Traveling the Sac-Be 2011 – Part Three

Mahahual on the Costa Maya
by Lydia Linton Pontius (Feb. 2012)

As I wrote last year when we visited, this is a City of Two Tales. We arrived in time to have lunch, wanting to see the Malecón with all the cruise ship tourists, just to get an idea of how different this place can be from day to day. What struck me this time was how many fewer tourists found their way to the Malecón. When I asked someone, it was explained that the privately owned terminal had moved many of the attractions, shops and restaurants into the cruise terminal and the owners are trying their hardest to keep the tourists and their money in that vicinity.

Even the shops directly outside of the terminal were quiet and we saw many closed even on a cruise ship day. The point was driven home when we heard that the Hard Rock Café located outside the cruise terminal was the only one to ever have closed on certain week-days because no one came.

These tourist businesses and many local smaller businesses were built for and rely on the visitors off the cruise ships. Now that most of them are shuttled off on private tours or encouraged not to wander outside the terminal, it is affecting the entire area. We were told that some of the people on the cruise ship think they are visiting an island and are not aware of what great places and people are within their reach. If you are planning a cruise here, we highly recommend you wander past the terminal.

What is also interesting about the privately owned terminal is that the ONLY way you can enjoy what it has is if you arrive by ship. We were curious, but it was impossible to enter; it is completely gated and segregated for cruise ship passengers only. Many of the workers here are brought in by buses that the company own, meaning many locals are not benefiting from the jobs.

That said, we were happy to have the Malecón practically to ourselves. It gave us the chance to visit with friends and to meet new ones. We checked into Matan Ka'an, a great little hotel set one block back from the Malecón. The rooms were spacious and clean with great views.

We chose to eat at Green Iguana restaurant right on the beach, and ordered a few beers and the whole fish which was caught that very day. The fish was more than sufficient to feed all four of us and the location was great. There is nothing better than fresh fish with your feet in the sand.

We found some great little shops and, if we explained we were not with the cruise ship, we found them less aggressive with their hawking and haggling. Many were just hoping for a sale. As the day quickly slipped away, we caught up with our friend Kevin Graham with Costa Maya Living and enjoyed a margarita at Nacional Beach Club, made by the owner, expat Evan. More on his bartending skills later.

After a quick stop back at our hotel we, at Kevin's recommendation, headed to 100% Agave. Kevin, unbeknownst to us, called and told Fernando to expect us and we were entertained with an amazing tequila lesson and tasting (See video.) Dinner was great. This is a favorite place for many of the locals, known for its relaxed atmosphere, good food and private-stock tequila. We went back on our way out of town with several plastic bottles, got the tequila straight from the keg for our Sac-Be party, and took it up to Akumal.

The next morning Mike and I took a long walk along the entire Malecón, just as the town was slowly starting to wake and prepare for its day. We ended it by heading to Nacional Beach Club, just as a rain shower came, for a fabulous breakfast which began with Evan's special Bloody Marys. (See video.) It was a wonderful way to start another perfect day in paradise.

Our second night in Mahahual we went back to one of our favorite spots, Balamku Inn. It is just south of town on the beach road. With our push to ensure that does more this year to educate people about sustainability, I wanted to spend some time with Carol and have her explain what she and Alan did to create one of the best eco-friendly, sustainable resorts.

We have created some videos for you to watch that explain in more detail the constructed wetlands (see video), composting toilet systems (see video), and wind and solar energy (see video) that make Balamku self-sustainable. Balamku Inn is totally off the grid and Carol explained that in order to do that successfully, their visitors are asked to restrain from using blow-dryers and other high energy-sapping devices.

That day the bay in front Balamku was not its usual crystal clear and Carol took the time to explain that the reddish water was an example of how the mangroves and coral reefs are so dependent on each other to stay healthy. (See video.) It was just an example of how nature, left to its own, takes care of its needs. In many parts of the world development has made it difficult for mangroves and coral to survive.

We had a lovely time relaxing then headed back to 100% Agave for dinner and enjoyed a peaceful night accentuated by the most gorgeous full moon (see video).

The next morning we awoke to a beautiful sunrise and the water in front was back to crystal clear. Mike and I strolled the length of the beach from Balamku to the bridge and back, birdwatching and taking in the beauty of this place. It will be a part of our life for years to come.

Before heading out we had breakfast at Balamku. I had raved to everyone that they provide a great one and they certainly did not disappoint. (See Matt and Lisa's Breakfast video.) To top off a great meal we had the opportunity to catch up with our prolific contributing writer Barb.

We were sad to leave but it was time to head back north to the Riviera Maya.

Balamku Lydia Pontius