My friend Alison first told me about Punta Allen, the small fishing village at the end of a long peninsular south of Tulum. She regaled me with tales of trips she’d taken back in the 70’s down the unsealed, pot-holed road leading to the town and I became intrigued by place they used to call ‘The End of the Earth’.
We had attempted a trip previously in a hire car, but were forced to turn around due to the risk of blowing a tire or worse on the incredibly uneaven road.
When we bought our car, we thought it was time to experience this journey for ourselves, come what may.
We made our way through the entrance of the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve, south of the Tulum hotel zone. It started out well. We stopped at a small restaurant on a deserted beach for fish tacos, then walked across the road to check out the lagoon.
Continuing south, we passed miles of rugged coastline on the right and thick jungle on the left. The road degenerated even further, consisting mostly of giant crater-sized potholes which we slowly crawled over with our SUV.
Jeeps carrying tour groups sped past us in the opposite direction, flying over the potholes at break-neck speed, but as we had just purchased our Pathfinder and were unsure of it’s capabilities, we kept to a snail’s pace.
We had time, weren’t on a set schedule and had planned to sleep in our car, so we took our time.
We stopped at the Boca Paila bridge where fisherman brought in their catch and greedy pelicans feasted on their cast-offs. We saw our first crocodiles in the wild; their bulbous eyes peering through the surface of the lagoon.
We finally made to Punta Allen, a tiny town with ramshackle houses and sandy streets. Spying a nice looking restaurant near the water, we positioned our car with the trunk facing towards the sea and away from the restaurants patrons, thinking we crawl in inconspicuously after dinner to sleep.
That’s where the fun began.
Our rear tire sunk into the soft white sand and we were stuck. The streets were covered in sand so we hadn’t noticed we’d backed up onto a dune.
After some pitiful attempts to free ourselves, soon we had the whole town rallying to help us. People from the restaurant came over and began digging around our back wheels with their hands.
When that didn’t work, they retrieved planks of wood in the hope of forming a ramp we could drive onto, but no cigar.
Pretty soon, another resident was called, who brought over their huge truck and a length of rope. As I accelerated, the guys pushed from behind and the truck towed us out of our predicament. Embarrassed, thankful and covered in sand, we headed to the restaurant for dinner.
After a delicious fried fish and grilled octopus, we strolled among the beached fishing boats and wandered around the sleepy village. The central square was a hive of activity as local kids jumped on trampolines and a small snack stand sold fried delicacies.
It was the epitome of small-town Mexico, with a feeling of stepping back in time to a simpler, relaxed way of life.
Pretty soon we thought the coast was clear enough to go back to the car and get some sleep. Whether we still wanted to or not, it would be our home for the night as there were no ATMs in the town and I doubted the few bungalows on the beach took credit card.
We parked further away from the beach this time to avoid another sand dune incident but as we tried to get some sleep, it was too hot to get comfortable. When we opened the windows, we were accosted by mosquitoes.
Tired, uncomfortable and annoyed, we decided to bite the bullet and begin the drive back before dawn.
Needless to say the long drive back on the terrible road, compounded by our frustration that we hadn’t booked a room to stay at or brought more money with us, made it quite a challenging journey!
It took us at least four hours to get back to Playa del Carmen, where we collapsed into bed, exhausted from our mis-adventures.
Looking back now though, I can definitely see the funny side, and will always be glad we made the trip.
I think driving to Punta Allen might be a little like child-birth. At the time, you swear you’re never doing it again, but then the memory of the pain subsides and you cannot shake the desire to do it again.
All I can say is, the road is THE WORST ROAD I HAVE EVER DRIVEN ON. If it’s raining, or the area has seen heavy rain, forget about it, it’s bad enough when it’s dry. If the road was sealed, it would take under an hour to get to Punta Allen from Tulum, but as it is, it takes 3-4, depending on how much damage you want to do to your car.
Yes, there is only one road (though you might be able to pay someone to take you by boat), and no, they have no intention of stealing it in order to keep tourist traffic to a minimum (which I kind of understand).
But it is one hell of an adventure if you are up for the challenge.