The most-visited region in Mexico is also one of the most spectacularly beautiful. Get ready to be inspired by these breathtaking destinations to visit in the Riviera Maya.
Starting just south of the resorts and all-inclusives in Cancun, the Maya Riviera stretches from the beachside villas of Puerto Morelos all the way down to the remote Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Along the way, you can call in at beautiful beachside destinations like Akumal, head inland to the Mayan ruins of Coba and Chichén Itzá or revel in the nightlife of Playa del Carmen.
Strap on your mask, and wade out into the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea at Akumal. You’ll soon find yourself swimming with sea turtles, barracuda and manta rays as you snorkel the coral reefs. It’s no surprise that Akumal means the Place of the Turtles in the local Mayan dialect because this beautiful segment of the Riviera Maya is full of wildlife. You’ll find all the luxury hotels and beach bars you need here, too, but developments have still left the local nature protected. Learn more about the famous local turtles by joining a nighttime turtle watching tour at Xpu-Ha Beach, where these endangered creatures are found in abundance.
It gets hot along the Riviera Maya, but, luckily, the Yucatán Peninsula is a hotbed for freshwater swimming holes. Better known as cenotes, these flooded sinkholes are peculiar to the region, and they are fantastic for swimming. One of the best and most beautiful in the Riviera Maya is Cenote Azul, an open cenote that’s turquoise in color and perfectly refreshing. Spend the day jumping off the low cliffs, swimming in the freshwater and enjoying a foot massage courtesy of the nibbling fish. Cenote Azul is located around 20 minutes away from Playa del Carmen.
The main drag in Playa del Carmen is the place to be if you’re looking for just about anything when you’re holidaying on the Riviera Maya. La Quinta Avenida – 5th Avenue – is the most important street in the city. It is alive 24 hours a day and packed with bars, restaurants, hostels, souvenir shops and street performers. It’s colorful, it’s loud, and there’s always someone in a sombrero trying to get you to try tequila. Yes, it’s touristy, but relax – you’re always on vacation when you’re on La Quinta Avenida.
Playa del Carmen is the busiest holiday destination in the Riviera Maya, and, while there are all-inclusives and resorts here, you’ll also find hostels and apartments for budget or long-term travelers. A long beach stretches along the seafront, while La Avenida Quinta is the place to go for bars and restaurants. Walk a few streets back, and you’ll find cantinas selling Corona beers and serving the tastiest tacos in the Riviera Maya.
Puerto Aventuras has long tried to be the best-kept secret in the Riviera Maya, but it was always going to be a challenge to keep one of the most beautiful destinations in Quintana Roo under wraps forever. It’s located just 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, and there are only a select few resorts to check into at Adventure Port – one of them is the Hard Rock Hotel. If you’re not swept up in the all-inclusive vibe, then head down to the white-sand beach in Puerto Aventuras, where there are no crowds but excellent snorkeling just meters offshore.
Puerto Morelos is the “official” starting point of the Riviera Maya, and, while the seaside town is a major port and harbor for the whole state, the beaches to the north and south are best described as pristine. Many of those white-sand beaches have been taken over by resorts, but it’s far more laid-back and secluded here than in Cancun. The waters off the coast are shallow, which is great news for snorkelers because the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef and all of its glorious marine life can be reached from the beach.
Sian Ka’an loosely means the “place where heaven begins”, and, when you reach the most remote nature preserve in the Riviera Maya, you’ll quickly understand why the Mayans gave it this name. This vast Unesco-listed site is one of the largest biosphere reserves in Mexico, protecting forests, beaches, coral reefs and delicate ecosystems. Snorkel the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, visit one of the oldest Mayan ruins in the Americas at the archaeological site Muyil, or trek deep into the biosphere in search of howler monkeys, iguanas, tapirs and even the rare puma.
Looking for somewhere to stay? Book into one of the top resorts in Playa del Carmen, or opt instead for one of the best hotels for every traveler. Don’t miss the top things to see and do in, including the most beautiful beaches. Make sure you try the top restaurants in Playa del Carmen, too.
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