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Riviera Maya Travel Guide – Plan your vacation in Riviera Maya

Leisure and Culture

  • What are the Best Beaches in Riviera Maya?
    The beaches in Riviera Maya offer an unforgettable Caribbean experience filled with warm, azure water, white sand, idyllic palm trees, exquisite cenotes, and chance to explore the Great Mayan Reef. At the heart of Riviera Maya is Akumal Bay, a seaside town and tropical paradise. To the south, within walking distance, is Jade Bay and little further up north, you’ll find spectacular Half Moon Bay, Paraiso Beach, Puerto Aventuras and Playa del Carmen.
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      Akumal Bay

      Named “Land of the Turtles” in Mayan, this popular, beautiful bay boasts a rich marine life and is a sea turtle viewing hotspot. Its immaculate beach is lined with natural palm tree shade, while its shallow, crystalline waters are ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving.

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      Half Moon Bay

      Located one kilometer north of Akumal Bay, this inlet’s secluded, crescent-shaped beach is well-suited to languid walks and restful days basking in the sun. It's pleasant waters and tranquil atmosphere provides a peaceful respite from busier Riviera Maya beaches.

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      Jade Bay

      Jade Bay is one of Riviera Maya’s best beaches. Its pristine shoreline with its nearby coral reef provides snorkeling access right off the beach, and the opportunity to see Riviera Maya’s diverse marine life such as lavender sea fans, moray eels, and zebrafish.

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      Playa del Carmen

      Renowned for its thrilling nightlife, the cosmopolitan town, Playa del Carmen has many picture-perfect Riviera Maya beaches fringed by Mango forests and aquamarine waters. Its trendy beach clubs, dotted along open stretches of fine sand, transform the seaside from a sunny playground during the day to one the top party destinations in Riviera Maya at night.

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      Puerto Aventuras

      Puerto Aventuras is a scenic residential town with a picturesque marina. All three of its bays -Fatima Bay, Chan Yu Yum and Chac Hal Al- have shallow waters with gentle surf making it a sought-after family-friendly destination at Riviera Maya. The main beach is 15 miles long and situated on Fatima Bay, while the remaining two are equally exquisite and seldom crowded.

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      Paraiso Beach

      Considered one of the best beaches in Mexico, Paraiso is the definition of tropical beachside bliss. Its glistening shore, tall coconut trees, and sparkling waters offers a dreamy Caribbean coastal experience. It’s one of Tulum’s most attractive beaches, and while busy, is still large enough for you to find a private spot under the warm sun.

    • Never stand on or touch coral when snorkeling or diving. Oils from your skin can kill the living polyps that help build the Great Maya Reef.
    • When it comes to water safety, rather buy bottled water than drink from the taps. Mexican water has unfamiliar bacteria that can cause diarrhea.
    • Be prepared to haggle, almost all products sold in a store or at flea markets are open to price negotiation - of course, always double-check with the store owner or manager.
    • Pay attention to the beach flag colors to ensure your safety. In Riviera Maya, green is safe, yellow means caution, red signals danger, and black prohibits swimming.
    • Don’t eat raw or undercooked food for the same reason as above
    • Before buying anything, shop around to determine the average price of goods to negotiate a fair price that’s not ripping you off or exploiting the artisan.
    • Akumal’s beaches are home to endangered sea turtles. Visitors are prohibited from feeding or touching the turtles, both in and out of the water.
    • Wash your hands before eating or use waterless hand sanitizer to get rid of harmful germs.
    • Some vendors only accept cash, so it’s a good idea to withdraw money from an ATM before shopping in Riviera Maya.
    • Always respect conservation efforts. Only snorkel with sea turtles in designated areas.
    • Always inspect street food hygiene conditions before eating.
    • When buying jewelry, inspect the stones and metals to ensure they’re not cheap replicas.
    • Don’t disturb sand mounds on the beach
    • Stay away from large buffets, they’re prone to bacteria and you don't how long the food has been standing out in the open for.
    • Some sun lotions contain chemicals that are harmful to reefs. Wear biodegradable sunscreens and bronzers to help preserve Riviera Maya’s unique marine life.
    • Don’t eat or drink unpasteurized dairy products, including cheese and yogurt.
  • What are the Best Excursions in Riviera Maya?
    Riviera Maya was once a significant religious and economic hub for the ancient Maya, the Mesoamerican civilization native to the pre-Columbian Americas, whose legacy of breathtaking architecture and symbolic artwork can still be seen along the Yucatan Peninsula. Unrivalled 1-day excursions in Riviera Maya include awe-inspiring archaeological sites such as Chichen Itza, Ek Balan, Cobá and the ruins of Tulum, while the island of Cozumel and Yucatán’s third largest city, Valladolid, present cultural experiences combining Maya heritage with the history of Spanish settlement.
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      Tulum

      Just half an hour drive south from Akumal, perched atop a towering 12-meter cliff face overlooking the Caribbean sea, are the impressive ruins of Tulum. Originally named Zama, meaning city of dawn, it was one of the few Maya settlements built with a wall to protect villagers against enemies. It's impressive Castillo, dating back to the 13th-century, once served as a watchtower and lighthouse for this strategic seaside port.

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      Chichén Itzá

      Of all the possible excursions from Akumal, the great Chichen Itza, situated in the dense Yucatán Jungle near the village of Pisté, is not to be missed. It's one of the mythical Seven Wonders of the Modern World, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most visited of all Mexico’s archeological treasures. Chichen Itza’s iconic step Pyramid of Kukulcan is a physical representation of the Maya calendar and proof the civilization’s mathematical brilliance, while the surrounding stone structures such as The Great Ball Court and Temple of the Jaguars is testament to their astonishing architectural prowess.

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      Ek Balam Mayan Ruins and Mayan Cenote

      Past the town Valladolid and two hours away from Akumal is the lesser-visited but equally beautiful Ek Balam Mayan ruins. Most striking are the village’s well-maintained Acropolis with detailed carvings and rare stucco sculptures preserved by the temple’s thatch roofs. Just 1.5 kilometers away from the ruins is the exquisite X’Canche cenote, once considered a sacred space to the Mayans. This freshwater, aquamarine sinkhole is perfect for cooling off from the sun’s hot rays after exploring the Ek Balam ruins.

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      Valladolid      

      Nicknamed Magic Town and full of historical charm, the quaint town Valladolid offers visitors a glimpse of provincial Mexican life. It’s brightly-colored colonial buildings lining cobbled-stone streets and evening music performances at its main square, Plaza Principal, showcases the vibrancy of modern-day Mexico. Also worthwhile is a visit to La Casa de Los Venados, a private home housing a collection of over 3000 pieces of original Mexican folk art.

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      Cozumel

      Travelling to Cozumel makes for one of the most enjoyable ferry excursions in Riviera Maya. It’s believed that every year, pre-Columbian Maya women would come from all over the Yucatán Peninsula to the island’s San Geraviso shrine to pay tribute to Ixchel, the goddess of fertility and love. Besides its glorious beaches, Cozumel is dotted with Mayan ruins and captivating scenery navigable by a rented convertible bug or scooter.

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      Cobá

      The Cobá Archaeological Park is an age-old Maya site where the majority of ruins remain unexcavated. Eager adventure-goers can ascend the 137 foot tall Nohoch Pyramid, the highest in the area, accessing a panoramic view of the lush Yucatán jungle, as well as the seldom-seen Macanxoc and Cobá Lagoons.

    • Never stand on or touch coral when snorkeling or diving. Oils from your skin can kill the living polyps that help build the Great Maya Reef.
    • When it comes to water safety, rather buy bottled water than drink from the taps. Mexican water has unfamiliar bacteria that can cause diarrhea.
    • Be prepared to haggle, almost all products sold in a store or at flea markets are open to price negotiation - of course, always double-check with the store owner or manager.
    • Pay attention to the beach flag colors to ensure your safety. In Riviera Maya, green is safe, yellow means caution, red signals danger, and black prohibits swimming.
    • Don’t eat raw or undercooked food for the same reason as above
    • Before buying anything, shop around to determine the average price of goods to negotiate a fair price that’s not ripping you off or exploiting the artisan.
    • Akumal’s beaches are home to endangered sea turtles. Visitors are prohibited from feeding or touching the turtles, both in and out of the water.
    • Wash your hands before eating or use waterless hand sanitizer to get rid of harmful germs.
    • Some vendors only accept cash, so it’s a good idea to withdraw money from an ATM before shopping in Riviera Maya.
    • Always respect conservation efforts. Only snorkel with sea turtles in designated areas.
    • Always inspect street food hygiene conditions before eating.
    • When buying jewelry, inspect the stones and metals to ensure they’re not cheap replicas.
    • Don’t disturb sand mounds on the beach
    • Stay away from large buffets, they’re prone to bacteria and you don't how long the food has been standing out in the open for.
    • Some sun lotions contain chemicals that are harmful to reefs. Wear biodegradable sunscreens and bronzers to help preserve Riviera Maya’s unique marine life.
    • Don’t eat or drink unpasteurized dairy products, including cheese and yogurt.
  • What to Eat in Riviera Maya
    Traditional Mexican cuisine consists of rich and diverse dishes embodying a wealth of culinary knowledge gathered from different cultures and passed down generations. Regional Yucatán gastronomy is a delicious combination of European, Caribbean and Middle Eastern flavours, leaving visitors with a long list of scrumptious food to choose from when deciding what to eat in Riviera Maya. Traces of the four defining flavors (annatto, a red spice and food colorant, citrus, smoke and habanero chilies) are found in specialty Yucatan dishes such as Pibil and Sopa de Lima. These meals are still enjoyed today along with a Xtabentun, the legendary Maya liqueur made from aniseed and fermented honey. Here’s a brief guide to Yucatan’s traditional food, as well as some eating dos and don'ts in Riviera Maya.
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      The Best Traditional Food From Riviera Maya

      Riviera Maya’s trademark dishes are Poc Chuc, slices of pork marinated in orange and garnished with pickled onion, and Pibil, barbecued chicken or pork marinated in mix of bitter orange, spices, and annatto and wrapped in banana leaves. For something lighter on the stomach, there’s refreshing Sopa de Lima, a lime-flavored turkey or chicken soup topped with tortilla strips. Delectable desserts include a candied papaya dish named Dulce de Papaya and Caballeros Pobres, meaning poor Cowboys, which is a kind of bread pudding with raisins. Lastly, we’d recommend trying Marquesitas, a crispy crepe with savory cheese and sweet filling such as melted chocolate or syrup.

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      How to Make Dulce de Papaya

      Cut one Papaya in half, lengthwise, and remove the seeds inside. Next, cut the halves into thin slices or cubes and place them in a pot with lots of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook for half an hour stirring intermittently to prevent the fruit from sticking together.Remove the lid and add two dried cloves, two cinnamon sticks and three cups of sugar. Continue to cook uncovered until the liquid turns to syrup. Remove from the heat and let cool before transferring it to a jar or suitable container. Chill in the refrigerator and serve with blocks of white cheese.

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      Liquors and Drinks You Must Taste in Riviera Maya

      The two of the best liquors in Riviera Maya are Tequila and Mezcal. These distilled spirits native to Yucatán are often incorrectly assumed to be the same thing. Both are made from the agave plant, but Tequila is only made from blue agave, which is only found in the state of Jalisco, whereas Mezcal is created with up to 30 agave varieties. For those with a sweet-tooth, there’s Horchata, nicknamed “drink of kings”. It's a creamy, pleasant drink made with water, cinnamon, milk, and sugar. You can buy it off the supermarket shelves, but it's best had at a cafe or restaurant. For curious foodie types, there's Saka, a scared corn drink boiled in lime water until the grains are semi-cooked or Balche, a fermented nectar made from the roots and bark of the Balche tree, which in ancient times was believed to give the drinker secret powers.

    • Never stand on or touch coral when snorkeling or diving. Oils from your skin can kill the living polyps that help build the Great Maya Reef.
    • When it comes to water safety, rather buy bottled water than drink from the taps. Mexican water has unfamiliar bacteria that can cause diarrhea.
    • Be prepared to haggle, almost all products sold in a store or at flea markets are open to price negotiation - of course, always double-check with the store owner or manager.
    • Pay attention to the beach flag colors to ensure your safety. In Riviera Maya, green is safe, yellow means caution, red signals danger, and black prohibits swimming.
    • Don’t eat raw or undercooked food for the same reason as above
    • Before buying anything, shop around to determine the average price of goods to negotiate a fair price that’s not ripping you off or exploiting the artisan.
    • Akumal’s beaches are home to endangered sea turtles. Visitors are prohibited from feeding or touching the turtles, both in and out of the water.
    • Wash your hands before eating or use waterless hand sanitizer to get rid of harmful germs.
    • Some vendors only accept cash, so it’s a good idea to withdraw money from an ATM before shopping in Riviera Maya.
    • Always respect conservation efforts. Only snorkel with sea turtles in designated areas.
    • Always inspect street food hygiene conditions before eating.
    • When buying jewelry, inspect the stones and metals to ensure they’re not cheap replicas.
    • Don’t disturb sand mounds on the beach
    • Stay away from large buffets, they’re prone to bacteria and you don't how long the food has been standing out in the open for.
    • Some sun lotions contain chemicals that are harmful to reefs. Wear biodegradable sunscreens and bronzers to help preserve Riviera Maya’s unique marine life.
    • Don’t eat or drink unpasteurized dairy products, including cheese and yogurt.
  • What are the Best Things to do in Riviera Maya?
    The Riviera Maya is a world-class tourist destination for families, adrenaline seekers, outdoor enthusiasts and seaside lovers. From the dense Yucatán jungle to balmy beaches with aquamarine waters, it offers holidaymakers a memorable outdoor Caribbean adventure. Wondering what to do in Riviera Maya? Some of the best activities include; snorkeling in emerald-colored cenotes, participating in ecological tourism at Punta Allen, observing the tropical wildlife at the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, exploring the Xel-Há and Xcaret ecological parks, going on horse-riding expeditions and trying whale shark diving.
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      Santa Cruz and Aktun Chen: Swimming and Snorkeling in a Cenote

      Dive into crystal clear waters at the Aktun Chen cave or Cenote Santa Cruz and experience over 50 million years of the earth’s history. These natural sinkholes and underground limestone chambers, filled with magical rock formations, provide refreshing underwater swimming experiences and are among the some of best things to do in Riviera Maya.

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      Ecological Tourism at Punta Allen

      Visiting the ecological fishing village Punta Allen, which gets its electricity from a single generator, is one of the best activities in Riviera Maya  and suitable for all vacation-goers. It’s a bird-watching paradise, perfect for observing Pelicans, Pink Spoonbills, White Ibises and Toucans, while still providing the scenic splendor of relaxing beneath palapas or investigating Yucatán’s luminescent coral reef.

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      Discover the Natural Beauty of Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

      Covering 1.3 million acres of untouched land is the UNESCO World Heritage site known as the sublime Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Consisting of mangroves, jungle flora, coastal and inland lagoons, this immense area offers vacationers the chance to see rare mammals like Spider Monkeys, Pumas, Jaguars, and the wild Ocelot cats.

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      Xel-Há and Xcaret parks  

      These fun water parks provide entertainment for the whole family. Xel-Há Park in Quintana Roo is a natural aquarium where holidaymakers can snorkel, swim with dolphins and experience the thrill of aquatic zip-lining. Xcaret in Cancun is an eco-archaeological park with over 50 exciting attractions that combine the splendor of the Mexican outdoors with the beauty of Maya culture. Hike up jungle trails, search mysterious caves and Maya ruins, visit the Mexican Folk Art Museum or be entertained by pre-Hispanic dances and vivid equestrian shows.

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      Whale Shark Diving

      Experience sensational active tourism in Riviera Maya by heading to the warm waters north of Cancun to swim with majestic whale sharks. There’s plenty of reputable adventure tour companies, with knowledgeable guides to choose from, that regularly take holidaymakers out to sea to meet these gentle giants.

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      Horseback Riding

      The Riviera Maya has enthralling horseback tours for equestrian enthusiasts of all levels. Riders can visit unspoiled cenotes and explore sapote orchards, whose trees contain chichle used as chewing gum by the Maya or head South of Cancun to charter through jungle terrain and along Maroma Beach. For the daring, there are exciting full night tours guided by moonlight and the sound of waves.  

    • Never stand on or touch coral when snorkeling or diving. Oils from your skin can kill the living polyps that help build the Great Maya Reef.
    • When it comes to water safety, rather buy bottled water than drink from the taps. Mexican water has unfamiliar bacteria that can cause diarrhea.
    • Be prepared to haggle, almost all products sold in a store or at flea markets are open to price negotiation - of course, always double-check with the store owner or manager.
    • Pay attention to the beach flag colors to ensure your safety. In Riviera Maya, green is safe, yellow means caution, red signals danger, and black prohibits swimming.
    • Don’t eat raw or undercooked food for the same reason as above
    • Before buying anything, shop around to determine the average price of goods to negotiate a fair price that’s not ripping you off or exploiting the artisan.
    • Akumal’s beaches are home to endangered sea turtles. Visitors are prohibited from feeding or touching the turtles, both in and out of the water.
    • Wash your hands before eating or use waterless hand sanitizer to get rid of harmful germs.
    • Some vendors only accept cash, so it’s a good idea to withdraw money from an ATM before shopping in Riviera Maya.
    • Always respect conservation efforts. Only snorkel with sea turtles in designated areas.
    • Always inspect street food hygiene conditions before eating.
    • When buying jewelry, inspect the stones and metals to ensure they’re not cheap replicas.
    • Don’t disturb sand mounds on the beach
    • Stay away from large buffets, they’re prone to bacteria and you don't how long the food has been standing out in the open for.
    • Some sun lotions contain chemicals that are harmful to reefs. Wear biodegradable sunscreens and bronzers to help preserve Riviera Maya’s unique marine life.
    • Don’t eat or drink unpasteurized dairy products, including cheese and yogurt.
  • What to Buy in Riviera Maya
    When shopping in Riviera Maya, you’re likely to return home with beautiful souvenirs such as intricately-crafted trinkets, semi-precious stones, local paintings, brightly colored cloth and other unique treasures. Riviera Maya is dotted with prized local markets where haggling is expected, and tourist bargains can be made.
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      Where to Shop in Riviera Maya

      The flea markets and stores in Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Puerto Aventuras, Akumal, Cozumel and Puerto Morelos sell local products of the highest quality in the Yucatán Peninsula making them top shopping destinations for holidaymakers.

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      Playa Del Carmen

      5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen, the main pedestrian street running parallel to the beach, is famous for its high-end brands and local products. Stretching over 22 blocks and branching off the main avenue is an abundance of souvenir shops where you can buy original Mexican-blown glassware, detailed tapestries, tasty local chocolate, coffee and the rare Mayan liqueur Xtabentun.

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      Cozumel

      Plaza Confetti, the traditional Mexican market in Cozumel, painted in bright yellows, oranges, and pinks, is a good place to pick up Riviera Maya souvenirs if you’re planning a day trip to the island. Vendors sell finely-made leather goods, traditional Maya garments, Panama hats, decent Tequila and Talavera pottery. The island is also world-famous for its Yucatecan filigree, attracting jewelry buyers from across the globe.

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      Tulum

      Tulum’s main beach road is lined with crisp boutique gift shops where you can purchase embroidered textiles and ponchos, beach accessories, macramé sandals, aromatic fragrances, woven baskets and hand-painted bowls.

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      Puerto Morelos

      Between Cancun and Playa del Carmen is Puerto Morelos where a low-key artisan market resides. While deciding which striking Mexican folk art sculptures, handbags and expressive masks you want to take home, you’ll also witness the artisans at work as they go about creating beautiful Riviera Maya souvenirs.

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      Akumal

      Shopping in Akumal for classic Mexican gifts is about quality over quantity. Here, you’ll find festive animal figurines painted by the Huichol Indians, loomed floor rugs and one-of-a-kind silver jewelry with semi-precious stones.

    • Never stand on or touch coral when snorkeling or diving. Oils from your skin can kill the living polyps that help build the Great Maya Reef.
    • When it comes to water safety, rather buy bottled water than drink from the taps. Mexican water has unfamiliar bacteria that can cause diarrhea.
    • Be prepared to haggle, almost all products sold in a store or at flea markets are open to price negotiation - of course, always double-check with the store owner or manager.
    • Pay attention to the beach flag colors to ensure your safety. In Riviera Maya, green is safe, yellow means caution, red signals danger, and black prohibits swimming.
    • Don’t eat raw or undercooked food for the same reason as above
    • Before buying anything, shop around to determine the average price of goods to negotiate a fair price that’s not ripping you off or exploiting the artisan.
    • Akumal’s beaches are home to endangered sea turtles. Visitors are prohibited from feeding or touching the turtles, both in and out of the water.
    • Wash your hands before eating or use waterless hand sanitizer to get rid of harmful germs.
    • Some vendors only accept cash, so it’s a good idea to withdraw money from an ATM before shopping in Riviera Maya.
    • Always respect conservation efforts. Only snorkel with sea turtles in designated areas.
    • Always inspect street food hygiene conditions before eating.
    • When buying jewelry, inspect the stones and metals to ensure they’re not cheap replicas.
    • Don’t disturb sand mounds on the beach
    • Stay away from large buffets, they’re prone to bacteria and you don't how long the food has been standing out in the open for.
    • Some sun lotions contain chemicals that are harmful to reefs. Wear biodegradable sunscreens and bronzers to help preserve Riviera Maya’s unique marine life.
    • Don’t eat or drink unpasteurized dairy products, including cheese and yogurt.