Mexico Travel Guide

Fishing on the Riviera Maya

While planning our visit to Playa Del Carmen over spring break, J, my 12-year old son asked if we could book a fishing charter.  I asked him to do some internet research to learn about what types of fish we could expect to catch and about some tour operators, and, as is typical, he came back with several high-end options.  My own research confirmed what my son had found.  There are dozens of charters available leaving from many ports up and down the coast of the Mayan Riviera, where Playa is located, but all of them are listed for prices much higher than I was willing to pay. 

From some research we did while planning a similar charter on the Chesapeake Bay, we knew that boats usually rent out for a price - say $600 - and you fill it to max capacity of persons.  Since we had six people on the Chesapeake Bay charter, the price per person was reasonable.  We aren’t avid fisherman but we do enjoy the thrill of the strike and challenge of hooking and landing a fish.  Since it was just the two of us, however, I didn’t want to swallow the cost of a fancy charter on my own.   All we wanted to do was catch fish - they didn’t need to be record breakers. 

 J's two 'cudas weren't record-breakers, but they did feed us and our friends for two nights.

J's two 'cudas weren't record-breakers, but they did feed us and our friends for two nights.

With that in mind, J and I agreed to simplify things.  We decided that once we had our feet on the ground, we would visit Puerto Morelos, a town just a short drive north of Playa.  Puerto Morelos was primarily a fishing village before tapping into the tourist trade and through our research, we learned we would likely be able to book a charter tailored to the wants and needs of our individual group.

This turned out to be true, because immediately upon arriving at the main pier we were solicited by members of a fishing/snorkeling cooperative of fisherman that has its office located on the pier.  The cooperative can arrange fishing trips (or snorkeling trips, or some combination of the two) leaving in the morning or afternoon, for as many hours as you wish (typically, 4-, 6- or 8- hour trips) on “lanchas”.   Lanchas are simple wooden boats with outboard motors, wooden benches, and, hopefully, an awning over the seating area.  This is critical as the sun is unrelenting on the water and we didn’t want our fishing trip to end with a visit to the hospital for heat stroke. 

 A  lancha , a basic boat with hard wooden seats, no toilet, and basic fishing gear is the standard vessel offered by beachside fishing operations.

A lancha, a basic boat with hard wooden seats, no toilet, and basic fishing gear is the standard vessel offered by beachside fishing operations.

After agreeing with the cooperative to a 4-hour trip leaving the next morning, to include captain, mate, refreshments (beer, water, soda), and all necessary fishing gear, bait, licenses, and life jackets, we tried to negotiate the price.  However, perhaps because it appears that the cooperative is the only game in town (it is the the only operation with an office on the pier) it was not willing to negotiate down from the 4,500 peso price it quoted. 

Rather than leaving a deposit, we decided to walk around and see if there were other options.  We found one at a kiosk set up in front of a beachside restaurant a few blocks north of the pier where we were able to negotiate the same tour for 1,000 pesos less.  Again, however, we chose not to leave a deposit (we are expert at being noncommittal).  Instead, we went to have lunch. 

While we were enjoying a delicious ceviche, the morning fishing tours began to return to the pier.  After eating, we walked out to see their haul.  While rubbernecking on the pier, we were solicited by a boat captain for an afternoon tour.  We declined that option, but were able to arrange with him the same tour we had been discussing earlier with the others, at the same 3,500 peso price, and on a much nicer boat. 

His boat, the Black Moon, was what I would call a fishing boat - it was outfitted with more modern equipment, multiple rod holders attached to both sides of the boat for trolling, a fighting chair to get strapped into when reeling in bigger fish, a cooler to store the haul, a bathroom, and a larger shaded area with more comfortable seating to lounge in when not landing fish. 

 The Black Moon was the newest vessel on the pier, equipped for trolling, bouts of Montezuma's revenge, and a fighting chair, for hauling in the huge deep sea monsters.

The Black Moon was the newest vessel on the pier, equipped for trolling, bouts of Montezuma's revenge, and a fighting chair, for hauling in the huge deep sea monsters.

 Because owner of our fishing boat had no receipts, we took this photo as proof that we had paid a deposit.

Because owner of our fishing boat had no receipts, we took this photo as proof that we had paid a deposit.

This time we were all in.  We immediately left a small deposit, took a picture of ourselves with the captain holding our pesos up as a receipt, and agreed to meet the next morning.

We showed up at the appointed hour (8 a.m., which is not easy for us to do!), boarded the boat, and went to the fishing grounds where we spent a few hours trolling and caught some barracuda, spent a few more hours bottom fishing and caught some grouper and smaller bait fish, and missed a few trigger fish before trading our fishing poles for swim suits and jumping from the boat into the inviting blue caribbean waters to cool off.  Overall, for a family not destined to become stars on the professional sportfishing tour, we had a lot of fun with a new experience and saved a few hundred dollars by not jumping on board with the first fishing boat we saw.  But we were hooked enough that later in the week when we were driving through the Sian Ka’an Reserve past some all inclusive fishing lodges, my son and I looked at each other and both said, “That looks like fun!”