Beyond Cancun: The Best Beaches of the Yucatan

By Ministry of Tourism of the State of Yucatán
June 30, 2003
Laurentiu morariu 21q4 FG9 Zmj Q unsplash
Beach in Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico by Laurentiu Morariu - Unsplash

Think you can't budget a beautiful, international beach trip? Think again: the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico is typically easy to travel to with many direct (and reasonably priced) flights going to Cancun, in the state of Quintana Roo. Just west of Quintana Roo, however, is the state of Yucatan. Its reputation for the world’s most impressive ancient archeological sites, Spanish-style architecture, and underground cenotes is legendary. But this state along the Yucatan peninsula is also known for its splendid white-sand beaches that are bordered by the shimmering turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Caribbean-style beaches are among its most idyllic and photo-worthy attributes. While the beaches of Quintana Roo have taken up much of the beach spotlight, Yucatan’s beaches have been flying under the radar waiting to be discovered. Whether visitors are looking for a bustling fishing village with local shops and hotels, or the far-reaches of virgin, palm-fringed coastline, Yucatan has 235 miles of coastline to discover.


Beach in Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico by Laurentiu Morariu - Unsplash

Progreso is one of the most popular beach towns in the state of Yucatan. Located just 22 miles from the capital city, Merida, the town was founded in 1871 and has grown to become the main port of the Yucatan coast. Today it is a tourist hub and a border point open to commercial exchange with the states and countries on the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

Due to its commercial activity, Progreso is the most-visited port in the state and a popular cruise destination for visitors from all over the world. Along the boardwalk, visitors will find both international and local restaurants, as well as shops and boutiques. The market of Progreso is a destination in its own right, selling local food, crafts, and more. The beaches are the real star of Progreso, with white sand, turquoise water, and endless activities from kitesurfing and windsurfing to water skiing and fishing.

Alacranes Reef National Park

Just off the coast of Progreso is the Alacranes Reef National Park, a naturally protected area brimming with flora and fauna. The group of islands is the largest coral structure in the Gulf of Mexico and the archipelago is made up of five islets, named Isla Blanca, Isla Muertos, Isla Pajaros, Isla Desterrada, and Isla Perez. In fact, it's possible to camp on Isla Perez and experience its sugary sand and warm, shallow, turquoise water.


Chuburna Puerto in Yucatan by Jorge Zapata - Unsplash

To the west of Progreso is the fishing port of Chuburná. This small, picturesque town is known for its handful of vibrant, lively restaurants that specialize in local seafood. At the port pier, visitors can appreciate the gradient of shades of blue that dance across the sea. The beaches are calm and clean and perfect for walking. If you head to the west, you'll find a small lighthouse and a semi-virgin beach, as well as a channel where fishing boats sputter back and forth out to sea.

San Cristano

San Cristano is another fishing village about an hour from Merida. This sleepy slice of the world has a population of roughly 600 people and is known for its pristine ecotourism. San Cristiano boasts nearly two miles of beach and water that is a Caribbean-style shade of blue. Its rich watering holes are abundant with more than 130 species of birds, fish, and other types of flora and fauna. You'll also find many cenotes here, the best known of which is Dzonot-Tzik, or Cenote Bravo, known for its crystal clear waters and sense of calm.


Flamingos in Celestún by Akshaye Sikand - Unsplash

You'll find no better spot for eco-tourism in Yucatan than in the beach town of Celestún. In fact, the biosphere reserve of Celestún has declared a wildlife refuge in 1979. Located about 68 miles from Merida and 76 miles from Progreso, Celestún has several springs that make it ideal for swimming, diving, and viewing wildlife. Feast your eyes on the thousands of pink flamingos that call the sanctuary of Celestún home. On guided boat tours, you can learn more about their history and see them as closely as possible without interrupting their habitat. Celestún is also home to many other types of fauna, like ocelots, jaguars, tigrillos, and spider monkeys.

El Palmar

Another important ecological reserve in Yucatan is El Palmar, a natural protected area and state reserve as of 1990. It is about 50 miles from Merida and known for its semi-virgin beach, as well as its modest cabin services and local restaurants. Here visitors can take boat rides for wildlife viewing or participate in activities like kayaking, paddle boarding, windsurfing, and kiteboarding. Drink in the views from Yucatan's tallest lighthouse, as well.


Finally, Cancunito is one of the Yucatan's most pristine and virgin beaches — the perfect place to disconnect from the city and reconnect with the sea. Shrouded by mangroves and not far from the famous pink-hued Las Coloradas salt mines, the waters here are calm and clear, free of shops, hotels, and restaurants, and simply blessed with the raw splendor of nature.

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Travel Trends for 2023

Looking for inspiration for new travel experiences and trip ideas? Wondering about the best ways to save on hotels, flights, and more this year? Several large travel and finance companies including Kayak,, and American Express have all recently released their reports on travel trends for the upcoming year. Data indicates that many tourists are looking towards trips that focus on wellness, "unplugged" experiences and especially interested in ways to learn about new and unfamiliar cultures. Since many people put off travel during the pandemic, prospective travelers have also increased spending limits for trips they plan to take this year. However, even with the costs of flights (and pretty much everything) skyrocketing across the country due to inflation, there are still several potential destinations that will prove to be very budget-friendly if you're not one of the many planning to splurge more than necessary just yet. Below are some of the big takeaways from these travel trends reports. Money-Saving Trends and Tips According to data gathered by, almost two-thirds (63%) will keep a close eye on deals and hacks, with more than half (53%) happy to travel off-season or via longer routes. That means 2023’s off-season may be a little busier than last year’s, while the summer may be somewhat quieter than usual. This may help spread the crowds at busy attractions such as Walt Disney World. 61% of people also intend on planning their vacations further in advance, so expect to see fewer last-minute travelers in 2023. As a result, there may be less last-minute deals on trips (though this remains to be seen). Unfortunately, the increase on flight prices will likely continue into 2023. Both domestic and international flight prices are up in 2023 compared to 2022 (52% for domestic and 29% for international). Flights from the US to destinations around the world will see an increase in price for 2023 trips. That being said, flights to the South Pacific (+3%) and Europe (+10%) will see the smallest price increases. Both domestic and international trips are expected to see price increases through June, so you may save if you take trips earlier in the year. JFK Airport in New York - courtesy of Kayak pulled together the North American destinations with the cheapest flight prices, so if you're looking to save less on airfare consider a trip to one of the below cities: New York, New York: $337Chicago, Illinois: $343Austin, Texas: $360Atlanta, Georgia: $363Houston, Texas: $365Nashville, Tennessee: $365Guadalajara, Mexico: $369Toronto, Canada: $375Raleigh, North Carolina: $375Fort Lauderdale, Florida: $376 When it comes to accommodations, the West dominates with generally lower nightly hotel rates. If you’re looking to stay in and around the US for less, you may find the best hotel prices in Northwest and Southwest locations. The majority of destinations around North America with affordable nightly rates are also great for the traveler looking to get outside. No matter where you’re looking to stay, nightly prices for hotels and rentals aren’t seeing huge increases in rates. For both domestic and international stays, travelers could expect to pay under $220 a night depending on where they’re headed. Based on Kayak's numbers, here are destinations with the most affordable accommodations: Ocean Shores, Washington: $153/nightPortland, Oregon: $161/nightCody, Wyoming: $169/nightMexico City, Mexico: $190/nightReno, Nevada: $190/nightSalt Lake City, Utah: $192/nightToronto, Canada: $202/nightHouston, Texas: $205/nightSan Antonio, Texas: $212/nightDenver, Colorado: $214/night Off-grid Travel Takes Priority Camping in the great outdoors - courtesy of Following various international lockdowns in which many people weren’t allowed to leave their homes, let alone travel, we became reliant on technology for entertainment. Now that most restrictions have been lifted, travelers are keen to disconnect, with 55% wanting to spend their vacations off-grid. But it doesn’t just stop at wanting to disconnect from technology, with more and more people craving a back-to-basics experience, many travelers are expressing a desire to use their vacations in 2023 as an opportunity to learn survival skills (58%), according to research from This includes learning how to source clean water (53%), light a fire from scratch (42%), forage for food in the wild (39%) and even how to prep for an apocalypse (39%). Connecting with nature also tops travelers' wishlists. Sitting in front of a cozy, crackling fireplace somewhere deep in the woods and miles from the nearest microchip is many travelers’ idea of bliss. However, almost half (48%) would only consider going off-grid if it meant they could take a few luxuries and indulgences with them, and 53% revealed they’d need their phone and stable internet connection. Along with this desire to unplug is a need for focusing on health and wellness. 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Almost three-quarters (73%) of those surveyed by want to experience travel out of their comfort zone, with 30% keen to explore lesser-known cities to find some hidden gems. Travelers want authentic experiences that give them a taste of local culture and let them explore hidden gems that friends back home don’t know about. They also want to know that the decisions they make while traveling can have a positive impact on the destinations they visit, and want the money that they spend on vacation to support the local community. Plenty of travelers (38%) want an out-of-this-world culture shock, and to go on the hunt for UFOs. This means there will likely be an increase in visitors to extra-terrestrial hotspots such as Roswell, New Mexico. Meanwhile, others may go further east: 47% of travelers are interested in exploring exotic delicacies such as the hottest chili pepper (the current world record is held by the California Reaper, bred in Rock Hill, South Carolina). In American Express' research, 89% of survey respondents agree that they want to travel to destinations they’ve never visited before, 79% of Gen-Z and Millennial respondents agree that they would love to partake in a day in the life of locals in the destination they are visiting, and 68% of respondents agree that they pride themselves on finding lesser-known vacation spots before they become popular. Sampling the local cuisine is a big part of people's interest when it comes to learning about a new culture. Some people, however, are even planning their whole trip around food. In fact, 47% of Gen-Z and Millennials say they have planned an entire trip around visiting a specific restaurant—compared to 37% of respondents overall. Furthermore, 45% of Gen-Z and Millennials say they have planned a trip around attending a food festival, compared to just 35% of all respondents. Due to increased interest, its possible that more local and off-the-beaten-path activities and experiences will pop up in many destinations. Research shows that 86% of Gen-Z and Millennial respondents and 83% of all surveyed respondents want to shop at small businesses when they travel to a new location. Plus, 69% of all respondents would spend more during a vacation if they knew it supported the local community, and 88% of all respondents agreed that dining and shopping at local small businesses brings a more authentic experience. Nostalgic Escapes Make a Comeback Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World - courtesy of It's not all about the unusual and unfamiliar, though. Especially when it comes to family vacations, "classic" trips or simple beach getaways, road trips, or theme park trips may see a resurgence. Over the last couple of years, popular culture has seen a nostalgia resurgence of sorts, with 80s and 90s coming back into fashion. It seems as though the same will happen with travel in 2023, with almost nine in ten (88%) in's polls wanting to go on a nostalgic getaway. About a quarter (23%) of travelers want to escape to simpler times, when all we had to worry about was rewinding that rented VHS and how long the lines were for Space Mountain. And 61% of travelers want to get their hearts racing with a trip to a theme park in 2023, with more than half (54%) planning on taking a family reunion-focused vacation. That means theme parks such as Universal Orlando Resort may be visited by multi-generational families in 2023.