Mexico’s traditions still live and thrive in a little town tucked neatly away and off the beaten path. I didn’t see any big modern tour buses jamming the small streets. That were no westernized mega malls or shopping centers with full length glass doors that are filled with the latest fashions. But what I did see were quaint little Avenidas lined with locally owned shops, restaurants and hotels. If you are looking for a touristy location or need the hustle and bustle of crowds, Puerto Morelos probably should not be on your list of places to visit.
We took a nice ADO bus ride down Mexico’s Highway 307 that runs along the coast between Cancun and Chetumal. The bus made a quick stop in a small town just on the outskirts of Puerto Morelos. From there we took a taxi ride just a little over a mile down a road that shared its curbs with nothing but jungle. We asked the driver to drop us off at an address we had found online. It was a little ways from the center of town, which allowed us to explore the outer community in.
The side streets of Puerto Morelos are not filled with name brand shops and restaurants, but by family owned businesses with a unique style all their own. After walking around a bit, it was getting time for us to stop for lunch. We found a small cantina named El Pirata (pictured right). The waiter welcomed us and immediately brought some complimentary chips and salsa to our table. We ordered some food, a cold beverage and then just sat and looked around. The people in the restaurant were very friendly and curious as well. Even with the language barrier, we seemed to hold somewhat of a casual conversation.
From here we walked closer towards town. The streets started to come alive with people trying to get their errands done before the afternoon heat arrives. We needed to find a place to spend the night and drop off our baggage before continuing on. We remembered reading online about a hotel that was right on the beach and close to the town center. After asking a few of the locals, we found Hotel Hacienda Morelos. It is down the street from the central park and the Puerto Morelos Malecon. Hotel Hacienda is a traditional style hotel that offers the ambience of a small town inn. It is a bit rustic, but offers the basic necessities at a bargain price. It was for only a night’s stay and we could manage without all the luxuries other hotels/resorts offer.
The view from our room wasn’t to shabby for $63 USD. You could see the turquoise Caribbean waters and the white sandy beach from our balcony. We took a moment to look over the room, turn on the air conditioner and secure our backpacks. We then set out to see the sights. Puerto Morelos is an important seaport from the mainland to Cozumel. The town’s population is approximately 9,200 full time residents. Most of the labor force works in and around the port in the fishing industry or providing tours for visitors. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef that sits just off the shore has been designated as a National Marine Park to preserve its ecological importance. Tours for snorkeling and fishing trips can be arrange rather easily with guides found on the beach or the Malecon’s pier.
There is a park in the center of town where we heard that the locals gather in the morning hours to visit and enjoy the cooler part of the day. Just across the street is another park known as the Malecon (shown upper – right). It extends slightly out into the Caribbean fed waters. It is also known as a ‘Jetty or Wharf’. Here is where we spent a few minutes staring out towards the seemingly endless horizon where the different shades of blue eventually blend together.
We started venturing around the Malecon and the attached pier, which hosts a “Yacht Club”. At least its considered a yacht club by Puerto Morelos standards. There are a few larger boats tied up at the end of the pier, but most the boats that are moored along the dock aren’t exactly yachts. However, these Panga styled boats (pictured right) offer a variety of water activities and guided tours.
The pier also seconds as a spot for kids to jump off and swim around in the beautiful clear turquoise water. The atmosphere is full of fun, sun and calming breezes. After watching the kids enjoy themselves in the water, we went back to the Malecon to do some more exploring. From the Malecon you can see in both directions up and down the beach for miles.
There are two structures that sit just to the north of the wharf. They are the ‘Second and Third’ Lighthouses that guard Puerto Morelos’s port. The first lighthouse was built in 1905 and we haven’t learned much about its creation or demise. However, both of the remaining structures have experienced some violent hurricanes throughout the years. The second or tilted lighthouse was partially blown over in 1967 by Beulah, which was a category 5 hurricane that swept through the Yucatan Peninsula. The tilted lighthouse was built in 1946 to replace the first lighthouse. It miraculously has survived two additional catastrophic storms – Gilbert (1988) & Wilma (2005). The town of Puerto Morelos obviously keeps the monument painted and looking nice for both pride and tourist reasons.
The current lighthouse (pictured left) was damaged in 2005 by Wilma’s devastating winds, but was repaired and is in full operation today. In was built for reasons like its predecessor, and that was to take the tilting lighthouse’s place. The fully functioning lighthouse stands right at fifty two and a half feet above sea level and the blinking light can be seen just over 16 (14 nautical) miles out. I have photographed many lighthouses that I have seen in all the ports visited and they still fascinate me to no end. They are a major part of nautical history and importance. They help guide sailing vessels safely into many ports with their goods from far off lands.
We made our way down the beach to view some of the dry docked boats. There are all different sizes, shapes and ages. Some are newer and some are older. Some have motors and some don’t. Most of the boats on shore are waiting for their early morning trolling trip. As I looked out over the water, I noticed a captain (shown right) tending to his boats. He was making sure they had plenty of fuel for the next day’s trip and are securely anchored down for the evening.
We decided to walk a couple blocks off the beach and explore other parts of the town. We walked around what I thought was the heart of the community. There was the Catholic church and a variety of local businesses. If the shops sold clothing, leather works or wood and/or clay goods, they would displayed them proudly along the streets. Every shop had a smiling face and warm welcome.
Like most smaller and traditional communities, especially in Latin America, the church is the pillar of town and everything revolves around it. The Parroquia Catolica de San Jose (Catholic Parish of San Jose) sits straight across from the central park and offers its own specialty shop. Just to the right of the main church is the Taller de San Jose Yogurt Catholic Coffee Shop & Ice Cream. The shop seemed to be closed at the time, but I hear they serve a great waffle breakfast.
We took the park’s hand-laid paved path (pictured right) back to our hotel before the afternoon rains began to pour down on us. This type of climatic weather is very relative to the Yucatan Peninsula and its tropical surroundings. On the way back to our room, we ran into the occasional chicken or roaster that was pecking around town looking for food. Everything feels so quaint and time forgotten.
After the early evening showers had passed and cooled things down, we went to a local seafood restaurant – no corporate signage in this town, for a quiet dinner. We then found a bench on the Malecon and sat down. We stared out at the dimly lit horizon. The evenings’ cool ocean air brushing against our faces, the stars twinkling above, and the timeless serenity slowly passing by made us think if only the whole world could be this way, peaceful.
Author: Anthony Scopel
Photography: Anthony Scopel
Associate Editor: Maureen Scopel
Technical Mastering & Support: Matt Kemper