Last Updated on June 22, 2020 by Laura Cooper
Set along Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo is the Mayan Riviera: 135 km of picture-perfect coastline, luxury resorts, and a developed tourist area. Among the most popular cities are the hip Playa del Carmen, known for its shopping, restaurants, and nightlife, the spectacular Tulum, celebrated for its Mayan ruins, and the nature reserves of Sian Ka’an. Coba, Akumal, Puerto Morelos, Puerto Aventuras, and Paraiso Beach are other notable areas. No matter where you stay, the Riviera Maya has much to offer in the way of postcard-perfect beaches and swaying palms. Is this what you’re looking for? Read our Mayan Rivera travel guide for more persuasion.
Who should go?
The number one reason to take a Mayan Riviera vacation is to experience a relaxing beach getaway. But why choose the Mayan compared to other destinations in Mexico or the Caribbean? Hotels in the Mayan Riviera are more isolated than other destinations. Areas are tourist-heavy but authentic Mexican charm can still be found in a couple of hidden gems. The destination is fairly quiet (aside from Playa del Carmen) and appeals to families, couples, and groups of friends travelling together. Aside from the beautiful beaches, people visit for the history and Mayan culture, superior diving and snorkeling, luxurious spas, golf courses, and nightlife of Playa del Carmen.
Chichen Itza: The most visited archeological site in Mexico, Chichen Itza is also named a Cultural Heritage Zone of Mexico and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit this Ancient Mayan city on a day trip to discover the civilization and the large pyramid, El Castillo and surrounding buildings including Temple of the Warriors, the Ball-court, and the well.
Playa del Carmen: Playa del Carmen is the center of the action in the Mayan Riviera, located between Tulum to the south and Cancun to the north. Trendy and popular with tourists, the area is more developed than Tulum but less so than Cancun. The main drag, Fifth Avenue, is a cobblestone road loaded with shops, hotels, restaurants, and lively bars. There are tons of restaurants ranging from chains to local eateries to gourmet stops. Shopping ranges from small stores to markets to big brand names. Favourite nightlife spots are Senior Frogs and Coco Bongo. After a night of parties, spend the day with your toes in the sand (Playa El Faro is one of the best) or go on a diving adventure to explore the cenotes.
Tulum: One hour south of Playa del Carmen is Tulum, a laidback and picturesque beach town comprised of three main areas: a downtown comprised of souvenir shops, food stands, and hotels, the Mayan ruins to the north, and the beach area, known as Zona Hotelera, packed with hotels along the coastline. The area attracts 2 million visitors annually, many of whom want to experience the main archeological draws of the ancient Maya city perched on a cliff. It takes about two hours to explore the ruins, but visitors can take some added time for swimming and wandering. Good diving and snorkeling opportunities are also highlights of the area, as well as the sites, Templo de los Frescos and The Castillo. The Tulum day trip brings you to explore the Walled City and abandoned city towers of Tulum and then to the natural aquarium of Xel-Ha to snorkel and sunbathe.
Coba: A thriving city from AD 800 to 1100, Coba is now an ancient Mayan village with classic pyramids, surrounding jungle, and lakes swimming with turtles and crocodiles. Explore the tallest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan region, Nohoch Mul Pyramid, at 140 feet tall. Other highlights include the Coba Group pyramids, 79-foot-high temple dedicated to Chac, and nine chambers of Castillo. The ruins are spread out so bring comfy shoes, bug spray and water and explore with a guide. Less crowded than Tulum, visitors can take a day trip to climb the ruins, wander by foot, bicycle, or pedicabs, enjoy lunch, and later, visit an authentic Mayan village to interact with the locals and freshen up in a fresh water sinkhole.
Xcaret: This Xcaret day trip visits the 250-acre ecological park known as Xcaret to discover the ruins, botanical garden, aviary, aquarium, stables, and butterfly farm.
Sian Ka’an biosphere: Enjoy a day trip to the Sian Ka’an eco-park to interact with nature in this protected coastline and jungle. Start off with learning the process of grinding corn before heading into the wilderness for hiking the trail, discovering the flora and fauna, climbing up a viewpoint to view the tropical forest, and taking a boat ride through the lagoons.
Puerto Moreolos: After a half hour from Cancun, this quaint fishing village maintains its authenticity, with a wide selection of restaurants, seaside village feel, and portion of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef just 1,800 feet offshore, making it a great spot for snorkeling.
Akumal: Hit this beach town for swimming, snorkeling, and turtle watching. Delve into the crystal clear waters with over 40 feet of visibility or relax on the sand. There is a good selection of hotels and restaurants here.
Puerto Aventuras: This gated community is fairly Americanized, home to a golf course, marina, and the Dolphin Discovery attraction.
Water Sports: The Mayan Rivera is known for its diving opportunities where you’ll find interesting caves, hawksbill turtles, lots of colourful reefs, and visibility ranging from 40-90 feet. Visitors can also enjoy catamaran tours, swimming with dolphins, and other water sports.
Adventure/Land Sports: For those seeking adventure, explore the jungles of Mexico on an ATV tour of the Mayan Caribbean or take the Extreme Zipline Canopy Tour to see the jungle from above. For a more peaceful adventure, horseback ride through the landscape, taking in the tropical views.
Golf: Several excellent courses, good selection for all skill levels: Mayakoba, Iberostar Playa Paraiso golf club, Grand Coral, and Riviera Maya golf club.
Cozumel: Visitors to the Mayan Rivera may want to take a day trip to Cozumel, a popular cruise port and famous Mexican island for scuba diving. Take a ferry at Playa del Carmen and delight in the marine life, unique shops, secluded beaches, and jungle trails. Or simply relax on the beach.
JOYA by Cirque du Soleil : Experience this Cirque de Soleil performance in a custom-built theatre in the heart of the Mexican jungle with a three-course meal in the Riviera Maya.
Riviera Maya is a large destination with a huge selection of hotels. It takes about 90 minutes to drive the length of the Hotel Corridor, where there is a large selection of major hotels and notable brands. The majority of the hotels are all-inclusive while boutique hotels can be found on Fifth Avenue, for a total of approximately 34,000 hotel rooms in the Riviera Maya.
If you’re looking for nightlife, dining, and shopping options and would want to spend time in town, stay in Playa del Carmen and Playacar, since there is limited nightlife at the resorts. For suggestions, use our trip matchmaker to input your preferences or speak with a travel expert who can help you effortlessly narrow down your options.
When to go and for how long?
A Mayan Riviera vacation is typically one to two weeks long. November to April is busy season with temperatures of 24C. September and October see frequent rain with less attractions open in the city.
May-August has off season prices and warmer temperatures, averaging 28C.
Most people visit the Mayan Riviera on an all-inclusive vacation package. Resort vacations can be paired with day trips or excursions off the resort.
Visitors to the Mayan Riviera would arrive into the Cancun International Airport (CUN) and head south to their destination. Since hotels are spread out amongst different cities, the airport transfer could take anywhere from 20-90 minutes.
Airport transfers to and from the hotel are typically included in vacation packages. However, if you do require one, private airport transfers can be booked online in advance.
The Riviera Maya is a large area, spanning about 130 km from the Cancun airport to Tulum along Highway 307. People get around via car or taxis – though taxi fares can add up since distances can be large. It can be an expensive cab ride into the lively Playa del Carmen depending on how far your hotel is. Exploring by car is a good option. Driving is relatively easy considering there is one main highway that connects the sites, but roads can be bumpy with potholes, full of traffic and speedy drivers, with a high police presence. There are also busses that run between the main cities.
Price: Mayan Riviera vacation packages range from $700-$1500+, depending on the quality of resort and time of year.
Language: The official language is Spanish, although many people speak and understand English
Currency: The official currency is the Peso, but US dollars are widely accepted