Xcalak: Way off the beaten track!
The most remote area that we offer in Mexico is Xcalak, located about 4.5 hours south of Cancun near the border of Belize. April 2001 we traveled to the Xcalak area and stayed at the Costa de Cocos. We had loaded up on a few snack items in Playa del Carmen, including cold drinks for the trip down, headed off on a bright sunshiny morning. We stopped at Tulum for breakfast along the way and by 10 a.m. had reached our next stop at Felipe Carrillo Puerto where the ONLY gas station between Tulum and Xcalak is located. Whether you need it or not, rules of the road dictate that you stop here and top off your tank because it's your last chance. The large 8-pump station was bustling but we were quickly through in about 10 minutes. Gas station sells cold pop and a few snack items and vendors crowd around your car offering their wares (chewing gum, fruit, baskets). Bathrooms are clean here if you need a potty stop.
Fully fueled, we continued south on Highway 307. Along the roadside we noticed many enterprising business/craftsmen offering their homemade rustic furniture for sale. Displays of chairs, tables, bureaus and miscellaneous pieces were set up along the road. Later, as we approached Limones, the displays changed to oranges; bushels and bushels of the juicy fruit were piled high. This is orchard country and the trees are mighty fruitful. You can stop and buy a huge bag for only about $2.00 and enjoy fresh squeezed orange juice loaded with vitamin C.
We observed some native wildlife as we traveled through this remote region, including colorful parrots, abundant butterflies in dazzling colors, a gray fox, monkeys and some unidentified species. Roads were decent all the way until Xcalak where the conditions suddenly worsened. We made our way on the final stretch over a bumpy dirt road along the beach. It's a little slow going in this section, luckily it's a short stretch. We arrived in Xcalak at 12:30 and pulled into Sylvia's Restaurant (pictured at right) for a bite to eat. Sylvia's is the only restaurant (other than Costa de Cocos) that serves lunch as well as dinner. The family's front porch serves as the simple dining room with only 4 tables inside and one outside. There are no menus here; they just tell you what they have that day and you make your selection. Make sure you have plenty of time because everything is homemade from scratch and preparation does not start until you place your order. Typically they offer pork chops, chicken or fish. We ordered fish which they promptly went and got while we enjoyed a beer. A large portion of the catch-of-the-day prepared empanizado style (deep fried), french fries and salad was reasonably priced at $6.00.
There's not too much else in the town of Xcalak (okay, let's call it a settlement), currently with a population of 200. A steady population decline has been experienced since a major hurricane in 1958 when, at that time, there were 1200 residents. Destruction due to the storm, lack of opportunities in the area and changing culture with bigger cities attracting the younger generation, have all had an affect. There's hope that this area will grow as the explosion of tourism along the Mexican coast continues to inch southward. In fact a major development in Majahual, about 30 miles north, is underway. A cruise ship pier was constructed and many of the major cruise ship lines may add this as a destination in the near future. Majahual today is but a blip on the map, but you can bet that with boat loads of tourists, the jewelry stores, trinket and t-shirt shops, restaurants, hotels and tour businesses will soon spring forth and line the streets.
Xcalak has a pier, too. It's a mighty fine pier and ready to go. The pier was designed for a car ferry with service between Chetumal and Xcalak; a new ferry terminal was even constructed in Chetumal. Alas, this structure will never be used. Seems the engineers forgot one minor detail: the bay in Xcalak is very, very shallow and during low tideand with just the right wind conditionsthe bay can be empty. The locals probably knew all along that this plan was folly, but they kept their silence for years.
Not much else in Xcalak but a couple of small tiendas selling a few basic staples along with beer and pop. Most buildings have no refrigeration because they don't have 24-hour electricity. In town is what looks like a small school with a playground for children. And an old cemetery is quite interesting to visit. No doubt there are some intriguing stories about these folks who have been gone for many years. At the edge of town, a bridge crosses an inlet and lagoon area where snorkeling and fishing is reported to be quite good; kayaking is an ideal way to explore the lagoon. So, why would you want to visit Xcalak? It's remote, it's quiet, it's the way Mexico used to be years ago. Fishing, diving, snorkeling, side trips to the islands off Belize are also some of the reasons people travel here. Options for lodging include several options, including Costa de Cocos resort (see below) or several private rental villas in the area. Read on for more details about this off-the-beaten track destination:
COSTA de COCOS
After leaving Sylvia's we headed for the Costa de Cocos where we had a reservation. We were met by Ilana and Dave Randall, owners of the resort. Costa de Cocos is an oceanfront resort offering 14 charming thatched-roof bungalows which each can sleep 2 to 4 guests. The resort has been in operation for 14 years when Dave moved from Garrison, MN to this remote location in the Yucatan and began construction of Costa de Cocos, one stick at a time. He's done everything himself, from electrical, to woodwork, to the mahogany horseshoe shaped bar in the main lodge, the tables, the doors . . . and he's managed to keep it up and running, as well as growing and improving for 14 years.
Cocos Resort (bungalows, pictured at right) caters to individuals or groups who travel to the area to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It's an escape from traffic, job, noise and stress. Costa de Cocos offers a peaceful setting with basic but comfortable cottages and meals that are fabulous. Guests to Xcalak are usually interested in fishing, diving, kayaking, bird watching, snorkeling or sitting on the beach and reading or doing absolutely nothing. For those who want to be a little more active, there is a volleyball net, an assortment of board games, and a huge selection of CDs in the main lodge. There's little else to do and that suits the guests just fine at Costa de Cocos.
The octagon-shaped bungalows are cozy and clean with one queen, one double or two twins (whatever you prefer), full bath with shower (and yes, hot and cold running water), hammocks, reading lights, a selection of reading material, ceiling fan, mosquito coils and screens on the windows and doors. Louvered windows and doors allow you to open or close your windows for ventilation/privacy. Palapa style roof gives you the feel of a hut on the beach, yet you have clean tile or wood floors and window screens to keep out the bugs. An assortment of patio furniture is available to move closer to your cottage for outdoor relaxation.
Super sandy beach is fringed with coconut palms and shallow water beach entry is perfect for children as the waves are gentle with the barrier reef protecting the bay. Costa de Cocos is located about one mile north of Xcalak on 5 acres with a generous portion of sandy beach.
Food is wonderful at Costa de Cocos and two meals are provided each day. The day starts when the coffee goes on at 7 a.m. A hearty breakfast is served at 7:30 p.m. Typical breakfast items include fresh fruits (bananas, pineapple, watermelon, papaya, etc.), juices, pancakes, cereal and fresh bread, served buffet style. While lunch is not provided, it is available and very reasonable (we had hamburger and fries for $4.50). Dinner starts at 6 p.m. (or whenever it starts getting dark) with a happy hour in the lodge with salsa, chips and popcorn. Dinner follows at 7:30 and begins with fresh homemade soup, salad, main entree, followed by homemade dessert, such as fresh homemade coconut (right off the tree!) cream pie, or moist marble cake with brown sugar glaze drizzled on the top. We were impressed with the service, the quality and the variety. We expected basic and got gourmet! We met a couple from England who had been at the resort for 8 days and they also raved about the food. They had not been served the same thing twice and were delighted with meals.
Fishing is probably the biggest draw in the area. Avid fishermen come from all over the world to fish the lagoons teeming with tarpon and bonefish. Fishing trips are available by boat, or you can fish in the lagoon from a kayak (kayaks are available for $15 for 4 hours or $25 for full day).
Scuba diving is also popular on the reef and the resort is offering a summer special which includes 6 nights, all meals, two tank dives including equipment for 3 days. Rate is $950 total for two people. Dive trips to Chinchorro Banks are extra. Groups of 6 or more have their own dive boat, captain and divemaster for the duration of their stay. Offer is good through Dec. 15, 2001. Same package is available in high season for $1200. Bob and Oswaldo serve as divemasters. Bob formerly was the head of the physical education department at a college in the US. He is qualified to train dive instructors and can also certify new divers. Both are highly qualified, friendly and, of course, speak fluent English.
Side trips are offered to several areas including Bird Island where there is snorkeling and bird watching (a lunch is packed for the 5-hour tour). Boat to Ambergris Cay is available at $175 per load (up to 8); travel time is 1.5 hours each way; snorkeling is super because it's a wildlife preservation area and national park.
We enjoyed the rustic, informal setting and the natural beauty of the jungle surrounding the resort and the tranquility of the turquoise sea. We absolutely loved the food and the friendly staff made us feel very welcome and comfortable. We think the rates are reasonable at $60 per person per day based on double occupancy in high season. A good value considering the quality of the meals each day. If you want a vacation in a remote and isolated area . . . . Costa de Cocos could be perfect for you.
OTHER options for lodging in Xcalak
Casa Carolina (right) is a small "resort" consisting of 3 bungalows which can each sleep 2 guests. These are brand new buildings with units on both ground level and second floor (there are great ocean views from second story). Owners/managers (Bob Villier, also the divemaster for Costa de Cocos, and Caroline Wexler) live onsite so property is always properly maintained. Each unit is approximately 600 sq. ft. and has open floor plan with double bed, ceiling fan, hot and cold running water, 24-hour power, kitchenette complete with 2 burner stove, apartment size refrigerator, coffeemaker, blender). Happy hour is a 5:30 when a pitcher of margaritas is offered for guests. Casa Carolina is located about 1/2 mile north of Costa de Cocos. Rate for 2 guests is $575/wk. plus tax and includes maid service. Additional guest is $10 per day.
Kimmels Kabana is another property available in Xcalak. This oceanfront villa is next door to the Casa Carolina and has 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. Two bedrooms on the main floor share a bath, and master bedroom on the second level has a private bath. There's a large oceanfront terrace on the second story off the master bedroom. The Kabana has a kitchen with full size refrigerator, stove, oven, coffeemaker and 24-hour power. Owners are from Wyoming and they have a onsite maid/caretaker for the Kabana to care for the property. Kimmels Kabana can accommodate up to 7 guests if you use the extra cot. Rate is $805/wk. plus tax.