Finding a Beach in Chiapas, Mexico
Chiapas isn’t known for fantastic beaches. Most of the Mexican state is in the mountains. But we needed a beach. We needed heat and humidity and the sound of crashing waves. Most people go to Puerto Arista, but we headed off the beaten path to El Madresal.
Getting to a beach in Chiapas is tricky.
1. Take an OCC bus from San Cristobal de las Casas to Tonalá (250 pesos/person, 4 hours)
The ride was easy, and we got to watch Russel Crowe build and arc and Naomi Watts get killed by the paparatizie while being dubbed in Spanish. The only tricky part of the ride was the fact that I almost got abandoned in Arriaga. I had stepped off to use the bathroom and not five minutes later, I’m sprinting to catch my bus as it pulls away from the station! Amy demanded that the driver stop, and he reluctantly did. Whew!
2. Take a taxi from the OCC station in Tonalá to the collectivo station (20 pesos, 5 minutes)
3. Cram, wedge, and stuff yourself into the fullest collectivo you can find going to Madresal (30 pesos/person, 2 hours)
El Madresal is tiny. I had no idea where it was, but the collectivo driver did. He also knew every person we passed, waving hello as if we were in a parade.
4. Take a tuktuk to the boat launch (10 pesos/person, 5 minutes)
Rodrigo, the tuktuk driver, moved aside his bucked of freshly caught fish just for the three of us to cram into his back seat. We probably could have paid 20 pesos for all three of us, but none of us had the energy to negotiate. It was only about a kilometer from the road to the boat launch, but we were thankful for the ride.
5. Take a boat to the island (20 pesos/person, 5 minutes)
The guide told us all about the four species of mangroves and the madre sal tree, among other things that we didn’t understand in his quick Spanish.
6. Arrive at El Madresal.
Total travel time: about 7 hours. Total cost per person: 330 pesos ($22 USD)
We arrived at El Madresal just in time for the sunset and dinner.
El Madresal consists of a couple dozen waddle and daub cabanas, each with its own bathroom, two double beds, mosquito netting, and a hammock.
The beach is empty. The only sound comes from the crashing of the waves. There might be another family staying in one of the cabanas, I’m not sure.
No one speaks English. There is no WIFI and no ATM (bring plenty of cash). The satallite dish has a rusty cord coiled underneath it.
The sun is plentiful, the waves are fierce, and the sand is soft and black. Along the waterfront is a restaurant – the only place to get food and drink. It closes at 7 p.m. sharp, and the service is surly at best.
El Madresal is a perfect place to write, to read a book, to take a long nap in a hammock. Stay for as long as your cash supply holds out (save about 60 pesos/person to get back to Tonala).
What to bring to El Madresal
A couple gallons of water, or extra cash for bottles of water. Usually we use our Steripen to make potable water, but the water was so salty we couldn’t drink it after sterilizing it. We ended up asking for water bottle refills constantly. Martin even found a 5 liter jug on the beach, washed it out, and asked for it to be refilled. They did it, hesitantly.
Plenty of sunscreen and if possible a beach umbrella. There is nothing on the beach but what you bring. Don’t expect any cabana boys to bring you a drink or some shade.
A deck of cards. At night, even the bar closes early. You could go to bed at 8 p.m. or you could play some games with your friends.
Snacks. The restaurant has delicious food, but it is expensive and the servers made us feel less than welcome. It would have been nice not to depend on them for all of our sustenance.
Frisbee, kite, hula hoop, or other beach-friendly toys.
Mosquito repellant and consequently, anti-itch cream.
A perfect vacation spot?
A deserted beach with an entire resort to yourself might sound like the perfect vacation and it was – except for the service.
When the water stopped working one night, we had to nag them to get it working again. We always felt like we were inconviencing them when we wanted food and water. Once night we ordered a bottle of white wine and it took a guy with a headlamp 10 minutes to find a warm bottle. We had to ask for glasses, a bucket of ice, and a corkscrew, each request taking another 10 minutes to fulfill. It took a team of servers to get us one bottle of wine. The cleaning service was great, but the restaurant was subpar.
Yet, memories of 80 degree Fahrenheit days with a beautiful view of crashing waves tends to outshine any tanted memories of the place.