Mexico’s Riviera Maya is the country’s premier, tourist hot-spot. It’s a long stretch of spectacular coastline that runs for 75 miles along the Yucatan Peninsula, taking in beautiful beaches and incredible scenery.
There’s nightlife, bars, restaurants, cafes, and shopping to indulge in at the many resort towns along the length of the Riviera Maya and it’s the best place in Mexico to have a truly spectacular holiday in the sun.
There’s a range of diverse natural beauty to explore all along the Riviera Maya, from the coral reefs of Cozumel Island to the dense jungles of the interior of the Yucatan.
Cenotes are waiting to be swum in, Mayan Ruins can be explored and beach after beach of white sands and tropical palm trees are waiting to be enjoyed in the glorious weather.
Mexico’s best coastline has a lot waiting for tourists and to help you to make the most of your holiday, here’s the ultimate guide of things to do in Riviera Maya.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Cancun, Cozumel & the Yucatan (Travel Guide)
Where is the Riviera Maya?
The Riviera Maya comprises several major tourist areas, coastal towns and resort cities along the Yucatan Peninsula of southern Mexico, overlooking the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea.
The 75-mile long riviera officially begins in the north at the town of Puerto Morelos, which is just south of the major transport hub of Cancun. It winds its way south through Playa del Carmen, Akumal, Tulum and onto Felipe Carrillo Puerto, with hotels, resorts and activities at every stop along the way.
Things to do in Riviera Maya
From beaches and coral reefs to jungles and cenotes, the Riviera Maya has everything you would ever want from your Mexican vacation. It’s a place where you can enjoy just about any type of vacation imaginable including adventure, luxury, budget, relaxation, cultural and foodie. It’s not one of our favorite places in the world for nothing!
Puerto Morelos is where the Riviera Maya begins just below Cancun. It’s a small, sleepy coastal town, with just a few streets but a beautiful, sandy stretch of beach. Life is slow and laid back here, and it’s how many of the busier towns and cities used to be before the tourism boom began.
Some of our favorite tours in Puerto Morelos:
- Snorkel, ATV, Zipline and Cenote Adventure
- 5-in-1 Adventure: Speed Boat, Snorkel, ATV, Zipline and Cenote Swim
- Snorkeling in Puerto Morelos
- Snorkel Tour in Puerto Morelos
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is the real hub of the Riviera Maya. It’s the largest city on the Riviera, and is famous for its incredible, white sand beaches, exceptional culinary scene and happening nightlife.
The first time that we visited Playa del Carmen it was just a tiny fishing village that had just started to receive tourists.
When we came back the second time, it had grown into a charming place to escape, with all the amenities a traveler would need to be comfortable without too much commercial tourism. By the time of our next visit, the village had grown into a large city with a booming tourism racket.
We still love Playa del Carmen and will continue to visit but it sure has changed through the years.
Some of our favorite things to do in Playa del Carmen:
- Playa del Carmen Jungle Tour: Tulum, Cenote Snorkeling, 4×4 Ride and Ziplining
- Cirque du Soleil® JOYÀ from Playa del Carmen
- Xcaret Day Trip from Playa del Carmen
- Coba Ruins, Cho Ha Cenote, Tulum and Paradise Beach Day Trip
- Xel-Há All-Inclusive Day Trip from Playa del Carmen
Just a short drive south of Playa del Carmen can be found the small town of Puerto Aventuras. Not only is it a great getaway from the bustling streets of the bigger city of Playa del Carmen, but it’s home to some of the most spectacular cenotes in the area.
This includes Cenote Azul, where it’s possible to swim in crystal clear water.
Tours you shouldn’t miss in Puerto Aventuras:
- Dolphin Discovery Puerto Aventuras
- Xpu-ha Beach
- Ecopark Kantun Chi – the photo above was taken at Kantun Chi the last time we were in the Riviera Maya
Akumal is known for its sandy bay, and it’s possible that the beach here, could well be the best along the Riviera Maya. It’s a great place for diving and snorkeling, as huge numbers of turtles can often be seen feeding on the coral reef just off the shore.
Best snorkeling tours in Akumal:
- Full-Day Private Tour: Akumal, Tulum Ruins and Cenote Swim
- Turtle Snorkeling Adventure
- Private Tour: Akumal Marine Turtle Snorkeling
At the far southern end of the Riviera is Tulum, where some of the most dramatic Mayan ruins in the region can be found on a beautiful cliffside. I’ll never forget the first time we went to Tulum.
I was completely enamored by the beauty of the ancient ruins that sat in contrast to the bright teal water of the Caribbean. It’s a sight to behold and more or less a right of passage to anyone who comes to the Riviera Maya. Be sure to bring your bathing suit and go for a swim.
Check out the site of a Pre-Columbian Maya walled city with one of the tours below:
- Discovery Combo Tour: Tulum Ruins, Reef Snorkeling Plus Cenote and Caves
- Coba, Tulum, and Cenote Tour from Playa del Carmen
Cozumel is the Riviera Maya’s beautiful, tropical island. It’s the best destination along the coast for snorkeling and diving, as the island is surrounded by incredible coral reefs that are home to the most diverse array of marine life in the Caribbean Sea.
It’s possible to visit Cozumel as a day trip from Playa del Carmen, there is daily ferry service or you can take a tour. That said, it’s also a wonderful place to go over and stay for a couple nights. The deep sea fishing available from the island is some of the best in the Caribbean.
Recommended tours in Cozumel:
- Mayan Jungle Jeep to Jade Cavern Cenote and Snorkel Adventure
- Catamaran Sail and Snorkel Tour in Cozumel
- Cozumel Food Tour
- Jose Cuervo Tequila Tasting plus Discover Mexico and Chocolate Workshop
The ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza were long ago abandoned and overgrown with dense jungle in the interior of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Not far from the Riviera Maya coastline, these spectacular ruins are some of the best examples of Mayan temples in Central America and one of the most iconic historical sights in Mexico.
One of the Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza is Mexico’s most-visited archaeological site:
- Early Access to Chichen Itza with a Private Archaeologist
- Day Trip to Chichen Itza with Cenote Swim and Lunch
Although not part of the Riviera Maya region, Cancun is still the gateway to the Yucatan and it’s an excellent city to visit while on holiday in the area to see the famous white sand beaches and perhaps even to experience the infamous nightlife and beach parties that this holiday city is famous for.
The city is highly commercialized for tourism, so any type of entertainment you can think of can be found in Cancun. Stick around and enjoy it.
Recommended tours in Cancun:
- Reef and Shipwreck Snorkeling Tour in Cancun
- Cancun Cenote Tour: Snorkeling, Rappelling and Ziplining
- Parasailing in Cancun Including Transport
- Swim with Whale Sharks in Cancun: Small-Group Eco Friendly Snorkeling Tour
- PRIVATE GROUP Whale Sharks Snorkeling Trip from Cancun
Riviera Maya Trip Planning Guide
How to Travel to the Riviera Maya
The Riviera Maya is well connected internationally to the rest of the world, and particularly to North America and Europe, making it easy to visit this beautiful part of Mexico.
The major tourist and transport hub of Cancun is found just north of the Riviera, and this is the most convenient place to fly into.
Cancun’s busy international airport has regular connections to major cities in the US, Canada and much of Europe, with even more flights put on during the busy peak periods when many travelers arrive on package and all inclusive holidays.
From Cancun, there are regular buses running south along the length of the Riviera Maya, and it’s easy to travel to all the major towns along the coast as far as Tulum.
If you are booked into a resort then it’s likely they will even pick you up from Cancun and shuttle you to your hotel. The popular beaches of Playa del Carmen are just a 45-minute drive away from Cancun airport while Tulum, further south, takes an hour and a half of driving to reach.
The island of Cozumel, just off the coast of the Yucatan and part of the Riviera Maya region has its own international airport. Being just a 45-minute boat ride from Playa del Carmen on the mainland, Cozumel can be a convenient place to fly into, although there are fewer airlines and fewer options than Cancun.
Travel Around The Riviera Maya
Traveling around the Riviera Maya is easy and convenient, and most of the major towns are well connected with public transport. Many visitors choose to hire a vehicle to explore the coast, as this allows for much more flexibility and makes it much easier and faster to reach the more remote areas of the Riviera further south past Tulum or inland.
Being a very touristy region, many travel agencies operate frequent group tours of the major tourist sights, offering a convenient and good value way to explore if you don’t have access to your own transport.
Personally, don’t be afraid to rent a car and go explore. Road signs are easy to read and the main roads are in great condition. The whole area can be navigated with phone maps, GPS or good ol’ paper maps. Sites are easy to find as well and most hotels offer free parking.
Don’t forget this handy pocket guide Top 10 Cancun and the Yucatan (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide)
Best Time to Visit the Riviera Maya
The Riviera Maya boasts sunny, warm year-round weather due to its subtropical climate and perfect location on the Caribbean Sea. The Riviera has two distinct seasons, a wet and a dry, and July to October is the time of year when rain is likely to hit the coast.
Although downpours may be short but violent, the weather can also be unpredictable.
The wet season is also the hurricane season in the Caribbean, and storms can hit the Riviera. In 2005 for instance, Hurricane Wilma passed over Cozumel Island, causing extensive damage.
Outside of the wet season, the weather is beautiful and dry, with clear skies and endless sunshine. The coolest months are December to March when the weather is at its best. This is, however, also the busiest time of year along the Riviera Maya.
We’ve visited the area in numerous seasons and to be honest, unless there is actually a hurricane happening, any time of the year is lovely. That said, our favorite time to visit is in January, right after the holidays when the kids have gone back to school and the whole area is quiet.
Best Areas to Stay in the Riviera Maya
The Riviera Maya is renowned for its all-inclusive resorts and excellent tourist facilities. Along the whole coastline, there are hundreds of accommodation options, catering to all kinds of budgets. Here are the best areas to base yourself, to enjoy the Riviera Maya at its best.
There are literally hundreds of amazing properties to stay at in the Riviera Maya and we’ve listed out a few below based on hotel category, however we wanted to share a couple of our favorite places to stay when we visit the Riviera Maya: Hacienda Tres Rios and Barcelo Maya Grand Resort.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is the Riviera Maya’s original tourist destination and the most well-known city along the coast. It’s the best connected and most central place to stay to be able to easily explore the rest of the Riviera, while the city has everything you would need while on holiday, with a lively nightlife and excellent restaurants. However, it is also the busiest and most touristy place along the coast to stay.
- Top luxury hotel we recommend in Playa Del Carmen: Rosewood Mayakoba
- Top mid-range hotel we recommend in Playa Del Carmen: Newport House Playa del Carmen TripAdvisor
- Top budget hotels we recommend in Playa Del Carmen: El Acuario Hotel
- Top hostel we recommend in Playa Del Carmen: Hostel 3B Chic & Cheap
Found at the southern end of the Riviera Maya, Tulum won’t be as busy as Playa del Carmen, but still offers a huge range of resorts, all-inclusive properties and hotels to choose from. It’s a beautiful part of the coast to explore, with Mayan ruins and superb beaches to be found in the area.
- Top luxury hotel we recommend in Tulum: Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa
- Top mid-range hotel we recommend in Tulum: Nueva Vida de Ramiro
- Top budget hotel we recommend in Tulum: Las Palmas Maya
- Top hostel we recommend in Tulum: Mama’s Home
Cozumel is a little piece of paradise in the Caribbean Sea. This is one of Mexico’s most popular island getaways and being just a short boat ride away from Playa del Carmen, it’s still a great place to be based to explore the mainland. There’s a great selection of resorts and hotels that are found on the beaches of Cozumel.
- Top luxury hotel we recommend in Cozumel: Presidente Inter-Continental Cozumel Resort & Spa
- Top mid-range hotel we recommend in Cozumel: Iberostar Cozumel
- Top budget hotel we recommend in Cozumel: Casita de Maya
- Top hostel we recommend in Cozumel: Beds Friends Hostel
Is it Safe to Visit the Riviera Maya?
The Riviera Maya is an area of that was specifically designed to be expanded as a tourist zone. That means that despite Mexico’s reputation for violent and gang-related crime, the coast of the Riviera is, in fact, an incredibly safe place to visit.
There are dedicated police, including tourist police, that are stationed in the major areas and the Riviera Maya may seem like its own bubble in comparison to much of the rest of the country.
As with anywhere though, petty crime, with so many tourists, can be a problem, so watch out and be careful, especially if hitting the bars and clubs late at night.
More on Mexico:
- The Amazing Mexico City Pyramids of Teotihuacan
- 12 Best Day Trips from Mexico City That are Worth Taking
- Manzanillo Mexico Travel Guide: A Cancun Alternative
- 28 Incredible Things to do in Cozumel
- 30 Awesome Things to Do in Playa del Carmen
- 29 Amazing Things to do in Cancun
- Finding Eco Adventure in Cancun
- Swimming with Whale Sharks in Cancun
- Celebrating 15 Years of Travel with Barcelo Maya Grand Resort