The Riviera Maya is that tropical paradise on almost everyone’s bucket list and a 1° hotspot for honeymoons. It has everything! Paradise beaches, colourful reefs, rich culture and absolutely delicious food. There is just so much to do and see that even 1 month is not enough. So let me help you out by giving you the best tips on what to do when in the Riviera Maya!
Where to stay?
The Riviera Maya is huge and very diverse, therefore the best place to stay depends really on what you want. I for example have an allergy for big all-inclusive hotels, hence I stayed far away from the large hotel zones of Cancún and Playa el Carmen.
• Airbnb in Playacar
For the ones on a budget and planning on doing a road trip in the Riviera Maya but don’t want to stay in a hostel, this is your ideal option! We paid €250 for 1 week and had all we needed – a comfortable bed to sleep on and a shower with hot water. The compound is a 15 min walk away from the cosy city center of Playa del Carmen and has access to the beach. The only disadvantage = breakfast is not included. There are however some small supermarkets and restaurants in the compound and a huge mall just outside, where you can buy all the necessary snacks for your road trip!
• Eco hotel in Tulum
If you prefer a more ‘chill’ vacation then I definitely recommend you to book a hotel in Tulum. A European chic tropical beach paradise filled with eco design hotels, such as Papaya Playa, and the trendiest food spots! Plus there are plenty of things to do at a bikes distance if you don’t feel like renting a car.
What to do?
• Visit the Mysterious Maya ruins of Cobá
The best day of my Riviera Maya trip was the day I visited Cobá! It is less famous as Chichén-Itzá or the Zona Arqueológica de Tulum but it is way more cool because once you climb the Nohoch Mul pyramid and get a spectacular view on the surrounding Mexican jungle, you feel like you’re in an Indiana Jones movie! Plus knowing that the majority of Cobá hasn’t even been excavated yet, makes it so much more mystical. And the best part: you can rent bikes at the entrance and just cycle in the middle of the jungle from pyramid to pyramid. I do recommend you to visit the ruins as early as possible to avoid the flocking tourists!
Opening times: 8am-5pm Fee: ~$50MXN
• Discover the coastline Tulum ruins
The Mayan residents of Tulum were living the life! Although Tulum’s pyramids are not as impressive as Chichén-Itzá, the contrast of ancient Maya ruins against a turquoise sea is just so exotic. You can even go for a swim at the beach just below Tulum’s most famous pyramid – El Castillo. However, the Zona Arqueológica de Tulum is very popular among large tour groups and so it can get extremely crowded. Hence, like most sites in the Riviera Maya, make sure you arrive early!
Opening times: 8am-5pm Fee: ~$50MXN
• Visit Mexico’s famous Cenotes
The Maya’s considered the Cenotes – a limestone sinkhole – sacred gateways to the underworld. Although freezing cold, they are truly magical! And with an estimated 60,000 cenotes in the Yucatan peninsula, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. But I’ll help you out by mentioning my two favourites!
Gran Cenote is on the way to Cobá and therefore makes it a worthwhile refreshment stop. I have a big turtle obsession (they are my favourite animals) so you’ll understand why I love this cenote so much because it is literally filled to the top with turtles that aren’t shy to take a swim between the crowd! Besides that, Gran Cenote just has the most beautiful scenery – as you can see above in the photos!
Opening times: 8am-5pm Fee: ~$150MXN (~$30MXN for snorkeling gear)
Dos Ojos is the third largest underwater cave system in the World that attracts divers from all over. The surrounding scenery may be less spectacular as Gran Cenote but you won’t believe your eyes once you get underwater!
Opening times: 8am-5pm Fee: $100MXN (~$30MXN for snorkeling gear)
• Go for a Snorkel excursion to Cozumel’s most beautiful reefs
Cozumel has one of the best reefs in the World for both diving and snorkeling. As I you already know I am a huge turtle fan and I had never seen a sea turtle in real life before. So my romantic Mexican boyfriend promised me that I would finally get to see that turtle and took me on a ferry to Cozumel to join a snorkel excursion to the best reefs – Palancar Gardens, Colombia Shallows and Cielo’s Starfish bay. Sadly a little Caribbean storm arrived before us and ruined the visibility of the reefs (hence the lack of photos) BUT I got to see my sea turtle in real life! So I was a happy girl.
Fee Snorkel excursion: ~$650MXN Fee ferry Playa el Carmen – Cozumel: ~$300MXN (roundtrip)
• Seek some adventure in Xel-Há
Ok I have to admit… Normally I would hate these kind of places because A) Kids are not really my thing and B) I’m not a fan of the crowd that ‘all-inclusive’ places attract. But this eco theme park, created within a lagoon and bursting with tropical fish, is something you have never seen before! Whether you want to float around all day, snorkel, jump from rocks, swing from ropes or eat Mexican food, it is all possible in Xel-Há! The nice thing is that you pay one fee at the entrance and it includes everything – from snorkel equipment to unlimited food and drinks all day.
• Relax on the best beaches of the Rivera Maya
The Rivera Maya is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in this World. So instead of spending all your days on just one beach, go out and explore some others! Below I have listed the best 3.
Playa Paraíso is Tulum’s picture perfect paradise beach, as the name already says! I had never seen a sea as blue and sand as white as in Playa Paraíso before. The sea is shallow, the breeze is perfect and the beach resorts are built not higher than the palm trees. If you are looking to relax and tan, definitely go to this beach!
Akumal is known as the place of turtles and Rivera Maya’s oldest beach resort. Snorkeling is its primary attraction as the reefs are just a small swim away from the beach and spotting a turtle is not rare. However, the growing tourism is taking its toll of the surrounding nature and sadly less and less turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.
Fed up with the herd tourists? Go to Xcacel! It is a protected coastline and Quintana roo’s most important white sea turtle nesting site. It is also the most ‘virgin’ beach you will find in the Riviera Maya – there is not even a hotel or restaurant to be found, with a small exception to a local ‘hut’ selling fresh coconuts and grilled cheese sandwiches. Next to the sea and behind the palms you can also find a cenote that is more popular with the locals than tourists but it is absolutely perfect for the ones trying to avoid the ‘selfie’ addicted mass. Mind you that this beach is wild! meaning that there is no hotel crew sweeping away the mountains of seaweed washed ashore, the waves are strong and nature grows wherever it wants.
However, not only will you enjoy the beach peacefully (something very rare in the Riviera Maya), your small entrance fee goes towards protecting this area and its important wildlife from greedy real estate agents that seek to exploit every inch of nature to build compounds and large hotels!
Where to eat?
• Carboncitos (Playa el Carmen)
This Mexican restaurant, located in a sideway of Playa el Carmen’s main avenue, might not normally attract your attention. Yet I can tell you it serves the best food in whole Playa el Carmen and at a reasonable price! My favourite dish: Sopa de Lima, a famous Yucatan lime soup.
• Magenta (Cozumel)
Before we went snorkeling in Cozumel we took a delicious organic breakfast at Magenta in the city center. It is a cosy art & culture ristoclub and at night a great place to have a cocktail and meet some trendy locals. But the place serves just as great to have some eggs and fresh fruit before heading out into the sea!
• La Zebra (Tulum)
La Zebra is one of the cutest boutique hotels you will find in Tulum with an even cuter restaurant! One that all foodie lovers amongst us will absolutely adore. It is not the cheapest but once you eat there you can also enjoy their beach facilities, compensating for the price.
I hope you liked this post and that you are already online booking your tickets to the Rivera Maya!