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Amazing Things to Do in the Riviera Maya

Amazing Things to Do in the Riviera Maya

The Riveria Maya is without a doubt, one of the most visited regions of Mexico, and for good reason. There are so many things to do in the Riviera Maya to keep pretty much anyone happy and having fun.

Whether you are a couple looking for a romantic getaway, a family that wants to keep the kids happy, a group of friends that want to enjoy the beach and party all night, or a solo traveler who wants some safe adventures, there is truly something for everyone in the Riviera Maya.

Where is the Riviera Maya

Technically, the Riviera Maya is a tourism region of Mexico in the state of Quintana Roo. It starts just south of Cancun and stretches down the coastline until you reach Punta Allen, just below Tulum.

However, many people tend to include Cancun in this term because it’s all so close and usually your trip starts at the Cancun Airport. 

It sits on the edge of the Yucatan Peninsula and is an area that has been heavily influenced by the Maya culture that still resides there to this day.

The coastline sits along the Caribbean Sea, which means stunning turquoise water and beautiful sandy beaches.

The only issue that this region is starting to have is with seaweed. It’s particularly bad during the summer months when tropical storms and hurricanes wash tons of seaweed onto the shores of most of the beaches.

on a boat in the riviera maya mexico

Best Time of Year to Visit the Riviera Maya

The best time of year to visit Cancun and other parts of the Riviera Maya is definitely during the drier months of the year.

The wet season in Mexico, or more accurately in this region of the country, the hurricane season, runs from about July to October.

During those months, you can expect pretty regular rainfall and some larger storms that come, especially in late-August and September. 

This is also the hottest time of year in this region of Mexico, with temperatures regularly exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 C) with high levels of humidity.

The drier months of the year start in November and last until late spring. This is when you can expect sunshine and clear skies for pretty much every day of the week.

Temperatures in November and December still hover in the 70’s Fahrenheit (low-20’s Celcius). 

However, November to February is also the busiest and most expensive times of year to visit the Riviera Maya. If you are here to party and have fun, then this is definitely the best time of year to do that. You can still find plenty of places to explore without huge crowds, too. 

beaches are the best things to do in the riviera maya mexico

How to Get to the Riviera Maya

The easiest way to get to the Riviera Maya from the US, Canada, or the UK is to fly into the Cancun International Airport.

It is the hub for this region of Mexico and offers direct flights from major airports around North America and Europe, including many budget airlines that don’t fly to other parts of the country.

Depending on your location, it may be easier and cheaper for you to fly into Mexico City first and then fly from Mexico City to Cancun.  

Alternatively, if you are interested in spending most of your time in the southern part of the Riviera Maya, you can fly into the Chetumal International Airport.

It is much smaller than Cancun and doesn’t offer nearly as many flight options, but if you are already flying through Mexico City, then it may be more convenient for you to fly to Chetumal to carry on your trip up the coast (and add Bacalar to your itinerary!).

It’s also worth noting that although you can use Uber in Mexico City and other parts of the country without a problem, it does not really exist in this region of the country. Taxis are king for getting from the airport to your destination.

Other options for getting from the airport to your destination are to rent a car in Mexico, pre-book a pickup service, or to take the ADO bus which leaves from the outside of every terminal at the airport.

The Best Things to Do in the Riviera Maya


Party it up in Cancun

Cancun is one of the most visited places in all of Mexico. It hosts millions of tourists a year and is home to some of the biggest and best resorts and clubs in Mexico.

It’s incredibly popular amongst university students and young visitors (and some simply young at heart!) who want to enjoy themselves on the beach with a few beers and plenty of good music.

There are so many places to party in Cancun, but the places you don’t want to miss are Coco Bongo and Mandala Beach Club. These are the places you want to head to in the evenings.

For the day-time parties, it doesn’t get better than the Beach Club. They always have a great DJ, plenty of space to dance, and access to their pool and private beach area to enjoy.

Almost all clubs and parties in Cancun have a hefty cover charge or a flat fee. This usually includes a few drinks and access to all of the amenities at the club. Sometimes it includes everything so you don’t pay for anything else once you’re inside (except tips).

If you’re spending an extended amount of time in Cancun, be sure to check out my list of the best things to do in Cancun and find out what to pack for Cancun here.

staying in a luxury resort in the riviera maya

Stay in a Luxury Resort

If you’re interested in massages on the beach and infinity pools that overlook the Caribbean, you’ll get all that and more in the Riviera Maya.

This region of the country is home to some of Mexico’s most luxurious resorts. 

The Turquoize at Hyatt Ziva Cancun is utter perfection with private beach access, several pools to choose from, incredible staff, full spa services, and utter relaxation in an adult-only environment. Book a stay at the Hyatt Ziva here.

Hotel Boutique Casa Maraf is a smaller, but equally luxurious resort in Cancun that is exactly the sort of place I would love to relax in. The rooms are modern but decorated with a bohemian beach-vibe that makes it feel less like a hotel and more like a comfortable bedroom. Book a stay at Casa Maraf here.

Hotelito Azul Tulum takes you away from the busy strip in Cancun and makes you feel like you have a private beach all to yourself. The views from the pool aren’t too shabby either. 

The Dune Boutique Hotel in Tulum is another spot that takes you away from the big resorts, but still offers slices of luxury alongside conscious decor. Many of the rooms have private Jacuzzis and all face the beautiful blue Caribbean Sea. 

snorkeling with turtles in Akumal

Visit the Town of Akumal

This dusty little town is one of my favorite places and one of the best off-the-beaten-path things to do in the Riviera Maya.

It sits about half-way between Playa del Carmen and Tulum and isn’t often visited by those in a rush to get to the next attraction.

It is best known for being the place to come to swim with sea turtles.

So the government has cracked down to ensure the safety of the turtles and there are only a few tour companies that are allowed to take people out to see these gorgeous creatures.

You can pre-book a tour that starts in Akumal here. It includes all of your snorkel gear, a bilingual guide, a swim in the bay to see the different turtle species that live here, and a stop at two nearby cenotes. You can read more and book that tour here.

If you are staying at a resort in Cancun or one of the great hotels in Playa del Carmen and you want transportation to and from Akumal to be included in your tour, be sure to book this one instead.

If you’re not interested in swimming with the turtles, Akumal is still a nice place to come for a quiet beach day. It’s a stunning strip of white sand beach with little palapas to sit under. 

There are a few restaurants and hotels where you can rent chairs and umbrellas and enjoy some food and drinks while you take in the view of the endless turquoise horizon.

things to do in Tulum like visit the archaeological site

See the Ruins of Tulum

The Maya Ruins of Tulum are without a doubt one of the most spectacular things to do in the Riviera Maya.

If you are based in Tulum for a few nights, you can easily ride a bike or take a taxi to the entrance of the ruins. 

Be sure to wear your bathing suit, because there is a beach inside that offers one seriously spectacular view.

It’s a popular spot for tour groups, so if you want to avoid the crowds, come first thing in the morning when they open. 

I have written extensively about this beautiful beach town, so be sure to check them out below:

Stand in Awe of Chichen Itza

While technically not on the coast, Chichen Itza is very much a must for things to do in the Riviera Maya because it’s an easy day-trip from Cancun or Playa del Carmen.

Yes, Chichen Itza is touristy. Yes, Chichen Itza is crowded. 

However.

Chichen Itza is touristy and crowded because it is spectacular.

I have been to many, many archaeological sites around Mexico, and I still stood in absolute awe of Chichen Itza. 

The main pyramid is incredible and the grounds of the ancient city are huge. Most tour groups only take you to the central area of the ruins, so if you wander off to the other areas, you will have them almost entirely to yourself.

There are tons of tour options to choose from when visiting Chichen Itza, it can be overwhelming to sift through. If you are staying in Cancun and you want a few things to be included on your trip, check out this one with Get Your Guide.

This tour includes a trip to Chichen Itza as well as a stop at a cenote and a trip to Valladolid, a nearby colonial town that is a stunning place to add on as a day trip from the Riviera Maya. You can book that tour here.

For everything you need to know about visiting Chichen Itza, check out my Guide to Chichen Itza here.

chichen itza tour

Life in Mexico is pretty spectacular

Relax in Puerto Morelos

Do you love those little beach towns that haven’t been overly developed into huge resort areas?

Then Puerto Morelos is where you should head.

It’s only about 30 minutes south of Cancun, but it feels a world away from the bustling Cancun Hotel Zone. 

The water is crystal clear and there is plenty of space on the beach to simply relax without dealing with tons of hawkers trying to sell you things (although there are still a few vendors).

The draw, for me, to Puerto Morelos, is that you can easily go into the town and enjoy local Mexican food. You can find markets to buy fresh produce. It’s more affordable than Cancun or Playa del Carmen. 

I hadn’t ever had Puerto Morelos on my list until my friends Jimmy and Tah from Divert Living spent a few months living there. You can see one of their videos from Puerto Morelos here to learn more about it.

swimming in a cenote like this is one of the best things to do in riviera maya

Swim in a Cenote

Cenotes, pronounced ce-no-tay, are up there as one of the best things to do in the Riviera Maya region.

They are also one of the most unique things about this region of Mexico. They are basically sinkholes that are only found in the Yucatan peninsula.

They are usually inside caves or in forested areas and they are so refreshing to swim in since they are almost always full of fresh water, rather than saltwater.

There are several along the coastal highway that is very easy to access either by taking a tour, or renting a car and heading there yourself.

Some of the most popular cenotes in the Riviera Maya are Dos Ojos Cenote, Gran Cenote, Cenote Azul, and Cristalino Cenote.

Taking a tour is the easiest way to visit the cenotes in the area if you don’t want to rent a car.

If you are basing yourself in the bigger towns of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum, there are tons of tour companies that line the main streets where you can book a tour with a local guide.

This is where you’ll get the best price on seeing cenotes. They also usually include stops at local ruins or small towns as well to make it at least a half-day tour.

Get Adventurous at Xcaret Park or Xel-Há

For families visiting the region, Xcaret Park and Xel-H’a are two of the best things to do in the Riviera Maya if you want some adventure.

It’s not just a place for kids and teens though, it’s actually really fun for Luke and I as well. We loved floating down the lazy river, zip-lining, and we already know that next time we go we want to get on those quad bikes.

Xcaret Park is the bigger of the two theme parks and has so many different activities and things to see and do. They have an underground river, a replica Xochimilco, and really incredible Maya dance shows.

 Xel-Há is owned by the Xcaret Park, but it is in a different location with a few different options to choose from. It’s a water park with lots of different areas. It’s located near Tulum and is the perfect place for kids.

If you want to get your ticket and get transportation to and from your hotel included, you can prebook those types of tickets here for Xcaret Park here and you can book that type of ticket for Xel-Há here

sunsets from the riviera maya

Take the Ferry to Cozumel

Some people make an entire vacation out of a trip to Cozumel. It’s completely possible, especially if you really love diving. It’s one of the best places in the country for getting underwater an close up to life under the sea.

However, it can also simply be a really great day trip or quick overnight trip.

You get the Cozumel ferry right on the beach in Playa del Carmen and it takes less than an hour to get out to what feels like a whole other world. 

It’s a pretty big island, so you may want to hire a car or a driver for the day if you want to explore a ton. Otherwise, you can stay in the main town where the ferry docks and simply enjoy all the restaurants and beaches that are within walking distance.

Visit the Lesser-Known Maya Ruins

While I highly recommend visiting Chichen Itza and Tulum, I also think getting off to explore the lesser-known Yucatan ruins are well worth the effort.

If you are a bit of a history buff or you simply love exploring these ancient cities, you’ll love seeing the smaller ruins. 

For those that are spending a while in the region, consider exploring further inland around Merida and Campeche at some of these Maya Ruins in the Yucatan.

However, for those that just want to see a little bit more without traveling too far away from the beach, there are still a few really great options.

One of my absolute favorites is Coba. It’s about an hour away from Tulum and you can either take a tour here or rent a car and drive yourself. But however you get here, be sure you get enough time to spend exploring.

One of the things I love about Coba is that much of the site is still being excavated, so you are free to climb many of the buildings, some with only a rope to help you up.

This tour of Coba includes not only a stop at Coba but also at the ruins of Tulum and a trip to a cenote. Read more about it and book here.

If you’re staying in Cancun, then you’ll definitely need to get yourself to the easily accessible El Rey. Similar to Coba, you can still climb many of the structures in this ancient city as well.

Calakmul ruins from a distance surrounded by jungle

Enjoy the Beaches of Isla Mujeres

If you don’t want to travel to far from Cancun, but want to see somewhere a little bit different, hop on the ferry to Isla Mujeres.

It’s about 45 minutes from the Cancun ferry terminal to this small island. Most people get around by golf cart, which you can rent near the ferry terminal once you get there.

Most people only do a day trip to Isla Mujeres. It’s pretty common to do a boat tour that takes you out on a nice yacht and usually includes an all-you-can-drink bar with snacks and sometimes lunch. This tour is a good option if you want to see Isla Mujeres that way

However, it’s also a nice place to spend a few days. There are resorts, small hotels, and plenty of Airbnbs to choose from.

There are a few beaches within walking distance with North Beach offering the most space and the best view.

If you do decide to rent a golf cart, take it all the way to the other end of the island where you’ll find a lighthouse and a few more ruins. There’s also a turtle sanctuary nearby.

As you make you’re way back, stop off along some of the other, rockier beaches. The water is rougher here, but it’s one of the most beautiful sights and perhaps one of my favorite places in all of this region of the country. 

For more information about what to do in Isla Mujeres, check out my guide to visiting Isla Mujeres here.

backpacking mexico

This rocky shoreline in Isla Mujeres is one of my favorite places to sit when I visit the island.

Learn About Maya Culture in Sian Ka’an

For some strange reason, this biosphere is not nearly as popular as the other things to do in the Riviera Maya.

Sian Ka’an is a protected biosphere that is also home to indigenous Maya people who are continuing with their traditional way of living while also sharing their culture with visitors.

While you don’t have to take a tour to visit this region, I highly recommend going with a guide so that you don’t accidentally disrespect the land or the people who call it home.

Community Tours Sian Ka’an is one of few organizations that is actually working directly with the people who live in this biosphere. So your money goes directly to them rather than to a big foreign-owned tour company.

You can learn more about what tours they are offering here. Scroll down to the bottom for the “translate” button on the bottom left. They offer tours in both English and Spanish.

There are a few different things you can do, but one of the most popular is to take a boat ride through the mangroves, a passage created by the ancient Maya, and then head out into the Caribbean Sea.

You can also explore some of the villages where people live and learn more about their customs and cultures before taking a boat trip.

take a snorkeling trip in the riviera maya

Visit the Underground River of Río Secreto

Río Secreto is a huge network of caves that are filled with water. Only about 10% of the cave is accessible to visitors, but the small portion that you can go through is pretty extraordinary.

The tour that takes you through the cave offers great security. You have to wear a life jacket and a helmet. You are always with a guide and you walk and swim through different areas of the cave. 

You can book directly with then through their website or you can check out this Get Your Guide tour which also includes transportation to and from the cave area as well as lunch at a local restaurant. 

Swim with Whale Sharks

One of the most popular things to do in the Riviera Maya. It’s only something that you can do between May and September of each year when the whale sharks are migrating in this region of the country.

There are lots of companies that offer tours with the whale sharks. Much like snorkeling with turtles in Akumal, this activity is highly regulated by the government. 

Only a few people are allowed to be in the water at a time and you cannot dive below the surface. You have to wear a life jacket to ensure that you don’t swim down too close to these enormous animals. 

This tour with Get Your Guide has great reviews and includes all of the equipment that you’ll need to safely view the whale sharks.

It includes snorkeling in several locations, lunch on the beach in Isla Mujeres, an experienced guide and boat captain, and entrance fees to the biosphere that you enter in order to swim with the sharks.

Read more about it and book a tour here.

 

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