Akumal to Mahahual, Mexico: Way Better Than a Spa Day

White and brown dogs on a pier in Mahahual, Mexico – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingWhen you envision someone in December packing their van in the middle of a driving rain, what pops into your mind?  Do you see a person in swimming trunks and sandals?  Probably not, unless you had the same experience as us, as we got ready to leave Akumal.  I just couldn’t think of a smarter way to do it.  It was raining hard, it was warm, we needed to get going right away, and I needed something that would dry quickly and that I could easily change out of.  Voilà! Form over function: my swimming trunks.

After packing, my wife Jet and I raced the dogs through the downpour so they could jump in, and we were on our way, down the road past the first guard gate and the second, then onto the main highway and to the right, to drive south through the remainder of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo all the way next to the border with Belize

Our anticipation was especially high as we left Akumal and the Riviera Maya, mainly because we were going to a place off the beaten path.  While LOTS of people have been to Cancun and even Playa del Carmen, Tulum, etc., not as many have been to Chetumal, on the border with Belize, or the places where we intended to visit along the way-- Mahahual and Bacalar.

After leaving Tulum, the yoga- / eco-friendly-based civilization we had become accustomed to almost immediately melted away, to be replaced by the natural jungle and the road upon which we drove, hacked out of the thick vegetation now on all sides.  Map of Akumal to Mahahual, Mexico – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingThe rain had gradually eased, then stopped altogether.  We had evidently outrun it the bulk of it.  With almost no traffic in either direction on the highway, it was us, and our more primeval solitude.  It was nice to be on the open road again.

We saw very little civilization for more than two hours and no sea, either, because the road is entirely inland.  We could only guess how gorgeous it would be if there could be a turnoff to the left we could take to what we could only imagine would be a magnificent, almost untouched coastline, but there weren’t any.

You can drive directly from Riviera Maya to Chetumal and not stop at Mahahual, but we wanted to see Mahahual, mainly because all the pictures we saw of it looked stunningly beautiful.  It would be a 40-minute detour from the main road and 40 minutes back.  Due to some unusually good planning and execution (not to mention packing in the rain), we had enough time, so we made the left off the main road to head towards the sea, to Mahahual.

Beach at Mahahual, Mexico – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingThere wasn’t much of a change right away, just more flat jungle, and now an eastbound road, going straight for miles. In the distance, in an otherwise fairly clear sky, we could see a distinct curtain of rain.  As we got closer, we began to drive through bright sunshine punctuated by periodic downpours we could clearly see coming towards us and away, across the highway.  It was either pouring rain and the noise that came with it, windshield wipers included, or glistening, silent sunshine.  Parts of the road were bone dry, while others were running off sheets of water from the kind of rain that comes heavily and in very large drops. No half measures here.  It was quite dramatic and interesting.

Less dramatic and interesting was the road, which, in between two long, straight stretches, had just one turn in it. We had two theories:
  1. the farseeing and safety-conscious road planners created this single turn to keep drivers like us alert; and,
  2. they had made a mistake and just realized it after 10 or so miles.
We’ll probably never know the answer.
Chuck Bolotin standing in front of the beach at Mahahual, Mexico
There is very little climatic to let you know you’ve entered Mahahual.  However, directly afterwards, the road ends at the sea, which is nothing less than awe inspiring.  What a view it was!  We made a right (the only way you can turn) onto a road that was one lane in each direction, and never further than 20 yards or so from exquisitely, clear, flat water, which changed into various brilliantly shaded, dazzling colors stretching into the distance, where the clouds appeared, perfectly placed on the horizon as if in the imagination of a skilled painter.  Time slowed way down, as we drove at between 5 – 10 miles per hour, consistent with the other sparse traffic, taking it all in.
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To the left was the striking water; to the right, an assortment of small restaurants and some hotels.  There were a few larger than boutique hotels, but not many, and nothing like the scale and grandeur of Cancun.  Rather, the grandeur of Mahahual was to the left, in the sublime and glorious sea and the view.

Chuck Bolotin with dogs on chairs at beach in Mahahual, MexicoAfter 10 minutes or so of experiencing the wonder of it all, we stopped at an Italian restaurant on the right side of the road.  To the left, on the sand, was a place advertising outside massages.  I don’t remember the price, except that it was very reasonable, especially given the ambiance.  No need for the standard Stateside contrived spa experience with Zen-like music and incents; the gently lapping water and gracefully swaying palm trees provided the sound, while the aroma was a faint scent of the sea.  All anyone needed was supplied by nature and the masseuse standing at the ready; no waiting.

While Jet had declined getting a massage at the beach in other places in Mexico, partially because it was just too darned hot, she had no problem agreeing to receive what I’ll call the “Mahahual treatment”, plopping quickly and joyfully onto the massage table on the sand, while I took the dogs for a mellow, life-affirming walk along the shore.  One gets the feeling in Mahahual that you don’t really have to leave to go somewhere else.  Why would you?  Jet was getting a massage while the dogs and I walked along the shore and then to the end of a narrow pier, where I lazily watched a group Jet Metier getting a massage on the beach at Mahahual, Mexicoof kayakers paddle out to the near horizon, suspended as they were on the clear and multi-colored sea, while the dogs marveled at how they could see fish in the 3 feet of water they were above.  It was relaxing and beautiful.

I meandered back to the massage table and took a seat on one of the many lounge chairs nearby, with the dogs at my sides, becoming one with the vista, nothing to sully the experience except for the occasionally passing overweight European vacationer in what I can assume is their customary much too tight and much too small bathing suits for their middle-aged and not too fit anatomy.  Otherwise, it was close to perfect.
Come with us as we visit the surprising town of Chetumal next, on the border with Belize, and do some unanticipated shopping.

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