The Riviera Maya extends along the Caribbean coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula from Puerto Morelos to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. Once home to small fishing villages, the Riviera Maya coastline has since been developed into a modern tourist corridor offering the very best of high-end luxury resorts, fine dining, nightlife, spa retreats, shopping and golf in Mexico. An ideal vacation destination, the Riviera Maya is home to some of the most stunningly beautiful beaches in all of Mexico with expansive stretches of powdery white sand lapped by the clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Spend the day at a luxury beach club where you can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, aquatic sports, spa services and a variety of modern amenities. You'll find some of the best in the resort destination of Playa del Carmen, a friendly tourist town where you'll also discover the Riviera Maya's best shopping, dining and nightlife.
The Riviera Maya is one of the world's top destinations for scuba diving and snorkeling. An expansive coral reef system extending just off the coast is home to a dizzying array of marine life including colorful tropical fish, manta rays, dolphins and whale sharks. Scuba diving and snorkeling in the Riviera Maya are not limited to the ocean. You can also go snorkeling and cave diving in the many cenotes (underground sink holes) that are unique to this Yucatan Peninsula.
The Riviera Maya is a top ecotourism destination in Mexico and throughout the region the natural environment is protected and preserved. Outside of the major tourist destinations, much of the land remains relatively undeveloped so the natural beauty of the Riviera Maya and the creatures that inhabit it are left to flourish. Local eco-parks offer a taste of all that the area has to offer in controlled, family-friendly environments.
Mexico is a country rich in history, culture and tradition, all of which you will experience when you visit the Riviera Maya. Participate in a traditional temazcal (Mayan sweat lodge) ceremony at one of the many resorts and spas. Explore the magical underground world with a dip in an underground sink hole. Visit ancient Mayan ruins at Tulum, Coba and El Rey.
Adventurous travelers should venture off the beaten path to visit traditional Maya villages where you will witness the traditions and culture of this fascinating region and sample the local cuisine. A few hours inland, the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza are arguably the best restored and most impressive of the Yucatán Maya archaeological sites.
Consider a day trip via ferry from Playa del Carmen to the Caribbean island of Cozumel where you will enjoy world-class scuba diving, snorkeling and aquatic sports, or, simply spend the day relaxing on the beach.
See & Do
• Visit Tulum
Tulum holds the honor of being the most picturesque archaeological site in the Riviera Maya and the only one to have been built overlooking the ocean. A visit here offers spectacular views of the Riviera Maya beaches, Caribbean Sea and surrounding coastal region.
Tulum was an ancient Mayan fortress city that rose to power toward the end of the Classic period. The most iconic of its structures, the Castillo, is perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the clear turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean. The cliff-top Castillo, with its beachfront location and lush green landscape, is the image most often associated with the Mayan Riviera. You've probably seen the postcards.
An expansive walkway extends out around the ruins and a staircase nearby leads down to the beach where you can swim and sunbathe. Tulum is one of the few archaeological sites in Mexico where it really does make sense to bring a swimsuit. The best way to experience Tulum is to combine a tour of the ruins with some beach time—maybe even a refreshing dip.
Most travelers choose to visit the ruins at Tulum on day trips and organized tours. If you're traveling independently, you'll find that mornings are the best and least crowded time to plan your visit.
Keep in mind that Tulum is also an enchanting place to spend a few nights, so consider checking into one of the beachfront cabanas or boutique palapa hotels located near the ruins.
The coastline along this southern stretch of the Riviera Maya remains relatively undeveloped. It offers a relaxed change of pace from the resort cities to the north and serves as a great base from which to explore more of the region, including the ancient Mayan ruins at nearby Coba.
• Three Days in Riviera Maya
One of the best ways to enjoy nature is to visit the Riviera Maya, a 120 km shore line with spectacular landscape. This area, stretching from Puerto Morelos through Carrillo Puerto (in the heart of the Sián Ka'an Biosphere Reserve) to Punta Allen, is full of attractions. Playa del Secreto, Playa del Carmen, Xcaret, Puerto Aventuras,Aktun Chen grottoes, Xel-Há and Tulum. These, among others, are places where you can find Maya ceremonial centers on the seashore, discover local biodiversity and choose from a variety of water sports in the world's second largest coral reef. Once home to small fishing villages, the Riviera Maya coastline has since been developed into a modern tourist corridor offering the very best of high-end luxury resorts, fine dining, nightlife, spa retreats, shopping and golf in Mexico.
• Enjoy the View at Coba
Visitors who brave the steep climb up the highest pyramid in Mexico's Maya world reap the reward of a breathtaking vista. At more than 130 feet in height, Nohuch Mul, which means "large mound" in the Mayan language, is the tallest pyramid at Coba archaeological site and in the Yucatán Peninsula. Coba, an easy half-hour drive inland from the coastal city of Tulum, is well worth a visit.
In the Maya language Coba means "water stirred by wind." The Maya flourished here between 400 and 1100 A.D. One of the largest Maya cities of the Classic period, at its peak the site stretched out over 50 miles and was home to some 50,000 inhabitants. Two small lakes nearby made it a desirable location.
As you explore the site, wandering the pleasantly shady trails beneath the jungle canopy, keep your eyes and ears open for wildlife. You'll surely spot some interesting tropical birds and howler monkeys. Coba is extensive, so if you tire of walking in the jungle heat you can rent a bike or hire a tricycle pedicab and driver to pedal you around.
Coba was an important trade link between the Caribbean coast and inland cities. A network of ancient roads called sacbe in Maya, which means "white road" radiates out from Coba. They are between ten and 30 feet wide and are made of limestone. The longest sacbe, 96 km (60 miles) long, connects Coba to Yaxcuna. The ancient Maya likely used the sacbe for commercial purposes but they may have also had a ritual function, though it is unclear what that might be. By all accounts the ancient Maya did not use the wheel, so it is an enigma as to why they put so much effort into building such impressive roads.
After your visit to Coba, plan to stop at the Gran Cenote on the way back toward Tulum for a refreshing dip in the cool, clear water—a welcome reward indeed after the hot climb.
• Sunrise at Sian Ka´an
At Sian Ka'an you can kayak through narrow canals between mangroves, climb an ancient pyramid, float in a crystal clear cenote, or try your hand at salt water fly fishing—all within a lush protected environment on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula south of Tulum.
Undoubtedly, a visit to Sian Ka'an is one of the most memorable things you could do on your trip to Mexico.
Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, on the coast of the state of Quintana Roo, extends over 1.3 million acres. Recognized as a biosphere reserve in 1986 and a UNESCO Heritage of Humanity Site in 1987, Sian Ka'an is home to a variety of habitats including beaches, coral reef, low tropical forest, wetlands, savannas, dunes, cenotes and both freshwater and brackish lagoons. Over 300 species of birds and a multitude of other plants and animals inhabit the reserve.
The Maya first settled in this area in the fifth century A.D. and there are more than 20 archaeological sites within the biosphere reserve. The largest site at Sian Ka'an, Muyil, was a trading post in ancient times. A visit to Muyil is not complete without a visit to the lagoon from which it gets its name, which is located a short walk from the archaeological ruins. Climb up to the lookout point to enjoy the view of the lagoon and the Caribbean Sea beyond.
Savor the sunrise here and you'll understand why the ancient Maya named this place Sian Ka'an, which in their language means, "where the sky is born." Reserve a tent/cabin from the Cesiak organization and spend the night. This is truly one of the not-to-be-missed vacation experiences in Mexico for bird watchers and nature lovers of all stripes.
• See You in Playa del Carmen
Situated right in the heart of the Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen is the region's top destination for shopping, dining and nightlife. There's plenty to keep you occupied here, plus Playa serves as an ideal base for exploring the rest of the Riviera Maya.
Playa del Carmen is famous for its stylish beach clubs. Offering a pampering alternative to the public beaches, these clubs offer food and beverage services, a variety of spa treatments and aquatic sports, plus access to restrooms, showers and pools.
After your day at the beach, head into town and take a stroll along the pedestrian Fifth Avenue strip, locally known as Quinta Avenida. La Quinta is the place to see and be seen in Playa del Carmen. By day it's packed with people browsing the shops and boutiques; by night roving musicians entertain diners in the many restaurants and bars.
Playa del Carmen is one of the Riviera Maya's top culinary destinations where you'll find everything from street tacos to five-star establishments serving up their own unique takes on traditional Mayan and international cuisine.
As the evening progresses, La Quinta gyrates to the sounds of rock, salsa and reggae as people flock to the bars and nightclubs. The beach clubs get in on the action too, hosting dance parties that rage on until the early morning hours.
Ferry service connects the Caribbean island of Cozumel with Playa del Carmen so you can easily enjoy a day trip out to the island for some scuba diving or snorkeling. You can also arrange day trips to visit ancient archaeological sites, ecological parks and cenotes.
Located just south of Playa del Carmen is Playacar, a high-end development complete with golf courses, all-inclusive luxury resorts and gated residences. See you in Playa!
• Spas and Sweat Lodges
The Riviera Maya is a world-class luxury resort and spa destination. Mayan traditions influence the region's spas and treatments by incorporating ancient techniques and pre-Hispanic rituals such as the use of indigenous herbs, healing therapies and the temazcal, or traditional Mayan sweat lodge.
More of a cultural experience than a spa treatment, the temazcal ceremony is offered at numerous Riviera Maya resorts. Dating back to pre-Hispanic times, the temazcal is believed to have been used widely among the ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures in Mexico. The name temazcal translates to "house of steam" in Nahuatl, the ancient language of the Aztecs.
The temazcal experience is believed to relax and cleanse the nervous system, help to eliminate fat and toxins and stimulate the digestive and respiratory systems. Before entering the temazcal, you may be asked to cover your body in mud, which helps with the purification process. The ceremony, led by a healer or shaman, takes place in a small brick and cement dwelling shaped like an igloo in complete darkness. The shaman places red-hot lava rocks in the center and douses them with water infused with local aromatic herbs and spices to create the steam. Once participants are seated inside, the shaman seals the entrance to keep in the heat and steam. He or she then leads guests through this fascinating and ancient ceremony that involves chanting and drinking herbal tea.
The Riviera Maya resorts also offer a variety of other personalized spa treatments including herbal body treatments, facials and healing deep tissue massage where you'll be pampered in a lovely setting while taking in the aroma of fresh cut flowers and herbs indigenous to the region.
You can also enjoy a massage on the beach or down in a cenote (underwater sinkhole) beside the water, arguably one of the most unique spots in Mexico. The Riviera Maya is full of these underground caverns and freshwater pools that were sacred to the Maya.
• Underwater Spectacle
With an expansive coral reef system located just off the coast, the Riviera Maya is Mexico's top destination for snorkeling. The Great Maya Reef, also called the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, extends for more than 965 km (600 miles) along the coast of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula all the way to Belize. It's the largest coral reef system in the Northern Hemisphere and the second largest in the world.
The crystal clear waters of the Caribbean allow for easy viewing of the fascinating underwater world of the Riviera Maya, which is home to more than 500 species of marine life including colorful tropical fish, turtles, manta rays, dolphins, tiger and whale sharks.
Looking for some stellar snorkeling? The small fishing town of Puerto Morelos, located toward the northern end of the Riviera Maya just south of Cancun, is home to the Parque Nacional Arrecife Puerto Morelos (Puerto Morelos Reef Park. The close proximity of the reef system to the coast of Puerto Morelos, combined with its protected national park status, allow for some of the finest snorkeling in the entire Riviera Maya region.
After you've spent some time exploring the coral reef, grab your mask and head for the cenotes, fresh water sinkholes created by a vast underground river system. They're some of the most unique geological features in Mexico and there are thousands of them located throughout in the Riviera Maya. The ancient Maya believed that these sites were sacred.
The surface of the cenotes is formed by fossilized coral and limestone. Natural sunlight filters into the sinkholes through small openings in the roof and reflects off the clear turquoise water and natural mineral formations giving the cenotes a magical, otherworldly feel.
• Adventure Park Thrills
You could spend your entire vacation lazing on the powdery white sands of the Riviera Maya's beaches. But when you're ready for some action, be assured that there's no shortage of exhilarating activities to be found in the region's fantastic adventure parks.
The Riviera Maya's unique landscape with its caves, cenotes (sinkholes) and underground rivers, as well as jungle, mangroves and beaches, provides a spectacular setting for a multitude of active adventures guaranteed to get the adrenaline pumping.
Ride through the jungle on an amphibious all-terrain vehicle, go underground rafting in a water cave studded with stalactites, soar over the jungle on 13 different zip-line circuits, or swim in the park's gorgeous river at Xplor park, south of Playa del Carmen.
The cave at Rio Secreto is part of an elaborate system of underground caverns and waterways. Wearing a short wetsuit and helmet, you'll alternately walk and swim through the silent depths as your expert guide teaches you about the geology and biodiversity of the area.
Hidden Worlds park offers Avatar, a "roller-coaster zip-line," the first in the world of it's kind, which will take you on a thrilling ride up, down and around a series of bends at breakneck speed through the dense foliage of the jungle, then dunk you in a cenote for a splash landing. Another option at Hidden Worlds is the Skycycle: pedal on a cycle suspended from a wire over the treetops at your own pace.
Whether you're looking for soft or extreme adventure, the Riviera Maya's adventure parks offer a variety of exciting options, both on land and in water.
• Connecting with Nature
The Riviera Maya is home to some of the most beautiful and varied landscapes in all of Mexico. Besides beaches and jungle, you'll also find freshwater canals, mangroves, lagoons, inlets and cenotes (sinkholes). Nature parks in the Riviera Maya do a super job of showcasing the beauty and diversity of this spectacular Mexico destination.
Xcaret, the largest and most impressive theme park in the Riviera Maya, offers a wide variety of activities and diversions in a spectacular natural setting. Here you can snorkel in an underground river, learn about marine life in a living aquarium, walk through a butterfly pavilion, see jaguars and pumas, swim with dolphins or manatees, and learn about sea turtles.
Nature lovers will also find plenty to do at Xel-Ha, a natural aquarium park where fresh water from underground rivers meets the salt water of the ocean forming a particularly diverse environment for snorkeling. Admire the impressive variety of brightly colored tropical fish, or enjoy tubing, biking or walking around the park. It's a wonderland of cenotes, mangroves and lagoons.
Get up close and personal with crocodiles, monkeys, turtles, deer, peccaries and snakes at Croco Cun Zoo. This park got its start as a crocodile farm; now it's a zoo and interactive learning center where you can touch and feed some of the animals that are native to the area. Take a walk down a winding path through the lush jungle with a knowledgeable guide who will tell you all about the many protected species that live here
• Get Wet on the Riviera Maya
Hundreds of miles of spectacular beaches stretch along the coastline of the Riviera Maya. Backed by the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, Mexico's Riviera Maya is an ideal destination for aquatic sports and adventures both above and under the water.
The Riviera Maya is a world-class scuba diving and snorkeling destination. The world's second largest coral reef system extends the length of the coastline and a stunning array of colorful corals, tropical fish and marine life thrive just below the ocean's surface.
The Parque Nacional Arrecife Puerto Morelos (Puerto Morelos National Reef Park) is a national protected area and top destination for snorkeling in the Riviera Maya. You can also enjoy snorkeling and cave diving in the thousands of cenotes (underground sink holes) that are scattered throughout the region. Exploring this underground network of fresh water pools and rivers is one of the more unique things to do in Riviera Maya Mexico.
Craving adventure? Extreme water sports such as kite surfing, jet skiing, windsurfing, sea kayaking and parasailing tempt. Local tour outfitters provide gear and lessons, so even if you're a beginner you can still get your high adrenaline thrills.
You might also consider a boating or angling excursion. Choose from drift fishing, fly-casting or deep-sea expeditions. In most cases, a couple of hours are all it takes to reel in dinner and have it cleaned, filleted, cooked and served to your liking at one of the local restaurants.
Daytime cruises aboard a catamaran or chartered yacht include snorkeling stops and visits to remote Caribbean islands. Or opt for a sunset cruise, best enjoyed with a cold cerveza (beer) or margarita in hand.
• Riviera Maya: A Wide Range of Options for Romance!
Riviera Maya offers you the perfect location for the beach wedding or honeymoon of your dreams, from a barefoot cabana hotel to an all-inclusive luxury resort,
The Riviera Maya is among the most popular vacation destinations in Mexico. Honeymoons in this area tend to center around individual hotels and resorts, most of which are all inclusive to some degree. You will be able to find everything from small, barefoot cabana hotels, elegant boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, and awesome, all-inclusive resorts in a variety of price ranges. The luxury all-inclusive concept here is generally so indulgent that you won't have to or want to leave the premises very often during your honeymoon.
It will help you find your way around if you are aware that Riviera Maya includes several distinctive sections, South from Cancun along the Caribbean Coast of the Yucatan Peninsula:
* Playa del Carmen is the region's largest city. 75 miles south of Cancun and 40 miles north of Tulum, it is ideal for just about every activity from lying on the beach to shopping, dining and dancing. To make it even more exciting, the lovely islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres—are short ferry trips across the harbor.
* Puerto Morelos is a quiet fishing village just 15 miles south of the Cancun Airport and an optimal spot for relaxation in a charming atmosphere. The area is perfect for snorkeling, windsurfing and diving due to the massive Grand Mayan Reef that offers protection and unique opportunities to enjoy the crystal clear ocean both above and below water. Also, at certain times of the year, the region is frequented by marlins and sailfish, which make for top-notch sport fishing.
* Playa Paraiso (Paradise Beach) is a little more than half way between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Home to a serene resort, this spot is a favorite of honeymooners thanks to its spectacular white sand beach that's surrounded by coconut trees and a lush tropical forest. The shallow Caribbean waters here are excellent for snorkeling and diving, but adventure-seekers also can windsurf, parasail, kayak and sail—and may even see endangered sea turtles that use the beach as a nursery!
* Playacar is just south of Playa del Carmen and the location of a beautiful, pure sand beach near the south end of the ferry dock to Cozumel. In addition to the many rental condos, beach houses and all-inclusive resorts, Playacar offers numerous small Mayan archaeological sites, the Xaman-Ha Aviary with exotic tropical birds, an 18-hole golf course, water sports, great shopping and much more.
* Tulum, at the end of the Riviera Maya, is an ideal spot to relax and take in the laid back atmosphere. It has a collection of smaller hotels and mystical Mayan ruins.