We rented a car for a day trip drive to the “hotel zone” in Cancun and then took a side trip to a smaller more bohemian town called Puerto Morelos. These two places present the two very different ways people can enjoy the winter season in Mexico.
The Cancun hotel zone reminds me a lot of Las Vegas, with hundreds of the large five star type of high rise hotels on the best white sand beaches, with all the amenities. The highway through them reminds me of Palm Beach in Florida, with palm trees in the center median as well as the side of the highway, also on a long narrow sandspit that shelters a large inside water lagoon, with some water canal entrances from the ocean. One challenge for a road trip to this area, is that it’s hard to really enjoy the beautiful architecture of these hotels, because they all face the ocean with gated entrances. There are only a few “public” spaces for food and shopping. We eventually were able to find parking at a public beach entrance, and walk into the VIP zone along the beach.
Puerto Morelos stands in stark contrast having a single finger road into the town pier, directly to the main wharf with its iconic “leaning lighthouse” landmark, which has a nice public town square complete with bandshell and surrounded by restaurants and shopping, and a small Malecon walking path along the edge of the beach.
The old lighthouse became tilted in a hurricane storm in 1967.
Although we have been staying in Playa del Carmen as snowbirds from Canada for the past few months, we had never needed to drive in a car. We mostly walk, and sometimes bus or taxi. The car rentals here are a bit of a game, since all the big name companies offer ridiculously low daily prices like $15/day for “everything” but when you arrive to pickup your car, they then talk you into buying the “optional” extra insurance for $50 per day. Hertz lost a big class action lawsuit related to this nonsense. In the end we found a local contact that avoided all that craziness and other scams like finding your spare tire is gone…
There is really only one highway between Playa and Cancun, which is always busy, especially where it gets close to the Airport and often comes to a dead stop from 100km/hr related to construction improvements. There are two kinds of drivers here. The “in a hurry” ones who zig zag back and forth through the lanes, and the barely roadworthy vehicles who putt along slowly. The Mexicans have an interesting way of creating an extra third lane to the right of each pair of lanes on a 4-lane highway, and motorbikes enjoy a fourth lane between the two normal lanes, which allows them to magically be at the front of the lanes at a traffic light! Despite all this, most are generally courteous drivers as long as you understand what is normal, which may occasionally involve a quick short beep.
Our day trip drive took us from Playa del Carmen up to Cancun, past the exit to the international airport. We skipped past the downtown Cancun area which we will visit at another time. Our goal was to drive through the Hotel Zone on the sandspit, as per the green route outlined in the map. On the return home we stopped at the red circle, which is Puerto Morelos.
We saw “#53 Herbie the Love Bug” when we filled up with gas at the OXXO station. Gas price was similar to filling our car in Canada. Full service gas station with attendant who meticulously washed our windshield, very nostalgic for us. The Mexicans have a lot of love for these vehicles here, and seem to be able to maintain them without winter salt to worry about.
Once we were able to find parking in the Hotel zone, we walked along the canal area park that has a stream of nice boats heading into the large lagoon from the open ocean. Many were fishing oriented, but also tour boats.
The white beaches in the Cancun Hotel zone really are beautiful. Many have small two person sailboats available at the resorts. There is always an “ever changing landscape” to watch while you chill in a resort lounger. The resort restaurants are right at the edge of the beach, so you never run out of food or drink.
The canals are at the top of the Lagoon area.
Finding free parking in Puerto Morelos was a little easier to find than it was in Cancun, but still a very busy small resort town, with more of a bohemian vibe, with Mexican people mixing with other tourists. Diving in its various forms is a main attraction here, since there is a natural reef within sight just off shore, that you can snorkel at (with a guide – to keep it and you safe). I also noticed a truck full of scuba diving tanks, so obviously there is more than snorkeling here.
This BOOK STORE had a cute “floating books” gimmick to draw some attention their way. They had English books available.
The big seafood restaurant provided food close to the water, or inside in cooler space. The Sargasso seaweed was manageable there.
The reef is clearly visible from the shore, where the white wave crests can be seen.
Two instruments at once! He did a great job on the pan flute, playing a nice mix of expat familiar tunes with Mexican folk songs.
Interesting bohemian style beach clubs and rental units. One was almost ON the beach. Not sure what the rhinoceros connection at this restaurant was – maybe just a gimmick.
Public beach at the end of the road.