In Brief: With the help of a massive beach rebuilding project financed by the Mexican government, all beaches have now recovered from Hurricane Wilma, except where the hotels have built out too close to the tide line. In general, the best ocean beaches are found from Sheraton on out. The public beach at El Mirador is magnificent.
On the Bahia de Mujeres side (closest to town), the water is very shallow but the beaches range from adequate to very ample.
The principal problem beaches are on the stretch from the Krystal to the Melía Turquesa.
The Cancun Hotel Zone beach has two separate personalities. In the section nearest to town, there are bay-style beaches that are safe for children and non-swimmers. There are several public access entrances to get onto the beach if your hotel isnt in this zone. Just out of town there is a public beach alongside Las Perlas condominiums. You'll find other accesses adjacent to Villas Tacul and at Playa Tortugas, near Hotel Dos Playas. On the ocean side, the two main public beaches are Playa Ballenas and El Mirador.
Once you travel past the Plaza Caracol bend of Paseo Kukulcán, the beaches in the hotel zone are ocean beaches There are waves and in many areas the undertow can be deadly. People do drown on rough days in this section of the Caribbean. Yet the simplest precautions will assure your safety.
 Observe the designated areas for swimming and stay within view of a lifeguard.
 It is a bad idea to go into the ocean when you have been drinking. If you must, stay close to the shore, never go outside the roped area, and do not go in beyond waist-deep. On rough days, take no chances at all, and absolutely do not go into the water when you have been drinking.
 If you do get caught by an undertow, dont wear yourself out fighting it. Try to attract the attention of a lifeguard by waving your arms. If you get swept away, conserve your energy by floating with the current rather than struggling against it. The most likely result is that you will be washed up on the beach further down rather than carried out to sea, as the current parallels the shore. The water is warm and you can survive quite a while. If you dont lose control, there will be many opportunities to attract help.
 Obviously, none of this will work if you are drunk. Repeat: Dont mix pleasures. Lay off the booze while swimming.
Although not very prevalent on Cancun beaches, it is not considered scandalous for ladies to take off their tops. If you would like to sunbathe completely nude, there are any number of deserted beaches reachable by car outside Cancun proper, especially near Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras and Tulum. Be aware that there are people living all up and down the coast and there is a good chance that someone will stroll by no matter how far away you think you are.
Exercise due caution in remote areas. Rape and robbery are not common anywhere in Quintana Roo, but it is still the real world.
I received a question about this from a host on AOL, who asked if beach nudity is legal or illegal.
As far as I know, it is not illegal to go topless on any Mexican beach, but whether or not it is allowed in a given area depends upon local customs. Here in Cancun is not exactly encouraged on most beaches but it is not considered a legal offense. During Spring Break it is quite common everywhere, and some hotel beaches are scenes of extensive youthful topless and bottomless happiness.
Although I used to write for Playboy and Penthouse, I am now 65 years old, and I do not go out of my way to find out about public nudity in person, as my beloved bride would consider it beneath my dignity. Nonetheless, during Spring Break the newspapers are usually full of shocking pictures from which I do not avert my eyes.
Full nudity is not legal, to my knowledge, on Mexico's public beaches, but there are many locations in Mexico where it is common, principally in the more remote beaches of remote locations.
I contacted attorney David Contreras email@example.com, who replied that "nudism in Mexico has not been legalized, as it contradicts the principles of moral conduct and good customs, a misdemeanor penalized under local municipal codes, the Reglamento de Bando de Policia y Buen Gobierno." I'm not sure what the exact translation would be for that last phrase, but it refers to regulation of public order -- the kind of things covered under disturbing the peace, public displays of immorality and so on in American law.
This is an interesting area of legal discussion, as in Mexico something that is not specifically defined as illegal may be a misdemeanor anyway. In other words, the local code may not actually mention nudism, but it can be penalized at the discretion of the authorities if it is considered to be disturbing the peace. This is very much unlike American law, under which definitions of obscenity or public displays of immorality are often specified in excruciating (and often embarrassing) detail, such as how much of a nipple or crack in the buttocks can be shown.
Fruits & Vegetables
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Zona de Tolerancia
Words to live by.