Ultimate List of Things to Do in Xcalak
Lonely Planet describes Xcalak as “this tiny town plopped in the middle of nowhere” and lists only six things to do. Of those six attractions, one is scuba diving and the other five are restaurants. Lucky for you, we know many more things to do in Xcalak.
In fact, we’ve put together a list of more than 40 things to do in Xcalak.
Everything there is to do Xcalak…
Watch the Sunrise
You’ll have to get up early for this colorful Xcalak activity, but watching the sunrise is a must. Xcalak’s shoreline faces east and the sun rises over the sea, making an impressively bright start to every day. Look forward to a large orb of red or yellow depending on the weather.
Relax by the Beach
Relaxing is the most popular activity in Xcalak (if relaxing can be called an activity). No one in Xcalak is in a hurry, and there are no sellers or touts hassling you. Sit by the beach, listen to the rumble of waves against the barrier reef, and soak up the sun and sea breezes.
Beachcomb for Natural Treasure
Thanks to breaking waves and world currents, every day the Xcalak beach is different. Take a walk up the sand and you’ll see that nature has been busy washing treasure ashore. Expect to find conch shells (like, a lot of them), snail shells, clam shells, driftwood, bamboo, sea beans, fan coral, Elkhorn coral, brain coral, seaweed, sponge, pumice, and coconuts. But the most exciting thing to find is the something you never expect to find; that’s the joy of beachcombing.
Make a Conch Shell Horn
Walk up the beach in Xcalak and you’ll find an abundance of beautiful conch shells (just make sure you don’t stub your toe – super ouch). Collect some nice shells to look at, or make a conch shell horn. See our video guide to making a conch shell horn on YouTube.
Walk the Dog
Most houses and hotels in Xcalak have pet dogs, who might join you on a walk along the beach. If the family dog is making the trip to Xcalak with you, bring the leash and take your friend on a stroll. Before you visit make sure your house rental or hotel is pet friendly. Our accommodations guide can help.
Beachcomb for Man-Made Treasure (aka Flotsam)
Most of the man-made stuff that washes up on the beach in Xcalak is unidentifiable plastic junk, but once you start sifting through it, things get interesting. We’ve found flotsam washed up from Germany, Korea, Japan, and many other countries. See how many countries you can find.
Race Hermit Crabs
Hermit crabs love Xcalak, and we love hermit crabs. You can find them on the sand, in trees, and in the jungle (sometimes where you least expect them). If you’re lucky enough to be staying on a beach property with hermit crabs try your hand at hermit crab racing. We’ve made a (funny) two minute video showing how to race hermit crabs. This is definitely one of the more quirky things to do in Xcalak.
Gather Drift Seeds (aka Sea Beans)
Our favorite thing the waves bring to Xcalak’s beach is drift seeds (also called sea beans). The outer shells of these seeds are impervious to the sea water, and they can float around the world until they wash up on shore. Drift seeds make unique DIY jewelry or souvenirs. Learn more from our YouTube video about sea beans in Xcalak.
Become a Bird Watcher
Bird lovers will enjoy the variety of feathered-fliers in Xcalak. Near the sea you’ll find ibis, pipers, cranes, egrets, cormorants, and pelicans (who are friendly if you feed them like the locals do at the town pier). And on shore – pretty song birds, hawks, vultures, and roadrunners (Xcalak is a safe place from Wile E.).
Reuse Washed Up Flip Flops
Much of the flotsam washed up onto the shore in Xcalak is flip flops. A lot of flip flops. Find two that are comfortable and fit your feet, and give them new life. Bonus: after seeing the beach in Xcalak, you’ll think twice before you buy a pair of “disposable” flip flops ever again (the environment thanks you in advance).
Learn to Husk a Coconut
Xcalak used to be a coconut plantation, and some of the trees are still standing today. Learn how to husk and open a coconut. Hint: throwing it against a rock won’t work (we tried). Ask you hotel manager if he or she can show you how.
Eat (Extremely) Fresh Coconut
Most hotel owners, and all the locals, can husk that tough nut to reveal the delicious meat inside. Fresh coconut is different from the shredded stuff you get at the grocery store, and it’s a treat that shouldn’t be missed when visiting Xcalak. You can eat the coconut meat raw, or learn to make coconut milk, cream, and even oil.
Practice Night Photography
There’s almost no light pollution outside the town of Xcalak, so why not try night photos? Light-painting is always fun, and good place to start for beginners. We recommend a DSLR, small tripod, flashlight, and remote shutter release.
Swing in a Hammock
This one is like relaxing but different – it’s better. Swinging in a hammock by the seaside is pretty much the definition of “chilled out”. Add the shade of few coconut palms and the scene becomes truly iconic. Yeah.
Enjoy a Beer
Mexico has a selection of light, refreshing beers. The alcohol content is typically only 4.5% so grab a cold one and enjoy the sun, stay hydrated, and drink up. If you like your drink a little heavier, head to Costa de Cocos for their homebrew.
Improve Your Sun Tan
In Xcalak, slather up the sun screen and work on your tan (because you know, the folks at home need proof you’ve been to Mexico). Sunblock and sun tanning lotion can be hard to come by in Xcalak, so bring plenty with you. And did you know that there is even a nude beach in Xcalak? Goodbye tan lines!
Watch the Weather Change
The wind in Xcalak typically blows in from the sea, and you’ll see clouds and weather blowing in for miles. Weather varies as the clouds float past – it could be raining up the beach, while you’re sitting in the sun.
If you’re staying on the beach road there’s a good chance your accommodation has a rooftop terrace. Go outside on a clear night and lose yourself in the stars. With a full moon, however, it can be surprisingly bright. Like, bright enough to read a book.
The water around Xcalak is part of a National Marine Reef Park, which means it’s protected from overfishing and development.
Snorkel the Translucent Blue Water
The world’s second largest barrier reef is just off Xcalak’s shore. Inside the barrier reef the water is calm, shallow, and the snorkeling is fantastic. The sandy bottom is only a few meters deep and a beautiful clear blue. Snorkeling is one of the things you must do in Xcalak.
Fly fish the Saltwater Flats
Did you know that Xcalak is a premier fly fishing destination? Expect to catch bonefish, permit, tarpon, barracuda, snapper, jacks, and snook. The calm, shallow water protected by the barrier reef is an ideal place to try for a Grand Slam (tarpon, permit, and bonefish all in one day). Try fly fishing in the saltwater flats, the Bay of Chetumal, or the area’s many lagoons.
Don’t know how to fly fish? Taking fly fishing lessons in Xcalak is a fun way to keep your vacation interesting.
Kayak in the Caribbean Sea
Kayaking is a fun thing to do in Xcalak – explore and get active at the same time. Take a snorkel with you and jump in to check out the coral and fish. Try kayaking in the evening to watch the sun set over the jungle, or if it’s not windy go right out to the barrier reef itself. If your hotel doesn’t have kayaks consider contacting XTC Dive Center for a rental or a guided tour.
Scuba Dive the Mesoamerican Reef
Second largest barrier reef in the world + not many tourists = a great dive. In Xcalak the dive groups are small (no cattle boats full of divers here), and dive sites in Xcalak are single tank dives. The Caribbean Sea is home to schools of meter-long tarpon and there are beautiful crevasses and arches in the reef.
Stand Up Paddleboard
Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is a mix between surfing and kayaking, and it’s one heck of total body workout. The water around Xcalak is calm enough for SUP whether you’re looking for a little exercise or you’re into SUP angling. SUP is gaining popularity as a thing to do in Xcalak, but right now only a few beach hotels and fly fishing outfits have boards. Ask your accommodation if they have a SUP available.
Take a break from the beach to discover the town of Xcalak and the surrounding area.
See Xcalak’s Five Lighthouses
Xcalak has five lighthouses worth visiting. There are three lighthouses near the center of town, a light-tower at 11.7 mi (18.8 km) up the north beach road, and a crumbling lighthouse at La Aguada on the Bay of Chetumal.
Walk to the End of Xcalak’s Town Pier
The pier in Xcalak is the town’s main attraction. It was built late 1995, and has been popular with locals and tourists ever since. The water at the end of the dock is clear enough to see the fish below. Take a walk out and you’ll see pelicans, gulls, and locals fishing off the dock. Check out the Xcalak pier via Google Satellite at 18.274169, -87.833700.
Eat Lionfish (and Protect the Reef)
Like many places around the world, Xcalak has an overabundance of lionfish. While scuba diving or snorkeling, lionfish are beautiful to see underwater. But they are an invasive creature, and they’re forcing out the indigenous species. Xcalak handles the Lionfish invasion by putting them on the menu. Stop by Toby’s Restaurant in town and order lionfish ceviche. It’s not always available, so give Toby’s advance notice and they’ll round some up. Protect the reef, support the local economy, and fill your belly.
The locals of Xcalak are not pushers, touts, hawkers, or any other type of aggressive seller. They are friendly Mexicans who mostly fish or service the small tourist and expat community. Go into town, find a local, and strike up a conversation in Spanish. Practice isn’t intimidating once you start. BTW – did you know that Xcalak isn’t a Spanish word – it’s Mayan. Here’s a YouTube video on how to pronounce Xcalak.
Drive to La Aguada on the Bay of Chetumal
If you have a vehicle (and a free sunny day) we recommend the 5.6 mi (9 km) drive to the ferry crossing at La Aguada (currently not in service). Take a walk out on the massive concrete pier that extends into the Bay of Chetumal. The yellow lines of the pier juxtaposed with the solid turquoise of the bay, to create a disorienting visual. From the end of the pier you can see a deteriorated concrete lighthouse that belongs in horror movies.
Celebrate Xcalak’s Birthday
The Mexican Navy founded the village of Xcalak in May 19, 1900. Celebrate Xcalak’s anniversary in the town-wide festival. Saturday will be the big party – expect a live concert, vendors, food stands, and a soccer tournament with teams from Mexico and Belize facing off.
Celebrate Semana Santa / Easter
People come from all over Mexico to enjoy the beach at Xcalak during Semana Santa. In town there’s a carnival and a pervasive festival attitude – the parties go late. Expect hotels to get busy and locals crashing on the beach in tents and campers.
Get a Massage
Oh snap! There are two places in Xcalak where you can get a massage. If your significant other is out fly fishing, why not indulge yourself? Make a reservation with Acocote Wellness for a combination Swedish / Jinshin Jutshu (Japanese) Massage, or email Nataly at nataly.ours @ hotmail.com and head into town for a relaxing massage.
Try the Whisky Moonshine & Craft Beer
The Reel Inn at Costa de Cocos serves craft brew and homemade whisky. Woot. The corn whisky is the smoothest “moonshine” I’ve ever had, and it’ll knock you on your butt. The craft beer comes in three shades – there’s Tarpon Tale Pale Ale, Costa Mayan Sunrise Amber Ale, and Permit Me 1 Porter (yup, the names have a fly fishing theme).
Visit Canal Zaragoza via the South Beach Road (OK, maybe not)
The Mexican Navy dug a canal from the Caribbean Sea to the Bay of Chetumal, and…you can’t see it. A Navy-guarded gate keeps you from seeing the Canal Zaragoza at the end of the 3.1 mi (5 km) south beach road. With no access it’s best to skip this activity; have another cervesa instead.
Ride a Bike and View the Beach Homes
Biking up the north beach road is a good exercise, and gives you a chance to see all the remarkable hotels and houses. If you go for the ride, know that there are no shops and the last expat house is at mile 10 (kilometer 16). Check out our Map of Xcalak which shows the accommodations on the north beach road.
Drive the Entire North Beach Road
Get ready for a bumpy ride, and explore the 16.7 mi (27 km) north beach road. The first half, when you start from Xcalak town, has beach hotels, expat homes, and isolated beaches. At mile 11.4 (kilometer 18.4) is the coral stone pyramid, a bit further down is the north light-tower. Keep going to find a failed beach resort and the burnt out Rio Huatch Bridge. If this bridge were still intact, the road would take you all the way to Mahahual. Exploring the beach road is not recommended just after a rainstorm.
Climb the Coral Stone Pyramid
This is a bizarre Xcalak attraction. Legend has it an out-of-towner squatted on this property 11.4 mi (18.4 km) north of Xcalak, collected coral rocks, and built himself a bizarre coral pyramid. He was also illegally fishing (and doing a good business of it), which caused the Xcalak locals to run him out of town. We’re not sure if this story is true or not, but there’s still an impressive pyramid of coral stones you can clamber up for a view of the Caribbean Sea.
Explore the Lagoons
Check out the lagoons in Xcalak’s jungle. In some place the lagoons almost reach out to the beach road, and some hotels have paths leading back. The water in the lagoons is brackish so you’ll see (and catch) the same fish as in the sea flats. Don’t forget mosquito repellant. And by the way, people have seen the occasional crocodile… so better skip the swimming.
Surf the Internet (Only if You Must)
For a remote town, Xcalak has decent, fairly reliable internet. Most restaurants and beach hotels connect via an internet tower relay to the neighboring (and larger) town of Mahahual. The speed isn’t bad (~2 mbps) and it’s enough to use Skype, and update your Facebook to make your friends jealous.
Shop from Grocery Trucks
Yup, grocery trucks! The nearest grocery store is hours from Xcalak, so entrepreneurial truck drivers ply the beach road selling fruit, produce, meat, dairy, bread, and snacks. Cash only! The fruit and produce is typically high quality, and meat is transported in coolers but without Styrofoam packaging (like in large grocery stores). Here’s more about Grocery Trucks and Buying Food in Xcalak.
Blend Tropical Smoothies
Xcalak’s grocery trucks bring fresh fruit almost daily. The price is reasonable so go for it – mix up a fresh smoothie every day. It’s a tasty thing to do in Xcalak. Stir in a little rum too because, you know, vacation.
Learn about Living Off-Grid
Living off-grid on the beach is an experience that draws people to Xcalak. Accommodations on the beach road rely on rainwater collected in cisterns, solar power, and generators. Talk to your proprietor to learn what off-grid living is really like.
Xcalak may feel like the edge of the world, but there are attractions nearby. When planning your vacation put a few of these activities on your list of things to do in Xcalak.
Banco Chinchorro is the western hemisphere’s largest coral atoll. It is remote, protected, and only accessible with special permits and a long boat ride. If you’re a scuba diver, getting there should be on your to-do list – there’s 600 sq mi of pristine coral and over 200 wrecks. Get to Chinchorro with XTC Diving Center on a one or two day trip. Chinchorro tours need a minimum of five divers.
Nature lovers will enjoy a tour of Bird Island in the spectacular Bay of Chetumal. The trip takes you through mangrove canals, and there are plenty of snorkeling opportunities. If you’re lucky you might even see the manatees that frequent the area. Bird Island is a nice thing to do in Xcalak as it’s not far from town.
Bacalar is a small town two hour’s drive from Xcalak. The town is famous for its beautiful lagoon (the “lake of seven colors“), the Spanish fortress of San Felipe, and freshwater Cenote Azul.
Okay, its real name is “Pedro Santos” and it’s on the way to Bacalar, but we prefer to call the small village Pineapple Town. Lining both sides of highway 307 (and even in the middle of the highway) locals sell the most delicious honey-sweet pineapples ever. Unless you need a lot of pineapples (like, five or six) we suggest passing on the discount pineapples, and buying the more expensive, small yellow ones. They are sweet, tropical honey flavored goodness.
Mahahaul is the closest town to Xcalak, and features an audacious cruise ship port. When the cruise ships are in, Mahahaul is flooded with sunburned tourists enjoying a view similar to Xcalak. Unlike Xcalak, Mahahaul has paved streets and plenty of touts, sellers, and vendors. The town is geared for tourists and has amenities like grocery stores, restaurants, an ATM, car rentals, and even a Mayan-themed water park.
Want to extend your visit to Mahahual? We recommend Maya Luna.
San Pedro, Belize
*Sad update, but you cannot get from Xcalak to Belize directly, nor from Belize to Xcalak. You’ll have to cross at the border near Chetumal. You’ll find outdated posts on the internet saying otherwise. That information is no longer valid. Bummer.
The Belizean border is only six miles (9.6 km) south of Xcalak. And it used to be that you could book a 1.5-hour boat ride to the Belizean city of San Pedro on Caye Ambergis. But not anymore. Not legally anyways.
Mayan Ruins Near Xcalak: Chacchoben and Kohunlich Ruins
A worthwhile day trip from Xcalak is the Chacchoben Ruins, two hours away from Xcalak. Visit on a day when there isn’t a cruise ship in Mahahual and you’ll have the ruins all to yourself. Kohunlich Ruins are 5 hours away, making them a little too far for a day trip (in our opinion). Plan an overnight stay in Bacalar or Chetumal, and take in both ruin sites before returning to Xcalak.
As you’ve seen, there is no shortage of things to do in Xcalak (although fly fishing and the beautiful beach are certainly Xcalak’s main attractions).
Nature lovers visit Xcalak to enjoy the sea, jungle, and aquatic wonders. Beach lovers relax and unplug in paradise. Fly fishers scour the saltwater flats to catch the Grand Slam. Nudists appreciate removing tan lines. And scuba divers explore Xcalak’s Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.
What about you, why are you visiting?