Relax on the beach in Mexico (Photo: Shutterstock)
Mexico has become an extremely popular kosher vacation destination in the past decade which has led to a notable increase in the number of kosher restaurants and hotels in the more popular tourist areas of the country. Mexico is a large country from the Pacific Coast to the Gulf of Mexico; each region has its own distinct character, culture and kosher amenities. With so many options, how do you decide where to go for your kosher Mexico vacation? Where are the kosher restaurants and kosher hotels? What activities are there to do? This guide focuses on the country's most popular kosher tourist destinations.
The bustling metropolis of Mexico City has a thriving Jewish community and an array of kosher restaurants that cater to its local population and tourists alike. However, we will be concentrating on the more sought-after coastal areas that are popular with kosher tourists, such as Cancun, Riviera Maya, the islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres and the resort city of Cabo San Lucas that sits on the other side of the country. They all offer kosher food options, active Chabad houses with minyan and most locations also have a mikveh, making Mexico a very convenient kosher vacation destination all year round. Mexico is also very popular for Pesach vacation, with many luxury Passover programs taking place each year.
As for the weather, Mexico is a sun-soaked paradise most of the year. Whether it's the balmy, tropical climate of Cancun or the arid warmth of Cabo San Lucas, be sure to pack your hat and sunscreen.
Explore the coral reef (Photo: Shutterstock)
Jewish History of Mexico: A Brief Overview
Mexico’s Jewish community dates back to the early colonial period. Jewish arrival in Mexico was initially linked to the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century. Conversos, or New Christians, were Jews who had been forcibly converted to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition. Many of these conversos journeyed to New Spain, what we now know as Mexico, in search of religious freedom, a theme that resonates throughout Mexico's Jewish history. This hidden Jewish practice laid the groundwork for a centuries-long Jewish presence in Mexico, albeit one shrouded in secrecy.
Fast forward to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Jewish community in Mexico began to flourish openly with new waves of immigration. Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Turkey sought refuge in Mexico, escaping political upheaval and persecution in their homelands. Each of these Jewish groups brought with them their unique traditions, customs, and, of course, their diverse cuisines, contributing to the colorful mosaic of Jewish life in Mexico. Over time, they established synagogues, community centers, and schools, laying the foundation for Mexico's Jewish community today.
The present-day Jewish community in Mexico, though not large, is vibrant and robust. Mostly concentrated in Mexico City, it offers a unique blend of Sephardic, Ashkenazic, and Mizrahi traditions, reflected in the various synagogues and community organizations. There are around 50 kosher restaurants and shops in Mexico City.
Cancun and Playa del Carmen are not traditionally known for having a significant Jewish historical presence. However, due to the rising influx of Jewish tourists in areas like Cancun and Playa del Carmen, these regions have seen a growth in Jewish amenities, such as Chabad houses, kosher restaurants and kosher hotels.
Mayan ruins in Tulum (Photo: Shutterstock)
Kosher food & things to do on the Riviera Maya - Playa del Carmen and Tulum
Welcome to the captivating Riviera Maya, nestled in the heart of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. From the bustling avenues of Playa del Carmen to the tranquil ruins of Tulum, the Riviera Maya offers a wealth of activities and sights that promise to engage your senses. There are also kosher restaurants and kosher hotels so no need to worry about food. There are a number of Chabad houses located in different parts of the Riviera Maya, including two in Playa del Carmen.
- Beach Exploration: Lounge on some of the world's most beautiful beaches enjoying crystal clear waters and white sand.
- Mayan Ruins: In Tulum, the cliffside ruins provide a unique combination of historical intrigue and breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea. Also, don't miss out on the Coba ruins nestled deep within the Riviera Maya jungle, home to Nohoch Mul, the tallest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan.
- Eco-Parks: Visit Xcaret and Xel-Há, parks offering a variety of activities including snorkeling, zip-lining, and exploring underground rivers. They also provide an opportunity to learn about the local ecosystem and conservation efforts.
- Cenotes: Dive into the natural sinkholes or cenotes, a unique geological feature of the Yucatan. Some popular cenotes include Dos Ojos, Gran Cenote, and Cenote Azul.
- Visit Tulum's Biosphere Reserve: Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve in Tulum is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to thousands of species of flora and fauna. Take a boat tour, go bird watching, or simply marvel at the diverse wildlife and spectacular landscapes.
- Shopping on Quinta Avenida: Take a stroll down Playa del Carmen's Quinta Avenida, which is lined with shops, and offers a vibrant atmosphere day and night.
- Snorkeling and Diving: The Great Maya Reef, one of the world's largest coral reef systems, extends just off the coast. Snorkeling and diving here are great ways to explore the underwater world teeming with colorful marine life.
- Catamaran Tour to Isla Mujeres: A highlight of any Riviera Maya trip is sailing on a catamaran to Isla Mujeres. Enjoy the Caribbean Sea's breathtaking beauty, snorkel in the vibrant coral reefs, and explore the charm of Isla Mujeres itself, known for its beautiful beaches and laid-back atmosphere.
- Swim with Dolphins at Delphinus Riviera Maya: The park offers a range of interactive experiences that allow you to swim, play, and even learn from these fascinating animals.
- Day Trip to Cozumel: Take a day trip to the island of Cozumel, just a ferry ride away from Playa del Carmen. Known for its world-class snorkeling and diving opportunities, Cozumel is a paradise for aquatic enthusiasts. You can also explore the island's Mayan ruins, visit the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park, or simply enjoy its beautiful beaches.
Cancun, Mexico (Photo: Envato)
Kosher food and things to do in Cancun
Cancun has a variety of activities that cater to every traveler's taste. Whether you're a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or a beach lover, Cancun offers an unforgettable travel experience. Cancun is convenient for kosher travelers, offering kosher restaurants and a hotel with a kosher kitchen. There is an active Chabad house in the heart of the hotel zone that has Shabbat services and meals.
- Visit the Beaches: Relax or swim at Cancun's famous white-sand beaches, such as Playa Delfines or Playa Tortugas.
- Explore the Mayan Ruins: Visit the El Rey Ruins in Cancun or take a day trip to the more extensive archaeological sites at Chichen Itza or Tulum.
- Experience Underwater Life: Go snorkeling or scuba diving in the Great Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest coral reef system in the world.
- Venture into Eco-Parks: Visit Xcaret or Xel-Ha, ecological parks offering a range of activities from snorkeling to zip-lining, or explore underground rivers in Rio Secreto.
- Cenote Swimming: Take a refreshing dip in one of the region's many cenotes - natural sinkholes filled with fresh water.
- Cruise on the Nichupte Lagoon: Go for a romantic sunset cruise or try your hand at fishing on the Nichupte Lagoon.
- Visit Isla Mujeres: Take a ferry to Isla Mujeres, explore the island on a golf cart, and visit the Tortugranja turtle farm.
- Shopping: Visit La Isla Shopping Village or other local markets for souvenirs and local products.
- Interactive Aquarium Cancun: Get up close with marine life, and even swim with dolphins.
- Visit Museo Maya de Cancun: Learn about Mayan culture and history at this modern museum.
Cozumel (Photo: Envato)
Kosher food & things to do in Cozumel
Cozumel, an island located just off the east coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, is directly across the water from Playa Del Carmen and about an hour and a half from the Cancun airport. This tropical haven is known for its crystal-clear turquoise waters, vibrant reefs, and rich cultural history. Despite being a favorite spot for cruise ships, Cozumel maintains its serene and laid-back island charm. It also has a number of kosher restaurants and a Chabad house that offers Shabbat and holiday meals.
- Scuba Diving and Snorkeling: Cozumel is world-renowned for its spectacular reefs and marine life. The island's protected marine park offers some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling spots in the world.
- Visit San Miguel: Wander around Cozumel's main town, San Miguel, and enjoy its local shops and the vibrant central plaza.
- Explore Mayan Ruins: Visit the ancient Mayan ruins at San Gervasio, an important archaeological site on the island.
- Cozumel Pearl Farm: Learn about pearl farming and take a guided tour at Cozumel Pearl Farm, a family-run operation located in a beautiful, secluded beach area.
- Cozumel's Beaches: Relax on one of Cozumel's many beautiful beaches such as Playa Palancar or Playa El Cielo.
- Punta Sur Eco Beach Park: Visit this ecological park at the southern tip of the island, where you can see a lighthouse, navigate through a coastal lagoon, and visit a small Mayan ruin.
- Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park: Enjoy snorkeling, scuba diving, sea lion shows, and even swim with dolphins in this adventure-packed park.
- Visit the Cozumel Museum: Learn about the island's history and ecosystem at the Museum of the Island of Cozumel.
Isla Mujeres (Photo: Envato)
Kosher food and things to do in Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres is a small Caribbean island off the coast of Cancun. It was named 'Island of the Women' by the Spanish in honor of the Mayan goddess Ixchel, offering a tranquil escape from the bustling mainland. The Chabad house on the island has everything that you need, kosher food, minyan and even a mikveh.
- Relax at Playa Norte: Known as one of the best beaches in the Caribbean, Playa Norte is a perfect spot for relaxation with its crystal-clear shallow waters and soft white sands.
- Explore Underwater: The island is surrounded by rich coral reefs, making it an ideal location for snorkeling or scuba diving. Don't miss the famous underwater museum, MUSA, featuring over 500 life-sized sculptures submerged in the sea.
- Visit the Turtle Farm: Isla Mujeres has a turtle farm, or "Tortugranja," which serves as a sanctuary for sea turtles. Visitors can learn about conservation efforts and even see baby turtles during the hatching season.
- Take a Golf Cart Tour: The preferred mode of transport on the island is a golf cart. Rent one for the day to explore at your own pace, discovering hidden beaches, cliff-side restaurants, and scenic views.
- Visit Punta Sur: At the southernmost point of the island, Punta Sur hosts an ancient Mayan temple dedicated to the goddess Ixchel. The area also offers breathtaking views of the sea, especially at sunrise.
- Dolphin Discovery: For those who dream of swimming with dolphins, this ethical animal experience allows close encounters with these intelligent marine creatures.
- Shop on Avenida Rueda Medina: The island's main street offers a variety of shops selling locally made products and souvenirs.
Lover's Beach on Cabo San Lucas (Photo: Shutterstock)
Kosher food and things to do in Cabo San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas, an enchanting city at the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula, is known for its vibrant nightlife, beautiful beaches, and thrilling water sports. Its dramatic landscapes, where the desert meets the sea, offers activities that cater to all types of travelers. There is a kosher meat restaurant and the local Chabad has a dairy cafe and offers Shabbat meals as well as catering during the week, making it convenient for kosher travelers.
- Visit the Arch of Cabo San Lucas (El Arco): A natural rock formation at the southern tip of Cabo San Lucas, it's a must-visit spot for its unique shape and the rich marine life around it.
- Beach Visits: Spend time on beautiful beaches such as Medano Beach, Lover's Beach, and Divorce Beach. Please note some beaches have strong currents, so always follow local advice about swimming.
- Whale Watching: If visiting between December and April, don't miss the opportunity to witness the magnificent sight of whales migrating.
- Water Sports: Engage in thrilling water sports including snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, and jet-skiing.
- Explore Cabo Pulmo National Park: A day trip to this protected marine park will reward you with exceptional snorkeling and diving opportunities.
- Fishing Charters: Known as the "Marlin Capital of the World," sport fishing is a popular activity in Cabo San Lucas.
- Visit the Marina: Go shopping or simply take a walk around the Marina of Cabo San Lucas.
- ATV Tours: Go for an off-road adventure in the surrounding desert landscape.
- Golf: With several world-class golf courses, Cabo is a golfer's paradise.
- Camel Rides: Enjoy a unique desert experience with a camel ride on the beach.
Mexico, with its stunning landscapes, rich history, and vibrant culture, is a kaleidoscope of exciting experiences. Offering an incredible mix of adventure, relaxation, and exploration, it's no surprise that it has become such a sought-after destination for kosher travelers. From the shimmering beaches of Cancun and the historical intrigue of the Riviera Maya to the tranquil allure of Isla Mujeres and Cozumel and the desert beauty of Cabo San Lucas, each locale offers its own unique blend of magic.
A crucial part of any travel experience is the food, and fortunately for kosher-keeping tourists, Mexico has risen to the occasion. An increasing number of kosher eateries have sprung up in the popular tourist destinations, along with a number of kosher hotels. Each locale has its own Chabad house that has minyan, Shabbat meals and some also offer kosher catering. Check out TJT's guide to kosher and Jewish life in Mexico.
Safe travels and enjoy every moment of your kosher Mexican adventure!