Escape to Xcalak
The best part of visiting the Yucatan Peninsula is the variety of experiences available up and down the whole coastline. In this incredible vortex of ancient and modern worlds, you can fly into Cancun, the “Miami Beach of Mexico”, and within a few hours drive, be sipping margaritas while swinging in a hammock in a lost little corner of the world. When driving down Highway 307, the towns you pass tend to decrease on the “touristy” scale the farther you drive to the South, and the sleepy fishing village of Xcalak is the final destination on Mexico’s Costa Maya. The Costa Maya, or the precious strip of coco ridden shores that stretch from the southern frontier of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere all the way down to Belize, is beginning to receive more and more attention due to its pristine diving, ecological accommodations, peace and quiet only Mother Nature can create, amazingly fresh seafood, cool white sand beaches, tropical jungle mangroves, and remnants of ancient Mayan cities.
My most recent visit to Xcalak was an all too needed escape from the “real world”. I always feel as though I slip into a time warp the minute my tires roll from the asphalt highway onto the sandy beach roads of town, and this time was the same. As I passed the colorful wooden houses, my body instantly sank into a peaceful relaxation as the tune of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” played faintly through my head. Bob and Caroline warmly greeted me at Casa Carolina and showed me to my ‘casita’. This beachfront, four-room guesthouse was an instant hit when it opened its doors three or so years ago. Each studio offers guests a beautiful Mexican tiled and decorated bedroom and bathroom as well as a well-equipped kitchenette and private balcony. The sea breezes flowing through the screens and the ceiling fan kept the room quite comfortable, even at the beginning of a Caribbean summer. I walked out to the beachside palapa to enjoy a cocktail with my lovely hosts. Taking full advantage of my surroundings, I finished my margarita on the roof top in awe of the tangerine sunset. After some conch ceviche at Sylvia’s, I was lulled asleep by the soft rolling waves outside my door.
An orchestra of birds chirping, whistling, and squawking opened my eyes in time to catch the sun begin to rise illuminating the Caribbean horizon. I enjoyed some fresh fruit and coffee at the palapa with Caroline, while Bob began dive instruction with a couple of other guests taking their Open Water Dive Course. I was also ready to get wet, so I proceeded to XTC Dive Center to see Eric and Suzanne. I hopped aboard the boat going to ‘La Poza’ for a morning dive. I love this spot. We entered the water inside the bay, descended to about 15 feet, and swam through the cut in the reef into a trench that runs parallel to shore. We descended along the coral wall to about 80 feet and floated along with the current, mesmerized by the sea life we passed.
In the distance, we could see a school of tarpon approaching. Giant silver bodies surrounded us - God only knows what humans wrapped up in all sorts of dive gear look like to a fish, but they seemed to be equally as amazed with us as we were with them. The school swam past us and we continued floating through this ocean valley. The life here is amazingly plentiful, and aside from the rainbow of fish and coral, we happened upon four eagle rays, a few lobster and morays, and a large starfish. We finished our dive by crossing over the blue water of the trench to the other side where an enormous coral mound extends from at least 90 feet up to 15 feet below the surface of the water. We spiraled up to the top where we spent our safety stop in what seemed to be the ‘local hang-out’ covered with gorgeous coral and all kinds of fish. Capitán Tito was right there as we surfaced, and he skillfully maneuvered the boat back inside the shallow cut. Within 5 minutes, we were standing on the dock joyfully recounting our dive.
I decided I would visit Tierra Maya for dinner, made my reservation, and then spent the rest of my afternoon lying around the beach, catching up on reading, and absorbing some sun. Right before sunset, I paddled out in one of the kayaks to enjoy the view. From out in the bay, the coast was lightly dusted with little houses and palapas - nothing over two stories high, long sand and jungle stretches, and a small fishing village with its small pier and lighthouse. It seems like a picture from 100 years ago, maybe longer. But, I’m here today experiencing this special corner of the world.
The handful of small hotels and guesthouses, restaurants and dive shops each operate on very modern solar, wind and generator power. They abide by the ancient practice of depending on rain for their water supply. I feel privileged for each of the time warps I’ve taken to Xcalak. Leaving all the modern ‘extras’ behind in a place so full of nature’s raw beauty allows the mind to clear and become refreshed and rejuvenated.