BeachesCaribbeanMexicoTropical Destinations

Mexico, Riviera Maya beaches: seaweed and sargassum situation Dec. 2018

How do the beaches of the Mayan Riviera in Mexico look like actually? Does the sargassum problem persist?

I just came back from a Yucatan and Riviera Maya trip and this is my report about the situation I found in early December 2018, about the sargassum on the beaches.

But first let’s try to understand what this sargassum phenomenon consists of.

What is sargassum?

Sargassum is an oceanic brown seaweed that normally floats brought by the currents. It is also the natural habitat for a number of marine creatures.

So, what’s the problem? The problem is that, since 2011 to the present, the phenomenon has grown enormously, causing unprecedented difficulties in the Gulf of Mexico coastal areas and many Caribbean islands, especially in the summer months.

The increased proliferation of this algae seems to depend on two factors:

  • rising sea temperatures (global warming);
  • pollution caused by agricultural fertilisers dumped into the sea, which tend to fertilise these algae and make them grow even more.

What kind of problems can sargassum cause to humans and animals?

Health issues. When sargassum arrives on the coast it settles and begins to rot, emitting toxic substances, which can be irritating to the breathing apparatus. I experienced this when – on our Yucatan itinerary – we arrived in the El Cuyo village, on the Gulf of Mexico, and this is what we found:

red tide gulf of mexico
Red Tide in El Cuyo Gulf of Mexico December 2018

The sea was red and the air was unbreathable, I assure you. I was shocked. And I got very worried also because our accommodation was directly on the beach. Fortunately, the situation improved markedly in the following days.


Because of this red tide this year in Florida many marine animals have died, including fish, dugongs and turtles that are no longer able to reach the beaches to nest.

Financial problems. Due to the negative impact that this phenomenon is having on the local economy linked to tourism that is very strong, visitors leave, or choose another destination for their vacations.

The Sargassum season in the Caribbean.

I left Italy for my trip to Mexico on November the 29th, so I didn’t expect to find the sargassum, since I had read that the phenomenon only concerns to the warmer months, from February to October/November.

But unfortunately it’s not like that, guys.

The worsening of the phenomen can depend on the currents and the weather, or maybe the situation is simply getting worse and worse, as this article also states:

It is a fact that the Sargassum in 2018 was present also in December, at the beginning of the winter season in the Caribbean.

On some beaches, I saw more sargassum then beach, like in Puerto Morelos:

puerto morelos messico alghe
Puerto Morelos beach

Other times it was not possible to enter the sea, because of the algae deposits near the shore. And you just stand there and watch.

xcacel beach mexico seaweed
Xcacel beach

What is being done to stem the sargassum problem in Yucatan and Riviera Maya?

In some places, where tourist facilities are present, they work hard to reduce the inconvenience and try to give the beach a decent look. For example, on the hotel beach where we stayed in Playa del Carmen a staff of 3 people daily raked, cleaned and tried to create an embankment with sandbags. A huge job, a kind of struggle against windmills.

In other less touristic places, or where the beaches are left natural, nothing is done.

The good news: beautiful and almost clean beaches on the Mayan Riviera

However, we found some (almost) clean beaches too on the Riviera Maya, here they are:

  • Akumal beach (turtle beach): clean and with almost crystal clear water. I snorkeled with three turtles, even without going beyond the buoys, that means very close to the shore. It was a great joy! If you want to stay here, on this beach you will find different kinds of accomodation, like the expensive Secrets Akumal hotel, where even just renting an umbrella and two sunbeds costs 140 euros per day (we asked!!). Or – in the same excellent location on the beach – you can stay at the most affordable Akumal Caribe hotel.
akumal beach messico
Akumal beach
  • Xpu-Ha beach: beautiful free (not private by an hotel) beach, accessible from the Tulum-Cancun main road paying a small fee to pass by car: It had few buildings and almost zero sargassum. If I were to return to the Riviera Maya, I would certainly look for accommodation on this wonderful beach, such as at the Catalonia Royal Tulum resort or at the Esencia, a luxury hotel in traditional colonial style, judged one of the best 25 hotels in the world by the magazine Condè Nast Traveler.
xpu-ha beach messico
Xpu-ha beach: zero sargassum

Playa Pescadores, Tulum: the sea was not as beautiful as at Xpu-Ha, but still not bad, the beach is only a little cleaned by the staff. White and fine sand but less shadow.

playa pescadores tulum messico
Playa Pescadores Tulum

Conclusions about sargassum and traveling in Riviera Maya.

We had a lot of fun during this trip, we drove around with our car, bathed in the beautiful cenotes (which are a great alternative to the sea) and visited mayan ruines. But regarding the possibility of swimming in a beautiful sea, for sure we were very disappointed, because we knew in advance about this problem, but didn’t expect to find sargassum even in December.

So if your main purpose of travel is to see and swim and snorkel in a crystal clear sea , the Riviera Maya is at the moment not a good idea: the beaches are simply ruined.

Of course I didn’t see all the beaches, during my 2-weeks trip, but we moved around a lot with our car, from Playa del Carmen to the Gulf of Mexico, and Tulum, and so if you were asking me if it is worth the money to travel to Mexico for the sea, my answer would be NO.

If you decide to come to Yucatan anyway then make sure that:

  • your accomodation has a swimming-pool too, so you can swim without the hassle of the seaweed;
  • move around and visit the cenotes, where you can swim in fresh and clear waters and snorkel too, it’s a great experience;
  • your accomodation is better not beachfront, in order to avoid bad smells coming from the seashore.

Some sources of this article can be found here:

I would like to hear your experience too, feel free to comment if you were travelling to Riviera Maya recently.

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