mayan structures. My friend and I drove out to the highway and explored the ruin of a building which we had spotted from the road the previous day. Treasure or no, we were thrilled by our brief contact with these mysterious people of an earlier time.

Sojourners here need not fear when the time comes to pause for sustenance. The choice is wide: from the international cuisine of the beachfront hotels of Cancún to the simple, fresh fare of the villages, the food is wonderful. In Puerto Morelos we enjoyed the catch of the day every evening at Los Pelicanos, a restaurant open to the view and breezes of the sea — and we would have an excellent Mexican breakfast at the little Posada Amor. In Playa del Carmen, a longtime vacation destination, you can dine at Limones and savor the lime soup, which can only be described in superlatives. Perhaps best of all, you can discover your own culinary finds — the choice is wide. (Of course, bottled water is still advised.)