by: Lydia Linton Pontius
video: Lydia Linton Pontius (many links are to videos)
photos: Alexandra Bradley and Paula Preston
After having lunch in Mahahual on the Malecón, surrounded by tourists from the two cruise ships, it was time to head farther south to Xcalak, another place I had not visited in 10 years. Leaving Mahahual, we went back through the military checkpoint, where a very helpful young soldier helped us put our front car bumper back in place. Shortly past this point we turned south on the road to Xcalak. Ten years started to vanish and it felt like yesterday; it also reminded me of the road from Cancún to Tulúm more like 20 years ago. It was a well-paved two-lane road, with the foliage growing up to it and an array of birds and iguanas wandering to the edge.
Xcalak is a place where time stands still. So little has changed that it is easy to catch up with the progress. And catching up is on a much more personal level here. It includes facts such as: young Toby grew up, left Xcalak to work and learn a trade, and returned to open his own restaurant.
Driving on the beach road through Xcalak to Casa Carolina, I noticed a few new homes and was delighted that no large development had moved in. I sincerely hope it stays this way.
We pulled into Casa Carolina—the place looked the same as it did 10 years ago when it first opened. They have added a screened-in palapa which serves as their bar in the evenings and breakfast area in the mornings; they also have Wi-Fi here. The pier is finished and they have a new dog, Tootsie. Bob and Caroline each must have paintings of Dorian Gray because they hadn't changed a bit in 10 years. Other than those few changes, it is the same quaint and tastefully decorated place.
Casa Carolina is a small, eco-friendly resort consisting of four studios with kitchenettes and balconies or verandas which look out over the Caribbean. They use solar panels, collect their own rain water and have constructed wetlands. The top of the building is accessible to all and is a great place to watch the sun rise or set, birdwatch or, if you are really wanting to step up that tan, sunbathe, but beware of the solar panels.
This resort is the perfect getaway for a couple or a wonderful spot if you book enough in advance to bring the family and take over the property. Caroline and Bob also manage the property next door, so you could work additional lodging there if needed. Casa Carolina is more like a bed and breakfast than a resort, with the warmth of its owners and the intimacy of the property. However, unlike a B&B, you have the option to keep to yourself with your private balcony and kitchenette.
They offer snorkeling, fly fishing and scuba tours right from their pier. Xcalak offers some of the most diverse scuba options anywhere and is the closest to Banco Chinchorro, which is one of the most pristine dive spots in the world. Looking for something a little different to do? You can hire a captain and boat to take you to Ambergris Caye in Belize for the day. I guarantee you will know you crossed into another country. Or choose to relax, snorkel, kayak or do nothing right on their beautiful beach. Life is slow here and it is a place that embraces you and lulls you into a true sense of paradise found. In addition to water activities and great birding, there are also a number of Mayan Ruins close enough for day trips.
We unpacked our bags, took some photos as the sun was setting, and headed to the palapa for a cerveza (beer) and chance to catch up on what had happened over the last 10 years. I was delighted to hear they were doing great and business was good. After cocktails, when the sun went down, we headed into town to have dinner at Toby's.
Toby was a young boy the last time I was in Xcalak. Caroline explained how he left Xcalak and worked in Mahahual. He learned a lot about the restaurant business, came back home to live with his mom,, and built a small restaurant right there at his mother's house where he grew up. Each year he has expanded the size of his restaurant and he has some even bigger plans for the future. The food was fresh and wonderfully cooked. Toby is such a pleasant person, you can't help but be delighted that he has returned home. We wish him well, as he is a real asset to the area. Be sure to stop in on your next visit; you won't be disappointed. After dinner, though we were stuffed, we had to inquire about their flan. They were out, which was better for our waistlines, but he promised if we returned tomorrow for lunch he would have his mother make some fresh just for us. How could we refuse that offer?
We headed back to Casa Carolina and retired for the night. It was a perfect evening to watch the stars and I quickly fell asleep to the lull of the gentle water on the shore. The balcony faces east and the sun rises quickly over the sea. November must be one of the best months for birding as the air was alive with the sounds of birds. There were herons and egrets slowly walking the shoreline looking for breakfast. I grabbed my camera and walked out to the end of the pier, while Alex, unbeknownst to me, headed to the rooftop to get some wonderful sunrise shots and do some serious birding. Tootsie came to greet me on the pier and it was the perfect way to start the day.
Coffee and breakfast were served in the palapa where we had the opportunity to meet two of the guests who were preparing to go fly fishing. They were excited to get back out and explained that this area has some of the best fly fishing they have ever found. They also explained that they make it a practice never to visit the same location twice. However, a week after returning home from Casa Carolina, they contacted Caroline and made their reservations to return and this was that vacation.
Bob was getting ready to take two other guests out scuba diving. We had other places to go, so we opted after breakfast to check the Internet, and I had an invigorating kayak; the bay is perfect for kayaking. It has calm waters due to the coral reef and you can kayak with all your might into the wind and current and then return, letting nature take over as you drift and enjoy the clear waters and all that dwell there.
Too soon it was time to leave and head on to Bacalar but I promised to return much sooner than last time! The Costa Maya has truly captured my heart this trip. It is reminiscent of the way the Riviera Maya was many years ago. I was impressed by the fact that so little has changed in 10 years. Hopefully it will remain its own special little paradise.
Xcalak may not have changed in 10 years, however it is totally different than it was more than 50 years ago. In the 1950s Xcalak had its heyday, so to speak. A little-known fact is that Xcalak was a thriving city back in the '50s with restaurants, a movie theater and a billiard hall. It was a port of entrance, a bustling fishing market and supply center, and the largest city on the southern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. That is, until Hurricane Janet hit in 1955. Janet is one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record. The town of almost 500 was decimated and never fully recovered, with the remaining residents returning to fishing.
Before leaving Xcalak, we met our friend Paula and headed back to Toby's for lunch. As promised he had fresh flan, some of the best I have ever had. He told us more about his plans for the future, including adding a small store and Internet access as part of the restaurant. Good luck, Toby!
Our short but sweet visit at Casa Carolina's and Toby's was wonderful. We highly recommend this place for anyone who wants to get away from the hustle and bustle, and return to a quieter, simpler time in a Caribbean spot where there are no clocks, and the people are easy to meet and hard to forget! The accommodations at Casa Carolina were very clean and simply beautiful. Caroline gives Bob lots of credit for being involved with the property from its inception, but she takes credit for picking out the tiles and designing the rooms. We say job well done to both, and the host and hostess are amazingly warm and friendly—the kind of folks you enjoy sitting down with and getting to know. Make plans now for your visit, since they have only four rooms and, when you get there, tell them we said Hi!