As you slip quietly through the mangrove forest in the early evening, the silence broken only by the dozens varieties of migratory birds that nest there, you know you are in for a different kind of beach vacation. The end of this small canal opens up into a wider one, the size of a large river, that separates the mangrove forest closest to shore and the one that backs up against a strip of beach on the Chiapas coast.
Crossing the river, the boat slips alongside a dock protected by a tangle of the mangroves. From here you walk along a stone path rimmed with palm trees, small thatch-roofed cabins popping up on one side and the other, until you reach a large open-air restaurant that looks out onto a pristine beach, where there are no other humans for miles and miles.
The Ponte Duro community residents were enjoying this particular slice of paradise long before it was outfitted for tourists. According to Eduardo Lara, one of the 37 cooperative members that runs the Madresal Ecolodge, families used to boat out with picnics on hot days and go swimming there. Thirteen years ago when members of the community decided to form a cooperative and turn the area into a source of income, they had to cart out 4 tons of trash that had been buried over the years by careless day-trippers. Part of the project now is the conservation of this entire area, to prevent fires and protect the four species of mangroves that grow there, to clean up trash, and just generally reduce the human impact, including protecting the marine turtles that nest on the beach each year. They are currently working on getting the lodge on 100% solar energy as well.
Now the beach is swept clean, with a slight glimmer to its black sand. The water is shallow for about 500 meters out, and most of the year the sea is mellow and swimmable. There are 18 cabins, from the original four built by the cooperative when they started, each with two double beds, a small bathroom, a porch with thatch roof and wooden doors that open so wide the room is almost wall-less when they are pulled back.
There is also one “duplex” cabin with two rooms and space for 8 people (four double beds), and a camping area in a different part of the beach that I wasn’t able to see when I was there.
The accommodations are rustic, for those of us that will take a fancy view over fancy toiletries any day. Beds are comfortable but plain, the real luxury being the beach in front of you and the mangrove forest behind. Water pressure is iffy and the showers only lukewarm, but with winter temperatures here hovering around 90 degrees, I doubt you will need anything warmer.
There is no wi-fi and the cell signal is pretty weak. The hotel restaurant is thankfully delicious, with lots of fresh seafood, cold beer, and even decent cocktails – getting back into town for a quick bite is not really a thing.
Its isolation part of its charm, Madresal is this perfect combination of activities and lounging. The beach, the pool, and a palapa in the breeze are there for the traveler happy to do nothing and relax. Several different tours through the mangroves – an early morning or sunset tour for birders, a crocodile tour by flat-bottom boat (40 dollars for four people), a guided fishing tour, and even a night tour through the mangroves – are available for more active visitors.
There are also kayak rentals in the non-crocodile season (December to April – the dry season) and swimming in the canal (although why you would when the beach is right there I don’t know). The best months to visit for birding are from May to December and the cooler months are November to March.
Prices are extremely reasonable at this little island refuge, topping just $45 a night during the high season for a regular cabin. I almost hesitate to write about it because I want to go back and have the place to myself, but I was so impressed by the efforts of the cooperative that I want to support them in any way I can. Though Chiapas is most definitely not on the list of famed beach vacations destinations in Mexico maybe it should be, because for this beach bum, Madresal and their oceanfront property have everything necessary for a great beach vacation.
To contact them go to their website or give them a call at +52 (966) 113 9634 (English). For a more complete tour of the area, including visits to other community projects and a stay at Madresal contact Travis tours.
* The author was hosted at this location, but her opinions remain her own.