Top 10 places not to miss in and around Mexico’s Riviera Maya
The Riviera Maya is a coastal area with white sandy beaches and turquoise water typical of the Caribbean Sea, hosting millions of tourists every year who want to enjoy their dream vacation.
In addition to relaxing on the beach and exploring the fantastic coral reefs, you can enjoy some of the best sites of the ancient Mayan civilization, spectacular cenotes and one of the most exquisite cuisines in the world. Here’s a list of ten places you must visit in and around the Riviera Maya:
Tulum is one of the favorite vacation spots and one of the most beautiful places on the Riviera Maya. Here you can see the archaeological excavations of the Mayan city located on top of a cliff against the bright turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. The Tulum ruins complex can be visited in about two hours and you can finish your visit by relaxing on the beach at the bottom of the site.
Cenotes are water-filled sinkholes that the Mayan people accepted as a gateway to the underworld. Cenotes are found everywhere on the Riviera Maya – exploring these attractions includes swimming, snorkeling, and even diving.
This impressive city of the ancient Mayan civilization still has some important buildings and sites, among them the Pyramid of Kukulcana or the ball court. The tour will last up to 4 hours and will end with a dip in the Ik Quil cenote, one of the most impressive spots of the Yucatán Peninsula.
The beaches of the Riviera Maya, between Puerto Morelos and the Sian Ka’an reserve, are some of the most beautiful in the world.
Akumal is known for being the place to see turtles – they come to it to breed or swim in the waters near the beach .
Xpu-ha is another beautiful beach in the Caribbean Sea with pleasant shallow waters where you can snorkel in a quiet environment surrounded by nature.
Two hours away from the big cities on Mexico’s Caribbean coast is a small island with a relaxed pace of life, Holbosch. Among the incredible things to do on the island are watching the sunset on Punta Coco and walking along Punta Mosquitos Beach. You can get to the island from the coastal town of Chiquila.
The ruins of Coba are one of the most extensive archaeological sites of the Mayan civilization in Mexico. The town is home to the tallest Mayan pyramid on the Yucatan Peninsula – from a height of 40 meters, guests can admire a panoramic view of the ruins and the surrounding jungle.
Located between Mérida and Valladolid, Isamal is one of the most beautiful villages in Mexico . This magical place on the Yucatan Peninsula has notable yellow buildings, unique churches and the monastery of San Antonio de Padua. A walk through the photogenic old town with its colonial houses is the best Isamal has to offer .
The island, surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and located 12 km from Cancun is a great excursion on the Riviera Maya . Isla Mujeres is ideal for diving and snorkeling and thanks to the clarity of the water and the magnificent coral reef. Guests can also rent a motorcycle or golf cart to visit the marine park of El Garrafón or one of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico, Playa Norte.
The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is the largest protected natural area in the Caribbean. In this area you can see almost pristine white sand beaches, mangroves and freshwater springs. There is a great variety of fauna including all kinds of birds, crocodiles, turtles, dolphins, and even jaguars.
Bacalar, which in Mayan means “the place where the sky is born,” justifies its name – here the water at different moments of the bottom has different shades of blue, which may seem like an optical illusion. The reason is that there are many cenotes scattered throughout the lagoon, which have different depths and change color under the influence of sunlight. Bakalar is also known as the “Seven Colors Lagoon”. It is more than two hours drive from Tulum but it is well worth the time.
The top 10 places to visit in the Riviera Maya in Mexico
The Riviera Maya is located in the state of Quintana Roo on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, and it is the country’s most tourist destination. The Riviera Maya is said to be the area south of Canún and up to the Sian Ka’an Reserve. The main tourist centers located here are Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras and Tulum. This coastal area of about 140 kilometers with white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, typical of the Caribbean Sea, annually receives millions of tourists. The warm, sunny weather and an average water temperature of 25°C make vacations on the Riviera Maya possible all year round. But it is not enough to spend your vacation in a hotel, no matter how luxurious it is. In addition to relaxing on the beach and exploring the fantastic coral reefs, the Riviera Maya offers a great variety of tourist attractions, such as ancient cities of the Mayan civilization, underground cenotes with crystal clear water or numerous corners with pristine nature.
Here is a list of the top ten places you should visit in the Riviera Maya. Read more about each of them in other publications on our website. In fact, there are many more interesting places to visit, but start with these.
Tulum is one of the most favorite vacation and visiting places in the entire Riviera Maya. First, you must visit the archaeological site of the Mayan city, located on top of a cliff, from whose height you can observe the intense turquoise color of the Caribbean Sea. The Tulum ruins complex can be viewed in about two hours, and it is worth completing the visit by descending to the beach at the foot of the cliff. Definitely one of the most spectacular sites in the world.
Tulum is also famous for its eco-friendly hotels, endless rowdy hangouts, and restaurants with great food. This place is appreciated by fans of yoga and all sorts of shamanic ceremonies.
There are cenotes only in the Yucatan Peninsula. These natural formations, hollows in the karst rocks filled with water, are an ideal place for a relaxing vacation on a hot day or snorkeling for beginner divers. The cenotes in the Riviera Maya are many. Some of them, such as Chuck Mool or Dos Ojos, are even several caves connected by underground rivers. Diving is only allowed with a guide. Other cenotes are worth visiting if only for their beauty. The most interesting are Samula, Shkeken, Palomitas, Agua Dulce, Schcanahaltun, Hubiku, Suitun, and Ik Quil, located near Chichen Itza.
A visit to Chichen Itza, one of the seven wonders of the modern world and one of the most symbolic places in Mexico, is a must if you make it to the Riviera Maya. This impressive city of the ancient Mayan civilization still holds many of the mysteries of its former inhabitants. The most important structures, such as the pyramid of Kukulcana or the ball court, are wonderfully preserved. The duration of a visit to the entire complex is about 4 hours. Then stop by the Ik-Kil cenote, five kilometers away, to refresh yourself and admire the beauty and strangeness of this natural wonder.
Beaches Xcacel, Xpu-Há and Akumal
These beaches of the Riviera Maya, located 100 kilometers between Puerto Morelos and the Sian Ka’an Reserve, are considered some of the most beautiful in the world. But the most famous and popular is Akumal Beach, where from April to October you can observe the mass arrival of sea turtles to breed. Swimming with turtles is a popular attraction. Akumal has several hotels with hammocks right on the shore, and everything is conducive to relaxed interaction with nature.
Shpu Ha is another beautiful beach on the Caribbean Sea with shallow waters where you can go snorkeling. And in Schcasel you will find paradise with pristine beaches, a cenote surrounded by lush vegetation. There are no hotels, but many sea turtles.
Holbosch Island is a little more than two hours from the major cities of the Caribbean coast. On this small island, which you can walk around on foot or drive around in a golf cart, nature has been preserved as it was long ago. There are no automobiles here. The tranquility of its white sand beaches and turquoise waters attracts more and more tourists every day. The best things to do in Holbosch are to watch the incredible sunsets at Punta Coco, stroll along the beach to Punta Mosquitos, or take a bike ride through the center of town in search of the fantastic graffiti that pores the walls of many local buildings.
The Coba ruins are one of the most extensive archaeological sites of the Mayan civilization in Mexico, with several pyramids and structures scattered over a large area of jungle. Nevertheless, it is quite possible to get around the entire area on foot. You can rent a bicycle to see all the most interesting monuments, such as the pyramid of Nohuch-Mul, the tallest in the Yucatan Peninsula, over 40 meters high. The pyramid is allowed to be climbed using support ropes because of its steep slope. From the top you will have a spectacular panoramic view of other ruins and the surrounding jungle.
The Bacalar Lagoon, which means “the place where the sky is born” in Mayan, lives up to its name because of the different shades of blue that the water takes on during the day. It is believed that the water here has seven basic shades. Underwater cenotes located in different parts of the lagoon create different depths. The color of the water changes depending on the depth and the intensity of sunlight. Such an optical illusion. Bacalar is located more than two hours from Tulum, and it is a place for those who prefer to be at one with nature. Although the boat stations offer boat rides, it’s more appropriate to choose a secluded beach – watching the shimmering waters from the shore is just as interesting.
Located between Merida and Valladolid, the old Spanish town of Isamal is one of the most beautiful settlements in Mexico, perfectly capturing the spirit of the colonization era. This “magical town” is full of yellow or ochre-colored ancient structures, the most famous of which are the Church of the Immaculate Conception and the San Antonio de Padua Monastery, built on a pre-Hispanic platform. The best time in Isamala is for quiet walks through the center, between the houses of the colonial era. The city is very photogenic! There is even a Mayan pyramid.
Isla Mujeres, surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and located 13 kilometers from Cancun, is another must-visit on the Riviera Maya. There are ferries to the island, and the local beaches are considered the cleanest and most beautiful on the entire coast. The coastal waters are ideal for scuba diving or snorkeling thanks to the coral reef located here. Rent a motorcycle or golf cart to visit El Garrafón Marine Park or Playa Norte, one of Mexico’s most beautiful beaches. In the evening it is worth a walk down the main street and visit some fish restaurant.
The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is the largest protected natural area in the Caribbean. The area has pristine beaches with the purest white sand, endless mangroves, and freshwater springs gushing out of the ground. There is even a half-submerged Mayan temple. The diversity of fauna: the inhabitants of the reserve are birds of many species, crocodiles, manatees, turtles, dolphins, spider monkeys, cougars and even jaguars.