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 indulging 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 swim 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)
8 Best 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, culture, and foodie. It’s not one of our favorite places in the world for nothing!
1. Visit Puerto Morelos
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.
Combine the Riviera Maya’s most exciting experiences into all-day snorkeling, four-wheeling and zipline adventure in Puerto Morelos. Explore two stunning coral reefs where you’ll swim above swaying fans and colorful fish, then pump up your adrenaline as you ride an ATV into deep jungle terrain. Try cliff jumping and ziplining in a cool, fresh-water cenote before returning.
2. Sunbathe on the beaches in 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.
Join a great small-group tour that will combine two impressive archeological sites of the Yucatán Peninsula: Coba and Tulum. Let a guide accompany you around the ruins and explain their significance. This day trip from Playa del Carmen includes hotel transport, beverages, and a buffet lunch plus a swim in Cho Ha Cenote.
We still love Playa del Carmen and will continue to visit but it sure has changed through the years.
3. Visit Cenote Azul in Puerto Aventuras
Just a short drive south of Playa del Carmen is 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. The photo above was taken at Ecopark Kantun Chi the last time we were in the Riviera Maya
4. Visit the Sea Turtles at Akumal
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.
5. Explore Tulum
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.
6. Take the Ferry to Cozumel
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 of nights. The deep-sea fishing available from the island is some of the best in the Caribbean.
More of a foodie than a water baby? Check out this great Cozumel Food Tour. Pleasure your palate with meat-stuffed empanadas, succulent shrimp tacos, and sweet Mexican pastries on a culinary tour of Cozumel.
Sample the exotic flavors of the idyllic island, noting the Mexican spice and Caribbean flair of the dishes due to Cozumel’s close proximity to Cuba.
7. Go to Chichen Itza
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.
8. Explore Cancun
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. Whether you are looking for adventure by Parasailing or swimming with Whale sharks Cancun has something for everyone. Stick around and enjoy it.
Riviera Maya Travel Planning Tips
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.
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 the 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 the 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. You can find great luxury hotels in the area like Rosewood Mayakoba and Newport House Playa del Carmen or more modest accommodation for a budget like 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: Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa, all-inclusive properties and hotels: Nueva Vida de Ramiro and Las Palmas Maya 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.
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.
There are many accommodations on the island to suit every traveler’s needs. From luxury resorts like Presidente Inter-Continental Cozumel Resort & Spa to more modest hotels like Casita de Maya.
Is it Safe to Visit the Riviera Maya?
The Riviera Maya is an area 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 is 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