Get lost in the world of historical ruins (worth the wait for that selfie!), catamaran tours, mystical cenotes, and more with these unforgettable Riviera Maya excursions.
Mexico’s Riviera Maya is a Mexico traveler’s favorite just about any time of year.
This hot spot in the Yucatan Peninsula is known for its stunning seas, jungle, and gorgeous archaeological ruins that make for excursion opportunities galore.
While living in Playa del Carmen for a few months in 2022, I really got to know this beautiful region of Mexico and am already planning my next trip!
From day trips to some of the best cenotes in the Riviera Maya or discovering more hidden places along the coast, you definitely won’t be starved for choices on things to see and do here. Read on to find out more about some of the best tours and excursions in the Riviera Maya.
Where (and What) Is the Riviera Maya?
What’s called the Mayan Riviera today used to be casually referred to as the “Cancun-Tulum Corridor”. The area is 75 miles long, starting from Puerto Morelos (a beach town 18 miles from Cancun Airport) and it goes down the Caribbean coast to laid-back Punta Allen to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. The biosphere is one of the many excursions you can plan on your trip to the Mayan Riviera.
Apart from Puerto Morelos, the Riviera Maya consists of Playa del Carmen, the adventure island of Cozumel, Puerto Aventuras, Tulum, and Akumal, where tropical nature escapes abound.
A Little Bit About the Maya People
The development of the region dates back over 4000 years ago, with the Preclassic Maya period recorded beginning at around 2000 BCE. The Maya civilization spread across what’s now the Mexican states of the Yucatán and Chiapas. Outside of Mexico, the empire consisted of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Historic ruins from ancient cities and temples can be found throughout these former Maya lands.
While there are many Maya languages (32 officially in the language family), only one is simply called the “Maya” language. Yucatec Maya is what you’ll most likely hear spoken in the Riviera Maya. There’s also Tzotzil, which is the common language you’ll find that’s spoken down in Chiapas.
Fun fact: Do you know where the word “Yucatán” comes from? Some historians think it means “I’m not from here” in a local Maya language. There are a few theories floating around about the origin of the name if you want to do a little deep dive.
11 Unmissable Riviera Maya Excursions
This list of the best tours and excursions in the Riviera Maya has a mix of recommendations for solo travelers, family travelers, couple travelers, and sustainable travelers who want to mix fun, adventure, and some history on their trip. The tours mentioned below are easy to book whether online or in-person and a guaranteed great time in the Riviera Maya. Let’s dive in!
1. Visit the MUSA Underwater Sculpture Museum
Cost: starting at $47 USD
Located between the Cancun Hotel Zone and Isla Mujeres, MUSA is an underwater marvel. This non-profit initiative was built within Cancun’s National Marine Park and features over 500 educational sculptures that guests can admire from under the water, whether it be by a glass bottom boat or on a diving or snorkeling tour. Get ready to be amazed.
There are a handful of tours and excursions to choose from at the MUSA, including:
- Diving tours (with or without certification)
- Snorkeling tours of various galleries and reef
- Glass bottom boat tour of the Punta Nizuc gallery
- Underwater jungle tour of the Nichupté Lagoon to see some of the sculptures and the reef life
Tours leave from either Isla Mujeres or Cancun.
The MUSA truly mixes art, conservation, history, and underwater exploring. What more could you want in a Caribbean adventure?
If this seems like the excursion for you, make sure to check out the MUSA website for more information about the different ways to explore this underwater Riviera Maya excursion.
2. Scuba Diving in Cozumel
Cost: starting from $52 USD
Ready to explore more of the underwater world? One of the best places for scuba diving is off the coast in Cozumel. This island is a quick 30-minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen and home of the reef as well as some of the best scuba diving in all of the Caribbean and Mexico. Many travelers say that the waters are much clearer for scuba diving and snorkeling in Cozumel compared to Playa del Carmen.
Travelers can book their scuba diving adventures from either Playa del Carmen or Cozumel. There are so many diving companies in the area, from Discover Scuba to PADI and more.
Don’t have your diving certification? You can still scuba dive in Cozumel with a professional diving instructor as there are diving tours that cater to first-time divers available. This Dive With Christina course includes a 3-hour course, 1 dive, and full diving gear.
Some hostels in Playa del Carmen and Cozumel have lots of information on diving in the area, so if you’re already in the area consider paying them a visit to get the latest information.
3. Visit Some Riviera Maya Cenotes
Cost: starting from 50 MX pesos (depends on transportation costs and cenote entrance fee)
Puerto Morelos has a Ruta de los Cenotes which is just a 30-minute drive from Playa del Carmen, so consider heading here to start your epic cenote tour.
What you’ll discover in these underwater Mayan wonders will vary because there are hundreds of cenotes to choose from, but each one will be unique and beautiful!
Some of the cenotes are open air while others are located in a cave with a different amount of sun depending on the time of day. All of them vary in size, depth, and visibility.
The Ruta is about 10-20 kilometers inland from the beach in Puerto Morelos, but you can also get here from the Federal Highway from Cancun, Playa, or Tulum.
While lots of travelers rent a car and drive here, you can also grab a taxi and negotiate a price if that makes you more comfortable. Some of the cenotes that you’ll find along this route are:
- Cenote Popol Vuh
- Cenote Mojarras
- Cenote Siete Bocas
- Cenote Zapote
- Cenote Kin Ha
- Selvatica Park
When it comes to costs, all cenotes in the Riviera Maya will vary in price – typically between 30 to 300 pesos (sometimes more, but then you can expect amenities like multiple showers, a pool, concession stands, etc).
The 300 peso cenotes often have more amenities and are geared towards tourists. Make sure to take a shower before entering the cenote, and most places will have an area to hose yourself down before you take a dip in these underwater wonders.
And if you aren’t comfortable with your swimming skills, make sure you ask for a life jacket. But just to keep things safe, lots of places have made lifejackets mandatory.
Travel tip: The entrance area of most cenotes should have a sign saying no sunscreen, and the staff at the entrance will also remind you of that, as well. Make sure to follow this important no sunscreen rule (even the biodegradable kind is a no-no) because many of the ingredients in things like sunscreen and other lotions actually damage the waters and the flora in the cenote (which is why they ask you to rinse off before you dip in!).
I also recommend leaving early in the morning to beat the rush.
Most cenotes are open to the public from 8 am to 4 pm, and will close in the afternoon to new guests if the property is already full. In your day pack make sure to bring a towel, snacks, your reusable water bottle, and a change of clothes.
4. Catamaran Tour of Isla Mujeres
Cost of Riviera Maya excursion: starting at $60 USD/1200 MX pesos
Take a little island getaway from Cancun! A catamaran tour of nearby Isla Mujeres is a popular excursion in the Riviera Maya.
Day trips include a round-trip adventure sailing on a chartered catamaran from Cancun to Isla Mujeres, located only 8 miles from the ferry docks in Cancun.
The boat captains will take you to visit the island, and you can enjoy food and drinks on board, take in the views, and even swim in the reef. You can book the tour online, and there are plenty of tours to choose from every day.
Here’s what is typically included in a catamaran tour of Isla Mujeres:
- An hour or two to swim and snorkel in the reef (gear included)
- Buffet on board (some reviews say that the tours don’t have the best food, so don’t expect Michelin-star levels)
- Drinks (beer, standard cocktails)
- Bilingual (Spanish and English) hosts on board
- A few hours to explore Isla Mujeres
- Ferry and dock fees to the island
- First aid and other safety equipment on board (this may vary depending on the tour, so make sure to check beforehand)
- Most boats carry about 30 people at a time
- Departures for Isla Mujeres are mostly from Punta Sam in Cancun
- Catamaran tours last anywhere between 4-8 hours
Most catamaran tours of Isla Mujeres will offer transportation to and from your hotel in Cancun, but just make sure to double-check before you book anything. Also, it might be a good idea to check if the dock fees or any other services come as an extra charge.
5. Tour of the Rio Secreto
Cost of excursion: starting at $79 USD
Just outside of Playa del Carmen is the Rio Secreto, an underground river surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites. With a guide, you’ll go exploring these protected areas that can only be accessed with a tour.
The entrance fee for a basic tour starts at $79 USD, and lasts for approximately three hours. There are also full-day tours where you can access other areas of the Rio Secreto park.
Here’s an outline of the four Rio Secreto Riviera Maya excursions:
- Rio Secreto: Basic tour with a group of 10 persons/max with a specialized tour guide. $79 includes equipment (lockers, helmet, wetsuit, life jacket, helmet with lamp, towel, snacks, and drinks (non-alcoholic).
- Rio Secreto Plus: Everything that goes with the basic tour, plus the rappel experience, bike, and a visit to the Salon de la Paz.
- Rio Secreto Wild Tour: Basic tour plus entrance to another cave area with secret cenotes, and snorkeling equipment included. Boxed lunch, drinks, and a buffet afterward.
- Privilege: Luxury travelers looking for a boutique, tailored tour of this attraction. This is a full-day excursion to the Rio Secreto.
Individual and group tours of this excursion can be booked online, or you can call the park for more information.
6. The Tulum Ruins
Cost: starting at 120 for entrance fee and colectivo
Wondering where you can visit the Maya ruins in Mexico? It’s here in the Riviera Maya, and one of the best places to start are the remarkable seaside ruins in Tulum.
To see these beauts, you can organize your trip a few different ways. You can:
Book a tour: While this is the most expensive option, tours of the Tulum Ruins will typically include private tour transportation from and back to your hotel/hostel, the entrance fee, time to explore the area (and swim in the private seaside beach!), and any parking fees. You can also do a full-day tour to include trips to a few cenotes nearby. This is our favorite tour for visiting both Tulum and Coba in one day!
Self-guided tour using public transportation: This is the most affordable way to see the Tulum Ruins. At the time of writing, the entrance fee to the Tulum Ruins is around 80 MX pesos. Make sure to bring pesos to pay the entrance fee. Colectivos leave for the ruins from Playa del Carmen towards Tulum and cost about 40 pesos for transportation each way; the stop for the ruins is one just before downtown Tulum, so tell the driver that you’re headed there instead of the city. And, get the return times before you get dropped off! If you don’t want to take the colectivo there’s also the ADO bus option, but know that ADO buses only pick travelers up from the ruins to get back to the city later in the afternoon, so you might find yourself waiting around.
- Self-guided tour using a car: If you have a rental car and a group of friends, it may be worth it to just drive there and pay for parking (about 120 pesos per vehicle). Look for the “Ruinas” sign along Highway 307. Getting there early is recommended any which way you visit the Tulum Ruins, as there’s almost no shade in the area and the morning is typically more ideal for swimming.
The Tulum Archeological Zone is open to the public from Monday to Sunday from 8 am to 5 pm.
7. Chichen Itza
Cost: starting at $30 USD (entrance fee)
A trip to Chichen Itza is probably one of the most well-known excursions in the Riviera Maya. Over 2 million tourists visit every year and this attraction is getting increasingly popular with time.
The highlight of Chichen Itza is of course the Pyramid of Kukulkan, which in 2007 was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
A trip to Chichen Itza is probably one of the most well-known Riviera Maya excursions. Over 2 million tourists visit every year and this attraction is getting increasingly popular with time.
The highlight of Chichen Itza is of course the Pyramid of Kukulkan, which in 2007 was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
There are a few ways to visit Chichen Itza. You can:
- Bus it from a major city like Tulum, Playa del Carmen, or the Yucatan cities of Merida and Valladolid. Chichen Itza is in Yucatan state and the closest city to the site is actually Valladolid. From there, you can take the bus to the site and pay the entrance fee to do your self-guided tour.
- Book a tour: Another option is to book a tour with a guide who has more knowledge of the area. Tour prices range from $30-80 USD, which will typically include transportation from and back to your hotel. Only deluxe tours will have the ticket price for Chichen Itza included, so note that you’ll have to bring extra pesos to pay the entrance fee. Most will also include a sightseeing tour of Valladolid Old Town. This is our top pick for Chichen Itza tours.
- Drive: Highways in Yucatan and Quintana Roo are well-paved and safe to drive on; the peninsula is super flat which makes for easy driving. Want to know more? Check out our guide to driving in Mexico here.
Doors open at 8 am and you should be on the bus by 7 or earlier if you’re leaving from Valladolid. The last tickets for the day are sold at 4.
8. Yal-Ku Lagoon
Cost of excursion: starting at 280 pesos (entrance fee)
Located in Akumal, Yal-Ku is a Riviera Maya excursion that’s a cenote and snorkeling all in one.
The lagoon is basically an open-air cenote, where guests can rent snorkeling equipment and explore the underwater world by swimming in the sparkling turquoise waters. All of these aspects make Yal-Ku one of the more unique cenotes to visit in the Riviera Maya!
In lieu of the sunscreen bring a long sleeve swimming shirt (and shorts or pants, if you want to be super careful) so that you don’t get sunburned while snorkeling.
9. Beaches and Turtles in Akumal
Cost of excursion: beaches in Akumal are free to the public!
Located in between Playa and Tulum, Akumal is a chill beach town filled with natural wonders, some of which can be done ethically. This town has some of the best beaches in Mexico, so it’s definitely worth a visit.
One of the most popular things to do here is to enjoy the beautiful beach and perhaps spot some local wildlife, like stingrays or turtles.
You can see our blog post about swimming and watching sea turtles in Akumal here. These beautiful creatures are under protection here and you can’t swim very close to them, and this website explains the protection laws for sea turtles in Akumal really well.
If you want to stay a few days in the land of the turtles, there are a few hostels in town if you’re on a budget, or, you can book a private bungalow with a beach view.
10. XPlor Near Cancun
Cost: starting at $117 USD
Looking for more ideas for Riviera Maya excursions? Just past the Rio Secreto along the highway near Cancun is XPlor, a top-rated adventure park managed by XCaret.
Guests can get 360 views of the jungle on one of the park’s two zip-line circuits that cover over two miles of land. Or, you can hop on a raft and paddle using your hands to explore the underground river area. There’s even an ATV excursion that takes guests through two different 3-mile circuits of flooded caverns, narrow backroads, and epic jungle views.
Want something super unique? XPlor has something called the Hammock Splash, where you sit in a hammock that will whiz you across a cenote before jumping in. This is a great choice for anyone who’s weary of jumping into a cenote from the height of a zip line.
You can get discounts on your entrance and tour tickets by booking them in advance via their website. The park has limited daily capacity, so book your tour here beforehand.
11. Tour of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere
Cost: Tours vary in price from $50-200 per person for this Riviera Maya excursion
Located further down the Riviera Maya by Punta Allen, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere is nature at its finest. The biosphere is currently home to hundreds of bird species, mammals, 90 (!) species of native bees, and hundreds of species of fish, insects, and more.
While half of the area is closed to the public, there are ways to safely explore the Biosphere without making a big environmental impact. It is vital that you take a tour to visit this place. This is our personal favorite option which you can book here.
This company also offers wonderful tours. It is a grassroots organization that benefits the community. The tour agency was founded by Mayas from nearby towns.
It’s always an adventure here in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula! Save these amazing tours and excursions in the Riviera Maya for your next trip to this little piece of paradise.
Looking for more resources on traveling in the Yucatan? Check out these Eternal Expat blog posts: