The beaches that line the 250km of coast between the southern edge of the Sian Ka’an reserve and the Belizean border, may not be as picture-perfect as those in Tulum – they’re often shaded with pines, not palms. But they are beautiful in their sheer emptiness. Despite development pressure in the form of a cruise-ship pier, the Costa Maya, as the area is known, still has a very end-of-the-world feel. The two towns in the area, Mahahual and the smaller Xcalak, were hit hard by Hurricane Dean in 2007. Mahahual was rebuilt, but Xcalak is still quite battered. Beachcombers typically stay around Mahahual; divers and anglers head south to Xcalak.
Inland from the coast is the surprise respite of Laguna de Bacalar, every bit as clear and beautiful as the Caribbean and harbouring its own special wildlife. Like the Costa Maya, its shores are a respite from development up the coast.