Find Responsible Seclusion at Playa el Cuyo, Mexico

There’s an inherent problem with beautiful beach destinations—the more visitors there are, the more development occurs. But at Playa el Cuyo, a small beach community in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, you can find all the amenities you need without sacrificing the glorious seclusion you’ve come looking for. 

Popular destinations along the nearby Riviera Maya struggle with rampant development. However, Playa el Cuyo remains a low-key beach town thanks to the residents’ determination to keep it that way by resisting the temptation to sell out to large-scale tourism. 

See for yourself why this is a mindset that’s worth supporting.

Where is Playa el Cuyo, Yucatán?

colorful El Cuyo sign

This chill beach town is located along a narrow barrier island on the northern shoreline of Yucatan’s Gulf Coast. Situated about midway between Playa Rio Lagartos and the offshore tourist island of Playa Holbox, you will find yourself blissfully free of the crowds found elsewhere. 

For a broader sense of geography, you’ll find Playa el Cuyo near Playa del Carmen, Cancun and other popular Mexican beach destinations for which the Yucatan is famous.

How is the Beach in Playa el Cuyo, Yucatan?

EL Cuyo Yucatan drone shots

There’s no doubt about it—the beach is the premier attraction of any trip to El Cuyo. You can stroll along miles of powder-white sand with hardly another person in sight. 

The water is the same emerald green-turquoise mix characteristic of Mexico’s Gulf Coast. 

Though sometimes calm, the water can get choppy due to the steady breezes. In fact, the consistent winds brought kite surfers here in the first place. The current can also vary between calm and strong, so be mindful when going for a dip.

Like many Mexican beaches, there are times when you’ll come across the blight of sargassum seaweed. But that is true for most beaches on this coast.

Near the pier are amenities such as toilets, cafes and places to rent loungers or umbrellas. Access is completely free, so you can save your pesos for a cold drink later.

What to do in El Cuyo Beach, Mexico

EL Cuyo Yucatan drone shots

At first glance, given the laid-back vibe, it might appear that your options are limited regarding activities. But this is not the case. 

Yes, El Cuyo is a great place to do nothing at all. 

Yet when the mood strikes, there are some excellent opportunities to get active and explore the natural beauty of this neck of the woods.

Walk the Beach (and Take Lots of Pictures!)

beach and palm tree at sunset near EL Cuyo Yucatan

With a never-ending ribbon of sand stretching off toward opposite horizons, taking a long walk (or jog, or run) on the beach is the most obvious thing to do at Playa el Cuyo. 

Between the seclusion and endless views, sunsets are a great time to be out on the beach, snapping pictures of the pink-orange sky and basking in the moment’s serenity. 

And while you’ve got your camera out, you should take a few snaps of yourself standing in front of the freestanding block letter ‘El Cuyo’ sign near the pier. It’s cheesy, yes, but also a rite of passage for nearly all Mexican beaches.

Try Kite Surfing

kitesurfers on a beach

Those steady breezes bring more than just warm air. The El Cuyo kitesurf scene is alive and well, and if you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at the sport, this is a great place to do it. Lessons and rentals are available, and you’re always free to watch participants hone their skills from the safety of the shore.

Paddle Your Heart Away

3 kayaks floating in the water in Playa EL Cuyo Yucatan

In El Cuyo, there are many opportunities to work on your paddling skills. 

Stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) are available for rent, and if you don’t quite have the necessary balance to handle them, you can always opt for a kayak. 

Either way, you get a great shoulder workout along with an eco-friendly way to explore the lagoon, coast and mangroves that surround the town.

Go Climbing

2 people rock climbing on a wall

If you’re thinking, “wait a second…there are no mountains to climb in the Yucatan!” you’re right. But that doesn’t mean a climbing adventure is off the table.

Cuyo Climbing allows visitors to practice their skills with a purpose-built climbing tower. Catering to all levels, it’s a fun workout and adds a dose of altitude to an otherwise flat landscape.

Go to Town

2 boats on the street in Playa EL Cuyo Mexico

While little more than a sleepy beach village with a large expat population, taking a stroll through town—or better yet, renting a bike to explore—is an excellent way to get in sync with the tranquil pace of your surroundings.

Pamper Yourself

massage bed on the beach

While El Cuyo doesn’t boast any fancy spa resorts, self-care options are available. Check with your hotel to arrange for a massage or to join a yoga class and take your concept of a relaxing vacation to a whole new level.

Things to do Near el Cuyo Beach

When you grow restless of all that peace and solitude, you have several world-class adventures within reach of a day trip from El Cuyo. Below is a list of some of the highlights.

Visit the Colonial Gem of Valladolid

Iglesia De San Servacio Cathedral in Valladolid Mexico

If you’re up for a drive, the colonial gem of Valladolid is just 136 kilometers (85 miles) to the southwest. 

Here you can hang out in the central square, take in one of the numerous museums, and admire the stunning architecture that permeates the classic structures from the floor tiles to the roofs. 

You can also gorge yourself on authentic local cuisine. Then, after dark, enjoy the charms of this touristy-but-worth-the-visit city. Not a bad day trip if you’re looking for some stimulation.

Explore Chichen Itzá

Chichen Itza ruins and pyramid overview

If you’re going to be in the neighborhood and haven’t yet seen Chichen Itza—one of the New Seven Wonders of the World—it’s time to correct that oversight.

This massive complex of Mayan structures offers a glimpse into a fascinating culture. The most iconic site is the imposing pyramid called El Castillo. But there are many more sites of interest spread across the jungle that makes this a worthy day trip.

Chichen Itza is about a 35-40 minute drive west of Valladolid. It might be a long day, but it will be well worth it.

Take a Day Trip to Playa Holbox

beach near Playa El Cuyo, Mexico

If you want your beautiful beaches from a different perspective, Playa Holbox, on Isla Holbox, is a popular place that will give you a taste of island life. You can enjoy the lovely water and lively vibe and still be back for dinner.

Though not too far away geographically, getting from El Cuyo to Holbox requires an hour-long drive to Chiquila and a 15-minute ferry ride from there. 

Go Pink at the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve

Ria Lagartos near Playa El Cuyo, Mexico

If you love nature, you won’t want to miss a trip to the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve. This reserve protects a massive swath of wetlands, which means you’ll have the chance to see an impressive number of bird species.

The most impressive features are the pink lakes of Las Coloradas. These Instagram-worthy lakes are eye-popping pink and will make a great addition to your photo album or social media feed. 

The area is also known for its large population of pink flamingos, which ironically tend to feed in the less-pink pools and lagoons.

Recent visitors have noted that it has become a bit touristy and pre-packaged, but it’s still a landscape you won’t find in many other places on earth.

Getting there requires some roundabout routing if you don’t have a 4-wheel drive, taking about an hour on paved roads through Rio Lagartos. 

You can also join a guided tour, which will handle the transportation and all other details. It’ll allow you to enjoy the ride while taking in the unique animals and landscape on display.

Explore the Yum Balam Flora and Fauna Protection Area

flamingos on a lake in Mexico

This protected region to the east of El Cuyo incorporates the barrier islands and wetlands of the northeast Yucatan Peninsula. It is home to a large variety of birds and mammals, including crocodiles, jaguars, flamingoes, tapirs and even the occasional whale shark.

Local hotels can arrange a tour for you, saving you the hassle of getting there on your own. Just be sure to bring some mosquito repellent!

Check out the Riviera Maya

rows of hats for sale in Mexico

If you prefer your water in a more turquoise shade of blue, the stunning beaches of the Riviera Maya are not that far away.

It’s about 146 kilometers (91 miles, approximately a 2-hour drive) from El Cuyo to Playa del Carmen, where you can explore the ample shopping and dining opportunities. And if you work your way down the coast, hitting all the amazing beaches, heading back to El Cuyo from Tulum requires less than a 3-hour trip. 

Where to Stay in Playa el Cuyo

colorful street and houses near  Playa El Cuyo, Mexico

Not surprisingly, there are no giant hotels in Playa el Cuyo—and that’s precisely how local residents want it. Instead, what you will find in terms of lodging options are adorable boutique hotels, each with its own charms tucked away around town—many with gorgeous sea views. 

There are accommodations ranging from high-end to midrange to budget, so regardless of your tax bracket, you can find something suitable to your tastes.

Is Playa el Cuyo Safe?

Pristine Beach in El Cuyo, Mexico

The Yucatan, as a whole, is considered to be one of the safest areas in Mexico. Given El Cuyo’s small size, limited development, and large expat community, crime is hardly an issue. 

Still, it’s always wise to use the usual precautions you would back home. Don’t leave your belongings unattended, and don’t flash fancy jewelry or equipment.

Weather in Playa el Cuyo?

palapas in El Cuyo, Mexico

The temperatures don’t vary a whole lot, ranging from the upper 20s to low 30s Celsius (80s to low 90s Fahrenheit). However, humidity levels do play a factor when it comes to comfort, and it mainly depends on the time of year you choose to visit. 

November through March are the most comfortable months of the year to visit, combining pleasant temperatures and relatively low humidity. 

The summer months of June through August are usually considered the hottest, but hey—it’s summer. What else do you expect?

Packing List Essentials for El Cuyo

aqua bikin and flipflops in suitcase

With grocery stores and sufficient infrastructure onsite, you’re unlikely to find yourself in a situation where you won’t find what you need in town. But here are some practical suggestions:

  • A wide-brimmed hat—there is no shade to be found on the broad, reflective strands of beach. Do yourself (and your scalp) a favor and keep your head sufficiently covered.
  • A water shirt—keep your torso covered and save on sunscreen while lying on the beach or having a go at kitesurfing.
  • Biodegradable sunscreen—whether you’re swimming or just lying on the beach, biodegradable sunscreen will not only protect your skin but the environment as well.
  • A swimsuit—with the beach as the primary attraction, you will want a comfortable swimsuit (or two or three) for those days at the beach.
  • Casual clothes—with no nightclubs, posh resorts or fancy restaurants, you can leave your formal wear at home. Stock up on comfy shorts and t-shirts and perhaps a cover-up or two, but leave your fancy clothes behind—this is laid-back living at its finest.
  • Sunglasses—between the blinding sun and sand, you’ll want to protect your eyes. Plus, it’s hard not to look cool while wearing sunglasses.
  • Comfortable shoes—whether you decide to rent a bicycle or take a day trip to Valladolid or Chichen Itza, having a pair of comfortable, close-toed shoes will make your explorations all the more pleasant.
  • Reusable water bottle (and maybe some snacks)—when taking long walks on the deserted sections of the beach, you will want to stay hydrated. A reusable water bottle solves that problem. And since you won’t find any restaurants outside town, taking a few snacks with you will sate your hunger until you return to civilization.
  • A sturdy bag or backpack with lock—while theft isn’t much of an issue, you can enjoy greater peace of mind with a sturdy, secure bag of some sort to carry around your stuff—especially when on one of those long walks previously mentioned.
  • Mosquito Repellent—if you’re exploring the lagoons (and you should!), you will want some mosquito repellent.
  • Waterproof camera—whether it’s a case for your smartphone or a separate device, you will want a good camera to capture the gorgeous colors on and around the water. This is doubly so if you’re kitesurfing, stand-up paddling or kayaking, and there’s a risk that your normal camera will get wet.

Map of Playa El Cuyo

Mexico is a big country. Our interactive map will help you plan your trip to Playa el Cuyo.

How to get to Playa el Cuyo

long stretch of  Beach in El Cuyo, Mexico

The most convenient airport to arrive in Mexico is via Cancun (code CUN).

Getting from the airport in Cancun to El Cuyo by either car or shuttle will take about 2.5 hours or so.

On the subject of transportation, you won’t need a car to get around town—it’s that small! But if you plan on exploring nearby attractions on your own, having access to a private rental vehicle is far more practical than getting around by public transportation, which is pretty light in such a remote town.

Final Thoughts

sunset over the beach with a woman in the foreground

You may have never heard of Playa el Cuyo before reading this article. That’s ok—the locals are fine with that. 

But if you decide to get off the beaten path to discover this responsibly developing tourist town, making the extra effort to get here will be rewarded with peaceful seclusion and a laid-back vibe that will allow you to truly relax. 

And isn’t that why you would come here in the first place?


What is the closest airport to Playa el Cuyo?

The closest airport is Cancun International Airport (code CUN), located 167 kilometers (104 miles) to the east. It takes about two hours by car or shuttle.

What is the closest town to Playa el Cuyo?

The closest town is Colonia Yucatan— about a forty-minute drive (38 kilometers – 24 miles) to the south.

Is el Cuyo safe?

Yes. You don’t need to be overly concerned about crime in El Cuyo. There are hardly any people or development, and the locals strive to keep their community safe and clean. 

Can you swim at Playa el Cuyo?

Swimming is definitely an option and a pleasant activity when the water is calm. However, be mindful that there are strong currents at times, and keep an eye out for kitesurfers who might be blowing by.

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