All your photos from Riviera Maya will look like postcards.
Turquoise water laps onto white sandy beaches with a sky-blue backdrop… you’ll need to pinch yourself to believe it’s real.
But where, exactly, should you travel to or stay in Riviera Maya? That’s the million dollar question.

Travel Guide For Riviera Maya

Top 5 For Riviera Maya

best 5 things riviera maya

Bohemian Vibes

Tulum’s palm-lined beach hides the low-rise hotels to boost those nature feels, with a hippie vibe, cenotes and pyramids to visit within 15–30 minutes.

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Chasing Pyramids

Explore Mayan history by visiting a pyramid; Chichen Itza is the best preserved but other pyramids are closer if you want to avoid the drive and mass tourism.

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Mythical Sinkholes

Riviera Maya’s sparkling jewels are the crystal-water cenotes – cavern swimming holes – that the Mayans once believed were entries to the underworld.

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Natural Encounters

Akumal is a barely-there beach town, where you can snorkel with turtles just meters from the shore. Grab a snorkel and dive in, then finish with a beer on the beach.

The Real Mexico

A tiny fishing town will show your the real face of Mexico, such as Puerto Morelos, Punta Allen, or the new hotspot, Bacalar. Rent a boat, snorkel, see dolphins and turtles…

About Riviera Maya

Each town in Riviera Maya has a unique character and vibe, so it’s hard to decide where to base yourself.

Some travelers loathe the high-rise hotels of Cancun, while others feel safer in the all-inclusive resorts along the coastline. Then there are travelers who want to avoid tourists at all costs, while others bore quickly without the hedonism of all-day shopping, eating and clubbing.

The good news is: You can find it all in Riviera Maya to some extent. Cancun and Playa del Carmen are well developed for resorts, upmarket shopping, international food, restaurants, bars, and tourist activities. You’ll hear a lot of English spoken, and you’ll get all the comforts with a twist of Mexican influence. Many resorts are all-inclusive, with private beaches, where you never have to leave.

Tulum has taken on more of a hippie tune, with a mixture of eco and luxury hotels, without the high-rise beach strip, like Cancun and Playa del Carmen. People bike around, and the vibe is casual.

Then, in between the big three, you’ll find an assortment of tiny towns, some of which have retained some of their local character, such as Puerto Morelos and Akumal.

The good news is that it’s easy to travel between towns – it’ll take you less than two hours to make the trek between Cancun and Tulum, and if you want to go farther south like Bacalar or Mahahual, you can fly directly to the Chetumal airport instead of Cancun airport. There are plenty of mini buses – or rental car companies – that can take you there.

Many people get confused about what is Riviera Maya. Technically, the state is called Quintano Roo, while the corridor from Cancun to Tulum got dubbed Riveria Maya, and below Tulum is known as Costa Maya. Quintano Roo encompasses the entire Caribbean coastline along Mexico’s northeastern Yucatán Peninsula; to the north lies the state of Yucatan, and Campeche is the western state.

Riviera Maya At A Glance

Our Favorite Hotels

Riviera Maya is where you splurge. It offers some of the most spectacular beachfront hotels in the world, especially in Tulum.


Habitas – this secluded hotel has a private beach, with glamping-style accommodation. The jungle oasis is complete with sound therapy, free yoga and other offerings included. This is where you come to escape.

Casa Altamar – this is one of the more affordable beachfront hotels, located in a secluded area with it’s own pier to reach the best part of the ocean.

Hotel Bardo – in Tulum center lies this adult-only oasis, where each room has its own dipping pool at the doorstep. The intimate environment is exclusive. A great option if the ocean seaweed is too much to handle. You can find a similar zen vibe at Una Vida with a wider range of rooms for different budgets.


Paamul Hotel – Walk directly from your room to the beach; this hotel is not near the main areas and offers exclusive beachfront rooms for a third of the price.

The Free Hostel (Tulum) – when you arrive, you receive the amount of your room in credits which can be used towards food and other activities, the idea being that you get your money back in consumption.

Del Sol Beachfront (Akumal) – this colorful, old-school hotel offers rooms with ocean views for less than $100.


Akumal Natural Glamping – affordable prices for a luxury glamping experience.

Uman Glamping & Cenote Tulum – glamp in style near a natural swimming hole.

Things To Do In Riviera Maya

Swim with Turtles at Akumal

Akumal is Mayan for ‘Place of the Turtle.’ They nest here from May to November, although you can find them outside of this season. You can swim with turtles just a few meters from the main beach shore.

Some locals will say that a tour and life jacket are mandatory; they will insist on life jackets although you don’t necessarily need a tour (you can find the turtles yourself).

Akumal’s coastline sprawls between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. It has a local and residential vibe. You can find holiday houses to rent, affordable beachfront hotels, all-inclusive resorts, and long natural beaches that rival Tulum’s.

You can rent snorkeling equipment, although it’s almost the same price to buy a set. There are several places to snorkel in Riviera Maya, so it pays to bring your own set from home or buy one when you arrive. To preserve the area, fins are banned, so leave those behind.

If you’re driving, head to Km104 on Carretera Federal Cancun-Chetumal; if you catch a mini bus (colectivo) or public bus (Ado), ask to get off at Akumal bridge (puente). If you want to volunteer, check out Centro Ecologico Akumal.

best things riviera maya cenotes

Swim in a Cenote in Riviera Maya

Simply put, cenotes are sinkholes (the longer explanation is fascinating). These subterranean river caverns are one of Mexico’s unique natural wonders for divers, snorkelers and swimmers alike. There are thousands scattered over Riviera Maya: some are fully collapsed and open swimming holes; others lie several meters underground. You can find everything from vibrant marine life, such as in Gran Cenote with its sandy bottom, to underground grotto diving, such as in Dos Ojos. In Cenote La Noria, you swim under stalagmites, while Cenote Azul has curious underwater rock platforms to rest on between snorkeling. We list some local cenotes in Riviera Maya and Tulum, and for diving.

There are also adventure parks for families and adrenaline seekers, such as Xel-ha, Xplorer and Rio Secreto. They are touristic but safe. They cost much more than local ones but include things like food, snorkeling, ziplining or ATVs. Xel-Há Park is the largest cenote, with diverse tropical fish to snorkel with; Rio Secreto is the least touristic of the major parks.

Disconnect on Holbox Island

Holbox is Mexico’s car-free, laid-back island. The small town center has mostly sand streets, no banks or high-rises, and a mix of rustic and luxury beachfront hotels. The other 75% of the island is protected and completely virgin.

The natural environment is wild and diverse. You can see bioluminescent plankton, flamingos, pelicans, and crocodiles in the natural reserves, which can be explored by boat or bike. Dive underwater to spend time with the island’s marine life – turtles, enormous manta rays, tropical fish and, the island’s biggest fame, whale sharks the size of buses which pass during summer (July to August are the best months).

It’s one of Yucatan’s top locations to unplug. Electricity only arrived in the late 80s and today connection is still spotty. The water may not be as clear as the Caribbean but you can’t beat watching the sun sink over the Mexican Gulf. The water is knee-deep for more than 20 meters and warm like a mild bath. You can also chill on the hammocks hanging over the water, or take a street-art mural tour.

It’s just 26 miles (42 km) long. It’s reached by direct flights or by driving 2–3 hours northwest of Cancun and catching a ferry. If you hire a car, you will need to leave it at the ferry parking before you cross.

top places riviera maya holbox
top things riviera maya whale sharks

Swim with Whale Sharks

Every year Mexico witnesses the natural phenomenon of the whale shark migration. These 6–12m giants (as long as a bus!) pass the Yucatan Peninsula, sometimes in groups of a hundred which is rare for these solitary creatures.

Despite their name, they are not whales; they are the biggest fish (or shark) in the ocean. But lucky for you, they are docile and focused on their need to eat up to 40 pounds of plankton per day.

The pale spots on their back are unique like fingerprints. Whale sharks are also ovoviviparous, meaning they reproduce by first hatching an egg then growing the embryo inside them, until a live pup is born.

The whale shark season runs from June to September, but the best chance of group sightings are end of July and early August. The boat trip depends on where they are that day, ranging anywhere from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours each way. The open water gets choppy, so seasick sufferers should take pills. It’s otherwise calm turquoise waters, a lunch stop with fresh fish, and some snorkel time.

Online many tour companies recommend booking in advance to ensure a spot, with prices from USD 100–200. Boats do fill up in high season, so if time is limited you might book early. But if you have a couple of nights, there are generally spots if you book the day before on the island. The benefit? You can find much cheaper tours (USD 70–100) if you go directly to the boat companies (not via a hotel).

Kayak in Bacalar Lakeside Town

The ‘Lagoon of Seven Colors’ changes color as the sunlight and depth shift. The calm water is perfect to float, or rent a kayak to experience the multi-hues up close.

As Tulum becomes overrun with tourists, Bacalar has quietly taken its place for its off-the-beaten-track chill vibe. You can rent cabanas that sit directly over the water, or find a number of affordable cabins nestled in the jungle.

This quiet town has less than 15,000 people, which is a contrast from when it was once overrun by pirates. In the 17th century, pirates navigated the natural waterways from the sea to plunder and attack a basically defenseless town. There are remnants to explore from this era, including a fortress.

It sits at the very south end of the Yucatan Peninsula, near Belize’s border and served by Chetumal airport. You can also visit the sleepy beachtown of Mahahual. If you plan on doing the entire coast, fly into Cancun and fly out of Chetumal.


top things riviera maya bacalar

Discover Mayan Chewing Gum

Mexico and Central America are considered to be the birthplace of modern chewing gum. The Aztecs and Mayans used to extract a resin – chicle – by strategically slicing chicozapote trees and creating a chewable substance with it.

Today you can go into the jungle and explore Sian Ka’an lagoon, see how they make chicle, discover Mayan culture, climb a pyramid, and paddle among mangroves in the largest protected area on the Mexican Caribbean.

The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is UNESCO protected and covers an area of half a million hectares. It includes beaches, coral reefs, a tropical jungle, dunes and cenotes, inhabited by more than 300 species of birds and countless plants and animals.

Cycle around Tulum and its Ruins

This was a bohemian haven for those escaping the touristic Cancun and Playa del Carmen. But today, and more since the pandemic, it has somewhat boomed into another touristic hub.

But it retains its differences. Tulum restricted beachfront highrises, so hotels are tucked into the jungle without affronting the coastline. Many hotels capitalized on the luxury cabana and eco glamping sectors – with astronomical prices. In exchange, you get natural stretches of white sand, aqua water and palm trees bending in the wind. It’s a postcard picture.

Tulum can easily fill your time. There are the Tulum ruins and cenotes within 10 minutes. You can reach the renown Chicen Itza ruins on a day trip. Sian Ka’an reserve is 10km south – ‘Heaven’s Door’ in Mayan – where you can kayak canals, take a lagoon boat tour, find virgin beaches, and see the Muyil ruins. Also south is Punta Allen, a natural reserve with a sandy-street town and gasoline sold in jerrycans.

When looking for accommodation, Tulum is split between the town centre, with the beach area 15 minutes away. It’s great for couples who want to mix exclusivity and activity.

There are other pyramids nearby; in Coba, you can still clamber over some, including one of the tallest pyramid on the pensinsula (Nohuch Mul).

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top things riviera maya cozumel

Snorkel on Cozumel Island

Cozumel’s beating heart is its diving scene, with many devoted returnees attracted to one of world’s biggest reefs, the Mesoamerican Reef.

But you don’t have to dive to see the island’s unique beauty. There are plenty of snorkeling spots, plus a submarine tour that takes you 10m underwater to a shipwreck and the reef. Some interesting sights include the El Mirador sea arch, and snorkeling at Money Bar Beach Club.

The main port caters to massive cruises, with touristic shopping boulevards, internationalized Mexican food and English-speaking promoters calling you to bars and restaurants.

But it’s easy to escape. A short distance from the touristic port lies exclusive beachfront resorts, isolated beach clubs, and natural reserves with crocodiles, turtles and birds. Hire a scooter or a jeep and spend the day exploring island’s untouched areas.

Relax on Isla Mujeres

In 30 minutes a ferry will whisk you from Cancun to this island paradise, translated as ‘Women’s island.’ Legend says that pirates used to leave their women here while plundering Spanish ships carrying gold.

It’s here you will find one of Yucatan’s most photographed beaches, Playa Norte. The white sand and transparent water make it look like a huge swimming pool. You can easily spend the whole day eating fresh seafood at beach restaurants with sandy floors, and drinking cocktails on chaise lounges.

There are also beach clubs and resorts that sell day-passes ($40–80), where you can access their facilities and some of the island’s best beachfront real estate.

Otherwise, it’s easy enough to get the Ultarmar ferry from Cancun’s Puerto Juarez and certain beaches (check departure times and locations here). Once there, a fun way to explore the car-free island is to hire a gold buggy and drive along its rocky coastline, virgin landscape and sand dunes ($15–20 per hour) or see some historical sites.

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best things riviera maya puerto morelos

Chat with Locals in Puerto Morelos

With much of the Riviera Maya coast being touristic, there’s not many places to jump into local life. But a quick visit to the small town of Puerto Morelos will change that.

In a short stroll, you can glimpse tiny-town Mexico; mariachi playing, beachfront seafood restaurants, and old men whiling the afternoon in the town square. There’s also decent snorkeling just offshore.

Here you can find local taco stalls with plastic chairs, serving up some of the best Yucatan specialties you can find. This is also a great stop before or after embarking on the ‘cenote trail,’ a road that goes past several cenotes.


Explore Virgin Natural Reserves

Riviera Maya’s touristic areas may leave you hunting something more virgin. And this is easily done the more south you head.

Beyond Tulum starts an enormous biodiverse environment of unique bird colonies, delicate fauna and flora ecosystems, stretches of untouched coastline, dense jungle and swampy wetlands.

You can get lost for weeks in the array of activities but heading as far as Punta Allen is enough to sample a taste of the area’s biodiversity without costing too much time.

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Hit Cancun’s Beaches

Whether Cancun is a top Mexican destination is debatable. The beaches are undeniably beautiful. But its man-made hotel zone, massive resorts, golden shopping mile, and international chains are far from an authentic Mexican holiday.

Many feel secure in the all-inclusive resorts, where local sites can be visited via tours from the hotel. There’s a lot to be said about a convenient, hassle-free holiday, particularly for families who want supervision included. There are still opportunities to eat street tacos or visit a small village or cenote if you want more.

Cancun also has the underwater statue museum (MUSO), and is easy to take a ferry to one of the islands. Being the closest to the airport, it is also the most accessible. Prices tend to be higher though. Despite all of that, many love the bar-hopping lifestyle and more than 20km of white sandy beach.

The popular beach in the hotel zone is Playa Marlin, but you can sneak away to Playa Cac Mool or Playa Delfines for a quieter vibe (and a selfie with the Cancun sign!). Playa Tortugas and Playa Ballenas have several aquatic sport options, and Playa Las Perlas is a small beach for something different.

Take a Temazcal

Near Tulum you can find the modern spa Yaan Wellness Spa, which offers a wide range of yoga, meditation and Mexican therapies, as does the hotel Azulik and Cenote Encantado. Near Playa del Carmen you can find the off-the-grid and gated community in the jungle, Pueblo SacBe, which has a nearby cenote.

Shop in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen was once an escape from Cancun’s tourism bustle. But development spread down the coast and today you have to go pretty far south to escape that touristic vibe. But while Playa del Carmen is no longer a sleepy fishy town, it still holds a touch of village charm in the backstreets.

While copying the New York street names – including ‘Fifth Avenue’ – is a bit cringe-worthy, just head two or three streets back to find a vibrant local life.

You can find quirky hotels, an emerging high cuisine scene, and easy access to Cozumel. Cancun probably still takes the reputation as the ‘party hub’ but PDC, as it’s locally called, is not far behind. Places like Mamita’s Beach Club will prove it.

If you’re there on a Thursday evening, you can catch the weekly art event, Caminarte around ‘La Quinta,’ which fills 20 blocks with local and expat artists from 6–11pm. La Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) is essentially the main strip in town and a great place to orient yourself.

top places riviera maya pdc

The best time to travel to Riviera Maya is from December to April. This is winter but the days are warm and there is little rain. June to November is hurricane and rainy season, and tends to be hot and humid. But unless there is a hurricane passing through, you can visit Riviera Maya any time of the year.

Riviera Maya has traditionally been packed with tourist police, giving the feeling of security and safety. But Riviera Maya’s reputation took a hit in 2021 when two tourists were killed by cartel crossfire. Cartel activity has been increasing in area in recent years but, like in most of Mexico, it is often not targeted nor related to tourists. Mexico’s response was to position more military power to protect its tourist interests.


With each area offering distinct vibes, it can be hard to know where to stay. Many people base their location according to what accommodation they find, as prices also vary considerably:

  • Cancun has a wide variety of beachfront resorts and international comforts; it’s easy to find ocean views at a range of budgets, and you’re well based to visit Isla Mujeres and Chichen Itza.
  • Playa del Carmen has a mix of tourist and local shops and restaurants within walking distance. It’s possible to find affordable accommodation a couple of blocks from the beach, and the ferry offers trips to Cozumel and Isla Mujeres.
  • Akumal has some of the cheapest prices for ocean views but less offering for bars and restaurants. Great for disconnecting but a car is handy if you want to explore the rest of Riviera Maya.
  • Tulum town center offers better value than on the beach, although both sections have exclusive accommodation with just a few rooms and upmost luxury (but you pay for it).

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