The Riviera Maya region of Mexico is magical in the truest sense of that word, with a wide variety of incredible attractions and activities that simply can’t be found anywhere else in the world! For starters, we have mile after mile of dazzling white-sand beaches framing clear turquoise waters that are always teeming with colorful fish, and we also have the world’s second-largest barrier reef located just offshore. Here you can explore the best places to go in the Riviera Maya and have a great time.
Top Things to Do in the Riviera Maya
In the Riviera Maya, you can also tour many different archaeological sites featuring breathtaking ancient Mayan ruins, tucked amid millions of acres of lush tropical jungle. We also have thousands of cool freshwater cenotes, which are pristine underground rivers and pools that are popular for taking a swim, snorkeling and scuba diving. All of this (and more) has made Mexico’s Riviera Maya one of the world’s top tourist destinations, which has in turn given rise to a booming real estate market and a thriving expat community, where you can also enjoy an incredible variety of world-class restaurants, shopping and entertainment.
“The Riviera Maya is the kind of magical place that manages to pack tropical beaches, wild nightlife, ancient ruins, boozy pool parties, amazing snorkeling, dazzling cenotes, luxe retreats and bohemian vibes into an area that’s not much larger than the state of Maine,” wrote oyster.com. “The options for a beachfront getaway along the Riviera Maya are almost too numerous to count, and the vibe changes drastically depending on where you’re planning to go.”
Here’s a brief overview of seven of our favorite places to go in the Riviera Maya, Mexico:
1. Beautiful Beaches
While there are way too many places to enjoy the sun and sand around here to list them all, TripAdvisor has put together a nice list of the top 10 beaches in Mexico’s Riviera Maya that we think offers a great place to start! Stretching for more than 80 miles south from Cancun through gorgeous beach towns like Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, Akumal and Tulum, the Riviera Maya is home to some of the best beaches in the world. And since it’s only about 45 minutes from the Cancun International Airport to Playa del Carmen, then another 45 minutes or so to reach Tulum (with plenty of places to stop in between), it’s easy to explore more than one part of the Riviera Maya while visiting, even if you’re only in town for a few days.
2. Archaeological Zones
As we already mentioned, the Riviera Maya is home to a variety of stunning ancient Mayan archaeological sites that are easy to access, including the picture-perfect seaside ruins of Tulum and the massive pyramid at Coba (which is still open for visitors to climb!), as well as the mesmerizing inland structures at Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
These cooling freshwater pools are essentially caverns that underground rivers have chiseled out over millennia that run throughout the entire Yucatan Peninsula’s limestone bedrock. New cenotes (pronounced say-note-tays) are still being discovered regularly, and they often range widely in size and depth. Some are open to the sky and make ideal swimming holes, while others are totally enclosed and therefore more suited to spelunking, snorkeling and/or scuba diving. But even if you don’t feel like taking a dip, make sure you at least take the time to check out a few of the many cenotes that dot the Riviera Maya’s lush jungle landscape!
4. Ecotourism Parks
This region is also known for its incredible adventure and ecotoThe Best Places to Go in the Riviera Maya, Mexico
urism parks, such as Xcaret, Xel-Ha, Xplor and Xenses, to name only a few of the many options for exploration that are available in the Riviera Maya. Whether you are interested in birding, fishing, hiking, snorkeling, swimming with whale sharks and sea turtles, boating, riding ATVs or any combination thereof, you will find a wide array of exciting tours and world-class ecotourism parks to choose from.
5. Fifth Avenue in Playa del Carmen
Fifth Avenue (or Quinta Avenida in Spanish) is one of the world’s longest pedestrian-only thoroughfares and – when you’re in downtown Playa del Carmen – it’s the place to see and be seen! Whatever it is, you can pretty much find it here, from five-star international cuisine and palate-teasing fusion restaurants, to exceptional beach clubs, luxury boutique hotels and condos, nightclubs, spas and shopping, as well as local artisans, dive bars, traditional Mexican food and virtually everything in between! Street entertainers are also typically on hand to provide awe-inspiring shows, and did I mention the beach is just a block away?
The name Akumal means “Place of the Turtles” in the Mayan language and the town is famous for its gorgeous beach and large, calm lagoon that is ideal for swimming (and meeting up with sea turtles, as it turns out). Situated south of Playa del Carmen and Puerto Aventuras but just north of Tulum, Akumal is home to a number of nice hotels, condominiums and other residential developments that are mostly owned and occupied by Americans and Canadians, who come to enjoy the town’s sublime white sand beaches, first-rate accommodations and considerable natural beauty.
7. Sian Ka’an in Tulum
The 1.3-million-acre Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is one of the Riviera Maya’s crowning jewels, situated just south of downtown Tulum along the Caribbean Sea, encompassing ocean, wetlands and jungle terrain. Sian Ka’an is one of the top places to go in the Riviera Maya and also home to a number of Mayan archaeological sites that have been found amid its endless miles of unspoiled wilderness, where you can explore primordial lagoons and canals – some of which are natural and others that were carved thousands of years ago by ancient Mayan hands!
Do you have additional questions about the best places to go in Mexico’s Riviera Maya? Ask us in the comments!