A Quick Guide to Riviera Maya, Mexico

By: Flashpacking Duo
NEST Tulum is a Boutique Hotel with gorgeous beach front views, hammocks, palms trees and coast, beach bed huts and sun beds in Tulum, Riviera Maya, Mexico. Getty Images / Linka A Odom

Located on Mexico’s northeastern Yucatán Peninsula Caribbean coastline, Riviera Maya is a top ecotourism destination.

Stretching from the picturesque fishing village Puerto Morelos in the North to the biosphere reserve of Sian Ka’an in the South, Riviera Maya is an area of natural beauty where you can still find traditional Mayan villages and impressive archaeological sites, including the majestical Mayan archaeological site at Tulum.

There are plenty of things to do in Riviera Maya. With its impressive fine white sandy beaches and delightfully warm sea, what is there not to like?! A short distance offshore resides the world’s second-largest coral reef, Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. It stretches from Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula all the way to Belize, an impressive 965 km. With over 500 species of marine life including the elusive whale shark, these crystal clear waters are a scuba diver’s paradise.


Getting Around

In our opinion, the cheapest and most rewarding way to get around Riviera Maya is by catching the Colectivo. The Colectivo is a minivan that runs up and down highway 307 between Cancun and Tulum, transporting tourists and locals to their desired location. The Colectivo is mainly used by locals, so by catching one of these minivans means you can get to interact with the locals getting tips on the best places to visit what isn’t in the guidebook, which we think is more rewarding than being sat on a coach full of tourists, and what’s best is that it only costs around 35 pesos for the trip between each destination.

Another option is to catch a taxi, they are literally everywhere, even in the most far-flung place you can guarantee a taxi is nearby. Just make sure you barter because as with most places they always start with a high price, and if you’re not happy with the price just walk away and another one will be soon along.

The main airport in and out of the Riviera Maya is Cancun international airport, it is located around 50km from Playa del Carmen and 110km from Tulum. The most economic option to get from the airport to your destination is the ADO bus. Buses run every hour through the duration of the day.


Accommodation in the Riviera Maya

The Riviera Maya is home to luxury all-inclusive hotels, some of the resorts found along the coast are some of the best in the world and it’s definitely worth splashing the cash to treat yourself, you won’t regret it. We recommend the Royal suites at the Hotel Grand Palladium resort, where we stayed for two weeks and didn’t have one bad thing to say about the place.

If you’re on a budget don’t be put off visiting, there are plenty of budget accommodations up and down the coast ranging from Tribu Hostel on Isla Holbox to the Chill Inn hostel in Tulum and plenty of other places in between, especially in Playa del Carmen.


Where to eat & drink

The whole Riviera Maya region is a hot spot for the latest food trends and new cuisine. None more so than Playa del Carmen, the city has its own distinct style and flavor with a whole host of restaurants, cafes, and street food. A restaurant that you must try is La Cueva del Chango, a unique restaurant/bar in a natural setting serving a great range of fresh Mexican food.

Playa del Carmen is also the hot spot for nightlife with a large selection of bars and clubs dotted throughout the city, the most popular is coco bongos, a club comes, cabaret comes, circus, it’s a must if you’re looking for a fun night out.

Further down the coast in Akumal and Tulum you will experience more traditional dining restaurants serving some great Mexican food. So can also discover some amazing street food in both of these places, keep an eye out for the fish tacos stall in Akumal, some of the best we’ve tasted!


Things to do in Riviera Maya…


Ancient Ruins

Mayan ruins are a must-see when visiting Mexico, and luckily for you, Riviera Maya has a gem in the picturesque archaeological site of Tulum. Perched on top of the cliff overlooking the stunning beach and turquoise waters, Tulum was an ancient Mayan fortress built in the late thirteenth century. For the best experience of viewing the ruins stay overnight and head out early before the buses and hordes of tourists arrive, also it’s never fun walking around in the baking midday sun. That’s when it’s time to hit the stunning beach and go for a swim in the warm Caribbean waters. For a more comprehensive guide to Tulum check out this great post from Tour de Lust – Ultimate Travel Guide to Tulum Mexico.


Swimming with Turtles

No matter where you are in the world, everyone wants that up close and personal experience with these beautiful creatures, located in Akumal, Riviera Maya it is a turtle paradise. With an abundance of seagrass all along the Riviera coastline, this fishing bay is rich in sea life, from Sting Ray, Squid to the elusive Green and Loggerhead turtles.

Don’t be fooled by the tour touts along the beach, all you need is your snorkel and mask, which you can hire from one of the diving shops situated on the bay costing around 20 pesos including a locker. Grab your gear and head into the water and you will soon find yourself face to face with these captivating creatures and what a precious moment to be swimming in their native habitat, a part of Mexico you will not forget.


Eco Parks

It is not often we jump on the bandwagon and head to the typical tourist trap, but after hearing about all the things on offer at Xel-Ha we had to see for ourselves. From the minute we stepped foot into this natural wonder we were not disappointed. Starting the day by going on a bike ride through the winding woods (walking was optional) up towards the beginning of the lagoon, you were then able to get your snorkel and mask at the ready for what will be an epic day. You will swim your way down towards the opening while glimpsing some of the most colorful fish along the way, diving spots, zip lines, and rope swings just to name a few of the activities to do along the lagoon if you want a rest bite from snorkeling.

You will come out at the opening of the lagoon where here you will see barracuda, Sting Ray, Black Grouper, Red Snapper and lots more. With over 30 cameras (including underwater) available all around the park to take snaps of your day without worrying about taking a camera (but beware you will have to pay a small fortune for a USB stick with all the snaps of your day around $70 USD), You will also have an opportunity to swim with Dolphins, Manatees and a Stingray experience (again for a small fortune) but again with all the other marine life around you, why pay to help harbor these beautiful creatures? worth a visit with lots more than what we have listed on the offer.

So there you have it, our quick guide for things to do in Riviera Maya. Whether it’s exploring ancient ruins, scuba diving on the world’s second-largest reef or just relaxing on the pristine beaches sipping a cocktail there is something for everyone in this amazing part of Mexico.