Festival Gastronomico Del Caribe – The 3rd Annual Mexican Caribbean Gastronomic Festival in Puerto Morelos

By Michele Samal Kinnon

Quintana Roo Food Festival Attracts Thousands of Foodies from Across Mexico and the World

February has been a great month for Mexican food festivals along the Riviera Maya. Last weekend, we attended the 21st annual Puerto Morelos Ceviche Festival and this past weekend we enjoyed the 3rd edition of the Festival Gastronomico del Caribe

Every year, this festival calls together each of the 12 regions that make up the state of Quintana Roo to showcase its unique ingredients, cooking styles and culinary traditions for festival attendees. 

Looking across the crowds of people visiting the many vendors at the mexican caribbean food festival.

Those 12 regions are Holbox, Isla Mujeres, Costa Mujeres, Cancún, the Riviera Maya (which includes Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen and Tulum), Cozumel, Maya Ka’an, Mahahual, Bacalar and Chetumal.

The festival invites foodies (me), chefs, and Mexophiles (also me) to to explore, taste, and celebrate the ingredients and culinary traditions that makes the Mexican Caribbean uniquely delicious.

The festival’s activities are designed to engage all senses. Attendees have the chance to not only taste delicious dishes created by top chefs but also participate in hands-on workshops led by culinary experts, where they learn the secrets behind traditional and contemporary recipes. Throughout the festival and into the evening, participants and attendees are treated to performances from local music and dance groups.

Women in traditional dress dancing at the mexican caribbean gastronomic festival, held in puerto morelos in 2024.

The 3rd Edition of the Mexican Caribbean Gastronomic Festival

Every year, Quintana Roo’s premier culinary event is held in a different location in the state. This year, the festival found the perfect home in Puerto Morelos’ vibrant and recently renovated Parque Fundadores. This idyllic location, with its stunning views of the Caribbean Sea, was absolutely transformed into a melting pot of colors, flavors and aromas.

This year, the event drew nearly 5000 attendees who were there to enjoy more than 30 unique culinary creations and attend informative gastrocentric presentations and workshops which were held in the new Museum and Cultural Center of Puerto Morelos.

A view over the food festival in the evening from one of our favorite puerto morelos restaurants - punta corcho

In addition to the chef/restaurant exhibitors, vendors in the “Tianguis de Mayab” offered a variety of organic products, honey, homemade soaps, and essential oils. There was a nice variety of aromatic, edible, and ornamental plants. We also found locally made packaged food and drinks like cheese, coffee, oils, salsas, chocolate, and even wine!

In the Made in Quintana Roo pavilion, local artisans and craftsmen offered authentic handcrafts distinguished with the “Hecho en Quintana Roo” and “Hecho en Puerto Morelos” brands. There were exquisitely embroidered blouses and huipiles, elaborately carved gourds, handwoven hammocks from Maya communities, handcrafted jewelry and more. There really was quite a lot to explore.

The 2024 “Guest Ingredient” Revealed!

One of the aspects unique to this festival is the introduction of a “Guest Ingredient”. Each year the committee choses a local ingredient to feature as one of the region’s culinary resources. This year, Jurel (Horse Mackerel) took center stage, challenging chefs to make the “Guest Ingredient”  really shine and offering attendees the opportunity to try this underutilized, locally-caught fish.

Plates of food being prepared at the mexican caribbean food festival

Not all of the food stations chose to use the featured ingredient in their dishes. Amongst those who did, it was fun to see how differently each chef interpreted the Horse Mackerel and the different ways it would be prepared. 

My favorite was the tostada presented by Chef Armando Alvarado Cruz of local Puerto Morelos restaurant Boquinete. Chef Alvarado presented a colorful taco with savory chunks of raw horse mackerel on a bed of aioli and topped with an escabeche of finely diced veggies, sliced radish, cilantro, serrano pepper and a chifonade of nori. Elegant and delicious!

Our favorite dish from the caribbean food festival. Raw jurel (horse mackerel) with serano and vegetables served on a tostada.

I am a huge fan of pescado crudo so it was no surprise that another standout for me was from Chef Benjamín Nava Vargas. His team presented a perfectly balanced tostada slathered with xkatic chili mayonnaise, and topped with thinly-sliced, raw horse mackerel seasoned and finished with microgreens and two sauces. Oh. My. 

My daughter loved their duck carnitas tacos with refried black beans. Some of the other memorable bites were the squid ink fideos with grilled shrimp and horseradish mayo served by the restaurant group that makes up Muelle Once, Merkadito and Punta Corcho. Also delicious were the conch fritter tacos from Black & Blue. Jim possitively devoured his turkey torta from El Inicio

Try as we may, we did not make it around to all of the exhibitors. I guess that means we will have to try harder next year!

Renowned Yucatecan cook, Chef Rubí Cocom, attended the festival this year which drew quite a bit of attention from the culinary community and fans of her cuisine. As a female chef dedicated to the research and rescue of the traditional food of the Peninsula, she has become an important gastronomic ambassador for Yucatecan cuisine its ingredients and cooking methods.

Some of the notable Chefs participating in the festival this year were Chef Rodrigo Ovidio Estrada Robledo from Nixtamal Cocina a Fuego y Ceniza, Chef Juan Manuel Carvajal Sánchez representing the Universidad del Caribe and Chef Benjamín Nava Vargas esteemed member of the Quintana Roo Chapter of the Vatel Club Mexico.

Thoughts From a Food Festival Veteran

Having been on the organizing committee for one of the largest Riviera Maya food festivals, Taste of Playa, I know very well the level of organization and attention to detail required to pull of an event of this scale. Without knowing anything about the politics behind the scenes (and there are always politics behind the scenes) I can say that as a festival-goer I felt like it was very professionally presented. 

Thai style curry with galangal being served at the mexican caribbean gastronomic festival.

The tents and signage provided by the organizing committee were all uniform and on-brand. The chefs (almost all of them) and their teams were well-dressed and looking dapper in their chef whites, happily greeting customers and showing off their dishes.

The event was laid out into specific areas. Savory dishes dominated the main space in the zocalo while tents for desserts and other sweets were scattered along the malecon. Although the event was crowded, we were still able to navigate to all of the tables to see and sample as much as we wanted.

A dessert stall from the anahuac university in cancun.

Tasting tickets, “GastroPesos”, were sold at the entrance to the event as well as by strolling vendors throughout the festival. This is advantageous from an efficiency standpoint but also sanitation and safety. 

Using tasting tickets meant that the chefs and food exhibitors never had to handle any money, keep a bank of change or worry about managing large sums of money safely. Ticket sales also give the organizing committee and the vendors measurable data with which to evaluate the success of the event.

Paying for a plate of black paella with tickets at the mexican caribbean food festival

Rumor had it that the organizers and exhibitors seems overwhelmed and unprepared for the number of attendees on the first day. We attended the second day of the festival and everyone had obviously upped their game to accommodate the throngs of people who came to eat, drink and enjoy. All the tables were well stocked and well-manned. I think some of the menu items were new for the Sunday expo… maybe dishes that were easier and faster to assemble and serve.

Not all of the regions of the state sent chef representatives this year but the information kiosks set up in the center of the zocalo did a great job of promoting each of the 12 destinations and its unique cultural attractions.

The sign at the entrance to the 3rd festival gastronomico del caribe mexicano.

The History of the Festival Gastronomico del Caribe

The Mexican Caribbean Gastronomic Festival was inaugurated in 2022 as a way to celebrate the gastronomy of the state of Quintana Roo. The first festival was held in the Puerto Juarez area of Cancun, the second in the heart of Playa del Carmen. The location of the festival changes every year in order to highlight and give an economic boost different destinations within the state. 

The driving force of the Mexican Caribbean Gastronomic Festival is the Committee for the Promotion of Gastronomy in Quintana Roo. Formed in 2017, the committee is made up of representatives from the public, private, academic and social sectors who seek to promote gastronomic tourism as a way to diversify tourism for the state and celebrate the diversity and culinary wealth that exists in Quintana Roo. 

Our favorite dish served at the mexican caribbean gastronomic festival.

The goals of the committee are:

  • To promote and strengthen the Quintana Roo gastronomic identity with the participation of the private and social sector.
  • To connect local producers with the gastronomic industry, strengthening agricultural and fishing production.
  • To professionalize the gastronomic sector, promoting innovation and technological development, promoting sustainability and food safety.

Since its inception, the festival has grown, not only in size but in prestige, bringing together the best chefs to show off both traditional and contemporary cuisine and drawing food enthusiasts from across Mexico. We saw plenty of foreign tourists there as well so it seems that this festival is quickly becoming a destination event for foodies. 

Ernesto vazquez, a prominent chef from isla mujeres, at his stall in the festival gastronomico del caribe, in puerto morelos.

Attend the 4th Edition of the Festival Gastronomico del Caribe 

Quintana Roo’s gastronomy has influences that span the ancient Maya civilization to the multicultural influx of the 21st century. The Mexican Caribbean Gastronomic Festival showcases the region’s culinary resources from sea to jungle and fosters a sense of community and pride among local chefs, restaurateurs, and producers.

The fantastic black paella being served at the mexican caribbean food festival

You will be treated to an array of dishes that tell the story of Quintana Roo’s heritage and point to its future. From succulent seafood recipes inspired by the Caribbean Sea to contemporary dishes that reimagine ancient Mayan flavors, the festival is the perfect way to recognize the region’s culinary diversity and creativity.

If you are planning a trip to the Riviera Maya and your dates coincide with the Festival Gastronomico del Caribe, I strongly recommend you put this on your itinerary. 

The location of the 4th edition of the Mexican Caribbean food festival is yet to be announced. As soon as the dates and location are released we will be sure to update the information on our list of the best Mexican Food Festivals.

Meat and vegetables hung over a circular charcoal grill.

Tips for a Great Food Festival Experience 

If you are planning to attend the event in 2025, here are a few tips to enhance your experience:

  • Arrive early to beat the crowds, avoid long lines and enjoy the festival’s offerings at a leisurely pace.
  • Consider the parking limitations. Carpool with friends if possible or take public transportation.
  • Plan for inclement weather. In case of rain, bring a rain coat or poncho rather than an umbrella to keep your hands free for tasting.
  • Buy plenty of tasting tickets in multiple denominations to pay easily for your dishes. If you have some leftover, gift them to a fellow festival-goer!
  • Explore all the food tents. With 12 destinations showcasing their culinary delights, try to sample a bit of everything.
  • Bring a tote bag to carry your water bottle and rain gear, to bring home any purchases and to keep your hands free for managing your tasting plates.
  • Stay hydrated. Keep a bottle of water handy as you indulge in the spicy and savory flavors of Quintana Roo.
  • No alcohol is served at the event but you can purchase a cold cerveza from local convenience shops
  • Capture the Moments. Don’t forget your camera to capture the vibrant dishes, lively performances, and beautiful setting.
About the author

Michele Samal Kinnon

Despite the strong reservations of family and friends, in 2004 I moved from the United States to Mexico with my young family. Since then, I have made the Riviera Maya my home. I have raised two remarkable children here. I have celebrated amazing successes, made countless mistakes, and in the process, fallen in love with this beautiful country.