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.
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.
While we are bringing you some of the more common attractions in this post, you might also want to consider checking out some offbeat places in the Yucatan.
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 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 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 doesn’t feel right, trust your intuition and remove yourself from that situation.
Many people choose to stay in their resort the entire time. While you can do this, I feel that you miss out on so many of the great things to do in Riviera Maya that you are selling yourself short.
Traveling Around the Riviera Maya
You have to get away from the resort to experience most of the activities on our list 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 other options could save you some money.
Of course, you could rent a car and drive, but use caution, as driving in another country is sometimes difficult. If you want to visit a particular area, then consider using a rideshare system where you ride with other people and split the cost.
There are several of these options available, and they can often be arranged through your hotel.
We recommend taking guided tours to some of the attractions on our list of things to do in Riviera Maya. For example, if you want to see the ruins at Chichen Itza, 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 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; take some time out to relax. Whether you curl up in a hammock 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 excellent Mexican hospitality and gorgeous ocean sweep 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 excellent food, friendly locals, and beautiful beaches that also love tourists.
There are some fabulous all-inclusive resorts in Tulum as well, but do note, though, that Tulum is very expensive to stay in. Some resorts cost upwards of $300 per night for a 3-star resort, so do your homework before booking.
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 develops when an underground cavern’s roof 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 agree!
There are over 6000 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula region of Mexico alone.
With more cenotes being discovered every day, that number continues to grow. I guess that is why cenote diving in Riviera Maya is so popular. There is just so much to discover!
Swimming in a cenote is very popular, so be warned that you might share the more popular cenotes with others.
If possible, try to go to the more popular cenotes in the morning to 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 friendly guides make ziplining one of our favorite things 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 quickly booked and usually include transportation, lunch, snorkeling/ATV riding/horseback riding, and more.
Several of these tours combine a cenote swim so that you can knock out two activities with one tour.
You will find various 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, the most famous being the Temple of Kukulkan.
The Temple of Kukulkan demonstrates a 365-day calendar and catalyzed modern astronomy.
I suggest taking a guided tour to Chichen Itza as it is a long drive.
A guided tour lets you learn more about the area and its history.
Here are some of our suggestions:
Head to Xel Ha
What is Xel Ha? Well, Xel Ha is an ecological theme park on the Caribbean coast. Here, 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, snorkel in their natural lagoon area, or take some time to float lazily down the mangrove river, Xel Ha has something for everyone.
This is also the perfect place to take your underwater camera, as some great shots of aquatic life are available!
You should book a tour to Xel Ha; that way, your transportation and entry ticket are all taken care of.
Most tour groups even offer an all-inclusive option so that you can also eat and drink for free during the park.
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 many conservation efforts and people are willing to care for sea turtles worldwide.
Well, you can swim with 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, sunscreen, and snorkeling gear because you don’t need a tour to swim with the sea turtles.
You 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. Using this beach packing list, you will remember everything you need for your trip!
The small bay where the sea turtles are is made of fine sand, so you want to get there early and beat all the tour groups. As the tour groups start arriving, more and more sand is churned up, and the water becomes harder to see in.
You can rent some from the local dive shop if you don’t have your snorkel gear.
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, find the public access point to the beach.
For some great tips and to learn more about swimming with sea turtles, read this guide on snorkeling in Akumal with sea turtles.
Scuba Dive and Snorkel
While we are snorkeling, we might as well give you the subsequent activities on our list in Riviera Maya.
Scuba diving in Riviera Maya and snorkeling in the Riviera Maya are super popular! As mentioned above, you can grab your gear and snorkel off your hotel’s beach if you 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 from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel and snorkeling off Cozumel Island.
Some people even choose to stay in Cozumel as this island is so fun to visit! There are loads of activities and some great places to stay in Cozumel.
The highlight of this trip was seeing all of the starfish you see pictured above!
Of course, if you are scuba certified, you can get up close and personal with the sea creatures.
Lucky for you, several excellent 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.
Take note that Tulum can become overrun with tourists, so I recommend visiting first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon.
You might also want to bring your swimsuit because there is a secret beach below the ruins where you can swim as long as the current isn’t too strong!
Getting from Cancun to Tulum is easy on your own, or 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, but despite that, you can still enjoy some great nightlife during your visit. If nightlife is your jam, 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 sumptuous seafood before hitting up the bars and dance clubs 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. Most tourists will hit 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 will find them here.
Fifth Avenue isn’t the only shopping you will find in Playa del Carmen. Many cute and unique shops just off Fifth Avenue also deserve your attention. There are also several shopping malls and shopping plazas for you to visit.
Final Thoughts on Things to do in Riviera Maya
The Riviera Maya is such a beautiful area filled with so many incredible 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.
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Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight:
We love using CheapOAir, Kayak, and Kiwi to search for the best prices on flights. We love using these search engines because they search the web for airlines all over the world to ensure you get the best deal! In addition to flights, you can also find great hotel prices on Kayak and Kiwi.
Book Your Vacation Package:
If you want to book an entire vacation package, then we suggest using Expedia. We love how easy Expedia is to use and we always find good deals on entire vacation packages on their site.
Another great site for vacation packages is BookVIP. BookVIP offers super cheap vacation packages to incredible destinations. You are sure to save money using their site!
For full guided vacations including hotels, some meals, transportation, and guides, then we book with Trafalgar. Trafalgar is a trusted tour company that will meet all of your needs while ensuring that you have a great experience.
Trip.com allows you to book flights, hotels, train tickets, rental cars, airport transfers, tours, and more all on one site. Owned by the parent company that also owns Skyscanner, this is a trusted resource for travel booking and a great “one-stop-shop.”
Book Your Accommodations:
We always begin our search by checking out the honest review on hotels at TripAdvisor. This allows us to narrow our search for specific properties once we are ready to book. Of course, you can also book directly on the TripAdvisor site as well!
There are several accommodation sites that we like to use. One of our favorites is Booking.com because it gives you a wide variety of hotels and guesthouses at a good price.
Another “go-to” hotel booking site for us is Hotels.com. We love their loyalty program that allows you to earn free nights, and their “secret prices” for members are fabulous deals!
If you are looking for a luxurious all-inclusive vacation, then consider checking out the Sandals/Beaches properties. Sandals properties are for couples only and Beaches are for families. We have visited Sandals in the past and absolutely love the attention to detail and the service they provide.
Tour Companies We Trust:
We love taking guided tours when visiting new places. Our go-to tour companies are Viator.com and Get Your Guide. Both of these companies have been in business for years and provide excellent customer service. You can trust booking tours from their sites for sure!
CityPass is a great way to save money when visiting large cities. CityPass allows you to get free admission to major attractions once you buy their pass. The savings add up quickly with this pass, often saving 50% with combined admissions.
Another great pass to save money in larger cities is the Sightseeing Pass. This pass allows you to save valuable time and money by combining admissions to major attractions. They also have a handy app that keeps everything you need at your fingertips.
Looking to Save Time and Money?
Check out our resource page for all of our favorite vendors. These companies help us to save time and money on our travels!
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About The Author
Michelle Snell is a travel writer, history buff, wine lover, and enthusiast of different cultures. Michelle enjoys bringing places to life through her informative writing style on her blogs, That Texas Couple and Totally Texas Travel. 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.