Stunning beaches, ancient Mayan ruins, abundant marine life and exotic flora and fauna make the Riviera Maya one of the most fascinating destinations in the world. Just offshore, the Great Mayan Reef is the largest coral reef in the Western Hemisphere and offers incredible diving and snorkeling experiences that attract thousands of visitors each year.
The Riviera Maya stretches from Punta Brava, just south of Cancun International Airport to Punta Allen, just south of Tulum and offers a variety of vacation options from all-inclusive world-class resorts to rustic lodgings on semi-deserted beaches. The adventurous can find plenty of opportunities to explore and get off the beaten track, while those who simply want to relax can sip cocktails under a palm tree on the white sands while admiring the turquoise sea that stretches out before them.
Most famously the place to swim with giant sea turtles, Akumal is rising in popularity among visitors to the Riviera Maya. Due to its central location and its beautiful beaches, Akumal is both a great place to unwind and relax as well as a great base from which to explore the surrounding area. Akumal is much quieter than bustling Cancun and Playa del Carmen, yet it is home to some lovely restaurants and bars, making it a great option for those who want a more tranquil vacation that is not totally off the beaten track. Activities in the area include diving, snorkeling and game fishing.
Puerto Morelos was a small fishing village that has grown over the years to become a quaint tourist destination close to Cancun. The beach here is not as nice as some other towns nearby but it is great place to snorkel and the coral reef here was declared a National Marine Park in 1998.
More large resorts have sprung up in Puerto Morelos recently but there are still some smaller hotels and much of the town retains the relaxed feel of a fishing village.
Playa, as the locals call it, is a beach-side city located on the coast of the Caribbean about 45 minutes south of Cancun.
Playa has changed dramatically in the last two decades from a relatively quiet, laid-back beach town to a bustling destination full of boutique hotels, nice restaurants and trendy bars. It is more tranquil than Cancun but in high season it can be pretty buzzing, especially along 5th Avenue, the central street, around which visitors gravitate.
There are lots of Europeans in Playa, mostly from Germany, Switzerland and Italy and tourism from the US and Canada continues to grow. The diversity of cultures makes Playa a highly desired destination offering an outstanding experience for visitors.
The beaches at Playa are beautiful and perfect for children due to the relaxed surf. A short ferry ride from Playa will bring travelers to world-class diving and snorkeling on the island of Cozumel.
Once a quiet town with a scattering of hotels and camping options along the beachfront, Tulum has risen in popularity over the last ten years or so and is now a very trendy spot on the Riviera Maya map. Boutique hotels, trendy restaurants and uber chic bars are frequented by a fashionable crowd and spirituality and wellness retreats abound. Tulum’s town, which is set away from the beach, still retains a local charm and it is possible to find cheaper hotels and restaurants options there.
The incredibly picturesque Mayan archeological site of Tulum is roughly 5km south of the town and sits overlooking the turquoise Caribbean Sea. There are also other archeological sites such as Coba and Muyil nearby and the stunning Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve is easily accessible from Tulum.
With white sands and clear shallow waters, Chemuyil is a small beachfront village slightly off the beaten path. A quiet place with a few houses owned by locals and foreigners, this natural sanctuary is a lovely place to visit. The Xunaan- Ha cenote, which is a ten-minute walk from Chemuyil, is stunningly beautiful and worth a visit to swim in its clear waters.
Kantenah is a small bay next to Puerto Aventuras that is essentially made up of the Grand Palladium Resort. The expansive resort sits across much of the beachfront among the lush vegetation and boasts a large pool and numerous suites and cabins near or on the beachfront. Further north from here however you can find great places to snorkel and the beach in front of the El Dorado Resort has lots of coral.
Puerto Aventuras is an exclusive resort community boasting one of only two full-service marinas between Cancun and Belize. Modern, luxury facilities abound here as well as quaint bed and breakfasts. There is also a sub-section of Puerto Aventuras where you will find private homes, villas, condos and apartments for rent or sale.
Interesting shops line the marina’s edge, while sailboats, fishing charters and yachts anchor in its deep blue water. There are also many beautiful restaurants boasting a variety of Mexican and international cuisine.
Puerto Aventuras offers all the beach activities one would expect, like windsurfing, snorkeling and jet skiing and those interested in marine history can visit the Cedam Museum, which houses various artifacts from sunken ships along the reefs.
X’cacel is a remote and beautiful beach with deep white powder sand and crystalline waters. Still relatively unknown, it is a tranquil beach with few people. X’cacel is, however, well populated with turtles during their nesting season (May-November) when the mother turtles come ashore to bury their eggs. The area is thoroughly protected but be careful where you step so as not to flatten any mounds of buried turtle eggs.
Another beautiful asset of X’cacel is the cenote found there. You will see a path that leads into the jungle, follow it and you will find the fresh water cenote. You can snorkel or swim here and will very likely have the place to yourself.
Still a well-kept secret, Xpu-Ha is a beautiful beach that remains relaxed and uncrowded. Several miles of white sand and turquoise water make up the beach that sits just south of Puerto Aventuras and offers a stunning alternative to the busier beaches on the Riviera Maya. There are a few hotels on the beachfront as well as some casual restaurants that are all interspersed with palm trees and tropical vegetation.