Which is the best beach in Central America?
This used to be a no-brainer. The twenty or so kilometres of wind-swept, white sand south of the ruins at Tulum had no parallel in the region.
When I first went there there was no town to speak of, no hotels either, just a handful of cabañas and under-palm hammocks. Yet this was arguably not the very best moment to visit the location, which I think occurred later in the late nineties and early noughties: the period when the ‘Mayan Riviera’ briefly deserved its sobriquet.
There was one very special spot on this stretch called Las Ranitas, that was for me an unparalleled and irreplaceable vision of paradise, now lost, for the property was sold and comprehensively ruined by its crass new owners. Meanwhile, the whole beach has been diminished by concrete constructions, sargassum in-flows and an all-too-prevalent faux-Asian, chichi, yoga-retreat vibe.
These days I’d rather spend my time at Mahahual, at least when the cruise ship dock is empty. It has the advantage of forming a handy double-bill with Bacalar, which features beaches of sorts, plus crystalline waters the likes of which have vanished from the rest of the Yucatán.
One can also partake of a somewhat poor facsimile of the 'primordial' peninsula by heading across to the Gulf side. The seafood at least, is truly wonderful.
Further south there’s Belize’s Placencia, a place I also knew in the 80s, but which today serves up less of a distracting sense of personal loss than Tulum. The beach itself is not in the same league, but provides access to some scrumptious coral atols, such as Lauging Bird Caye.
Then there's Hopkins. A rather narrow stretch of beach, upon which sandflies swarm - a disappointing state of affairs defrayed to some extent by the local Garifuna cuisine.
Certainly deserving of a mention are the Caribbean beaches of Costa Rica’s Limón province. Like so many other sandy spots, Cahuita is not what it was a decade or so ago, but the ruination of the bay itself has been tempered by being wholly contained within a national park, with gorgeous tropical almond trees (occasionally packed with screaming capuchins) marking the boundary between sand and forest.
Further south Puerto Viejo’s beaches probably hold greater appeal for surfers, but around twenty minutes drive south of the town, one comes across the delightful Punta Uva, which might now provide the answer to the original question above.
The Pacific side of the Isthmus? Let's not go there...