Getting to Xcalak Mexico [Definitive Guide]
This is the ultimate guide on getting to Xcalak, Mexico. It has driving directions, maps, videos, tips, and more.
In this comprehensive guide we’ll cover:
- Where is Xcalak Mexico
- How to get to Xcalak from Cancun
- Advice on renting a car to get there
- Cheaper ways of getting to Xcalak
- Lots more…
This guide is the ideal travel companion if you’re coming to Xcalak from Cancun (or from anywhere else in the Yucatan Peninsula). It covers, in step-by-step detail, the two most popular methods of getting here; driving and by bus.
Let’s get into the specifics!
On the way to Xcalak you’ll have spotty cell-phone data coverage. And in Xcalak Village, you’ll find no cell coverage at all.
We urge you to get our free PDF, Xcalak Travel Guide
That way (even offline), you’ll have a copy of the driving directions and map.
Where is Xcalak Mexico?
In this part we’ll show you where Xcalak is.
First, we’ll look at a map of Mexico (with Xcalak shown), and then we’ll put it in context so you can see what it takes to get there.
Xcalak’s Remote Location
Xcalak is a small fishing village on the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s part of the Costa Maya, a region in the southeast of Mexico’s Quintana Roo state.
- The GPS latitude & longitude of Xcalak Village is 18.269, -87.836
- Xcalak is about six miles from the border between Belize & Mexico
Even though the town is near the border, you won’t (legally) be able to cross from Belize directly into Xcalak, or the other way around, as there’s no immigration office.
It’s a shame, so close, but so far away.
Distances to Xcalak
A frequently searched tourist question is, “How far is it from Cancun to Xcalak?”
It’s about 400 miles / 650 kilometers. To put it another way, six hours driving or all the livelong day by bus. But we’ll get into transportation later, in Part 2 about driving, and in Part 3 about other ways to get there.
Here are distances to Xcalak from the Yucatan Peninsula’s major tourist cities.
- Cancun International Airport (CUN) to Xcalak: 400 miles / 650 kilometers
- Playa del Carmen to Xcalak: 215 miles / 350 kilometers
- Tulum to Xcalak: 175 miles / 280 kilometers
- Mahahual to Xcalak: 42 miles / 68 kilometers
- Bacalar to Xcalak: 100 miles / 160 kilometers
- Chetumal to Xcalak: 125 miles / 200 kilometers
Driving to Xcalak from Cancun
Now it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of getting to Xcalak—driving! Hands down, renting a car and driving is the most common (and easiest) way to get to Xcalak.
In this part we’ll
- Share a video that sums up the drive to Xcalak
- Provide concise driving directions from Cancun
- Talk about the towns you’ll see along the way
- Reveal the conditions of each highway
- Help you get to your accommodation
drive dive in.
[ Video About Getting to Xcalak ]
Take three minutes to enjoy the photos, maps, and transportation tips in this short video that sums up the drive to Xcalak. The video also touches on taking the bus, which we’ll cover in more detail, later, in Part 3.
[ Directions for Driving from Cancun to Xcalak ]
Most visitors to Xcalak arrive at the Cancun International Airport (CUN). From there, the best way to get to Xcalak is to rent a car and drive south on Highway 307. Depending on traffic and how many stops you make, the trip will take about 6 to 7 hours.
We’ll provide some tips for renting a car in Part 5.
From experience we know that from Cancun, the trip to Xcalak realistically takes seven hours (even if Google Maps says it only takes six).
Directions to Xcalak from Cancun are straightforward:
- Hwy 307 south: from the Cancun airport get on Hwy 307 and drive south towards Chetumal for 294 km / 182 mi.
- Optional: take the toll road around the town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto (24 pesos). Look for signs saying “Libramiento Felipe Carrillo Puerto”
- Towards Mahahaul: exit Hwy 307 for Mahahaul, drive 51 km / 32 mi to the Xcalak intersection, which is just before the Pemex gas station.
- Towards Xcalak: Turn right for Xcalak, drive for 60 km / 37 mi along the jungle road. You’re there.
That’s it for directions to Xcalak (told you they were easy).
[ About driving to Xcalak on Highway 307 ]
What are the roads like on the way to Xcalak?
Driving from Cancun to Xcalak, expect paved roads. Most of the drive will be on the well-maintained, two- to four-lane Highway 307, which follows the Yucatan Peninsula’s Caribbean coast. Don’t expect any coastal views, though—ostentatiously large resort entrances block every bit of the seaside scenery.
What is the traffic like on Hwy 307?
Traffic on four-lane Highway 307 is heavy from Cancun and through to the city of Playa del Carmen. After passing the next major town (Tulum), traffic gets lighter.
[ Major towns on Highway 307, on the way to Xcalak ]
Playa del Carmen – One hour south of Cancun – expect heavy four-lane traffic. It can be stressful driving through Playa del Carmen, mainly because the painted lanes on the highway are faded.
Tulum – Two hours south of Cancun – expect speed bumps (called “topes”), bicycles, and pedestrians crossing the road as you drive through the town. Tulum has several ATMs (including Scotiabank and HSBC). Tulum also has two grocery stores: Saint Francis de Assisi and Chedraui (a major grocery and department store). If you don’t have a supply of pesos, Tulum is an excellent place to stop and pull money. Remember, Xcalak is cash only.
Pro Tip – Stop in Tulum to get groceries, supplies, booze, and pesos.
Felipe Carrillo Puerto – Three hours south of Cancun – get gas in Felipe Carrillo Puerto at the Pemex gas station as you enter the town, or at a second Pemex as you leave town. Gas stations are rare after leaving Felipe Carrillo Puerto. There is an ATM at the center of Felipe (in case you didn’t get pesos in Tulum). If you’re all stocked up on supplies and have plenty of gas, take the toll road around Felipe Carrillo Puerto to save a bit of time on your way to Xcalak.
[ About leaving Hwy 307 and driving towards Mahahaul ]
On Hwy 307, just south of the small town of Limones, is the exit to Mahahaul. The turn is clearly marked.
The highway to Mahahaul is a wide two-lane road. There aren’t many houses or sights (or much of anything besides jungle and swamp) on the highway to Mahahaul.
Stop for hot sauce at KM 5. Five kilometers after you turn off Highway 307, you’ll see a farm on the left-hand side called (creatively) KM 5. The owner grows jalapenos on-site and uses them to make a variety of hot sauces. The sauces come in a broad spectrum of tastes, from mild to nuclear. Stock up for your vacation and support the local economy!
Get gas before turning to Xcalak. After driving 52 kilometers (32 miles) along the Mahahaul highway, you’ll encounter an abrupt speed control bump and see the exit to Xcalak. Don’t take it yet! Keep going past the turn to Xcalak and you’ll find (way before Mahahaul) a Pemex gas station. Gas up here, in Mahahual, if you didn’t get fuel in Felipe Carrillo Puerto as there are no gas stations in Xcalak.
Once you’ve gassed up, turn around, take the exit to Xcalak, Mexico, and you’re almost there. Woot.
[ About the highway from Mahahaul to Xcalak ]
After taking the exit from the Mahahaul highway to Xcalak, you have 60 more km (37 mi) to go.
The highway from Mahahaul to Xcalak is more like a beat-up secondary road. It is two lanes wide, and the jungle encroaches, making it a narrow drive. Keep an eye out for wildlife and for the sake of your life, and everyone else’s, stick to your side of the road on blind corners.
Drive this narrow highway for around 45 minutes. You’ll reach a T-intersection with signs for accommodations pointing left, towards town.
Turn left here, unless (for some obscure reason), you’re headed to the tiny Xcalak airstrip that the military uses. After turning there are only five more minutes of driving until you reach Xcalak.
When you get to Xcalak, the pavement will run out. It’s all packed dirt from here! You’ll be at another T-intersection in front of a soccer field, where you’ll see signs for the town and the accommodations.
If you’re staying on the beach road (and we hope you are), take a left and drive through town. The north beach road, which starts beyond the right edge of the photo below, is where you’ll find most of the beachside accommodations in Xcalak.
At this point, you’ve ARRIVED!
We’ve got a town map of Xcalak, and a map of the beach road, to help you out.
Other Ways of Getting to Xcalak
This part is all about getting you to Xcalak without the hassle of renting a car in Mexico.
We’ve made the trip by bus ourselves and we’ll share the details in a video. You’ll also find out about flying into the Xcalak airport, hitchhiking, and more.
Taking the bus to Xcalak
Let’s start with a quick warning. We don’t recommend taking a bus to Xcalak if you want to stay at a beachside accommodation. The bus will drop you in the village, and most accommodations are too far up the beach road to walk to comfortably. See Getting around Xcalak in Part4.
Anyways, you’re not here for warnings; you’re here for adventure. And the details!
For an idea of what you’re getting into, start by watching this two-minute video, The Joys of Taking the Caribe Bus to Xcalak, which is embedded below.
In this video, we travel from Tulum to Xcalak by bus (which is actually not the most common choice). After the video, we’ll cover the more conventional route.
Getting to Xcalak by bus is a time-consuming adventure.
Here are the directions on how to get to Xcalak by bus from Cancun, Playa del Carman, and Tulum.
- Take the ADO bus (or fly) into Chetumal City
- Get on the Caribe bus from Chetumal to Xcalak; takes 4 hours
- The Caribe bus to Xcalak will drop you off at the Xcalak town pier
The bus to Xcalak leaves from the city of Chetumal, which is a city way in the south of the Costa Maya.
To get to Chetumal by bus from Cancun, Playa del Carman, or Tulum, you’ll want to Google search your nearest ADO bus station. These buses are of the large, tourist-variety, and ADO has a decent reputation for professionalism and safety.
A competitor to ADO is Mayab. While the Mayab bus is rougher around the edges than ADO, it’s slightly cheaper and still an excellent option for getting around Mexico.
The bus trip to Chetumal will take all day so you’ll have to spend the night. Alternatively, instead of going all the way to Chetumal, you may want to consider getting off the bus (and staying overnight) in Bacalar, with its Lake of the Seven Colors.
Bacalar is a hip town that has a vibe like the Tulum of 10 years ago. With a beautiful lagoon, historical fortress, freshwater cenote, and small restaurants, Bacalar is a fun place to spend a day. If you’re interested, check out Bacalar’s tourism website.
From Chetumal, you can take the second-class Caribe bus to Xcalak.
The Caribe bus leaves from Chetumal to Xcalak twice a day—once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The Caribe bus to Xcalak stops in Bacalar, Limones, and Mahahual before getting to Xcalak.
The total bus trip from Chetumal to Xcalak takes 4 hours.
If you plan on catching the afternoon Caribe bus to get to Xcalak, know that it arrives after dark, at about 8 PM. There are no taxis in Xcalak. There’s no cell service. And no public WIFI. In other words, after dark is not a great time to be looking for a place to stay.
For the adventurous only:
If you’re in a city north of Limones, such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum, it is possible to avoid going all the way to Chetumal to catch the Xcalak bus.
By timing your bus from Cancun to Limones right, you can intercept the Caribe Xcalak bus in Limones before it goes to Xcalak. This maneuver is risky as bus schedules are more like guidelines, but if you pull it off, it will save a few hours. Transferring in Limones is how we got to Xcalak in the video posted above.
The Caribe bus from Chetumal is scheduled to arrive in Limones at 7:30 AM and 6:00 PM, give or take 30 minutes…or a few hours. (Whatever, it’s Mexico.)
Flying to Xcalak airport
We hate to burst anyone’s sky bubble, but flying to Xcalak isn’t going to happen.
Yes, Xcalak does have a small airstrip. And yes, it used to accept chartered flights. However, last we checked, it’s now reserved for military use.
If money is of no issue (you lucky dog!), you could charter a flight into Mahahaul and then get to Xcalak from there.
Hitchhiking to Xcalak
Lots of people hitchhike in Mexico, and we are not them. We’ve picked up hitchhikers and have taken them to Xcalak, but we’ve never been the hitchhiker.
Here’s what we can tell you. At the intersection of HWY 307 to Mahahual (as well as at the Mahahaul to Xcalak junction), there are often locals looking to bum a ride. Both roads see enough traffic that hitchhiking should be feasible. And that’s all we can say.
Honestly, those measly two paragraphs are all we know. This wiki on hitching in Mexico may be more helpful.
Getting to Xcalak From Mahahual
Sometimes travelers want to know which is better, Mahahual or Xcalak? We tell them it depends on the type of vacation you’re looking for. Mahahual is about the Caribbean coast and hanging out with other travelers. Xcalak is also about the Caribbean coast (but without other tourists).
Visitors to Mahahual can get tired of the cruise port crowds, and end up wanting to give Xcalak a try. If you’ve got a few days, Xcalak’s tourist-free beach is worth the trip.
Here’s a video showing how Xcalak compares to Mahahual:
There are ways to get to Xcalak from Mahahual: charter a boat, rent a car, take a taxi, hitchhike, or catch the twice-daily shuttle.
Unlike Mahahual, Xcalak is in a National Reef Park—you’ll need to purchase an admittance bracelet for each day of your stay.
Taking the Mayan Train to Xcalak
In September 2018, the president of Mexico announced a plan for the “Mayan Train.”
With a whopping 1400 kilometers (900 miles) of potential track, the train would connect Mexico’s major tourist destinations; most of which are Mayan ruins. Hence the name. This post shows the route of the Mayan Train.
We think this is pipe-dream; that it’ll never happen. But as the planned route goes down the Yucatan Pennisnula’s coast, it would be a boon for people wanting to get to Xcalak.
Maps for Getting Around Xcalak
How do you find your accommodation once you’ve arrived in Xcalak?
It’s a good question to ask.
Because even though Xcalak is small, it can be confusing as there’s not much signage in town. In this part you’ll find:
- A video tour and map of Xcalak
- A video and map showing the hotels
- An explanation of the beach roads
Video & Map of Xcalak Village
Xcalak is a small fishing village with a population of about 400 locals and a handful of expats. The town itself doesn’t offer much for tourist convenience.
In town are tiendas (local convenience stores), the National Reef Park office, a small clinic, and a few restaurants. Some accommodations are in town, but after getting to Xcalak, most tourists will head up the North Beach Road, where the beach is better.
Here’s our map of Xcalak Village.
And here’s YouTube’s ever-popular, 2-minute Video Tour of Xcalak Village
In the following section, you’ll find a map to Xcalak’s beachside accommodations (and also a short video of driving the North Beach Road).
Map of Xcalak’s Hotels
As we mentioned, Xcalak’s beach accommodations are mostly found on what’s referred to as the “North Beach Road.” And while this name may have you imagining a pleasant drive alongside the Caribbean Sea, that’s not it.
Here’s a map of the North Beach Road, a video of the accommodations, and… our beach road warnings.
Now for some reality.
The North Beach Road follows Xcalak’s coast, but driving the road isn’t particularly pleasurable or picturesque.
For instance, the beach road is usually bumpy and full of potholes. And after it rains, the trail gets flooded with puddles you’ll need to skirt around. You won’t need a 4WD rental car or anything crazy like that. Still, the rainy-day pools can be sizable.
Most of the “beach road” is set behind the beachside hotels and accommodations, putting it next to the jungle rather than beside the sea.
Since the road is near the jungle, it gets sweltering hot and thick with mosquitoes. If you’re in an airconditioned car with the windows rolled up, these conditions aren’t a problem. And it’s usually okay for biking or the occasional jog.
But you’re in for some discomfort if walking the road is your only way of getting around Xcalak.
Here’s a quick (11 second!) video showing what the beach road is like.
You may be wondering, what about the SOUTH beach road?
If you follow the south beach road, you won’t see much, but you’ll eventually get to the navy base that protects the Zaragoza Canal.
The canal runs near Xcalak and connects the Caribbean Sea to the Bay of Chetumal.
You can see the navy base on the satellite image above. It looks like a little splotch of concrete, just north of the canal.
From experience, we can tell you that even if the gate is up at the base, they don’t want you driving in there!
Look. Even with a local SIM card, connecting to the internet isn’t always possible in the Costa Maya.
We encourage you to download our PDF, Xcalak Travel Guide
It’s free. And once you’ve got, you’re set. Even offline.
When visiting a place as remote as Xcalak, it’s fair to have questions.
In this part, we got some advice on getting to Xcalak, such as:
- Car rental for Xcalak
- Tips for driving in Mexico
- Saying “Xcalak” when asking for directions
- How to email us a question about getting to Xcalak
Renting a Car for Xcalak
The easiest way of getting to Xcalak is if you rent a car and drive there.
There’s plenty of advice on the internet about renting a car from the Cancun International Airport. Here’s one of our favorite guides as it includes difficult topics, such as insurance and scams: The complete guide to renting a car in Cancun
Do I need 4×4 in Xcalak? No, you don’t need to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle. While it would be an advantage on the beach road (especially in muddy, rainy conditions), you can get around Xcalak with a two-wheel-drive rental car no problem.
To negotiate the potholes and bumps on the north beach road in a 2WD, simply drive slowly and skirt the edges of any large puddles.
Most of the Mexican locals in Xcalak drive motorbikes. They’ll likely be driving the beach road much faster than you will in a car. For their safety, please stay alert when driving. Because just when it seems like there’s no other living soul on the beach road with you, a motorbike appears from nowhere and whips past you.
Also, to protect wildlife, slow down for Xcalak’s sunbathing iguanas. They sometimes need a moment to scramble out of your way.
Driving in Mexico
Driving in Mexico isn’t complicated, but it’s not exactly the same as driving in the U.S. or Europe. Here are some common concerns when people are thinking about renting a car and driving to Xcalak.
Is driving in Mexico scary? Driving in the Yucatan is actually quite similar to driving in the U.S. and Canada—yes, there is plenty of traffic, but most drivers obey road signs and traffic lights. We have found drivers in Mexico more courteous than many drivers in Canadian cities!
What about driving at night? It’s not a good idea to drive to Xcalak at night. If you arrive in Mexico/Cancun in the afternoon or evening, stay the night somewhere part-way and travel to Xcalak in the morning.
What is a TOPE? You’ll see signs with a picture of a speed bump that says “tope” along HWY 307, especially before and after towns and villages. Mexican speed bumps/topes are aggressive. Go over topes as slow as possible. Be vigilant for tope signs—taking a large tope too fast will damage your vehicle. Seriously. Like, we’re talking “Dukes of Hazard” level damage.
Is gassing up in Mexico different from home? Yes. Your only option is full-service, and the attendant should always show you that the pump is “zeroed” before he or she starts pumping. Zeroed means the attendant has reset the fee on the pump to zero pesos after the last fill-up. Choose from Premium or Regular gas, and use cash or credit card at most gas stations when getting to Xcalak.
Gas station attendants are always happy to accept a small tip (5 to 10 pesos) after cleaning your windshield and pumping your gas. Also—be prepared with 5 pesos if you want to use the gas station bathroom.
What do I do at a police checkpoint? It’s not uncommon to encounter police checkpoints along highway 307, but they rarely stop vehicles. If the police stop you at a checkpoint, show your license/ID and your vehicle’s registration. The cops on Highway 307 are used to tourists and usually wave you through without hassle.
What if my vehicle breaks down? If your car breaks down on Highway 307, the Green Angels may come to your rescue. These green and white tow trucks ply the 307 helping stranded motorists. The Green Angels are a bilingual, government-sponsored service. If you don’t want to wait, contact Green Angels at 01-55-5250-8221, and they’ll get you on your way again.
How do you say Xcalak?
On your way to Xcalak, you might be talking to someone about where you’re going. Be it a friend, the rental car agency, or the bus driver—knowing how to pronounce Xcalak correctly will come in handy. Here’s how:
In short, it’s called “ish-ka-lak”.
In this video, you’ll HEAR us say Xcalak, and explain why you pronounce a Mayan word that way.
The most common misspellings of Xcalak include Xcalac, Xkalak, Xclak, and Xacalak.
We doubt the proper spelling of Xcalak will be a question on your kid’s next spelling-bee. But if you can write it correctly on your arrival card at the airport, we’re sure you’ll earn bonus points.
You’ve just finished the internet’s most complete guide on getting to Xcalak!
But did you know:
This website is a passion project for us. As such, we LOVE hearing from our readers. We help dozens of travelers out every year.
If you have a question about visiting Xcalak, send us an email at email@example.com
~Heather & Tim
PSST – We want you to have this:
It’s a free pdf with directions. Having it on your device could really help if you’re stuck with no internet.