Vacationers to the Mayan Riviera generally stay in the lavish resorts along the coast because many of these hotels are offered in package deals with flight included.
Mayan Riviera Maya Kids Pool

Back-packers, couples, people looking for action generally stay in Playa del Carmen.

Americans and Canadians tend to stay for one week Mayan Riviera vacations with four day vacations quite common for Americans [not practical for Canadians] and Europeans generally stay two weeks or longer.

For one week travel packages you generally fly in late in the day for your first day and fly out early on your departure date. This way you are really only getting a five day vacation because the day you arrive is a right-off and the day you leave is also a right-off. Is this a planned thing by the travel agencies? Yes and no. Some companies do use this tactic but some agencies are simply at the mercy of the flight schedules of the airline they are utilizing for their packages.


If you are flying in [no travel package] take an airport transfer to hotel or:

  • bus to Puerto Morelos, taxi from highway to hotel
  • bus to Puerto Aventuras , taxi from highway to hotel
  • bus to Akumal, taxi from highway to hotel
  • bus to Tulum, taxi from Tulum to hotel
  • bus to Playa del Carmen, taxi or colectivo to hotel
  • bus to Cancun City, bus or colectivo to Playa del Carmen, taxi to hotel.

If you are coming in on a package deal you go through customs, get your luggage and exit the terminal to the buses. There will be a travel agent rep standing at the exit of the terminal with a sign. They also tend to shout out the name of the travel company as well. Here a sky-porter will offer to carry your bags [for a tip] or you can use those trolley things.

Then your luggage is thrown into the baggage compartment of the bus. There is lots of hustle and bustle, everyone is excited! Its hot, you begin speaking to your new amigos.

Now you have to wait for everyone who is traveling to your hotel as part of the “charter” to board the bus. Hopefully nobody gets suckered into talking to the time-share guys because they can hold up the bus for up to an hour.

The bus ride to your hotel can be as long as 1 1/2 hrs and even two if there are a number of drop-offs at other hotels or there is some problem with traffic. Usually the drivers try to get you to your hotel as fast as they can.
Mayan Riviera Maya Bank

The bus will have drinks for sale but many do not have washrooms and the air-conditioning is always on high making it freezing.

It’s best to sit at the front of the bus. This way you are first off and can run to the reception desk and check-in while your partner gets the luggage. If you are traveling in a large charter and the majority of people are staying at the same hotel it can sometimes take anywhere from half an hour to an hour by the time the last person is checked in.

At this point you are given a wrist-band for identification purposes. Most hotels provide wrist-bands for minors so they cannot access alcohol at any of the bars. Some resorts have “special” rooms or complete sections they usually call the VIP suites and a special wrist-band is provided to guests who pay the extra for these rooms. Our experience talking to people who have payed for VIP say it is not worth the extra money.

Mayan Riviera Maya GlyphFor more info on towels and safes see: Mayan Riviera All Inclusive

The Towel Game
Riviera Maya Towel GameWhat people do is they walk out to a prime spot on the beach or at a swimming pool and put a towel on the beach chair [chez-lounge] they want, then disappear, sometimes for hours. By doing so they presume that they have placed a “reservation” on the chair. Some people do this as early as 6:00 in the morning.

First off, there are NO RULES for this game and the hotel does not support this nor will they usually respond to any infractions caused by problems as a result of this charade. There are no numbers or identifiable marks on towels proving it is indeed your towel.

Some people find the chair they want. If there is a towel saving it and nothing else there showing that the person is utilizing that particular chair, they throw the towel on the ground. Of course when the “saver” returns to find you have taken the chair an argument can ensue.

You can avoid confrontation by not doing this but at the same time realize that you do not have to put up with this nonsense. It’s your call [best to avoid confrontation while on vacation].

Loud Rooms
All hotels have some loud rooms. These are rooms located next to the swimming pools or very close to the entertainment facility. Some people don’t mind the noise which generally winds down at 11:00 but if you are given a noisy room and can’t put up with it you can ask to be moved to another room.

All the major 4-5 star hotels/resorts have a “Kid’s Zone” and most have children’s swimming pools with lifeguards on duty.

Mayan Riviera Maya Glyph For more info see: Traveling With Children

Mexican Money
Do not accept torn or damaged pesos bills . Mexican currency, damaged in any way will not be accepted by any merchants, money exchanges or banks. If somebody offers you a damaged bill, refuse to accept it.

ATM machines are all over Cancun hotel zone and there are a few in downtown Cancun City.

ATMs dispense pesos and receipts are in pesos.

It is advisable to carry lots of small bills and change because merchants never have change.

Mayan Riviera Maya GlyphFor more info see: Mexican Money

Water & Ice
You can purchase bottled water everywhere you go in the Yucatan except some of the long barren highways. Any road to any attraction, or ruin site will have stores along the way.

Every resort uses a water purifier. Some say that this water is okay to drink, some say it is not. We have drank it many times and have never become ill. This does not mean we have not picked up a parasite. Rule of thumb is if you’re only staying for a short period you can find bottled water everywhere, so drink that. Use your hotel water for brushing your teeth if you wish and taking showers but drink only bottled water everywhere you go. Almost every resort and hotel offer 1 or 2 bottles of water per room per day. If not you can purchase it in the resort/hotel store or in a nearby store.

Ice is safe in the drinks. The ice that is provided to most restaurants and bars is produced in ice factories using purified water. Hotels and restaurants that use ice machines also use purified water. Even the guy’s downtown selling home-made popsicles use purified water.

Water Temperature
In the ocean: April till November 80-82 F approx.

December till March 78-79 F approx.

The majority of swimming pools in Playa and the Mayan Riviera are not heated. We do not know why because from late December to February pool water temperature can be cold and EVERYBODY complains about this.

Mexicans by and large, are generous people. Tipping, regardless of the amount, is another means of “acclimatizing” yourself to the Mexican environment.
Who doesn’t love a present? Money, neat stuff and practical items are all excellent things to give as gifts to anybody, regardless of the person’s stature.
When tipping for service the average tip for servers is between 10%-15%, depending on the service.

In All Inclusive hotel/resorts rooms are assigned to staff thus you will probably have the same housekeeper for your entire stay except for their day off. You can either tip every day or at the end of your stay. If you bring gifts then you can leave a present on the bed every day and a cash tip on the last day.
You can either leave your tip on a table or hand it directly to the person.

Tipping rates for housekeeping staff:

  • 1 day stay: $5.00 USD
  • 2 – 4 day stay: $2.00 USD per day
  • 1 week stay: $20.00 USD

Restaurant staff tends to be assigned tables or sections but are moved around a lot so you may have the same delightful waiter for two days then you never see him again. Tip according to the service they provide.

Bellboys and skycaps at the airport can expect anywhere from $.50 to $1.00 U.S. per bag.


Sales Tax
There is a sales tax of 15%. The tax applies to the purchase of most items and is paid by residents and visitors alike. Often this tax is hidden in the total cost of restaurant bills, store purchases, and tours.

Standard electrical service in Mexico is 110 volts [same as USA & Canada]. Hotels usually offer voltage converters for 220 volt devices. Some electrical sockets do not accept three-prong or polarized plugs. It is recommended that you bring your own adapter [you can often buy them in the hotel store].

Phone Calls
Phone calls from hotels can be very expensive due to Mexican taxes and surcharges. Before you call, make sure you know exactly what the cost per minute is.

The country code for Mexico is 52. The area code for Playa del Carmen is 984 and all phone numbers are 7 digits. So, if you are calling Playa del Carmen from the United States or Canada you would dial: 011 [International code] 52 [country code] 984 [area code] and the 7 digit phone number.

From Cancun calling the U.S. or Canada, dial 001 + area code + local number.

Many US long-distance phone companies have access numbers that you can dial in order to use your phone card, usually through the Mexican telephone company public phones, LADATEL.

Cell Phones
In order to use your cellular phone in Playa del Carmen you must first contact your cell phone company and tell them you are going to Mexico and that you will require International Calling. You can purchase one month’s worth. Depending on your service you will be charged a set-up fee. The per-minute cost generally runs $1.00 +.
If you are using a Nokia or Bell Mobility you need GSM and TDMA capability or your phone will not work in Mexico [Blackberries have the GSM card].
Don’t forget to update your roaming software [where applicable].
AT&T, Nextel, Telus and Verizon all work in Playa del Carmen [Mexico].
You must set up international calling with your cell phone provider. When calling out from Mexico you must dial “001 area code and phone” or you may not get a connection to the number you are calling.
Upon arrival in Mexico “update” your cell to locate tower *228.
If you are using Verizon you can add I-Dial to your number, which allows calls from Mexico to the U.S. for .99 per minute roaming charge. There is no charge for the I-Dial service. [Rate may change. Check before leaving.]
With AT&T when you get out of the airport turn your phone on and let it find that you are in Mexico. To call home press and hold the 0 (Zero) until you get the + than dial your number.

In Playa del Carmen addresses, “Sm” stands for Super Manzana [a group of houses]. Neighborhoods are classified with a Sm number [Sm 23, Sm 25, etc.]. Each has its own park or square, with calles [streets] fashioned around it.

Airport – City Bus

International Airport
Cancun Airport BusIf you arrive at the International Airport then exit the front of the airport and walk to your right. There is usually a bus there but if not either ask a porter or just walk over to the bus stand which is right at the end of the front of the terminal. NOTE: Sometimes non-charters fly into the International Airport.
Charter Airport
Just like the International Airport, International flights do sometimes fly into the Charter Airport. The Charter Airport has a shuttle service right out the front exit/entrance of the airport. You can also take a shuttle between the airports if you want to take the bus from the International Airport instead.

Baby Food
Baby food is sold in Cancun supermarkets and convenience stores however they may not carry your baby’s particular brand. Also baby foods found in the area tend to be “fruit”.

Playa del Carmen stocks some American brands [Marlboro and Camels], NO Canadian cigarettes.
A good Mexican brand is Montana White or Montana Red. If fact you may prefer these. You can’t buy Montana cigarettes at Duty Free but you can buy cartons in the Charter Airport upstairs at a store in the food court.
You can buy American cigarettes and some Canadian brands [Players] at Duty Free in any of Cancun’s airport terminals.

Cuban Cigars

Cancun cigar stores carry a large variety of top Cuban Cigars. These cigars will be confiscated by returning Americans if customs find them.

For Canadians, you can bring back 50 cigars BUT you must have a sales receipt for boxes of 25. No receipt is necessary for boxes containing 23 cigars or less.

Cuban cigar boxes now come with holograms for added security however “in Cuba” the black-market guys are providing authentic looking counterfeit boxes with holograms as well as fake sales receipts.

Mayan Riviera Maya Glyph For more info see: Cigars & Tequila In Mexico