Sisal Merida rental

Getting Off the Beaten Path: Sisal in the Yucatan

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We love off-the-beaten path destinations, although sometimes it can be hard to get to these gems on shorter trips. For our Christmas 2021 we knew we wanted to find a great less-busy, less-expensive beach place in Mexico for our extended family to unwind after the turmultous months (and years) we have been living through the COVID pandemic. We researched a lot of options but opted for a fantastic beach house at a really great price in the small fishing village of Sisal in the Yucatan.

Sisal beach house

When planning for this trip, I found very little information about Sisal. It is mostly a sleepy beach town visited by residents of Merida, although there are some Canadians that have been buying up real estate in the area. I wanted to write this post to help others plan a fantastic trip to this area and provide all the info that I wish I had before we went.

Previous to this trip, we had spent a month travelling in the Yucatan, so we knew this was an area we would enjoy. The Yucatan is a great destination for independent travel in Mexico due to its safe reputation, good tourism infastructure and wide variety of things to do.

Where is Sisal?

Map adapted from Wikipedia

The town of Sisal is located in the state of Yucatan in Mexico on the Gulf of Mexico side. The nearest city is the capital, Merida, a gorgeous city that you should definitely visit. Sisal is located 53 km from Merida, making it a popular beach getaway for the people of Merida.

The city was originally known as the main port during the henequen boom where the agave plant was used to make sisal, fibres that were used in natural rope production. The 2,000 person town is now a colourful “Pueblo Magico” joining 132 other sleepy Mexican villages as hubs of tourism development. However, the town retains its quiet feel, except for on the weekends, when the people of Merida arrive for weekend beach trips.

Getting to Sisal

Sisal is easily accessible from the Merida International Airport, which offers direct flights to the US, Canada and Mexico City. The driving time is 1.5 hours and once you are away from Merida, it is on quiet, countryside roads.

You can reach Sisal by local public transport, but I would recommend having a car. We rented a car at the Merida Airport and although we find renting cars in Mexico to be stressful (non-transparent pricing, expensive), Sisal is definitely a destination you want to have your own car in. Just be sure to make sure you include all the mandatory insurance in your rental quote so you don’t face an unexpected surprise when you arrive. We have had the best experience with Mex Rent-a-Car.

You can organize private transfers from Merida to Sisal. Since we had a large group, we rented one car and then used a transfer service to get our whole group to Sisal. We were referred to Gasa Peninsular from our Airbnb host and were very happy with their service – good vans and friendly drivers (non-English speaking). I organized our transfers through What’s App +52 999 912 1135. The cost was 1900 pesos ($92 USD) each way for up to 10 people.

Why Sisal?

Sisal beach

Sisal is off-the-beaten-path for foreigners – prices are lower than more developed areas of Mexico and you can experience a more authentic Mexico. The beach is lovely and calm, making it perfect for families. It also doesn’t have the sargassum seaweed problem that plagues the Cancun and Quintana Roo coast.

Wildlife lovers will appreciate the rich birdlife of the area and the opportunity to see flamingos, pelicans and many other bird species. The fishing village offers amazingly fresh seafood and fish. You can kayak, paddle board, go fishing on the ocean. It is a quiet place where you can enjoy nature, the ocean and an unspoiled beach.

Renting a Beach House in Sisal

Beach houses are quickly rising up along the beach outside of Sisal. You can rent a beach house here for a fraction of the cost of renting in places like Cancun, the Riviera Maya, Puerta Vallarta or Cabo San Lucas.

We stayed at Casa Shangri-La, a modern 4-bedroom beach house with not 1, but 2 pools and our very own beach. Our favourite parts of the house was the rooftop balcony, perfect for watching the sun set, the hammock palapa on the beach and the beachside pool. We rented through Airbnb and Pamela was an excellent host. I will let the photos speak for itself. The cost for the 4 bedroom house was less than $500 USD/night ($400 USD for stays of 1+ week), which is a great price when shared between a group. There are numerous other Sisal beach houses available for rent, but we were incredibly happy with our choice.

Sisal Merida rental

Be aware that the road to get from Sisal to the beach houses is only 5 km, but the road is in very poor condition. It would take 20+ minutes to drive into town and navigate the massive pot holes along the sandy road. This is one area that needs to be improved for Sisal to flourish. The road is so bad that our excursion drivers complained about it!

I would recommend provisioning in Merida before you arrive in Sisal. There are small stores (think convenience stores) in Sisal, but no full grocery store. We shopped at Walmart and Costco in Merida and then restocked at Hunucma (mid-way between Sisal and Merida)

Things to do in Sisal

It goes without saying that our favourite thing to do in Sisal was enjoy our very own beautiful beach. We often could look both ways on the beach and not see another soul. Besides building sand castles and swimming in the lovely ocean, our Airbnb came with two kayaks and we brought a SUP to explore the water.

Mangrove Tour to See Flamingos

The Yucatan coast is a bird watchers paradise and Sisal offers the opportunity to see many bird species. However, the one you will get most excited about is Yucantan’s most beloved bird, the flamingo. Between November and April, there are hundreds (thousands?) of flamingos in the mangroves around Sisal. Previously we had seen flamingos in nearby Celestun, but in Sisal we saw even more. One of the highlights of our whole trip was watching the sunset one night and seeing a large flock of birds flying towards us, only to discover, it was flamingos and they flew right over our heads on the beach.

To guarantee yourself a sighting, we recommend hiring Juan Carlos (JC) to take you out on a Sisal mangrove excursion. This is one of the best things to do in Sisal and in addition to seeing these gorgeous birds, you are supporting the local protection of these important mangroves. We contacted JC through What’s App (+52 983 110 9922) and he organized the tour for our group of 14. They even picked us up from our Airbnb (my boys particularly enjoyed the ride on the 4-wheeler) and took us to the mangroves nearby. From there we set off on kayaks and chalanas (small boats poled through the mangroves) with a 3 other guides/boatmen. We learned so much about the flamingos and were able to see many groupings of them, in a respectful, sustainable way. The 2-hour tour cost 600 pesos/person ($30 USD), kids under 12 free.

Seafood in Town

Sisal is known for its fish and seafood and there are a number of restaurants in town to eat. There are beachfront restaurants, however the restaurants that were recommended to us were in town. We ate one meal at Palapas de Soco and the fish and seafood was excellent. We particularly enjoyed the ceviche, coconut prawns (it is rich, so share!) and pina coladas.

Sisal seafood

We walked into town one day from our Airbnb (45-60 min) which was a great way to see the area and get some excerise at the same time.

Wander the Town

Sisal is a small, fishing village and you really should tear yourself away from the beach to visit town. If we weren’t travelling during the pandemic and if the road into town was better, we would have certainly eaten in town more often.

Make sure to get your photo in front of the classic, colourful “Sisal” sign, wander through the small shops, see fresh tortillas being made and walk out on the pier and along the beach.

Hire a Cook

JC gave us the name of a lovely woman who came and cooked us an incredible local fish and seafood Christmas dinner. This was such a great way for us to get a break from cooking and enjoy traditional foods, all in the comfort of our beach house. We had a feast of fish and seafood prepared in different ways including delicious ceviche and many side dishes to accompany. The cost was a very reasonable 3500 pesos for 14 people ($170 USD).

Daytrips to Cenotes and Ruins

It is hard to leave the beautiful beach of Sisal, but no visit to the Yucatan would be complete without visiting some cenotes and Mayan ruins. Cenotes are essentially a limestone sink hole used for swimming, usually with gorgeous blue waters. They have become a very popular attraction for visitors to the Yucatan and there are hundreds of them throughout the Yucatan countryside.

Cenote near Merida

You can hire a driver or self drive to explore cenotes and ruins. On our daytrip, we visited the impressive site of Uxmal, the Kankirixche cenote and stopped for a great lunch at The Pickled Onion. There are so many cenotes you can visit – some have been commercially developed, some are wild, and many are run by local Maya communities that charge a nominal entrance fee. You can also visit beautiful haciendas, Mexico’s equivalent of southern plantations, where sisal (henequen) was the main product in this region.

Explore Merida

You can visit Merida on a daytrip from Sisal, but I recommend staying a few days in this lovely city. Stay in the city centre and you can explore the plazas (squares), markets, restaurants, churches and historical buildings on foot. Merida Tourism does a fantastic job of hosting free music, dance and cultural performances and activities throughout the city centre. See this post for a full list of activities to do in Merida.

Positives and Negatives of Sisal

+ much cheaper than other parts of Mexico

+ close proximity to an international airport (1.5 hour drive from Merida International Airport)

+ excellent beach with calm waters

+ experience an authentic Mexican fishing village

+ excellent bird and wildlife opportunities

+ cheap and easy access to fresh seafood

– limited restaurants and nightlife

– limited grocery products in Sisal (need to provision in Merida or Hunucma)

– requires a car

Travelling During COVID

Having a secluded beach house all to ourselves was the perfect covid-friendly vacation. Most days we didn’t see any other people, we cooked our meals in and didn’t have to think much about COVID.

We felt very safe in Sisal and were very impressed with the masking and social distancing norms.  Locals wear masks outdoors on the streets and they are mandatory indoors.  We aren’t used to wearing masks outdoors in Canada, but were happy to be respectful and don masks whenever we left our Airbnb. 

You definitely need a mask to enter a restaurant, public space or shop and a temperature check and hand sanitizer is also often required.  Restaurants tend to be open air or have outdoor dining spaces, which made us feel very safe.

Mexico does not require any COVID tests to enter, however you will likely need a rapid test or PCR to return to your home country.  You can get your rapid test at the Merida airport for $33 USD – just arrive a little early for your flight. 

Sisal with Kids

Sisal is a great destination for families because of its quiet, laid-back feel and clear and calm waters. Our kids spent most of their time on the beach building sandcastles, swimming in the ocean and of course swimming in our beach house pool. The flamingos and other bird life was a big hit with the kids and the nearby cenotes and ruins were fun for the kids to explore. We love self catering with kids and not having to deal with restaurant wait times, fussy eaters and keeping kids happy and well behaved in a restaurant.

Yucatan Travel

In the last few years, we have visited this region of Mexico twice and spent 5 weeks travelling around the Yucatan Peninsula. This area of Mexico is one of the safest, easiest to travel around and with its excellent flight connections into Cancun, is a great destination for independent travel. Once you leave the resort strips of Cancun, Playa del Carmen and the Mayan Pensinsula, you have the opportunity to discover the rich culture and beauty in a more intimate way. Check out this post for Yucatan itinerary ideas.

Sisal Yucatan Guide

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