Living in Puerto Morelos: A Charming Escape to Paradise

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Those searching for their own slice of Caribbean seaside serenity may not have to look as hard as they think. Picture pristine white shores, shimmering turquoise water, and the tranquility of a sleepy beach town–all just a 20-minute drive from the Cancun International Airport. That’s the charm and convenience of Puerto Morelos, perhaps the Riviera Maya’s best-kept secret.

Where is Puerto Morelos?

Puerto Morelos is a natural port that rests on the northern tip of the Riviera Maya. This exquisite stretch of coastline running from Cancun to Tulum is treasured for its crystal cenotes, sparkling accommodations, and incomparable beaches. And while Puerto Morelos is home to all of these renowned features, visitors often find themselves pleasantly surprised by what they do not find there. No sprawling shopping districts choked with tourists. No never-ending strip of all-inclusives swept by tides of vacationers. Instead, it’s a charming, authentic escape nestled between the spring break wonderland of Cancun and the all-inclusive resort mecca of Playa Del Carmen. With its placid, small-town atmosphere in the heart of Quintana Roo, Puerto Morelos may not be the most glamorous jewel on the necklace of the Riviera Maya, but that takes nothing away from its shine.
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  • Quintana Roo
  • Mexico
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  • Quintana Roo
  • Mexico
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  • Puerto Morelos
  • Quintana Roo
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How do you get to Puerto Morelos?

Puerto Morelos sits just 15 miles south of the Cancun International Airport. That means it’s even more accessible than, well, Cancun itself. The town sits right off of Federal Highway 307, the main highway that runs up and down the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Downtown Puerto Morelos, where the town square, seaside inns, and quaint shops hug soft sandy beaches, is less than two kilometers off this main road.

Taxi services at the airport are plentiful and accessible, but can be expensive. ADO buses–comfortable 35-seat buses that can take you within two kilometers of the town square–run from the airport to Puerto Morelos every 40 minutes (tickets usually range from $7-$15). Once you’ve arrived, your best transportation option depends on how much exploring you wish to do. But whether by bus, car, bicycle, or even on foot, there’s no wrong way to experience Puerto Morelos.

What are the best neighborhoods in Puerto Morelos?

Part of what makes Puerto Morelos a one-of-a-kind destination is its unique and inspiring layout. A pristine mangrove swamp runs north to south, splitting the town in half. The mangrove is key to the town’s evolution. Preserving this ecological wonder–home to astonishing birdlife, fish species, and the American Crocodile–has helped Puerto Morelos resist the unrestrained development of its more commercialized neighbors.

The result of this preservation is two distinct districts within one community. Portside, the side of town next to the beach, is a vibrant, walkable area that stretches for 15 blocks along the Caribbean sand. Here you can treat yourself to laid-back shopping and relaxing spots to grab a bite in the heart of the historic fishing village. The downtown area stretches north to the Hotel District and south to the gorgeous accommodations of Marina El Cid.

This swath of beachside real estate is home to plenty of residential options from the economical to the extravagant. Plenty of homes are tucked in right near the Zocalo, or town square. Quaint hotels and condos offer easy access to the sand, while beachy bungalows and cabana-style single-family homes rest within easy walking distance of downtown.

For a different feel, just walk, bike, or take a quick drive through the mangrove swamps to Puerto Morelos’ more inland locale: La Colonia. La Colonia offers a more local flavor under the leafy green trees of the Yucatan jungle. It’s a quieter, unassuming pocket of condos, single-family homes, and vacation rentals just a 30-minute walk from the ocean. Here the available residential space is often more varied and affordable. Plenty of expats and locals have been known to switch between the two neighborhoods–Portside and La Colonia–unable to settle on a favorite.

Everyday Life in Puerto Morelos

One of the Riviera Maya’s definite advantages is its international flavor. This area is a magnet for people from all over the globe, so it supports an infrastructure that keeps visitors comfortable and taken care of. Residential areas tend to be well-kept, utilities efficient and hygienic, and services tourist-friendly.

Currency in Puerto Morelos

The cost of living in Cancun and its surrounding areas tends to be much lower than the United States–usually 25-30% less for a comparable lifestyle. Many places even accept US, European, and other credit cards. Still, it’s best to carry a bit of cash. US dollars are welcome almost everywhere, and valued for their stability compared to the local peso. In some situations, though, pesos do come in handy. Buses and other forms of local transportation often require pesos, and many establishments offer better deals to people who pay in the local currency. Exchanging for pesos is easy. The airport, hotels, banks, and other institutions offer exchange services, and you can even shop around for the best rate.

Medical Care in Puerto Morelos

Mexico’s widespread state-run healthcare system has an impressive reputation for providing competent, affordable healthcare to locals and tourists, and Puerto Morelos is no exception. A number of physicians and clinics serve the local population. These work alongside the recently-opened Costamed Puerto Morelos hospital to meet the healthcare needs of the local community. Of course, if you require more specific medical services, you can easily visit Cancun’s larger hospitals and specialized clinics.

Visitors have access to medical treatment and can usually use their insurance to cover the bills. That being said, uninsured patients will find the medical care much more affordable than in the US, and expat residents can even join Mexico’s health insurance plan, Seguro Popular, for their medical care needs.

Do I need to learn Spanish to live in Puerto Morelos?

Like most of the communities around Cancun and the Riviera Maya, almost everyone speaks some level of English. When shopping or ordering food, it’s likely that you’ll be able to get by with barely any knowledge of Spanish. People planning an extended stay, however, are sure to get more out of their time if they immerse themselves in the language.

La Colonia, the inland half of Puerto Morelos is home to many of the services that cater to a resident’s day-to-day life. It’s where you’ll find the grocery store, the hospital, drugstores–and many of the locals here are more comfortable speaking Spanish. To connect with these people and communicate effectively, it’s a good idea to pick up some key bits of the language. Fortunately, Puerto Morelos has its own school–the Puerto Morelos Language Center–where new residents can take classes in Spanish and learn ways to embrace the excitement of learning a new language.

Is Puerto Morelos safe?

In short, yes, even compared to many other communities in the Yucatan. Quintana Roo invests heavily in a police force that effectively protects its visitors and residents. While crime, like anywhere, is present, your likelihood of being involved in any act of violence or serious danger is very very low. Visitors are encouraged, however, to conduct themselves with the same common sense and awareness that they would use in any environment. Most crimes in the area involve petty theft, so it’s best to remain cognizant of your belongings. And when walking at night, it’s always wise to stay in groups and to remain in well-lit public areas.

Is there gym access in Puerto Morelos?

Considering the town’s relatively small population, Puerto Morelos has a surprising number of fitness options. There are multiple conventional gyms with free-weights, machines, and cardio equipment. Apart from these, Puerto Morelos is home to a crossfit gym and a climbing gym for those who occupy these exercise niches. Between those different workout options, the available beach and jungle activities, and the town’s excellent walking and running paths, working off those extra margaritas should not be a problem.

Things to do in Puerto Morelos

Finally, the fun stuff. Puerto Morelos has plenty of attractions that visitors and residents return to time and time again. Nature lovers, beach bums, and foodies get more than their share of satisfaction from the little fishing village that punches way above its weight class when it comes to points of interest. Here are just a few of the options you can explore.

National Reef Park of Puerto Morelos

We know, we know, there are reefs along the whole Yucatan peninsula. After all, the Mesoamerican Reef is the second largest barrier reef in the entire world. However, Puerto Morelos is where the reef comes closer to shore than almost anywhere. You can even see the reef poking up toward the surface only 300 yards from the beach. That means some of the most accessible snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing excursions along the entire Riviera Maya. And with so much reef to explore, you never run out of options.

The Cenotes

Puerto Morelos truly does offer one of the best combinations of coast and jungle in the entire peninsula. We recommend exploring that jungle by taking excursions to the cenotes, the cool, crystal clear underground springs that open like blue eyes in the face of the jungle. Some of the most extraordinary of these–Cenotes Kin-Ha, Cenote La Noria, La Ruta de los Cenotes–are easily accessible from Puerto Morelos.

Hike through the jungle, take a guided tour, or even jump on an ATV and ride to these blue pockets of paradise held sacred by the Mayans. Then take a dip in the waters before making your way back to civilization.

The Leaning Lighthouse

El Faro Inclinado, or “The Leaning Lighthouse”, is one of the more curious landmarks on the Riviera Maya, and has become something of a symbol for Puerto Morelos’ quirky charm. At 30 feet tall, it’s easy to see from the beach at Puerto Morelos. The lighthouse didn’t come to rest at its notable angle until 1967, when Hurricane Beulah’s strong winds and storm surge failed to completely topple it over. Later attempts to remove the lighthouse thankfully failed. Now it’s a beloved local landmark, and an excellent photo op.

The Tequila Factory

Most visits to Cancun aren’t complete without a little booze; and the Tequila Factory serves that up with a side of history and craft. Guides walk you through a replica of a tequila factory where you’ll learn about the production and manufacturing process. Then, of course, come the drinks.
You’ll leave a true Tequillier, with probably a few extra bottles to jam into your suitcase.

Restaurants in Puerto Morelos

Puerto Morelos stays true to its roots with plenty of fresh seafood served with a side of stunning ocean views. The best dining is Portside, where restaurants cluster around downtown to provide a vast and varied culinary selection. Here’s a preview of your future meals:

Punta Corcho

Open-air views with plenty of cocktails and fish tacos to go around–who couldn’t get used to that? Comfortably upscale, Punta Corcho offers a tantalizing combination of atmosphere and cuisine. Of course the seafood is divine, with all the fish dishes, oysters, and clams you could want. But a surprisingly diverse menu and refreshing hand-crafted cocktails make it a satisfying experience for all palettes.

Mar-Bella Fish Market

For the purest Caribbean seafood indulgence, you can’t do much better than Mar-Bella Fish Market right on the beachfront. It’s a unique experience. First, there’s no consistent menu. The available fish depends on what the fishing boats brought in that day. You select your fish from the day’s catch, choose your portion size, preparation style, and sides, then wait to be served the freshest seafood of your life.

Cafe Layla

Of course there are vegan options in paradise! Cafe Layla’s (mostly) vegetarian cuisine cleanses that vacation palette with ingredients as fresh as a sea breeze. Vegan pizzas and gluten-free breads pair nicely with whimsical sodas and savory frittatas. And, as possibly the best brunch brunch spot in Puerto Morelos, you know it has the kind of coffee that’s worth waking up to. Time things right and you might even get some live music with your meal.

Muelle Once

Keeping everyone happy shouldn’t be a problem in Puerto Morelos, but this open-air spot on the waterfront still makes sure that all tastes are taken care of. A refined, but family-friendly atmosphere makes for a comfortable night out. Branch out with killer kampachi tiradito and octopus carpaccio, or don’t and just get into an amazing burger. Either way you won’t regret your choice, especially if you tack on a cocktail (the Bloody Mary pairs nicely with the ocean view!).

Day trips from Puerto Morelos

Frankly, we don’t anticipate you wanting to leave your Puerto Morelos beach haven very often. If you are moved to explore, however, there’s more than enough to see within easy driving distance.

Ecotourism and the Mayan Ruins

For adventurers seeking a little ancient history, there’s really no better place than the various Mayan ruins that dot the Yucatan Peninsula. Chichen Itza, the stunning Mayan temple in the heart of the jungle, is less than three hours away. Others, like Tulum, are just an hour down the coast. If you’re looking for ruins you can still climb on, we suggest the beautiful and vaguely haunting Coba Ruins. And you’ll get your cardio in because there are a lot of stairs.

Other ecotourism options include places like Xel-Ha and Xcaret Park. These can get crowded with vacationers, but they do offer a user-friendly, safe way to experience natural beauty. Part theme park and part nature preserve, they allow you to interact with the environment through activities like zip-lining, snorkeling and tubing. Apart from these parks, there are plenty of guided tours and zip-lining adventures through other parts of the jungle. These are often the best way to safely explore and get to know the labyrinth of underwater cenotes that connect beneath the jungle floor.

Puerto Morelos, A Sleepy Cancun Getaway

Puerto Morelos has almost everything you could ask for, but if you ever crave the nightlife and energy of a bustling vacation spot, Cancun is an easy 45-minute drive up highway 307. The swanky restaurants, beach party spots, and dance clubs are more than we have room to discuss here, but suffice it to say that the list is extensive. You can access them by bus, taxi, or even your own personal vehicle if you’ve already made the move to Puerto Morelos.

Either way, once you’ve had your fun in the city, the sleepy fishing village on the Riviera Maya is a perfect place to come home to.

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