Bridget Gleeson writer + illustrator

Dodging the cruise ship crowd: Mexico edition

There’s a reason why there are a thousand resorts here, why the cruise ships all stop here. It’s the same reason that some phrases become clichés: because they’re true.

In other words – the Riviera Maya, on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, is a spectacularly beautiful landscape.

Watercolor Yucatan

But the last time I came here, a few years ago, I didn’t like it much. All the resort people and the cruise ships and the loud beach clubs seemed to get in the way of my good time.

I was scheduled to stay in Playa del Carmen for several nights to review a pair of new boutique hotels. I remember that I did like the recycled pools on one of the hotel’s terraces. (But photos never tell the whole story, do they? The whole story is that we didn’t get any sleep – and not in a good way. It was hectic. I didn’t see some of the glorious underwater sights because I was distracted, I guess, by all of the bronzed and beautiful Italian people, and all of the Americans drinking ridiculously oversized margaritas.)

Hotel PdC

/// Fast-forward to 2015 ///

The shapely Italians, the Americans in sombreros, and the free tequila are still here. But this time around, I was determined to, well, get away from them.

It wasn’t easy. It involved doing my homework on Spanish-language blogs, talking to the cleaning lady at the hotel about where she goes on Saturdays, getting on several local ferry boats, and scanning the horizon for incoming watercraft with names like ‘Norwegian Princess’ and ‘Carnival Ecstasy.’

But the effort was well worth it. Here are a few of my loveliest discoveries.

On the left: climbing the tallest pyramid in the Mayan world at Cobá (a less touristy alternative to the much-hyped ruins at Chichen Itzá.)

On the right: a locals’-only beach on the island of Cozumel (a rarity, TRUST.)

Underwater 1 IMG_8787

 Underwater mysteries – courtesy of a waterproof camera. Around the coral reef off the western coast of Cozumel.

Isla MujeresIsla Mujeres plaza


Isla Mujeres. Only a short ferry ride away from Cancun, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

Playa del Carmen

Early a.m. PdC

Even Playa del Carmen can be pretty charming if you get up early enough – and put your blanket down next to the Mexican families instead of at Mamita’s beach club.

Tourists at Coba

The moral of the story? I can’t do anything about those cameras on sticks.

Party boat

But this is the only kind of ‘party boat’ I’m really interested in. And I’m glad to report they still exist in this part of Mexico.