Situated about 20 miles south of the mega-resorts and hi-rise buildings that make up modern-day Cancun and just north of the chic town of Playa del Carmen in Mexico’s scenic Riviera Maya, the village of Puerto Morelos is one of the region’s best hidden gems. Travel editor Bob Schulman recently paid a visit to Puerto Morelos for the Huffington Post, seeking to discover what this laid-back beach town is really all about.
"Wander around the town for a while and you’ll get a good taste of ‘the real Mexico," writes Schulman. “Chances are you’ll meet some of the friendliest people on the planet going about their business, mostly in shops lining the town square.”
Puerto Morelos is one of the only deep-water ports in the region, which helped make it a boomtown in the 1920s when exports of locally grown mahogany and sapodilla trees (which are coveted for their chicle, a resin used to make chewing gum) reached a peak. By the mid-1900s, however, demand for mahogany had dwindled and gum manufacturers began to use a more cost-effective synthetic base, so the town reverted back to near obscurity until Cancun emerged as a major tourist destination in the 1970’s and people began to discover all that this incredible region has to offer.
Puerto Morelos is still a small town with a traditional feel – you can easily walk from one side of the village to the other in 20 minutes or less and there is no McDonald’s,Taco Bell or other corporate fast food joint in sight. Most of the tourists that are drawn here come to enjoy the quiet atmosphere, fantastic scuba diving and world-class snorkeling, which is made possible thanks to a special roped-in section of the great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which is the second largest reef on earth. Here, a colorful menagerie of turtles, eagle rays, crabs, lobsters and countless tropical fish make their home among 65 different species of stony coral.
Inside Scoop from Investment Properties Mexico: Discover the colorful cuisine of Puerto Morelos in our special report on great places to dine the next time you’re in town.
“it’s no wonder that word about Puerto Morelos’ oasis of tranquility is getting out,” writes Schulman. “For instance, a number of hotels were built in recent years on a few miles of beaches edging both sides of the town.”
Despite this growth, city officials and hoteliers are working closely together and have pledged to preserve the old-world charm and ambiance of Puerto Morelos. For example, a local hotel association is currently working to improve the town’s downtown areas by planting more trees, repainting buildings and adding new benches and trash receptacles. Also, the town requires new hotels in Puerto Morelos to replace any trees or other foliage that is destroyed during construction and only low-rise buildings are permitted.
This keeps downtown Puerto Morelos stand in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of nearby Cancun and other busier spots along the 80-mile stretch of sand known as the Riviera Maya, which attracts at least 10 million international visitors each year and is home to 500 hotels and resorts, as well as a number of theme parks, nightclubs, shopping malls, jungle preserves and more.