The Yucatan is packed with quintessential Caribbean coastlines. But since it covers such a large area, some tourists-to-be feel overwhelmed picking between the best Yucatan beaches for their interests.
I’ve spent over a year exploring the Yucatan, comparing and contrasting its beaches.
What can I say? I was happy to do the hard work for you.
So, whether you love nature getaways, beach bars, or simply want to seek out the clearest water, read on to discover some of the Yucatan’s best beaches (in my humble opinion, of course).
Accessibility Note: If you’re a wheelchair user, look for this blue box for details on accessibility.
A Breakdown of the Yucatan’s Geography
When you’re on the hunt for the best beaches in the Yucatan, it’s important to understand what the “Yucatan” means. It can mean one of two things:
- Yucatan state
- Yucatan Penninsula
When most aspiring tourists say “Yucatan,” they mean the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Yucatan Peninsula is home to the following three states:
- Quintana Roo
Of these states, Quintana Roo is the beach tourist hub. It’s home to destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum.
That said, Yucatan state also has some notable beach options. To make the distinction between the beaches in these states easier, I’ve broken up this article into the best beaches in Yucatan state and the best beaches in the Yucatan Peninsula.
My experience in Campeche state didn’t lead me to noteworthy enough beaches to mention here (though that certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t any).
Campeche city is a lovely place to stop on a trip around the Yucatan Peninsula, though. You can read about my experience taking a Campeche day trip from Merida for more details.
A Warning About Seaweed Season
No matter the beach you choose to visit in the Yucatan Peninsula, one thing is certain: Seaweed season turns even the most pristine beach into an eyesore. And a smelly eyesore, at that.
From May to October, blankets of floating sargassum (a type of brown microalgae) cover the Yucatan’s shores.
If you visit Mexico during those months, you’ll think I’m crazy for naming any of the beaches on this list as the “best.” The exception is the bonus “beach” I’ll talk about at the end of this article (which is a lake).
Sargassum is harmless to human health, but it smells like rotting eggs, attracts flying insects, and makes the water unpleasant for swimming.
Should you decide to travel to the Yucatan from May to October, most hotels do their best to cart away the seaweed that lands in front of their property. It’s a rather thankless task, but when you compare it to areas of untouched sargassum piled multiple feet high, you’ll notice the difference.
The Best Yucatan Beaches in Yucatan State
Now that you know the best time to avoid traveling to the Yucatan if pristine beaches are your goal, below are three beaches in Yucatan state worth visiting.
1. Progreso Beach
Progreso is a small town that’s one of the cruise ports in the Yucatan Peninsula. Its beach is refreshingly wide and boasts fewer crowds than many of the beaches in Quintana Roo, especially during the weekdays.
If you’re staying in Merida, taking a day trip to Progreso is one of the most popular beach options (read my article on taking the bus from Merida to Progreso for more details).
A large boardwalk with interesting artwork lines the back of Progreso Beach, and many restaurants have tiki huts off-site, allowing you to dine with your feet in the sand.
Food and drink prices are refreshingly cheaper in Progreso compared to many beachfront restaurants in Quintana Roo.
Progreso is also one of the best Yucatan beaches for swimming, and there are a lot of natural sightseeing opportunities nearby, given that a protected area borders it.
2. El Cuyo
El Cuyo is a piece of essentially untouched coastline that runs for miles on either side of a cute little beach town. If avoiding crowds and seeing natural marine debris wash up on shore is your thing, El Cuyo is one of the best Yucatan beaches for you.
This town got on the off-the-beaten-path type of tourist radar when it became a spot for kitesurfing.
It’s now popular among kitesurfers. But don’t worry, this beach never gets truly crowded; how many kitesurfers have you met in your life?
I’ll admit it—I haven’t been to El Cuyo proper. But I’ve been to the beaches near Las Coloradas and have been told by many that El Cuyo is infinitely better.
From the advice I’ve been given, El Cuyo is an excellent beach town if you’re looking to get off the grid. The WiFi is spotty, so digital nomads must go elsewhere to find greener fiber-optic pastures.
But El Cuyo is a community of friendly, laid-back locals and a small, tight-knit group of expats who cherish having less communication with the outside world.
3. Las Coloradas
Las Coloradas isn’t a beach per se. But it’s surrounded by public beaches, and the ocean hits its shores.
The unique part about Las Coloradas is that it’s a lagoon where locals harvest salt. It’s one of Yucatan state’s biggest “beach” attractions, as red algae thrive in the salty environment, turning the water pink.
There are many tours (and nuances to those tours) that you can read about in my article on whether a visit to Las Coloradas is worth it.
But from a beach standpoint, this isn’t the type of place where you can pitch a beach umbrella in the sand and spend the day basking in the water; the area is tightly controlled.
So, I recommend kicking off your flip-flops and walking along the sandy shores of Las Coloradas with the pink lagoon on one side and the ocean on the other.
When you finish your visit, you can head to nearby beaches (at least one beach stop is often included on a full-day Las Coloradas and Río Lagartos tour).
The Best Yucatan Beaches in the Yucatan Peninsula
Now that you have a feel for some of the beach options in Yucatan state, let’s dive into the best beaches in the Yucatan Peninsula. All of the beaches below call Quintana Roo home.
1. Playa Norte
Playa Norte is easily the most beautiful beach in the Yucatan.
It sits on the small island of Isla Mujeres. But don’t let this fool you—it’s only a 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun, so taking a day trip there is a breeze.
You can also spend the night if you want a more laid-back beach experience than in Cancun. I spent two weeks in Isla Mujeres. In hindsight, that was too much time for such a small island, but I digress.
Playa Norte is a quiet oasis in the mornings, but the afternoon sun hitting its clear waters is when you’ll get to truly appreciate it, as seen in the photo above.
Bars and restaurants line this beach, offering a plethora of seafood, coconut water, ice cream, and other goodies.
Although Playa Norte gets crowded, it has a distinct laid-back island vibe that you won’t find in Cancun.
I recommend spending one or two nights there to enjoy all this beach and the island offers.
2. Playa Paraíso
Many people consider Playa Paraíso the best beach in the Yucatan due to its wide sandy beach and long shore that spans over one mile.
This Tulum beach has a distinctly quieter vibe compared to many oceanfront areas in Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Nevertheless, you can sit down for a seafood meal at one of the many seaside restaurants or grab a beer from a low-key bar.
Playa Paraíso is a public beach, so you don’t have to pay to visit.
However, the prices are “a la Tulum.” So, expect to shell out your pesos if you want a beach chair, umbrella, food, and drinks.
The best deal (relatively speaking) is to grab a table or beach chairs at a beachside restaurant, order food, and base your beach day outing from there.
For a seaweed reference, I took the photo above at the start of the seaweed season.
But since Playa Paraíso isn’t home to many beachfront hotels, small amounts of natural debris are common on this beach year-round. Iguanas basking on nearby rocks are, too.
3. Akumal Beach
I’ll admit it—I’m partial to Akumal.
I know photos can often be deceiving. But when I reviewed my photos after visiting Akumal Beach, all that ran through my mind was how the beach looked even better in person.
Of course, the photo I took above wasn’t during seaweed season. So please don’t shoot the messenger if you end up traveling to the Yucatan from May to October 🙂
Unlike all the other beaches on this list, Akumal is a controlled area.
You must pay an entrance fee to enter (about $5), and they’ll give you a wristband that you’ll need to wear for the rest of the day.
You can come and go from the beach with your day pass, although several restaurants and snack stands are within the gated area.
Because Akumal is highly controlled, fewer people are on the beach, and vendors won’t pester you.
To discover more about why Akumal is one of the best Yucatan beaches and to get tips on visiting there, check out my article on Akumal Beach.
4. Playa Ruinas
Playa Ruinas is another popular beach in Tulum. It sits beneath the cliff that’s home to the stunning Tulum Ruins.
A (rather rickety) staircase leads down to this slice of beach. Keep your camera out, for iguanas will eye you as they bask on rocks in the sun.
They had the staircase closed the day I visited, presumably because of the rough water conditions.
But even if luck isn’t on your side, you’ll still be able to enjoy views of Playa Ruinas from above.
Needless to say, Playa Ruinas is one of the best beaches in the Yucatan Peninsula if you’re interested in combining your beach trip with a history lesson.
The Tulum Ruins are a must-see, and you can hire a local English-speaking guide for a reasonable price to take you around the ruins during a 1.5 to 2-hour tour.
Admittedly, Cozumel isn’t a beach—it’s an entire island. And the third largest island in Mexico, at that.
But what I love about the beaches in Cozumel is how varied they are, so it’s hard to pick just one.
Cozumel has among the least developed Yucatan beaches on this list. I know that might sound counterintuitive, given that it’s a popular tourist spot. But the island receives far fewer visitors than places like Cancun.
You can arrive in Cozumel via a flight or a ferry from Playa del Carmen.
From there, I recommend renting a scooter or vehicle and driving around the island, where you’ll encounter many deserted beaches during the drive.
Feel free to pull off the side of the road and snap photos of them, but don’t wander far; it’s safest for your belongings to make paid beach clubs or eco-parks your beach base.
6. Playa Delfines
Playa Delfines stands for “Dolphin Beach” in English, and rightly so. If you get lucky, you can spot dolphins swimming near the shore.
Not only is Playa Delfines one of the best Yucatan beaches, but it’s among my favorite beaches in Cancun. That’s because this beach sits south of Cancun’s main Hotel Zone, meaning it has fewer crowds.
Of course, you’ll still get to enjoy unbelievably blue water and quite possibly the softest stand you’ve ever stepped in, both of which are iconic features of the beaches in Cancun.
You’ll also have access to public restrooms at Dolphin Beach and a nice little lookout area before heading down to the shore.
But bring your own water and snacks, for food and drink options are sparse in this slice of paradise.
7. Playa Mahahual
Playa Mahahual is still on my bucket list. But given the rave reviews I’ve heard from other travelers and its 4.5-star rating on TripAdvisor, it didn’t feel right to leave it out.
This beach sits in the southern part of the Yucatan Peninsula, in the heart of the beach resort town of Mahahual. Restaurants and bars sit wedged between palm trees with blue water and boats in the foreground.
Playa Mahahual is an excellent place to snorkel, take a boat tour, or lounge in one of many reclining chairs on the beach.
For the best snorkeling, you can hire a boat to take you to a coral reef located a few hundred yards away from the beach.
Should you take the trip all the way down to Playa Mahahual, it’s practically a sin to skip Bacalar. Hang tight because I’ll talk more about Bacalar shortly.
Holbox is an island that straddles the border of Quintana Roo and Yucatan states.
It’s famous for its quiet, nature-oriented atmosphere—that is, as famous as a place off the standard tourist path can get.
Public vehicles aren’t permitted on Holbox Island. Instead, you can get around by foot in the tourist center and use a golf cart to explore more desolate areas on the island.
What amazed me the most about Holbox was how far into the ocean I could walk before the water came up to my waist. But the island is even more known for its beach at night when bioluminescent plankton turns the water into a show of lights.
While Holbox has many perks, it’s the type of place where most people only want to stay for two or three nights. The island being so small, poor WiFi, and a lack of infrastructure are the main reasons.
For more details, you can check out my guide on what to do in Holbox rain or shine.
9. Playa del Carmen
Ah, Playa del Carmen. It’s where I’ve spent the most time in the Yucatan, and yet I firmly believe that while it deserves a spot on this list of the best beaches in the Yucatan Peninsula, it comes in last place.
Unlike many of the beaches on this list, which boast miles of uninterrupted sandy shores, Playa del Carmen has many small beaches. A combination of rocky areas, piers, and buildings divide its beach into several small chunks.
Playa’s beaches also get incredibly crowded. Especially the beaches in the downtown tourist area.
And don’t even get me started on the crowds you’ll encounter on the weekends.
Yet despite these caveats, the beaches in Playa del Carmen have undeniable charm in a party-hearty kind of way.
You can also get way more bang for your beer and taco buck compared to beachfront restaurants in Cancun and Tulum.
If you only have time for one beachside restaurant in Playa del Carmen, I recommend making it Fusion Beach Bar. They even put on a fire show in the evening.
Bonus “Beach” in the Yucatan: Bacalar
I promised you a beach that wasn’t a beach, and here we are—Bacalar is a lakeside destination in the Yucatan.
Bacalar isn’t the kind of place where you can lay a towel in the sand, but you can enjoy its Caribbean blue waters from the comfort of a beach chair on the dock or a boat out on the water.
Locals lovingly call Bacalar the “Lagoon of Seven Colors.”
If you’re lucky enough to visit, you’ll see why. Bacalar boasts a range of blues according to the depth of the water.
I recommend booking a Bacalar boat tour (it’s super cheap) to see the blue water in all its glory.
After you spend a night or two in Bacalar, you can opt to either head back up the Yucatan Peninsula or cross the nearby border to check out the beaches in Belize.
Which Beach Will You Pick?
One of the best parts about the Yucatan is how easy it is to explore multiple beaches within a single trip. Whether you rent a car, hire a taxi, or take the bus, getting around the Yucatan is safe and easy.
If you didn’t see your favorite beach on this list of the best Yucatan beaches, let me know in the comments section.
I’d also love to hear your opinions on any of the beaches once you visit them. I’m sure future readers will appreciate learning about your experience and takeaways too.