10 Unexpectedly Awesome Things To Do In Riviera Maya
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Riviera Maya on the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula is a popular spot in Mexico for beach vacations. Home to white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, this glorious stretch of Caribbean coastline offers an unmatched paradise. It is tempting to chill at your resort doing nothing but there is an incredible variety of fun things to do in Riviera Maya. For those seeking an unforgettable trip, I’ve rounded up 10 activities you must do before going back home!
Top 10 Things To Do In Riviera Maya
1. Walk on the White Sand Beaches
2. Snorkel or Scuba Dive in Cozumel
3. Chill Out at The Prettiest Bohemian Town
4. Try Out Traditional Dishes of Yucatan
5. Relax and Unwind in a Small Beach Village
6. Tour the Mayan Ruins
7. Take a Dip in The Cenotes
8. Get Closer to Nature at Sian Ka’an Biosphere
9. Take a Day Trip to Isla Mujeres
10. Swim with Whale Sharks in Isla Holbox
1| Walk on the White Sand Beaches
This is one of the reasons you’re here, right? You’re not gonna disappoint!
There’s something magical about the dreamy sandy beaches that draws throngs of people to Riviera Maya year after year. With miles of pristine powdery beaches and the clearest water you’ll likely ever encounter, there’s no question why Riviera Maya is one of Mexico’s best travel destinations.
Where are the best beaches in Riviera Maya?
There are many amazing beaches in Riviera Maya, including Maroma Beach, Xpu-Ha, Xcacel, and Akumal. But if you’re visiting in spring (March & April), be prepared to see a remarkable amount of seaweed on the shore. This has become a problem since the past few years. We traveled to Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Puerto Morelos this March – all of them were affected. The only area that we didn’t see much seaweed around was the northern part of Cancun’s “hotel zone.”
The hotel we recommend:
For beach lovers, I’d recommend a luxury stay at Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach in Cancun. The resort features spacious oceanview suites with private terrace offering spectacular views of the Caribbean. You can even see the nearby Isla Mujeres on a clear day!
As a guest at Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach, you will not only have access to the private beach (no crowds, no seaweed!), but also to its vast outdoor heated pool. For the utmost comfort and privacy, I would suggest upgrading to The Grand Club, which will pamper you with privileges such as VIP check-in and check-out, a club concierge, the penthouse lounge, the private beach club and sundeck, and culinary services throughout the day! You will even get a complimentary jet-ski session and ferry tickets to Isla Mujeres!
After a long day on the beach, treat yourself to the Gem Spa (one of the best in Latin America and the Caribbean) and indulge in the unique 10-step hydrotherapy ritual.
2| Snorkel or Scuba Dive in Cozumel
Get your gear ready and jump into the ocean! In Riviera Maya, you gotta take advantage of that crystal clear water!
The best place for underwater explorations is Cozumel, an island just off the coast from Playa Del Carmen. This sun-baked island’s southwestern coast lies the Mesoamerican Reef System, which is the second largest barrier reef system in the world. There are 25 major dive sites around the island, all of which are protected by the National Marine Park. It’s no wonder that Cozumel is consistently ranked as one of the top scuba diving destinations on the planet!
Aside from scuba diving, you can also head out for a snorkeling adventure. The shallow turquoise water makes it so easy to see the colorful reefs and the magnificent marine life.
Note: To get to Cozumel, take a ferry ride from Playa del Carmen. There are 2 companies run the ferry service: Mexico Waterjets and Ultramar. Services begin at 7 am and end at 11 pm the latest. The crossing takes about 40 mins and costs 163 pesos one way, 300 pesos round trip.
3| Chill Out at The Prettiest Bohemian Town
If you’re on Instagram, you must have seen tons of beautiful photos of Tulum on your feed. I’m not gonna lie, I first heard about Tulum on Instagram as well.
Unlike other places in Riviera Maya, this idyllic beach town has a charming and laid-back bohemian vibe that attracts chilled-out travelers in need of a break. Yoga resorts, upscale boutiques, stylish hotels and world-class restaurants build up along the beach strip. There’s a never-ending stream of epic photo ops for Instagrammers and photographers. This puts Tulum on the map as one of the top places to visit in Mexico.
Tulum is very expensive though. Don’t be surprised if you’re being charged USD$300 per night for a 3-star hotel room.
4| Try Out Traditional Dishes of Yucatan
Interested in traditional Yucatecan cuisine? Treat your taste buds to a meal at The Dining Experience – Tulum!
The Dining Experience – Tulum isn’t your typical restaurant but rather an interactive gastronomic adventure that immerses you in the vibrant flavours of the Yucatan. The dinner is led by knowledgeable hosts who will introduce you to the region’s cuisine through tasty Mexican dishes, inventive cocktails, and hands-on participation.
Guests are seated on a long communal table, limited to only 21 people. The evening starts with a tequila and mezcal tasting followed by a fun cocktail making lesson. Once your drink is ready, the 7-course dinner commences, featuring the best ingredients the region has to offer!
The chef, Emme Prieto, presents on an unforgettable multi-course journey that’s exemplary from start to finish. Whether it is the prawn & pineapple al pastor skewer or the smoked turkey with poblano mole, the food impressed us with every bite during our recent visit. The highlight of the evening? Hands down, the cacao mousse with mezcal-infused caramel, which teased our palate with a melt-in-your-mouth goodness!
If you’re in Tulum, The Dining Experience – Tulum is a must visit. It is an experience you’ll never forget.
If you’re in Cancun, then book a memorable meal at La Joya (inside Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach). On Fridays and Saturdays, the restaurant presents “The Table” experience. The gourmet 8-course dinner is set on a video-mapping table (with a narrative and music) and takes you on a culinary adventure that follows the fascinating history of the Yucatan peninsula. Each dish and drink correspond to a specific chapter from the past. “The Table” promises a memorable and delicious experience.
5| Relax and Unwind in a Small Beach Village
Want some downtime and escape the crowds? Head for a low-key beach community like Puerto Morelos!
Unlike other beach towns in Riviera Maya, Puerto Morelos has a calmer pace. There’s no big hotel or glitzy attractions, but you’ll find groomed beaches, friendly locals, and amazing food in this small Mexican fishing village. If you need to unplug, relax, and enjoy the beach in its purest, simplest form, the blissfully quiet Puerto Morelos is the place to go!
Note: In the main plaza, there’s a famous stall that sells marquesitas (rolled-up crispy crepe that is filled with melted shredded cheese and sweet fillings such as Nutella and strawberry jam). Prices range from 35 to 40 pesos, depends on how many fillings you choose. It’s open every day from late afternoon to late evening. Art market occurs every Saturday and Sunday evening.
6| Tour the Mayan Ruins
Don’t leave Riviera Maya without a visit to at least one Mayan ruin!
These archaeological sites are masterpieces of the Mayans prior to the Spanish colonization. They offer a glimpse of what life was like for the Mayans thousands of years ago.
There are many ancient ruins scattered throughout the Riviera Maya, but the most well-known ones are:
- Tulum: A small site that can be explored within an hour. It is the only Mayan ruin site that is located along the oceanfront, offering spectacular views from the cliffs. Wear your swimsuit under your clothes and take a swim in the ocean after your visit!
- Coba: Located in the middle of the jungle, about 44km from Tulum or 109 km from Playa del Carmen. Rent a bike to get to the impressive Nohoch Mul pyramid, the highest one in the Yucatan Peninsula. 120 steps will take you to the top for a remarkable view of the surrounding jungle!
Other ruin sites in the area include Muyil (south of Tulum), Xel-Ha (south of Hel-Ha Eco-Park), and Akumal. If you have more time and willing to travel a bit further, visit Chichen Itza. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and named one of the ‘New 7 Wonders of the World’!
For more details on the ruins, please check out this post.
7| Take a Dip in The Cenotes
From our friend, Meagen, at Food Fun Travel:
When visiting the area of Riviera Maya, one of the must-see attractions are the cenotes. Cenotes are sinkholes that reveal crystal clear water that’s perfect for swimming, snorkeling, or even scuba diving.
There are reportedly over 12,000 cenotes in the region, but honestly, there’s probably way more, as every year more and more cenotes are discovered in the region. If you are looking to enjoy these local phenomena there are a few quality ones to choose from. Some are more popular than others so be warned you might be sharing some of these with quite a few other tourists.
The number 1 cenote on the tourist trail is Cenote Ik Kil which is situated right near Chichen Itza. It’s best to get here first thing in the morning, as by afternoon, busloads of hot tourists leaving Chichen Itza will start arriving. It’s beautiful and worth a visit, but it is a bit ‘man made’ and gets very, very busy.
If you are looking for something a little quieter, our recommendation is Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman which is close by to the town of Valladolid. This cenote has everything you want, lush blue water, tree vines snaking down to the water below, and a hacienda (old plantation building) with bar and a pool nearby.
If you are looking for the ultimate Instagram pic then head to Cenote Suytun Valladolid which has a platform to the center of the cenote with a hole up top that shines sunlight down upon the people below – it’s amazing.
As I mentioned before, there are so many cenotes to discover in the area. I highly doubt that you will be disappointed by any one you choose to visit.
Find out more about cenotes in the area in Meagen’s post on 24 best cenotes in Yucatan.
8| Get Closer to Nature at Sian Ka’an Biosphere
From our friend, Raphael, at Journey Wonders:
When it comes to wonderful destinations in the Riviera Maya, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere is a MUST-SEE for sure.
Featuring exotic wildlife and incredible sights, the number of animals you will see is out of this world: sea turtles, mantas, manatees, dolphins and countless of endemic bird species.
The best part? You can totally snorkel at the coral reef and explore the wonderful underwater world of the Riviera Maya.
To get to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, you need to hire a tour, ideally from Tulum so you spend less time on a van although you can do it from Cancun or Playa del Carmen as well.
Ready to explore the Sian Ka’an Biosphere? You’ll love it for sure!!!
9| Take a Day Trip to Isla Mujeres
Want to get away from all the hustle and bustle, consider taking a day trip to Isla Mujeres.
Sitting 13 km off the shore of Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a refreshing option that offers the ultimate tranquil escape. The sleepy island is only a 20-min ferry ride away and can be easily explored in a day!
The best way to explore Isla Mujeres is by golf cart ($250 pesos per hour; driver’s license required). I’d recommend driving to Punta Sur, the southern tip of the island, where you can admire endless ocean views of the cliffs. Don’t forget to stop by the lighthouse, Mayan temple, and sculpture garden nearby. When you’re hungry, enjoy freshly-caught seafood at local restaurants. You can also take some time strolling through the streets of the island and shopping at quirky stores. Or, you can simply do nothing but relax in Playa Norte, one of the best beaches in the Caribbean!
Note: Ferries to Isla Mujeres are available from Gran Puerto in Puerto Juarez (near downtown Cancun). Boats operate from 5 am to 11:30 pm, departing every half an hour. Fares are $160 pesos one way, $300 pesos round trip. If you’re staying in Cancun Hotel Zone, ferries leave from 3 locations: Playa Tortugas, El Embarcadero, and Playa Caracol. Fares are $14 USD one way, $19 USD round trip. Operation hours are shorter and boats leave less frequently.
10| Swim with Whale Sharks in Isla Holbox
From our friend, Meagen:
If you are looking to see one of the most majestic creatures of the sea, then head to the stunning tropical island of Isla Holbox, Mexico, and book yourself a whale shark experience. While they have the name ‘shark’ in their title, they are in no way scary and are stunning gentle creatures that eat only krill. It’s also best to know that Mexico has a limited season when the whale sharks are migrating, which is from May to September, so this is the best time to book. As always, remember that they are wild creatures and that sightings can take time. Be patient, it’s worth it!
Once a whale is spotted in the water, it’s time to suit up with your life jacket, snorkel, and don’t forget your underwater camera – you’re going to want it for this experience! The thing we really appreciated was the fact that the whole boat doesn’t jump overboard at once and bombard the poor creature. You are only allowed off the boat two at a time and you are given about 5 minutes to swim alongside the whale sharks. Then it’s someone else’s turn. This repeats over again (so you can get a couple of swims with the whale sharks) until the whale shark disappears or everyone gets tired and hungry.
And that’s it. It might seem simple and rushed, but it’s not at all. It will leave you feeling exhilarated to have had the chance to swim alongside these peaceful creatures. I have never heard a single person complain about their experience swimming with whale sharks. They are just that awesome!
You can learn more about the whale sharks experience in her post on Isla Holbox.
Have you been to Riviera Maya in Mexico? Let us know in the comment what your favorite activity was!
Disclaimer: This post is written in partnership with Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach and The Dining Experience Tulum. As always, all opinions on For Two, Please are my own and I only recommend brands that I 100% stand behind.
Ah this brings back fond memories for me. I loved my time in Mexico, especially the Yucatan. Yes, it’s a shame about Tulum being so expensive now. Sadly, the people who live there don’t earn as much as they charge the tourists. Love swimming in the cenotes, it’s pure bliss!
This looks like an ideal beach holiday. The fact that there are other attractions beyond the beaches add to the allure of the place. Cenotes look magical, almost as if they belong more in JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
So many people go to Cancun and just sit at their resort. I love all these ideas! Isla Mujeres was our favorite. My daughter loved the golf cart and exploring the awesome beaches on the island. Looks like you had an amazing trip.
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I had no idea that Mexico had such amazing beaches! I am not much of a snorkeling person though I love scuba diving! Cozumel sounds exciting! With 25 options to choose from, it can’t go wrong! And yes, I have seen those images of Tulum on Instagram as well! However, Mayan ruins top my to-do list!
I have done almost everything on your list except snorkeling with the whale shark which is on the top of my bucket list! Yhe Table experience sound incredible to! Earing 8 courses of meal while there are music and explication of the food…very cool! One absolute favorite of my was to scuba diving in the cenotes, so thrilling!
One of our favorite regions in the world. <3 Would love to try that 7 course dinner experience–the food in the Yucatan is so incredible! Sadly, the whale sharks weren't there when we visited Holbox (not the right time of year), but we loved the island anyway–we'll need to go back when the whale sharks are there one day!
What a place! Riviera Maya looks incredible! I would love to do the scuba diving most and also see the Cenotes as they look stunning. I can’t wait to visit one day! Thanks for the inspiration!
I was in Riviera Maya as a teenager with my entire family and left so much unseen. Tulum is so high on my list. I visited Ik Kil Cenote, but I’m dying to explore more!
Wow those cenotes! It looks like a fairytale land!
Some great tips here, love how well you laid out all your recommendations!
I’ve never been to this area of Mexico but my husband did when he was a teenager, so I think we’re due for a visit. Chichen Itza is definitely on our list and Cenote Ik Kil, too. The Dining Experience Tulum also looks interesting, have to check that out.
I very much agree on going to the cenotes. That was my favorite experience when I went to Mexico. I was on a resort, which I discovered is not my thing, and the cenote was a refreshing day trip to take.
I wonder why there was mass amounts of seaweed that drifted in….Beautiful photos, especially liked the one of the two of you on those swings- what a great spot and very informative- THANKS!
Wow..you can actually do a lot in Riviera Maya. I am amazed to see all these options. The beaches looks absolutely awesome. I would definitely love take a Dip in The Cenotes. It looks absolutely great in pictures. Well, I love local experiences as well. SO your recommendation for the food is well take. I have to say, you guys dress really well 🙂
I loved seeing the Mayan ruins at Tulum! I must say that I also really enjoyed wandering around Playa del Carmen. There are loads of yummy vegan restaurants there! Such a beautiful part of the world that I keep going back to.
We absolutely loved out time in Riviera May especially Tulum for its quirkiness and Island Holbox for its chilled-out vibe. The beaches are insane throughout the whole Riviera May. When we return I’d like to visit Puerto Moreles, it sounds like my kinda place.
I have visited the Riviera Maya very briefly on a day excursion from a cruise ship. I loved touring the ruins, but I can see now that it might be nice to go spend time there soaking up sun on the beaches and trying some of the food. (Who doesn’t love a 7-course meal?) But I don’t think you’ll ever find me swimming with whale sharks or any other sharks unless I happen to fall over the side of a cruise ship!
Riviera Maya seems like a great place for a family vacay. i would love to snorkel and dive in the clear waters, although not with sharks 😉 And a day trip to see some Mayan ruins and try local food are added benefits.
Whale sharks and Mayan ruins sound like a perfect place for me to visit. I have had both of those on my bucket list for quite a while and in Riviera Maya I would be able to kill 2 birds with one stone. The beaches are also stunning. What more could you ask for from a relaxing holiday destination?
I’ve been to the Riviera Maya and found it really nice – going South of Cancun. My favorite spot was Tulum – swimming around the maya ruins – an experience of a lifetime. Would love to go back. The food is amazing there, too, you are absolutely right!
great post! I’ve heard so many great things about Tulum and would love to visit this area, also to go swimming with the whale sharks. It looks like Riviera Maya has so much to offer to visitors and is a true paradise!
Mexico is such a beautiful place. The place is on our radar for so long. We would love to visit the beaches, Mayan ruins, and cenote for sure. The beaches are so freaking gorgeous.
I’ve been wanting to go for a long time! I’ve heard it’s great for vegan food too. Tulum seems like just the right amount of hippie town I need right now.
The turquoise waters look just so inviting! Crystal clear and so therapeutic. Underwater explorations in Cozumel is totally something I would do! I’d love to hang out in a Yoga resort in Tulum! Have seen sooo much of it on Instagram! An 8 course meal?! That is insane!! The Cenotes look magical and it is unbelievable that the Riviera has so much to offer to everyone. You kept the best for the last, swimming with the whale sharks! <3
Yes please to all of these! What a great list of awesome things to do. I’d be first in the ocean for scuba diving, for sure. I’ve always wanted to dive there. From walking in the beautiful sand to dining on delicious cuisine – I’m all over this! I hope to get there one day, and I’ll be taking this post and list of thing to do with me to tick off as I go.
So so much to do in Riviera to Maya! I really love the destinations and what to do there and what to do in that place. I really love all of your pictures, the perfect views are really indeed worth a visit.
OMG you are killing me with wanderlust! I have been wanting to visit here for a while now, and now I want to visit even more! There is not one thing on this list that I am not yearning to do, with whale sharks topping the list!
I’m so glad we met up in Tulum!!! The cenote photos are gorgeous. I’m almost kinda sad we didn’t explore more of them while we were there, but maybe next time. Can’t wait to embark on another fun adventure with you! 😀
Riviera Maya has all the ingredients of a perfect vacation! I would love to swim with the sharks, I wanted to do it in the Philippines but couldn’t and I didn’t know you could do it in Isla Holbox. I would also love to take a dip in the cenotes, visit the Mayan Ruins in Tulum, eat delicious food in Yucatan and Scuba Dive in Cozumel! I can’t wait to plan a trip now.
Walking in a white beach while indulging yourself to its beauty sounds really nice and very inviting! Well so much to do in Riviera Maya, so much activities and foods to enjoy. I really love the photos, they are all perfectly captured.
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Such an informative article! We are planning a trip to Mexico later this year and will definitely refer to your post more than once!
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Always enjoyed reading things to do posts, thank you for sharing your list. Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman is absolutely gorgeous. Wonderful photos!
On my trip to Mexico Visit the spectacular Cenotes of the yucatan peninsula, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. In that place they serve some amazing regional foods. Dream beaches
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Love all these ideas! The Mayan Riviera is one of my favorite places, so close to the US and so much to see and do!