Mexico’s Riviera Maya is the stretch of coastline on the Yucatan Peninsula. This area’s expansive white sand beaches, beautiful turquoise waters, and all-inclusive resorts make it top the list of the best places to visit in Mexico. Surrounded by the natural beauty of the Caribbean Sea and the lush jungle, Mexico’s coastline is just waiting to be explored.
There are loads of things to do in Riviera Maya including nightlife, bars, restaurants, shopping, outdoor adventure, and water sports, making this a truly spectacular vacation.
Really, there are so many fascinating things to do in Mexico, it has kept us coming back year after year.
Since Canun is just a short plane ride from Dallas, this area is a quick and easy escape for us. I say that so that you know you’re in good hands when you read this article. We’ve visited numerous times and love Mexico!
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Where is the Riviera Maya?
The Riviera Maya is a gorgeous stretch of coastline that engulfs the northeastern portion of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Spanning from Puerto Morelos to the north and then the town of Tulum to the south, the Riviera Maya is miles and miles of beautiful beaches dotted with countless all-inclusive resorts.
This area of Mexico is known for having amazing turquoise waters and abundant sea life.
How to Get to the Riviera Maya
Getting to the Riviera Maya is relatively easy. Visitors can fly into the famous tourist town of Cancun before grabbing a ride down to the Riviera Maya.
Take note of items you are flying with and only bring things on the plane that you are allowed to bring. Try using a good carry-on packing list to help you out if needed.
Depending on where along the Mayan Riviera you stay, the ride takes anywhere from 20 minutes to 1.5 hours. You can book a shared or private car from the airport to take you to your Riviera escape.
Is It Safe to Visit Riviera Maya
We have been asked this for years, and honestly I always say yes. We have been to the Riviera Maya and Cancun for years and have never experienced anything that made us feel unsafe.
Like any other area, stay diligent and trust your gut.
If you find yourself in a situation or area that just doesn’t feel right, then trust your intuition and remove yourself from that situation.
Many people choose to just stay on their resort the entire time. While you can do this, I feel that you miss out so many of the great things to do in Riviera Maya that you are selling yourself short.
Travelling Around the Riviera Maya
You definitely have to get away from the resort in order to experience most of the activities on our list of things to do in Riviera Maya. For this, you have several options.
You can take a taxi, although I wouldn’t recommend it. Taxis are expensive here so there are definitely other options that could save you some money.
Of course, you could rent a car and drive yourself, but use caution as driving in another country is sometimes difficult. If you are just wanting to visit a certain area, then consider using a ride share system where you ride with other people and split the cost.
There are several of these options available and can often be arranged through your hotel.
We recommend taking guided tours to some of the attractions that we have on our list of things to do in Riviera Maya. For example, if you are wanting to see the ruins at Chichen Itza, then choosing a tour is a great way to do so.
The tour company will usually pick you up from your hotel, transport you to the attractions, give you a guided tour, and then drop you back at your hotel at the end of the trip.
Making your excursion simple and fun. You just show up and they do all the work.
10 Unforgettable Things to do in Riviera Maya
One of the Best Things to do in Riviera Maya-Relax
That’s right, you read that correctly, just take some time out to relax. Whether you choose to curl up in a hammack on your resort, or lounge around in the pool all day, the Riviera Maya is a great place to unwind and escape all of your worries.
Since there are so many all-inclusive resorts in the Riviera Maya, you are bound to find one that fits your needs perfectly. Let the wonderful Mexican hospitality and the gorgeous ocean sweep all of your cares away.
If you want to escape the crowds, consider choosing one of the smaller towns on the Riviera Maya like Porto Morelos or Tulum. Now granted, you won’t find super glitzy resorts here, but what you will find is a quiet Mexican town that has great food, nice locals, and beautiful beaches that also love tourists.
Do note though that Tulum is very expensive to stay in with resorts upwards of $300 per night for a 3-star resort.
Swim in a Cenote
One of the top things to do in Riviera Maya is to swim in the beautiful cenotes.
What exactly is a cenote? A cenote is a deep water-filled sinkhole that is developed when the roof of an underground cavern collapses. The opening allows water to enter from rain and underground water sources.
The ancient Mayan people believed that the cenotes were entrances to the underground world. Once you see all of the fabulous stalactites inside some of the cenotes you might just agree!
There are over 6000 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula region of Mexico alone. With more cenotes being discovered everyday, that number continues to grow.
Swimming in a cenote is a very popular thing to do, so be warned that you might be sharing the more popular cenotes with other people. If possible try to go to the more popular cenotes in the morning so that you beat the afternoon crowds.
There are lots of guided tours that will allow you to swim in cenotes in Mexico. Here are some of our suggestions:
Zipline in the Jungle
Ziplining is one of our favorite activities! The lush tropical landscape and the friendly guides make ziplining one of our favorite things to do in Riviera Maya.
You can find yourself zipping through the treetops of lush jungles past waterfalls or ziplining into a water-filled cave. No matter what you desire, you can probably find it here.
These tours are easily booked and usually include transportation, lunch, snorkeling/ATV riding/horseback riding, and more. Several of these tours combine a cenote swim so you can knock out two activities with one tour.
You will find that there are a variety of prices and packages, so find the one that best suits you.
Here are some of our favorites:
Explore Chichen Itza
The Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza are Mexico’s second-largest tourist attraction and are considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, so of course, it has to be on your list of things to do in Riviera Maya.
Situated west of Cancun, you can plan on spending a full day exploring Chichen Itza, so be sure to pack sunscreen and comfortable shoes!
The monuments of Chichen Itza are a UNESCO World Heritage site, with the most famous being the Temple of Kukulkan. The Temple of Kukulkan demonstrates a 365-day calendar and is a catalyst to modern astronomy.
I would suggest taking a guided tour to Chichen Itza as it is quite a lengthy drive.
A guided tour also allows you to learn more about the area and its history.
Here are some of our suggestions:
Head to Xel Ha
What is Xel Ha? Well, it is a Xel Ha is an ecological theme park on the Caribbean coast. It is here that you can cool off from the sweltering Mexican sun and enjoy some great water activities.
Visitors to Xel Ha love the variety of activities they find here. Whether you want to take a nap in a beachside hammock, or snorkel in their natural lagoon area, or just take some time to float lazily down the mangrove river, Xel Ha has something for everyone.
You should definitely book a tour to Xel Ha, that way your transportation and entry ticket are all taken care of. Most of the tour groups even offer an all-inclusive option so that you can eat and drink for free during the park as well
Here is a link to purchase the Xel Ha all-inclusive pass with transportation.
You might prefer to combine Xel Ha with another activity like this tour that combines Xel Ha with Tulum. While there, be sure and get your picture taken with the resident birds.
Visit the Sea Turtles in Akumal
Who would pass up a chance to swim with sea turtles? I know I wouldn’t. We love that there are so many conservation efforts and people willing to care for the sea turtles around the world.
Well, you can swim with the sea turtles while visiting the Riviera Maya in the small town of Akumal. Get an early start on your day by grabbing your beach towel, some sunscreen, and your snorkeling gear because you don’t need a tour to swim with the sea turtles.
You just need to go to the right place with your snorkel mask and you can swim with the sea turtles for free! I mean, you did bring your snorkel, right? If you use this beach packing list then you will definitely remember everything you will need for your trip!
The small bay where the sea turtles are is made up of fine sand, so you want to get there early and beat all of the tour groups. As the tour groups start to arrive, then more and more sand is churned up and the water becomes harder to see in.
If you don’t have your own snorkel gear, then you can rent some from the local dive shop.
One important thing to note is that the dive shop and the CEA Center charge you a fee. The CEA center will provide you with a locker, restrooms, and other facilities for you to use, so that may be worth it.
If you don’t want to pay a fee, just find the public access point to the beach.
For some great tips and to find out more about swimming with the sea turtles, read this guide on snorkeling with the sea turtles in Akumal.
Scuba Dive and Snorkel
While we are on the subject of snorkeling, we might as well give you the next activities on our list of things to do in Riviera Maya, scuba diving and snorkeling. As mentioned above, you can just grab your gear and snorkel right off of your hotel’s beach if you would like.
For a more exciting snorkeling trip, consider booking a guided tour that will take you to better known snorkeling spots for the best experience possible. We had a great time taking the ferry over from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel and then snorkeling off of Cozumel Island.
The highlight of this trip was seeing all of the starfish you see pictured above!
Of course, if you are scuba certified then you can really get up close and personal with the sea creatures.
Lucky for you, there are several great dive sites in and around the Riviera Maya, including the Great Mayan Reef that extends over 600 miles from the Yucatan Peninsula to Honduras!
See the Mayan Ruins in Tulum
You cannot have a list of things to do in Riviera Maya and not include visiting the ruins of Tulum. Perched on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean, these ancient ruins do not disappoint.
Originally built to be a seaport fortress, Tulum was once occupied by over 1,500 people and served as a major trading route.
Today visitors will see an incredible archaeological site surrounded by beauty everywhere you look.
Take note that Tulum can become overrun with tourists so I would recommend visiting first thing in the morning, or later in the afternoon.
You might want to bring your swimsuit as well because there is a secret beach below the ruins that you can swim in as long as the current isn’t too strong!
If you are interested in a guided tour of Tulum, here are some that we recommend:
Enjoy Some Nightlife
Now, granted the Riviera Maya is spacious and spread out, despite that, you can still enjoy some great nightlife during your visit. If nightlife is your jam, then I suggest finding a hotel in Playa del Carmen.
Head to either the beach or Fifth Avenue to find the party scene in the evening. Here you can indulge in some great seafood before hitting up the bars and dance clubs that are prevalent in this area.
Shopping in Playa del Carmen
While on the subject of Playa del Carmen, you should know that one of the things to do in Riviera Maya is to go shopping in Playa del Carmen. The majority of tourists will hit up Playa’s Fifth Avenue for their shopping needs.
It is here that you will find souvenirs galore! Whether you are looking for t-shirts, tequila, Mexican blankets, or sombreros you are bound to find it here.
Fifth Avenue isn’t the only shopping that you will find in Playa del Carmen. There are lots of cute and unique shops just off of Fifth Avenue that deserves your attention also. There are also several shopping malls and shopping plazas for you to visit as well.
Final Thoughts on Things to do in Riviera Maya
The Riviera Maya is such a beautiful area filled with so many awesome things to do and with welcoming people.
We love visiting the Riviera Maya for a relaxing yet adventurous vacation. Hopefully, our list of things to do in Riviera Maya has inspired you to visit soon as well.
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About the Author
Michelle Snell is a travel writer, history buff, wine lover, and enthusiast of different cultures. While she is a professional educator by day, her passion for travel has her jet-setting all over the world during her free time.
Michelle enjoys bringing places to life through her informative writing style on her blog, That Texas Couple. Her practical tips and suggestions help make travel dreams a reality while immersing her readers in the history, culture, and food of a region. She is happiest sipping wine in Italy or chilling on a beach with her husband, Marty.