On the northern edge of the Riviera Maya there are a surprising wealth of things to do in Puerto Morelos, possibly the last authentic, quiet fishing town on the Mexican Caribbean coastline. An easy trip from more highly trafficked areas, this small town has purposely restricted commercial growth, keeping an entirely different vibe from the rest of the area. Here, I’ll share with some of the history and uniqueness of this town, as well as a Puerto Morelos map highlighting shopping areas, restaurants, and some of the best things to do, including Puerto Morelos snorkeling and SCUBA that is some of the best in the western hemisphere.
Puerto Morelos: Location & Getting There
Puerto Morelos is located on the Caribbean side of the Yucatan peninsula, on the northern edge of the Riviera Maya. The town is tucked about halfway between the resort areas of Playa del Carmen and Cancun. It’s also only about an hour from the blossoming Tulum area, so you can check out this Tulum guide and visit there while you’re at it.
Given the location, it is a minor miracle that Puerto Morelos has stayed as quiet as it has. It is easily reached by bus from the larger resort towns. The bus will drop you off where the main road into town, Calle Jose Maria Morelos, intersects with Rte. 307, which parallels the coast from Cancun to Tulum.
There are also vans to Puerto Morelos from Cancun or Playa del Carmen that depart every 10 minutes and cost $30-$35 pesos. Ask at the bus stations to locate the pick up and drop off points of the vans.
From the intersection of 307, a taxi will run you the two km into town for a 20-25 pesos. I don’t recommend walking the distance into town, even though it’s not far – the Mangrove area you walk through is heavy with mosquitos.
Puerto Morelos: History
The area of Puerto Morelos was the first natural port in Quintana Roo, and “Punto Corcho,” or “Point Cork” as Puerto Morelos was then known, became a key to shipping to and from the Mexican Caribbean. The the natural harbor’s good depth, and the protection of its natural barrier reef made it a prime spot for this industry. The residents of the town reaped the benefits of exporting such goods as coconuts, cork, chicle (natural chewing gum), vanilla, tobacco, and cedar. Over time, as the economy evolved, shipping as the main source of income for the area gave way to fishing.
The earliest census for the area records 76 residence, in 1910. At that time it was also the only coastal town with both a postal service and a telephone! Due to a particularly devastating flu outbreak, the population dropped to 28 inhabitants by the 1921 census, and even in 1950 the population was only 80 people. Puerto Morelos was considered a town as early as 1929, but not actually given the name of Puerto Morelos, in honor of the independence leader Jose Maria Morelos, until 1974 – the same time that Cancun was beginning to be seen as a resort destination!
Puerto Morelos, nicknamed “La Joya del Caribe” or “Jewel of the Caribbean,” is today home to some 5,000 residents. Fishing is still a prominent way of life for this still-quiet town, but tourism has taken over as the main source of revenue.
Puerto Morelos: Riviera Maya’s Quiet Town
Cancun has been seen as a resort destination starting in the 1970s, but it was is the early 2000s that both Cancun and Playa del Carmen took off with rapid growth and development, becoming the international destinations they are today. In reality, all of Riviera Maya continues to grow, catering more and more to the tourism and resort industry. However, Puerto Morelos continues to dodge the commercialism bullet and subsequent build-up, and this has been no accident.
Puerto Morelos has been very intentional about keeping that growth from taking over, and keeping its fishing town vibe. In 1988, the government declared not only the off-shore reef, but the mangroves that grow between the town and route 307 to be ecological preserves. While Playa del Carmen is now solid development from the shoreline inward past the main highway, Puerto Morelos will keep that two kilometer buffer, naturally limiting the amount of growth that can happen.
Building codes for Puerto Morelos also prevent much of the usual resort community influx that happens the length of Riviera Maya. Building codes keep lot sizes small, and building height is capped at three stories – and these codes are strictly enforced, making it pretty much impossible for large resorts and chain hotels to move in and claim this area of coastline. This means that lodging in Puerto Morelos is mostly limited to a handful of boutique hotels, which are often more full of character and interest anyway!
Because of this work, even while Cancun and Playa del Carmen continue to grow inland, Puerto Morelos remains contained. There are two main streets that parallel the coast, Rafael Melgar and Javier Rojo Gomez, and a third that is largely flanked by Mangroves, Ninos Heroes. You could easily walk the entire town, without hurrying, in about an hour. If you are looking to dodge the party atmosphere, and instead relax, enjoy the sun, water, and possibly a good book, this is the place to be.
Puerto Morelos: Leaning Lighthouse
While Puerto Morelos is the place to go if you want a quieter option on the Mexican Caribbean, it’s not really big on “Sights.” Which is, of course, is strongly related. However, if you are a lighthouse fan, there is one in Puerto Morelos that is worth the stop. Originally, the town’s coastline had two Mayan structures that are no longer standing. However, stones from those two structures were used to build the lighthouse that stands beside main the pier, only steps from town square.
The 33 foot high lighthouse was built in 1946, and was nearly torn down after the 1967 hurricane, Beulah, washed away a portion of the foundation causing the structure to lean. A new lighthouse was built to replace the now leaning lighthouse, or “Faro Inclinado,” but it was never replaced. Instead, it still stands, having become a symbol of the town and testament to the storm that tried to knock it over, but failed. Faro Inclinado has since survived hurricane Gilbert in 1987 and Wilma in 2005, and continues to hold its ground.
The newest lighthouse was built behind the now leaning one in the 1980s. This lighthouse was actually also damanged by a hurricane, Wilma in 2005, but with repair and repainting it continues functioning for the town.
Puerto Morelos: Snorkeling & SCUBA
If you are not visiting Puerto Morelos because you are seeking a quieter option than neighboring Cancun or Playa del Carmen – then you are probably visiting for the amazing Puerto Morelos snorkeling and SCUBA. The Great Mesoamerian Reef, also known as the Great Mayan Reef, runs just offshore from the small fishing town.
The Great Mesoamerican Reef is the world’s second largest barrier reef, and the largest in the western hemisphere. The reef stretches from the northern tip of the Yucatan near Isla Contoy, all the way to Honduras. It is home to scores of species of stony coral, more than 500 species of fish, and many protected or endangered species.
Here in Puerto Morelos the reef runs the closest to land of anywhere in all of Mexico. Not only that, but in 1988 the reef near Puerto Morelos was designated a protected National Marine Park, and this stretch of The Great Mesoamerican Reef is the best preserved section there is.
Snorkel and SCUBA boats operate off the pier near the town square, and there are places to walk out from shore to do both also.
- A popular shop to rent equipment or schedule tours is Wet Set, not far north of town center.
- If you want to check out weather, water and wind conditions, check the PADI sight for Puerto Morelos.
Puerto Morelos: Cooking School
We all know food is a fun & yummy way to explore a new culture, but I think cooking is even more so. You learn more about local agriculture and fresh ingredients, and even about home life from preparation requirements. If you go searching for a cooking class in Riviera Maya during your visit, even if you are staying in one of the larger resort towns, the repeated recommendation will be the Little Mexican Cooking School. And guess what? Yep! Right here in Puerto Morelos.
These classes aren’t your quick in-and-out in and hour and a half type of classes, so be ready for a time commitment. A class will run from roughly 9:45am to 3pm, at $128 USD per person.
Puerto Morelos: Artisan Handicrafts and Shopping
Mayan Handicraft Center
The primary shopping draw in Puerto Morelos is the Mayan Handicraft Center. It’s not large, but along this strip of shops actual artisans make the items within their shops, and you may be fortunate enough to see one of them at work while you are browsing. Overall, many of the items are similar to what you will find in other shops throughout the Riviera Maya. However, there are a few unique offerings such as hand carved wall hangings, and you have the overall knowledge that your souvenirs are not actually made in an entirely different country – and that makes a visit worthwhile to me.
Alma Libre Bookstore
There are also shops lining the square, and one of the unique options is Alma Libre Bookstore. I love stopping into English bookstores when I travel. They always have the best travel books and books about the local culture. Alma Libre has a small selection of travel books, and varied selection of books overall, in a number of languages – but mostly English and Spanish. If you stop in and chat with the owners, it’s also a great place to get info on the local area.
Puerto Morelos Shopping Stalls
If you walk from the square toward the water and head south (right) on Rafael Melgar, the street is lined with stalls and shops and people eager to to have you come look. I did find that the vendors were less aggressive here than in other shopping areas up and down the coast, and found a ceramic shop with a bowl that now graces a corner niche in our kitchen.
Puerto Morelos: Restaurants
There are a number of restaurants in Puerto Morelos, all fitting with the relaxed vibe. The easiest thing to do is head toward the water, and then walk the road that parallels the water, and just pick one of the ones there. They offer pretty good food, and water views. Not ever a bad combination.
However, I was hoping to get something a little more authentic. So, when talking with the shop owner where I purchased my ceramic bowl, I decided to take him up on his recommendation, and had lunch at La Pepita. The place was not at all crowded, and the service was helpful while still letting me be to write in my journal and read a little of my new book from Alma Libre. I had maybe the best chicken fajita I had while we were in Mexico, and the Tequila punch wasn’t so bad either! Plus, they have a funky Puerto Morelos sign against one wall perfect for picture taking. You can check out La Pepita Facebook Page, and see the map below for location.
I Wanna Pizza
Another popular option if you are needing a pizza fix, is I Wanna Pizza. They are consistently highly rated, and described as the best pizza in Puerto Morelos. I Wanna Pizza is located along Javier Rojo Gomez, a bit north of town. Again, see the map below.
Puerto Morelos: Map
For your ease of navigation and planning, a Google map with most locations mentioned marked. Remember, this is not a big town at all, so it won’t take you more than about 15 minutes to get from one site to another on foot.
Thank you for visiting, and I hope you found this helpful!
Some other posts that may help you during your time on the Yucatan are:
- This post on What to Expect when Arriving at Cancun Airport
- This post of 10 Best Things To Do on Isla Mujeres
- Or if you really like the map guides, check out this Map and Guide to Plaka in Athens Greece.
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