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The Best Beaches on The Yucatan Gulf Coast

Updated: Jun 16, 2019

cancunito beach rio lagartos yucatan
Cancunito Beach near Rio Lagartos on the Yucatan Gulf Coast

The beaches in Mexico are world class, and often in the conversation for some of the best in the world. From the white sand and blue waters of the Caribbean to the world renowned surfing beaches of the Pacific where the mountainous jungle collides with the ocean, there's no wonder why millions of people visit these beaches every year.

With all of these great beaches throughout the country, the beaches along the Yucatan Gulf Coast have long been ignored. However, that's been beginning to change due to a number of factors. The beaches along the Gulf Coast are more akin to the Caribbean beaches than the Pacific. You won't find big waves or rocky shores, just calm blue water and white sand beaches. I'll be honest though, the water isn't quite as blue as the Caribbean side and the sand not quite as white. For these reasons as well as investment from the Mexican government focused on other areas, the Yucatan Gulf Coast was long forgotten, at least for international tourists.

However, the beaches in Yucatan have a lot of advantages over their Caribbean counterparts, and thus tourists and investment have been beginning to arrive. For one, security concerns along the Caribbean have had people rethinking their trips. Recent violence due to drug cartel infighting in Cancun and Playa del Carmen have many tourists looking elsewhere. In comparison, the beaches along the Gulf Coast have been completely spared from the drug war.

Another factor that has cropped up over the past few years is the Sargazo issue on the Caribbean side. Sargazo is a type of seaweed that has been inundating the beaches along the Caribbean Coast of Mexico for the past couple years. This seaweed turns the water to a reddish brown and washes up on shore in huge piles. As a result, the water isn't quite as a blue, and the sand not quite as white. This unfortunate act of nature on the Caribbean side has been a boon for tourism and investment on the Gulf side.

Finally, prices on the Gulf Coast are a fraction of what you'll find on the Caribbean side. Hotels, restaurants, real estate, you name it, you'll find it cheaper on the Yucatan Gulf Coast. For example, beach front homes along the Caribbean sea will run upwards of 500,000 USD, more often reaching a million. On the Gulf Coast, you can find great homes on the water for as little as 250,000 USD.

Now that we've gone over some of the reasons the beaches along the Yucatan Gulf Coast are increasing in popularity, let's get into some of the specific beaches and what makes them special.

The Hub: Progreso

You can't talk about the beaches along the Yucatan Gulf Coast without mentioning Progreso. Progreso is the most populated municipality along Gulf side of the peninsula and offers the most services. To add to the population, cruise ships come into town three days a week which can make things pretty chaotic along the malecon (boardwalk).

While the beaches in Progreso aren't bad, they aren't anywhere near world class either. At the end of the day, this is a working class port town. Along with the cruise ships, come cargo ships that supply the region with needed goods from all over the world. However, what the town lacks in beauty, it makes up for in services.

You'll find more restaurants, bars, and other shopping in Progresso than any other beach town on the Yucatan Gulf Coast. You'll also find the biggest supermarkets. So there are advantages to being in or at least near to Progreso.

To add to that, Progreso sits just 20 minutes north of Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan. While not a beach, Merida is the economic and cultural center of the region, and therefore should not be missed. And if you can't find what you need in Progreso, Merida offers all the services and amenities that you would expect in a city of a over 1 million.

Check out our post on what's it like living Merida, Mexico

Backpacker Paradise: Isla Holbox

This small island that straddles between the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean is the place along the Gulf Coast of the Yucatan Peninsula that has experienced the most growth over the past few years. Why? The beaches are incredible and until recently, the place was completely untouched by tourists. That's changing quickly, best to get there soon to experience the magic that is Isla Holbox.

Check out LATAM Capitalist's Essential Travel Gear

Isla Holbox quickly went from unknown to a standard stop on the backpacker trail through Mexico. The island caters to this reputation with many bars, cheap restaurants, and hostels. However, more recently the island has begun to cater to a higher class of tourists with more luxury hotels and high end restaurants.

sandy road  beach Isla Holbox
A sandy road along the beach on Isla Holbox

Virgin Beaches and Pink Water: Rio Lagartos and Celestun

If you're looking for something a little quieter than Isla Holbox, or perhaps you're looking for the next Holbox, you may be able to find what you're looking for Rio Lagartos in Celestun. Although these two towns are over a hundred mile apart, they have a lot of similarities.

Virgin beaches, pink lakes, flamingos, they're all here. The beaches in Rio Lagartos and Celestun are incredible and rival those of the Caribbean side of Mexico in terms of white sand and turquoise blue water. However most people come here for two reasons:

Eco-tourism to see Flamingos, Pelicans and other wildlife and to see the curiously pink lakes that are found here. However, these pink waters aren't found naturally. The pink lakes are a result of salt processing factories in the area. The factories have made artificial ponds which take salt water from the ocean and then slowly evaporate off the water. As the water evaporates, the salt concentration increases. The high concentration of salt attracts a pink algae, the same algae Flamingos eat that gives them their pink color. In the photo below, you can see a pond with the highest concentration of salt and therefore pinkest water.

pink water las coloradas rio lagartos yucatan
The Pink Water at Las Coloradas

In the photo below, taken from Google Maps, you can see the the different ponds with increasing concentrations of salt. The water gets increasingly salty and therefore pinker from left to right along the picture.

aerial view las coloradas google maps
An Aerial View of the Pink Ponds from Google Maps

Need a Place to Stay on the Yucatan Gulf Coast?

Wherever you decided to stay along the Yuctan Gulf Coast, I highly recommend Airbnb. As this part of Mexico is still pretty untouched when it comes to mass tourism, they're aren't many hotels! Thus, Airbnb is your best option when traveling here. Click the banner below to receive $40 off your first stay.

Beach Towns to Slow Down

Once you've hit all the main tourists attractions along the Yucatan Gulf Coast, it may be time to find a place to stay for a while and enjoy a slower pace of life. There's a number of small towns along the Gulf of Mexico in Yucatan that offer just that. A few of the most popular being:

  • Chelem

  • Chuburna

  • Chicxulub

  • Telchac Puerto

Specifically Chelem and Chuburna have turned into popular retirement destinations for Americans and Canadians. That's not to say these towns are only for retirees. But the low cost of living, slow pace of life, and cheap beach front real estate have attracted many to spend their retirement years here in Mexico.

chelem yucatan gulf of mexico
A quiet street in Chelem

Chicxulub is a popular vacation town for Mexicans, but you'll find foreigners here as well. A quiet fishing village during the day comes alive with a number of nightclubs that open during the summer months.

Final Thoughts

If you're looking for something a little more off the beaten path in Mexico, the Yucatan Gulf Coast could be the perfect destination for your next trip to Mexico. Just don't wait long, because these places won't stay a secret forever!

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