Beachscape Kin Ha Villas & Suites, Cancún
On the surface, this mid-size hotel in Cancún’s hotel zone is pretty unremarkable. The tile-floored rooms are big and clean, with terraces or balconies – though they’re not notably stylish. The restaurant is good, not gourmet. The pool is a sensible size. But set this against its glitzy, high-rise neighbours and check the rates, which are often lower than similarly appointed hotels on the mainland, 30 minutes from the water – and Beachscape starts looking pretty good. Then walk out on to the palm-shaded beach, one of the prettiest stretches in the hotel zone, and the place becomes a minor miracle.
• Doubles from $109, +52 998 891 5427, beachscape.com.mx
Travel In’, Mahahual
Usually, a full beach-bum escape means limiting your diet to coconut drinks and fish dinners. But at this Dutch-run restaurant and guesthouse, four miles down the coast from Mahahual town, you can also enjoy an ever-changing menu that ranges from curry to baked aubergine. There are only two rooms. The big suite has a well-stocked library and large French doors through which you can see the water (the beach here is shaded by both palms and pines). A smaller, rustic cabin has screens on all four sides and a separate cold-water shower nearby.
• Doubles from $43, +52 983 110 9496, travel-in.com.mx
Vistalmar, Isla Mujeres
At this blocky old hotel in Isla’s main town, a few blocks from the Cancún ferry terminal, the rooms are standard Mexican budget-style: scuffed but clean tiled floors, lemon-yellow walls and bathrooms done in delectable mint-green tiles – floor, walls and all. There are screens on the windows, the ceiling fans work and the price hasn’t changed in almost a decade. What more could a budget traveller ask for? Oh, yes, the name lives up to its promise: from the wide front veranda, there is indeed a view of the pale-blue sea, glinting through palm trees. You need only cross the road to get to the white-sand beach and wade right into the water.
• Doubles from $20 (aircon about $2.50 extra), +52 998 877 0209, no website
Nueva Vida de Ramiro, Tulum
The few remaining bare-bones cabañas that made Tulum famous on the backpacker trail are now unreasonably expensive – for sand floors and shared showers. Better to pay a bit more and get some comfort for your money. Nueva Vida de Ramiro, near the southern end of Tulum’s long, flawless, white-sand beach, is notable for its lush, forest-like setting. Its 32 rooms – some sturdy cement-walled buildings and some wooden cabins – are tucked into dense greenery, for privacy. You get a ceiling fan, a proper tiled floor and even a private bathroom – with an outdoor shower, to conjure the wild-beach days past.
• Doubles from $100 B&B, +52 984 877 8512, tulumnv.com
Posada el Moro, Puerto Morelos
Probably the most overlooked town on the Riviera Maya, Puerto Morelos lives in the shadow of Cancún, 20 minutes north. PoMo, as repeat visitors call the town, has low buildings, a wide, quiet beach lined with fishing boats and a handful of hotels, all inexpensive. Though it’s a few minutes’ walk from the water, Posada el Moro is the best option, with shady, well cared-for rooms with ceiling fans and optional aircon, plus a small pool in the garden. The continental breakfast isn’t much better than a hostel’s, but no matter – another feature of PoMo is its excellent budget restaurants.
• Doubles from $57 B&B, +52 998 871 0159, posadaelmoro.com
Ventanas al Mar, Cozumel
While the rest of the island of Cozumel is cushy all-inclusive resorts, Ventanas al Mar stands alone on the east side of the island, facing the open Caribbean – an ideal perch for anyone in search of solitude. This is the windward coast, so the water is seldom calm enough for swimming, but just north of the hotel lies a small, empty beach dotted with shells. Plus, that wind comes in handy – it provides all the power for the hotel. At night, the skies are utterly dark, and you’ll be lulled to sleep by the waves crashing against the rocks below.
• Doubles from $113 B&B, no phone, ventanasalmarcozumel.com
Fusion, Playa del Carmen
Years ago, most of Playa’s hippie beach bars and hostels converted to slicker, louder operations. But for both sleeping and nightlife, Fusion conjures the feel of Playa the way old-timers remember it – with just a bit more polish. The bar has low tables and chairs in the sand, lit by hurricane lamps, and mellow live music and fire-spinning most nights. The rooms are simple, with stone floors, heavy local wood furniture and colourful bedspreads, but they do have aircon and TV. Forgo the pricey sea views – you’ll be glad of the quieter, cheaper rooms in the back when you turn in from the beach party.
• Doubles from $75 B&B, +52 984 873 0374, fusionhotelmexico.com
Paamul, Playa del Carmen
Don’t write this place off when you hear it’s a trailer park – the people who live on this small, private bay, in crafty homes built around their camper vans, keep the area tidy. Short-term guests have the choice of rooms in a small hotel block or (cheaper) wood cabañas with palm-thatch roofs (screened in, so the bits don’t fall on you). All have private facilities and are steps from the beach. Past the rocky point at the bay’s south side, the empty beach stretches for more than a mile, the longest stretch of undeveloped land in the Riviera Maya.
• Doubles from $80 B&B, +52 984 875 1053, paamul.com
Tribu, Isla Holbox
On a lightly developed island in the Gulf of Mexico, this is the kind of place that restores faith in hostels. Almost entirely hand-built, it looks quirky but is smartly designed for good ventilation in all the cheerfully painted dorms and private rooms. Guests can cook in the huge communal kitchen, kick back in the groovy bar tucked up in the trees and, on rainy days, chill out in the movie room. The beach is half a block a way, and you even get a cute, hand-drawn map to guide you around the sand-street town.
• Dorm beds from $10, private doubles from $32, +52 984 875 2507,tribuhostel.com
Hotel María del Carmen, Celestún
To get to this classic old Mexican beach hotel, you basically go straight: straight west on the highway from Mérida, then straight through town. Check in to your tiled room with its hard-working ceiling fan (aircon is optional), then walk straight again, into the milky-green water of the Gulf of Mexico. The place is busy during Mexican holidays (July and August, Easter week, Christmas), but at other times, you’ll only share the place with the handful of tourists who come to see the flamingoes in the nearby lagoon. Put up a hammock on your tree-shaded balcony and enjoy the solitude.
• Doubles from $27, +52 988 916 2170, Facebook page
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