Tulum or Mahahual: 5 reasons we picked Mahahual

Tulum’s beach is a magical place. In addition to endless white sand and turquoise water, there’s a spiritual feeling many people experience just south of the famous Maya ruins. I’ve heard it described as a spiritual vortex – similar to the vortexes in Sedona, Arizona. That description feels right to me. I will always love Tulum.

That said, we are budget travelers who retired early. We want a simple life, and we don’t have a gazillion dollars for high rent.

So, here are five reasons I personally like living in Mahahual more than I liked living in Tulum, for now.IMG_8115

#1: It’s more affordable to live on the beach in Mahahual, or very close to it.

  • There are many options for short visits to Tulum – from hostels and hotel rooms in town, some miles away from the beach, to boutique hotels right on the beach for tidy sums of money. Or, in Mahahual, stay across the street from the beach for much less money. Google hotel prices, and you’ll see what I mean.
  • For apartment living, in Tulum you can find monthly places right on the beach, but there is no way I could afford that. So, I paid about $320 in town – miles away from the beach – for one room studio with a bed, small table, basic kitchen, good sized porch, water and wifi included. For Tulum, that was a decent deal. I had a good landlord and I would rent there again. Here in Mahahual, it’s a different scene, with less demand, so prices are lower. We are paying roughly $500 a month for a one-bedroom, split-level apartment with bed, dresser, full kitchen, couch, coffee table, water, wifi, TV and cable included, with an amazing rooftop, ocean view deck, across the street from the beach. Stars and sunrises on the Caribbean Sea. Oh, heck yes.IMG_8640

#2: Mahahual has a malecon. (A walkway with no cars on or near a beach.)

  • The beach road in Tulum is congested with speeding taxis and tourists in a rush. Several times, I was nearly hit by cars speeding by me on my bike once I left the bike path from town. There are no speed bumps on the beach road to the north, and every car speeds. Some drivers are texting. It’s not cool. At the few spots where you can see the beach from the road, you can’t enjoy it because of all the traffic.
  • In Mahahual, I can jog along the malecon – along the beach – along the ocean. I stopped running while I lived in Tulum because I got too hot without an ocean breeze, and I didn’t feel comfortable running with music on the beach road. I love jogging with the ocean breeze right on me the entire time. You can see it from our rooftop deck.Mahahual malecon and sea view

#3: Mahahual is an authentic small town.

  • You won’t find Starbucks here, like you will in Playa del Carmen or in Tulum. There are only mom-and-pop convenience stores, no Oxxos. No Chedraui, no Walmart or Bodega Aurrera. When you buy something at a store, that money goes to a family’s small business. Not a giant corporation. I. love. that.
  • If you need something you cannot find in town, Chetumal is the state capitol, and it’s 90 minutes or two hours away, by car, bus or colectivo (colectivo is a shared taxi van, and I’m pictured in one below).Me on colectivo from Chetumal to Mahahual

#4: Snorkeling is better in Mahahual.

  • You can walk to the reef – it’s very close to the shore in most spots. It runs along the beach through the center of town. If you’re a decent swimmer, you can get to a few spots south of town without a guide boat. There are more fish and coral here closer to the beach than Tulum – it’s not even a competition. The water doesn’t get too rough or – generally speaking – go over six feet until you’re on the ocean side of the reef.
  • Plus, Banco Chichorro is accessible by boat from here, if you’re in the market for an incredible dive. (Albeit, it’s expensive.)Mahahual reef

#5: Mahahual is more laid back – and people seem happier.

  • The vibe here is so casual, it’s contagious and coveted. Kinda like how Tulum was more than a decade ago. I’ve overheard visitors from the cruise ships say this is the best port they experienced on their trip.
  • Think about it: don’t you always feel better when you see the beach and the ocean? Because of the malecon, the Caribbean Sea is accessible to everyone – it’s right there. It’s not just for the high rollers jetting in for vacation paying big money for a ‘private’ beach, as in Tulum. Maybe this easy access to the beach helps create the collective happy vibe here in Mahahual.Tedly on Mahahual malecon

Will it stay this way here? Or will it grow to be more like Tulum, or Playa del Carmen? I have no idea. I can’t see the future. I do know this – there is some development already happening here, with more planned.

For now, at this point in our early retirement lifestyle, Mahahual has many positive points that are more comfortable for us than Tulum. It’s easy going, it’s friendly, it’s less expensive, it’s beautiful. And we like these points. No, we love them.

Dining in Mahahual




  1. My first visit to Tulum was February of 1973. Hwy 307 had only been completed for a year or so and was still gravel. My wife, best friend , and I drove our camper onto the beach just south of where Zama`s is today, got stuck in the sand and left it parked there for 2 months (we had a 350 Ducati motorcycle which we used to get around while we were there). It was paradise ! We snokeled every day & quickly found how to catch fish and later, lobster. It was a life-changing experience for me ! I agree with you that there is some kind of energy vortex there. I was never the same after that first trip and continued going to Tulum and later other parts of Mexico every winter for 2 weeks to a month after Tulum started getting “too touristy” in the 80`s. We finally found Mahahual in `96 and stayed there every year `til 2009 when the economy crashed and I lost my business ( Vinyl siding & trim ). We`re retired now and should be living in Mahahual, if I hadn`t spent all our savings going to Mexico every year ! We`ve seen Mahahual grow from a sleepy fishing pueblito without electricity (only generators) to the little town that it is now. Didn`t make it down this past year as my other half is on oxygen 24/7 now(COPD) and we just couldn`t afford it. I hope you`ll enjoy the area as much as we have. – A lot of things to see and do there !
    sincerely, Pete & Sandy Conniff

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, Pete! Thanks for sharing your beautiful experiences with me. I just read your comments to my spouse. I fell in love with my now-husband in 2002 on the beach near Playa Kin Ha. So many wonderful memories – we are blessed to have those. We will relish every day we are here. I hope we get to spend as much time in great places as you guys did.
      Best regards,
      Ellen (+ Ted)


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