The cruise ship pier (north of the road entering town) has given Mahahual a split personality. The port has grown into a tourist zone with a beach club, shopping mall, and tour companies offering dozens of excursions, and a minicity with its own suburb of homes and apartments has sprouted nearby. A Señor Frog's opened in late 2010, not far from the Hard Rock Cafe -- what else is there to say? On port days, the town's packed-sand main street brims with tipsy, sunburned passengers who elect beach time over bus tours, only to empty at night and return to somnolence.
Your best bet is to stay in the lower Mahahual area (or repair to Xcalak). Frankly, Mahahual isn't the most appealing town even when devoid of cruise passengers, though it has acquired some good hotels and fine restaurants, and the new malecón (seafront promenade) makes for a pleasant walk along a fine white beach. Beach areas north and south of town, on the other hand, are the stuff of dreams. Most of the town's hotels and services line the sand road running through town and south along the coast.
In addition to the always-reliable hotels we list, the newer Matan Ka'an (www.matankaan.it) and El Caballo Blanco (www.hotelelcaballoblanco.com; tel. 983/126-0319) offer bright, air-conditioned rooms starting at $60 and $80, respectively.
Quintana Roo's last stand before the channel marking Mexico's border with Belize, Xcalak (eesh-kah-lahk) is a former military outpost that had a population as large as 1,200 before the 1958 hurricane washed most of the town away; now it has about 600 permanent residents. Fly-fishers started coming in the 1980s and are still pulling prizes out of the water. The town oozes shabby charm, but the real lure is the inns just beyond town that offer a little patch of paradise safe from anything resembling a crowd.
You'll likely eat most of your meals wherever you stay, but don't miss the Leaky Palapa (no phone; www.leakypalaparestaurant.com) in town. The two women who run the place do wonderful things with the best local ingredients available from day to day. The short but varied menu applies traditional preparation to all manner of contemporary dishes, from 100 to 300 pesos. Reservations recommended. Open November to May, Saturday to Tuesday from 5 to 10pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.