Millions of tourists each year visit Cancun and the Riviera Maya. The majority are drawn to the picturesque white sand beaches and light blue water of the Caribbean Sea.
Unfortunately, this year the beaches haven’t looked their best due to the arrival of large amounts of seaweed, called sargassum.
Sargassum has been around for a long time; however, it wasn’t much of a problem until 2011. That year everything changed and, for reasons that scientists are still debating, there was a massive and unprecedented Sargassum bloom that severely affected both the Caribbean and the west coast of Africa.
Suddenly, huge floating rafts of seaweed started washing up on beaches, clogging inlets and severely impacting both the tourism and fishing industries.
Since 2011, large Sargassum blooms have become the norm; however, some years are better than others. Unfortunately, 2018 has been one of the more severe years and it has prompted many readers of the blog to contact me directly to ask when I think it will end. Here’s my answer, “I have no idea.”
Sargassum arrives in waves and we will often have a few great Sargassum-free beach days followed by a few days where the foul-smelling plant stacks up on our shores faster than it can be removed.
If you’re here on vacation, my advice is to take advantage of the good days to enjoy the beach and to find an alternative activity on the bad days. Here are a few suggestions:
Visit the Ruins
There are several to choose from throughout the Yucatan but our favorite ones to visit are in Tulum. They are located right on the coastline and at the highest point, you can stand at the top of a cliff and look out over the Caribbean. It is truly breathtaking.
Visit a Theme Park
There many theme parks to choose from in the area. Most offer a wide range of activities like snorkeling in cenotes, cave exploring and zip-lining.
Cool Off in a Cenote
Cenotes are natural pits or sink holes that fill with fresh spring water. They are normally crystal clear and the water is cold — a perfect place to get some relief from the summer heat.
You won’t have any trouble finding a cenote, there are over 6,000 of them in the Yucatan Peninsula but they aren’t all open to the public. If you’re looking for one that offers snorkeling and cave diving options near the beach, check out Dos Ojos.
Head to the Islands
I’m not talking about Jamaica either. Both Cozumel and Isla Mujeres are only a short ferry ride from the mainland, and depending on the currents, the western side of both islands is often clear of Sargassum.
Shopping, Wining and Dining
It’s the perfect opportunity to visit some shops, bars and restaurants. If you want to explore on foot, I recommend going to 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen. There are a ton of great restauarants, cantinas and stores.
Get a Day Pass at an All-Inclusive Resort
Many of the all-inclusive resorts will offer day passes to non-guests. The resorts are a nice option because many have multiple swimming pools where you can spend your day eating and drinking to your heart’s content.
The price for day passes vary; however, most range from $50 – $100 USD per person.
Why not rent a car and head inland to explore some cities and towns that are not as touristy as the coastal area. We highly recommend visiting the colonial city of Valladolid. It’s one of our favorite places in Mexico to spend a night or two.
Let’s Wrap This Up
Since we’re retired and live in the Riviera Maya full time, we have the flexibility to change our schedule at a moment’s notice. If the weather is perfect and there isn’t any Sargassum, we head to the beach. If the weather is perfect but there is a lot of Sargassum, we either head to the pool or do one of the activities I mentioned above. In either case, we make the best of the situation and still end up having a great time.