Mexico’s Riviera Maya has all the makings of a vacation to remember. White sand beaches, turquoise waters, and tropical drinks with little umbrellas in them aren’t in any short supply. You might find yourself returning to the Mayan Riviera in Mexico time and time again because there’s so much to explore and experience. Here are the best things to do in Riviera Maya Mexico for countless memories, endless sunshine, and unique holiday hot-spots that you won’t find anywhere else.
Where is Riviera Maya Mexico?
The Yucatan Peninsula is located in the southeast of Mexico. In the Quintana Roo state, Riviera Maya is a stretch of the Caribbean coastline on the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula. Typically, people think of Riviera Maya Mexico as starting at Playa del Carmen and ending at Tulum. However, it extends north to the town of Puerto Morleos and south to the town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto. Riviera Maya is also known as the Mexican Riviera or the Mayan Riviera. It was renamed from the Cancun-Tulum corridor in 1999.
Interesting Facts About the Mayan Riviera
Want to know a few interesting facts about Riviera Maya Mexico before your trip? Here are some lesser known tidbits about the Mayan Riviera:
- Mexico’s Riviera Maya has the world’s largest underground river – 153km in length. Cenotes are places where the earth has collapsed into the river, making popular and unique swimming spots.
- From the Yucatan Peninsula along the Caribbean coast of Belize and Guatemala, you’ll find the world’s second largest reef system, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System.
- The average temperature in the Riviera Maya is 74 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius), meaning that there’s pretty much great weather all year long. As it always feels like summer, there are so many things to do in Riviera Maya, especially outdoor activities.
- Many scenes from the horror film, The Cave, were shot in Riviera Maya instead of Romania where the story was set.
Things to Do in Riviera Maya: Visit Ancient Mayan Ruins
Throughout Mexico and Central America, there are over 4400 ancient Mayan sites. Researchers haven’t even fully discovered or excavated so many of them. Exploring these ruins is one of the best things to do in Riviera Maya for history lovers.
It’s so easy to get lost in the magic of these sites, trying to imagine how life was way back then. When you travel to Mexico, I highly recommend visiting as many Mayan ruins as possible. I never seem to grow tired of this experience! Here are the two most popular Mayan ruins in Riviera Maya Mexico.
Chichen Itza is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico with over 1.2 million tourists stopping by each year. These Mayan ruins are close to Cancun, Cozumel, and Playa del Carmen. It’s easy to take a day trip from the popular resorts there.
There are numerous architectural styles to discover as Chichen Itza was one of the largest ancient Mayan cities. It is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2007, Chichen Itza’s El Castillo was named as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World after a worldwide vote. I recommend booking an early access tour to Chichen Itza to escape the crowds.
Mayan Ruins of Tulum
Tulum is an extremely popular and well preserved ancient Mayan site. Unlike most other Mayan ruins, it’s right on the coast with a white sandy beach right beside it. There are many structures to explore, including the central large pyramid, El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God.
As this site is quite popular and can get rather busy, I would try to head there as early in the morning as possible. This half day tour will pick you up nice and early from your hotel and get you there before the crowds. Even with lots of people, I didn’t find Tulum to be very crowded as the site is quite spread out. Also, remember to bring your bathing suit if you’d like to go for a swim at the beach.
Stay at a Stunning Resort Hotel
Mexico’s Riviera Maya is famous for its beautiful resort hotels and stunning beachfront properties. One of the best things to do in Riviera Maya is to book an exciting and romantic stay at a spectacular resort. The new Barceló Maya Palace has definitely caught my attention as a luxury, all-inclusive, adults only property in the Mayan Riviera.
This hotel opened in December 2019 and all guests of the Barceló Maya Palace can also enjoy the amenities and service within the Barceló Maya Grand Resort complex (stay at one, enjoy six hotels!). This five star resort goes above and beyond with exclusive and luxurious services, and it’s one of the best places to visit in Riviera Maya.
This hotel is right on a 1.2 mile long beach for you to enjoy. There are also four swimming pools, and 110 rooms are swim-up with access to a special private pool. You can choose from five different restaurants (French, Japanese, Italian, Mexican cuisine, and an international buffet), as well as five bars. There’s also a dreamy U-Spa and a fantastic gym. The resort hotel you choose can often make or break the vacation. One of the top things to do in Riviera Maya is to stay at a stunning property, like the Barceló Maya Palace.
Explore Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka’an is a protected biosphere reserve and one of the best things to do in Riviera Maya Mexico. If you love natural spaces and outdoor attractions, Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is exactly what to do in Riviera Maya. The reserve spans over 1000 square miles and has an incredible diversity of flora and fauna.
The reserve is one hour south of Playa del Carmen and five minutes from Tulum (it essentially starts where Tulum ends). Expect to see many species of birds (there are sightings of over 300 different species there), and you can also spot many animals like pumas, jaguars, ocelots, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, possums, and tapirs.
In addition, Sian Ka’an contains some of the bluest waters in the Caribbean, and most of the area is made up of wetlands and mangrove forests. I recommend booking your trip to Sian Ka’an to plan your adventure to one of the most remarkable Riveira Maya attractions.
Activities in Riviera Maya: Go Snorkeling or Diving
One of the top activities in Riviera Maya is snorkeling and scuba diving. Cozumel, off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, has an abundance of incredible snorkeling and dive sites. Some of the best snorkeling in the Caribbean is found at the Cozumel National Coral Reef Marine Park. Cozumel has the second largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef.
Swimming with Sea Turtles in Akumal
Have you ever gone snorkeling with sea turtles? It’s an incredible feeling as you watch a peaceful turtle glide up alongside you. Akumal has a beautiful sandy beach. It’s also a place in the Mayan Riviera with a high concentration of sea turtles. You can view three different species of sea turtles in Akumal.
If you have your own snorkeling gear, it’s possible to venture out to Akumal on your own. You can swim out to spot sea turtles right from the Akumal beach. However, if you’re staying throughout Riviera Maya, you can book a tour that includes snorkeling equipment and transportation. This half-day tour includes a snorkeling trip in Akumal and a stop at an amazing cenote.
Swimming with Whale Sharks in Isla Holbox
From Isla Holbox, the northernmost island in Quintana Roo, offers some of the most impressive sightings of whale sharks. Feeding and mating season for whale sharks is between late May to September. July and August is the best time to view them.
It’s one of the most amazing wildlife experiences to swim alongside these giant, magnificent creatures. Choose a tour operator that’s eco-friendly and takes only small groups out to see the whale sharks. Be sure to keep a proper distance while swimming with whale sharks. It’s one of the most amazing things to do in Riviera Maya, and an experience you’ll be talking about for years to come. Here’s a fantastic whale shark tour with an eco-friendly company.
Riviera Maya Attractions: Swim in a Cenote
Cenotes (pronounced say-NO-tay) are natural sinkholes that have formed over millions of years. Used by the ancient Mayans for ceremonies and a source of fresh water, tourists to Mexico visit cenotes as a place to swim and relax.
There are over 300 cenotes in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, and they’re all quite different from one another. There are completely underground cenotes, semi-open cenotes, open cenotes, and cavernous cenotes. It’s possible to go snorkeling and even diving at some of them. The water is crystal clear and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a mystical place. A trip to each cenote is a unique journey like no other. This is one of the very few places in the world to experience cenotes, and it’s one of the best things to do in Riviera Maya.
Spend a Day in Playa Del Carmen
Spend at least a day in the city of Playa del Carmen if you can! It’s tempting to stay at the resort for the entire trip. However, I recommend wandering around town on your trip to the Mayan Riviera Mexico. If you’re looking for what to do in Riviera Maya, simply go for a walk around Playa del Carmen.
During one day in Playa del Carmen, you can cover a lot of ground: walk around the popular 5th Avenue, enjoy the beach, take a sailboat tour, experience the nightlife, and have a meal at amazing restaurants. Here are the best things to do in Playa del Carmen. We spent four days in Playa and didn’t want to leave!
Spend a Day in Tulum
I know that I mentioned Tulum a little earlier in this blog post, but there are many more reasons to visit Tulum than the Mayan ruins. Tulum is a laid back town with bohemian vibes that’s growing in popularity. There are amazing Mexican restaurants, yoga studios, smoothie bars, and pristine beaches. Rent a bike and take it out for a spin. Spend a day or a week in Tulum!
Venture to Isla Mujeres for the Day
Isla Mujeres is a small island, 13km off the coast of Cancun. It’s only a short ferry ride away from the mainland. One of the top things to do in Riviera Maya is taking a day trip to Isla Mujeres. Once you’re there, you’ll discover a tiny, sleepy island where you can absorb your beautiful surroundings in peace.
I suggest spending some time relaxing at the beach, swimming, or going snorkeling and scuba diving. You can rent a golf cart or a scooter in Isla Mujeres to drive around and explore on your own. There are also lots of possibilities for wildlife sightings, like sea turtles and whale sharks. A trip to Isla Mujeres might be one of the most memorable things to do in Riviera Maya.
Explore the Island of Cozumel
The island of Cozumel is just a short ferry ride away from Playa del Carmen. While many people stay in Cozumel, it’s also a great option for a day trip from the mainland, too. One of the best things to do in Riviera Maya is traveling over to Cozumel for some of the best attractions and activities.
In Cozumel, there are lots of places to go snorkeling and scuba diving. There’s also the Punta Sur Ecological Park, an eco park with flora and fauna, a lighthouse, and a beautiful beach. There are snorkeling opportunities, places to go bar hopping, and beach resorts. Cozumel is made for day trippers (after all, it’s a popular cruise port, too), but feel free to stay longer if you’re feeling its vibes!
Eat All the Vegan Food in Riviera Maya
The Mayan Riviera is known for its amazing cuisine. Did you know that it’s also extremely vegan-friendly, too? You can find loads of fresh, plant-based meals at many vegan and veg-friendly restaurants. One of my favorite things to do in Riviera Maya was eating vegan Mexican food.
There are lots of vegan restaurants in Playa del Carmen with fresh smoothies and bowls, traditional Mexican cuisine gone veg, and even a vegan 50s diner. Check out my vegan Playa del Carmen guide for more details. Tulum also has loads of plant-based meals, too!
|Essential Riviera Maya Travel Guide|
|Getting There: To get to Riviera Maya, you should fly to the Cancun Airport. Search for cheap flights to Cancun. The national airline of Mexico is AeroMexico. To get to your resort or hotel from the airport, book your Cancun airport transfer in advance for a seamless journey.|
Getting Around: When staying in Riviera Maya, you’ll often have transportation included in any tours that you book. However, if you’d like to explore on your own, I suggest renting a car in Riviera Maya Mexico. The most popular place to pick up your car is from the Cancun Airport. Compare car rental prices to find the best price online.
Fast Facts: Mexican Peso is the currency. Power voltage is 127 V 60 Hz using Power Sockets A and B. You do not need an adapter if you’re from Canada or the USA.
SIM Cards & Mobile: You can rent a portable Wi-Fi device with unlimited data that works in 130+ countries worldwide. We’ve used our portable device all over the world and love how we’re always connected!
Travel Safety: Don’t forget to get travel insurance before your trip. Whether you have an accident, have a flight delay, experience a theft, or need to return home sooner than anticipated, it’s always best to cover your bases. Get a travel insurance quote now for the best rates.
|Browse all of our Mexico photos and read more of our Mexico travel blog posts.|
As you can see, there are so many wonderful things to do in Riviera Maya that will keep you coming back, year after year. Justin and I have visited a few times now, and we never run out of Riviera Maya attractions and new activities to experience. Whether you love outdoor adventures, spending peaceful moments in nature, exploring historic sites or bohemian villages, the Mayan Riviera Mexico has a little something for every type of traveler out there.
Have you ever traveled to the Riviera Maya Mexico, and what do you love most about the region?
Lauren is the full-time travel blogger and content creator behind Justin Plus Lauren. She started Justin Plus Lauren in 2013 and has travelled to 45+ countries around the world. Lauren is an expert on vegan travel as one of the very first vegan travel bloggers. She also focuses on outdoor adventure travel, eco and sustainable travel, and creating amazing travel itineraries for cities and small towns.