Riviera Maya, on the Yucatán Peninsula, in northeast Mexico, has great beaches, excellent local cuisine and it’s near the famous Mayan ruins, which makes it a great place to set up camp. Here’s our guide to the best the area has to offer.
Whether you want to swim in magical cenotes buried in the depths of the jungle, get up close with whale sharks out at sea, or sip on locally produced mezcal while lounging on a pristine beach, you can do all of this and more if you base yourself in Riviera Maya.
Why visit Riviera Maya in 2021
Mexico is a fantastic destination if you want to spend your days lazing in the sun. A top choice for sun-seekers, nevertheless it has a lot more to offer than just vitamin D, with a fascinating history that dates back 13,000 years. So there’s plenty of opportunity to embrace this vibrant and intriguing culture. If you want to experience Mexico in all its glory, a stay on the Riviera Maya provides a platform from which to explore the very best of the country.
The sleepy Isla Holbox, an idyllic island plonked north of the Yucatán Peninsula, is a slice of paradise just a short boat ride away from Chiquilá – reachable in under two hours by car or bus from Riviera Maya. Dubbed “Mexico’s best-kept secret”, this Caribbean island is growing in popularity year on year. It may be only 26mi (42km) long, but it’s home to more than 150 species of tropical birds, including flamingos, pelicans and snowy egrets.
The streets here are lined with bright buildings and the seashore is peppered with hammocks to snooze in. Fuel up on guacamole-topped tacos before exploring some of the beautiful cenotes, or sinkholes, on the island. There are also plenty of boats offering excursions so you can get up close and swim with the biggest fish in the ocean. Oh, and make sure you head down to the main square at night – it’s always buzzing with street food vendors, chatty locals and other fellow travelers.
Playa del Carmen
Just 20 minutes by car or bus from Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen offers the chance to mix up your daily activities without having to travel for hours. From secluded beach spots to traditional Mayan cuisine, there’s plenty for you to see and do in this small coastal town. Family-run restaurants serve up some of the best food – think giant burritos and fresh pineapple shakes, not to mention the food stalls that serve up smoky Mexican street corn, known as elotes, a must-try local dish of corn flavoured with a kick of cayenne pepper and a squeeze of lime. There are also plenty of tours operating from here that can take you to the ancient ruins of Chichin Itzá, and you may get to visit a cenote on the way. Be sure to swing by La Quinta for a spot of shopping and to stock up on souvenirs before you head back.
It’s not all glitzy hotels and hordes of spring breakers in Cancun; there’s also plenty of interesting activities that you can enjoy in this bustling Mexican city away from the clichés. There are the more obvious excursions, such as the Underwater Museum and the Rio Secreto underground river, only a short drive away, but there’s also another side of Cancun to explore. Admire ocean-themed murals that have popped up all over the city, painted by international and local artists, or check out the El Rey ruins that were once an integral part of an ancient Mayan trade route. Follow this up with a visit to the Cancun Mayan Museum to learn a little more.
Places to stay
At this eco-conscious hotel, you can be at one with nature along a stretch of idyllic Caribbean coastline. There are a variety of rooms to choose from – our favourite is the picture-perfect ocean-front bungalows, built using natural materials in traditional Mayan style. They’re private, and a hammock hangs in front of the window, perfect to snooze in after a morning spent soaking up the sun. The hotel is a place where you can really connect with the nature and embrace the natural beauty of the area. Watch the sunset over the sea at dinner while feasting on regional dishes, or for a special occasion, arrange a private, moonlit beach dinner.
If you’re looking to stay amid the hustle and bustle of Playa del Carmen, La Reina Roja Hotel Boutique is a trendy spot to base yourself, complete with a rooftop pool and bar. Rooms are kitted out with floor-to-ceiling windows for maximum natural light; the darker tones from the wood walls and flooring are complimented with splashes of red throughout the decor. You can easily laze the days away here and bask in the sun with a smoky mezcal in hand and don’t miss the restaurant, La Bien Querida, which serves a wide selection of Mexican and international dishes.
This five-star hotel, on one of Mexico’s finest beaches, oozes luxury. Each of the 363 rooms has its own private balcony or terrace, with postcard-worthy views of the Caribbean Sea. There are two award-winning restaurants on site, the Club Grill and Fantino. Live jazz fills the Club Grill every evening where plates are topped with recipes that use locally sourced ingredients – think freshly caught snapper and king crab truffle. Fantino offers an even more luxe dining experience, with an exquisite tasting menu.
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