Wish You Were Here: Punta Allen, Mexico
by Owen James Burke
Fly into Cancun, rent a car, and drive south. Leave Cancun and all of its sleazebag hotels in their own sickly dust and don’t stop until you run out of road. Playa del Carmen is just down the road and isn’t a bad place, but if you stop there, you’re missing the point. Tulum is a good place to stop for lunch, grab cash (ATMs in Punta Allen aren’t reliable), and charge your batteries, but it’s getting expensive and increasingly overcrowded with yanks (it takes one to know one).
Hemingway, Lefty Kreh, baseball legend Ted Williams and many, many other impassioned fishermen have all frequented the waters surrounding Punta Allen, revering them as some of the best, and how could they not have? On one side you have open exposure to the Caribbean Sea, and on the other is one of the wildest, most diverse and protected bodies of water in the world.
The infamous pirate Blackbeard spent some time here, too. In fact, it’s rumored that he named Punta Allen himself, after the British merchant ship Allen, which he captured, looted and sank in 1717.
Take the jungle road for about 50 miles south of Tulum into the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. The roads are notoriously bad so take it slowly, and make sure you’ve got insurance on your rental — in any likelihood you’ll wish you had if you don’t.
You’ll be in the shade of the jungle for much of the drive, but make no mistake, it’s hot. When you finally come out, some 50 miles later, the open air and sea breeze will come to your overwhelming relief, and when you reach the point at which you’re driving on nothing but dried up coral head, with Ascension Bay to your right, and the Caribbean to your left, your face may look something like this:
Punta Allen (not actually a point but an island) lies on the southernmost tip of the Mayan Riviera, which I would contend may well be its part least affected by time. It’s a sleepy little fishing town that has but a couple of restaurants, bed and breakfasts, cottages and a campsite.
It’d be wise to book a guide while you’re there; there’s a lot of water to cover and a lot of life to see, whether you’re interest is in fishing or not. For flyfishermen, this may well be as good of a chance you’ll have anywhere to catch a grand slam: a bonefish, permit and tarpon all in one day.
I, on the other hand, went off on my own with no idea what I was doing, and the closest I came to catching a fish was having a 20-pound permit swim between my legs in the channel — an adventure in and of itself, I like to revel.
Tourism aside, much of Punta Allen’s revenue comes from its spiny lobster fishing co-op, to which you’d be utterly foolish not to contribute; only the locals are permitted to harvest them, and you’d be taking a serious chance in trying to find any comparable presentation of a ‘bug’.
With any luck, Punta Allen will probably never support the kind of expansion Tulum has seen. Simply and enchantingly, it doesn’t have the capacity, nor does the bridge connecting it to the mainland, which is in desperate need of repair.