The Riviera Maya is famous for its beautiful beaches and natural landscapes, but this charming region is also known for the wealth of activities it offers. In this article you will find the 10 best Riviera Maya excursions along with some of the best things to do in Riviera Maya for your next vacation.
Explore the little-used paths through jungle walks, discover the sumptuousness of the colonial heritage or immerse yourself in the Mayan culture by visiting unparalleled archaeological sites.
The idyllic setting of the beaches, the observation of the fauna or the discovery of new and delicious cuisines rich in flavours and history, will make you fall in love with the Riviera Maya.
Whatever your desires: adventure, culture or relaxation, a trip to the Riviera Maya has everything to satisfy you for your next vacation to Mexico. Start packing now!
Things to do in Riviera Maya
1. Explore Ancient Mayan Ruins
Home to scores of ancient Mayan ruins and UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Riviera Maya is a destination divided among casual explorers and hardcore history buffs.
From tourist landmarks like Chichen Itza to the forest-bound ruins of Coba, each site features carefully preserved limestone pyramids and temple grounds.
From climbing the highest pyramid in the region in Coba to watching the serpent-shaped shadow slither down the steps of El Castillo in Chichen Itza, day tours are available to most archaeological sites.
Ancient cities like the ones in Tulum and Xel-Ha are in close vicinity to towns, beaches, and ecological parks, perfect for extended day trips.
Self-guided tours are also possible to more remote sites like Ek’ Balam and Muyil.
2. Dive into a Cenote
The Yucatan Peninsula is peppered with thousands of Cenotes. These natural subterranean cave systems are filled with crystal-clear pools, surrounded by stalactite ceilings draped with low-hanging tendrils.
Cenotes come in many types, and each location in the Yucatan is unique. Cenotes by Tulum like the Casa Cenote is above ground and resembles a lake, while Sac Actun and Dos Ojos are both underground cave systems teeming with marine wildlife, perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving.
The Gran Cenote is a combination of both, with a series of caves winding through a lush green jungle floor connected by wooden walkways.
Water activities like swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving are allowed at most cenotes. Kayaking and rafting are possible at open-type cenotes.
3. Visit Tulum
Step into the coastal town of Tulum, and you’ll immediately recognize its iconic limestone dotted beaches, crystalline waters, and timeless Mayan temples that are ubiquitous on the covers of travel brochures to the Riviera Maya.
As a popular stop for excursions across the coast of Quintana Roo, Tulum is only a stone’s throw away from major destinations like Sian Ka’an Biosphere, a handful of cavernous cenotes, and the Coba ruins.
Day trips in Tulum can range from wandering through its ancient walled city, seeing the pyramid El Castillo, or hopping into town to try out local-style ceviche at one of its many renowned oceanside restaurants.
Some find it hard to step away from the pearl-white sand and turquoise waters of its quiet beaches.
Tulum is also known for its thriving nightlife. From sipping cocktails at an open-air mezcal bar to knocking back a few mojitos at a whimsical watering hole, the town center is bubbling with a constant flow of the after-hours crowd.
4. Road Trip to Valladolid
Take a scenic drive to the historic city of Valladolid from Cancun or Chichen Itza, and see the rich colonial history of the Yucatan embodied in the baroque-style cathedral spires and pastel-color townhouses.
Rich with history, art, and Spanish colonial architecture, Valladolid is highly walkable and a joy to explore on foot.
Spend the day wandering through the cobbled city square and plazas, or visit the city’s many public and private museums.
Just outside the city, the X’kekén Cenote is a classic cave-style cenote with jagged and dramatic stalactite walls. It’s open to the public for swimming and diving in the shallow depth of its glowing pools.
5. Stay in Playa Del Carmen
From picking out the perfect spot to sunbathe on its pristine beaches to kite-surfing above its translucent waters, Playa Del Carmen has set itself apart as an upscale resort city and a burgeoning cosmopolitan destination in Quintana Roo.
Relax at one of the city’s many luxury spas, or walk down Fifth Avenue and hop from boutique shops to authentic Mexican restaurants.
Catch a traditional dance performance by its seaside park, Parque Fundadores, or play a round of golf at the emerald green fairways in Playacar.
Try changing gears, and skip out of town for an adventure at the nearby eco-archaeological parks like Xelha, Xcaret, and Xplor.
6. Ecotours in Xel Ha, Xcaret, Xplor, and Xenses Parks
Take one-part amusement park, two parts of Riviera Maya wilderness, tropical flora, and a dash of ancient Maya, and outcomes ecotourism parks like Xcaret, Xel Ha, Xenses, and Xplor.
Combining amusement park fun with outdoor educational adventures, these parks feature a host of action-packed activities from zip-lining in rainforests, rafting across the luminous waters of cenotes to trekking across Mayan ruins.
Live performances at the parks are fantastic spectacles to behold. Watch as Mayan warriors pit against each other in a high-stake ancient ballgame, or witness the ceremonial pole flyers carrying out their daring stunts from 30-meter height in the air.
Recharge and feel purify by the steams at a Temescal sweat lodge, before heading out again to conquer the great outdoors.
7. The Sian Ka’an Biosphere
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere covers more than 5,000 square-kilometers of untouched wilderness and indigenous faunas.
With more than 200 conservation projects on this swath of land, Sian Ka’an’s biodiverse environment is home to thousands of tropical wildlife species.
Part of the reserve is an unspoiled stretch of coral reef along the Caribbean coast and is open to snorkelers and scuba divers.
It’s also worth a day’s hike to check out the Muyil ruins at the northern edge of the biosphere and the nearby Laguna.
8. Explore Cozumel
A bustling port of call for gleaming cruise liners, Cozumel is a favourite stop for vacationers and those looking for longer excursions in its many natural parks.
Apart from the usual resort destination fanfare and beachside activities, Cozumel boasts many untouched natural habitats and thriving eco-parks.
From Patas & Alas Butterfly Sanctuary to Faro Colerain Ecological Reserve (Punta Sur Eco Beach Park), the island is home to biodiverse landscapes and endemic species.
Opportunities for outdoor adventures can be found along the coast of the island, ranging from the wetlands and mangroves near the lagoons to the north to the stunning El Mirador lookout point overlooking the radiant Caribbean Sea in the south.
9. Day Trips to Cancun, Isla Mujeres, and Isla Holbox
Just saying the names Cancun and Isla Mujeres evoke a sense of excitement. Reaching these vibrant vacation hotspots has never been easier while on excursions along the Riviera Mayan coast.
Whether you are day-tripping to Cancun’s energetic beaches or taking a ferry across for a longer stay at the more idyllic Isla Mujeres, these destinations are attractive detours to add to any excursion in the region.
For extended day trips, add Yum Balam Nature Reserve and Isla Holbox to the itinerary. Just north of Cancun, the Yulum Balam Nature Reserve encompasses a broad swath of protected wetlands, local wildlife, and the world’s largest concentration of whale sharks off-shore.
Isla Holbox can be reached by taking a short ferry ride from Yum Balam’s port town, Chiquila. Here, steps away from the whimsical street arts of its quiet Bohemian town are unbroken stretches of barefoot beaches brushing against crystal-clear waters.
If you were hoping to slow down and spend the day in a hammock, Isla Holbox is your beachside refuge. There are no resorts here, no blinding lights of nightclubs or the rumblings of city traffic.
There is just you, the sun-soaked powdery shoreline, and the vastness of the deep blue sea.
10. Snorkeling in Akumal
If you are passionate about coral reefs and underwater treasures, you cannot leave the Riviera Maya without snorkeling.
There are two possibilities to do this activity: directly from the beach or as part of a sea excursion. Among the best spots are El Cielo (Cozumel), Garrafon (Isla Mujeres) and Akumal.
You can also snorkel in a cenote or in a leisure park-like Xcaret or Xel-Ha. Five kilometers of tranquil beaches run along the sleepy shore of Akumal against the lulling tides of the Caribbean Sea, skiffs and catamarans parked motionlessly by the shoal as if glued to the water’s glassy surface.
The beach town of Akumal lives up to its Mayan name as the Land of Turtles. Here, sea turtles and marine wildlife thrive in its warm waters and untouched coral reefs. Swimming and snorkeling with sea turtles are popular activities by the shallow bay areas.
A little farther out, scuba diving allows a closer view of natural underwater marine life like dolphins, tropical fishes, and sharks.
Additional Riviera Maya Excursions you will definitely fall in love with
Kayaking in Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve
Kayaking or canoeing is a very common pastime in the Riviera. This activity allows you to explore extraordinary places while working your arms and abs.
Whether you practice it in Bacalar lagoon, in the sea near Cancun or in an underground river in Xcaret, you will discover crystal clear waters, mangroves, and captivating nature.
Ziplining in Riviera Maya
The Yucatan peninsula offers a large number of extreme sports, nothing like a little adrenaline to enhance your vacation.
If you are a great adventurer, you must absolutely practice one or more adventure sports during your visit to the Riviera.
Several theme parks offer ziplining, buggy or diving in the depths of the cenotes. Immerse yourself in the Mayan jungle with a mountain bike session or fly over the Caribbean Sea with a flyboard.
Visit a Archaeological site
The legacy of one of the greatest pre-Columbian civilizations, the Mayan civilization, stretches along the coast and the Yucatec hinterland. Its famous observatories, temples and enigmatic structures are silent witnesses of time and history.
The Mayans left ancestral cities such as Chichén Itzá, Tulum, Uxmal or Coba. These fascinating sites are among the most visited places in south-eastern Mexico, go for them.
Visit a Hacienda
The haciendas are sumptuous villas built in the middle of vast agricultural holdings. There was a time when these Yucatan constructions were the residence of the most powerful owners in the region.
Fortunately, today most of them have been transformed into hotels or restaurants open to the public. Visiting, for example, the haciendas Temozon, Xcanantun or Misné, will give you a glimpse of the way of life at the time of the henequen (fiber for making bags and ropes), better known under the name of green gold of Yucatan.
Yucatec gastronomy has its origins in the fusion of ancestral cuisine and Spanish ingredients. Dishes such as cochinitapibil, papadzules or panuchos are part of the gastronomic heritage left by the Mayans.
To taste the emblematic meals, you can book a gastronomic tour, go to a Fonda (small restaurants offering homemade food) or delight your taste buds with traditional culinary art thanks to a home stay meal.
Dive into a Cenote
Going through the Riviera Maya and not diving into its wildest and most exuberant side to find the perforated heart of the jungle would be an unforgivable mistake.
Visit the Dos Ojos, Ik Kil, Azul, and other cenotes. These imposing water reserves, contained in authentic limestone caves eroded by rain or underground currents, give us fascinating spaces for swimming and diving. This is one of my favorite Riviera Maya excursions.
Swim with Whale Sharks
The whale shark is undoubtedly a very fascinating marine animal, it is considered to be the largest fish currently living on the seabed.
It can reach up to 12 meters long and up to 20 tonnes in weight! Fortunately for snorkelers, it is not a carnivore.
The ideal time to swim with the whale shark is during the months of July and August and the best places to do so are Holbox and the north side of Isla Mujeres.
Observe Animals in their natural habitat
Mexico is one of the countries with the highest number of biodiversity in the world. The existing fauna in the Riviera Maya is very rich and varied.
Therefore, it is not surprising to find exotic animals wherever you go: iguanas, possums or even crocodiles. In Holbox or Sian Ka’an, book a boat trip to meet the endemic fauna of Quintana Roo: dolphins, turtles, rays, birds.
Live the experience of visiting a zoo or an aquarium in the cities of Cancun, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen or Akumal.
Explore a Theme Park in Riviera Maya
Visiting the theme parks of the Riviera Maya is one of the activities not to be missed during your visit. Among the most representative, we find Xcaret with its status as an eco-archaeological park where culture and nature meet, Xenses is a recreational park that puts your senses to the test.
Xplor provides a dose of adrenaline and diversion in the middle of the jungle. Rather a fan of nature? Xel-Ha keeps its promises of vegetation and crystal clear waters and Xenotes allows you to visit four cenotes of extraordinary beauty by kayaking or snorkeling.
Looking out to the horizon from the beaches of Riviera Maya, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the sky apart from the ocean.
There are few places in the world with coastal views as mesmerizing as this part of the Yucatan Peninsula. Even fewer where the waters are always calm and clear enough to see the coral reefs at the bottom year-round.
Here, the shores are immaculate and run along the craggy limestone cliffs like unfurled silk.
If you were hoping for spur-of-the-moment excursions between beach towns, seeking to dive into the last unexplored depth of an underground cenote or to rediscover ancient Maya, Riviera Maya is the place to explore the marvels of Mexico’s sparkling Caribbean coast.
How to stay safe in Riviera Maya
Check out my post on “Is Cancun Safe” to help you better understand Mexico safety warnings so you will know which areas to avoid in Mexico and which areas are the safest in Mexico specifically the Riviera Maya.
If you wish to explore other areas, it is best to learn about potential local risks. Certain areas are formally to be avoided:
• Tamaulipas State, and Guerrero State
• The south of the state of Michoacán (from the city of Uruapán and up to the coast)
• In the State of Veracruz, the city of Martinez de la Torre and its surroundings
• In the state of Baja California North, the city of Tijuana
Stay alert even in tourist areas, where petty crime is common. Keep your belongings with you, don’t expose your valuables and avoid being alone in places that are too isolated. Watch out for scams.
Generally, check everything you pay if in doubt. Do not be tempted by the overly enticing excursion offers.
There is a recommendation regarding the possession and consumption of narcotic drugs. Mexican legislation is very strict, regardless of the type of narcotics. Of course, also make sure to keep an eye on your luggage.
Some natural risks exist. If you travel during the rainy season, the coasts are regularly subjected to cyclones. Stay tuned to the media who will warn you in case of danger. The other major natural risk is linked to mosquitoes.
They are vectors of many diseases in Mexico (malaria, dengue, chikungunya, zika). Protect yourself from mosquitoes, and seek medical attention immediately if you feel unwell.
Small vigilance measures will allow you to have a good trip, without unpleasant surprises. Keep them in mind, but don’t obsess over them either.
Make a copy/photo of your passport and leave the original in your room with your bank cards. Do not take too much money with you and avoid valuables (jewellery, luxury accessories).
As in any city, take care of your personal belongings and avoid walking at night (after 10 p.m.) in deserted and dimly lit streets.
Corruption is a fact, do not give in (do not give money without having an official document explaining your offense). Also, check out my post is “Safest Cities in Mexico for Solo Female Travelers.”
Here is some useful information to prepare your paradise trip:
When and Where to go to Riviera Maya
Playa Del Carmen is the perfect vacation destination if you want to explore the Riviera Maya, the Yucatán region and Quintana Roo .
This small seaside resort is located between Cancún (65 km) and Tulum (60 km). Playa Del Carmen is the happy medium, not too big or too small. It has direct access to the sea without the need to stay in the hotel zone.
Weather in Riviera Maya
The climate in the Riviera Maya is tropical. Temperatures fluctuate between 20 and 35 degrees all year round. At night temperatures can drop to 15 degrees in winter.
Locals say there are 2 seasons: the hot season and the very hot season.
The hot “dry” season is from December to April.
The very hot “wet” season is from May to November, it is also called the “rainy and hurricane season”.
It is generally very beautiful all year round in the Riviera Maya. The days of rain per month are few and the climate changes very quickly in the Caribbean.
Valid Passport for Riviera Maya
On the plane, you will fill in the FMM (Forma Migratoria Múltiple) card which will be stamped upon your arrival on Mexican soil. This tourist visa gives you the right to move freely in Mexico for a maximum of 180 days.
Keep it very safe as you will need it to leave the country and risk a fine if you lose it.
If you are making a stopover in the USA, you will have to complete the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization ) online, maximum 72 hours before your departure ($ 14 USD – the validity of 2 years and/or expiration of the passport).
Travel Insurance for Riviera Maya
No specific vaccination to do before your departure to Mexico but make sure that all your basic vaccinations are up to date.
Check with Allianz Travel Insurance company to purchase your travel insurance because you should always have travel insurance no matter the destination.
In general, care is best in hospitals and private clinics. If necessary, take out more comprehensive travel insurance. Tap water is not potable in Mexico.
Watch out for Sunburn and Mosquitoes in Riviera Maya!
If you are staying in the center of Playa Del Carmen, we advise you to buy them at the Megastore, they are more economical. Lemongrass essential oil (among others) is also a good natural mosquito repellant.
Remember to put bikini (for sunburns) and tiger balm (for insect bites) in your suitcase. Some roads in the region are natural and can cause transportation sickness for those subject to them. Consider taking lozenges which will also be useful for seasickness.
How To Get To Riviera Maya
Cancún International Airport is located 16 km south of the city of Cancún and 50 km north of Playa Del Carmen.
To go to Playa Del Carmen: ADO bus from the airport to the terminal (5ta Avenida and Avenida Juárez).
Route: 1 hour. Cost: 218 $ MXN = 10 € approx.
To go to the center of Cancún : ADO bus from the airport. Cost: MXN $ 78 = approx € 3.50
Taxis and shuttles are also available from the airport to your hotel.
Public transportation in Playa Del Carmen
COLECTIVO (Calle 2 between Avenidas 15 and 25): minivans connecting the different cities to each other:
Playa Del Carmen – Tulum = MXN $ 45 or € 2.30 (stops served: Centro Maya, Puerta Aventuras, Cenote Cristalino, Cenote Eden, Cenote Azul, Akumal, Tulum Archaeological Zone, Tulum Centro).
Playa Del Carmen – Cancun = 40 $ MXN or 2 € (stop served: Puerto Morelos).
ADO BUS (Avenida Juárez and Quinta Avenida or Avenida 20 and Calle 12): ideal for longer journeys such as Bacalar, Chiquila, Valladolid, Mérida.
NOTE: Some of the prices fluctuate
Taxi’s in Playa Del Carmen
Take the “official” taxis (white car with turquoise writing). The prices are not displayed and vary according to the distance of your race (between $ 30 MXN and $ 60 MXN = good price for getting around Playa Del Carmen for example). Always ask for the price of the trip before getting into a taxi.
The drivers do not hesitate to give an expensive price to tourists! It is up to you to see if the proposed rate seems suitable for you.
Pesos vs. The U.S. Dollar
The country’s currency is the Mexican peso. Its acronym is $ MXN very similar to the US dollar ($ USD). Be careful not to confuse.
Do not change your pesos into dollars; you will lose at the exchange, the euro being stronger than the dollar. Do not worry about the maritime taxes for your excursions; they can all be paid in pesos.
Before your departure, we recommend that you change in your country to about 50 € / pers. in pesos for your first day and to come with your euros in cash in order to change them on the spot (check that your tickets are not damaged or torn).
The exchange rate is better on site (but not at the airport) and you will avoid bank commissions. In Playa Del Carmen, there are a lot of exchange offices (Casa de Cambio ) in the center on Avenida.
You can also change your money in banks by showing your passport. If you prefer, you can withdraw money from ATMs.
You will pay a commission depending on your bank and the Mexican bank. We advise you to make your withdrawals at CI Banco (Plaza Antigua or Avenue 10 and Calle 14 bis) because the Mexican bank commissions are lower.
Avoid withdrawing money from ATMs on the street as there is a risk of theft or copies of your card.
Must Know Spanish phrases
Spanish is the national language. Although the majority of Mexicans in the region speak English, we advise you to learn a few basics of Spanish, this will enchant the locals with your pretty little Frenchie accent.
Buenos días: hello (morning)
Buenas tardes: hello (afternoon)
Buenas noches: good evening / good night
Que tal? Cómo estás? : How are you?
(Muchas) gracias: thank you (very much)
From Nada: you’re welcome
Mucho Gusto: delighted
Perdón / Disculpa: excuse me
Lo Siento: sorry
Cuánto es? : How much does it cost?
Cuenta, por favor: the addition, please
Sí / No: yes / no
No entiendo: I don’t understand
Hablo francés: I speak French
No hablo español: I don’t speak Spanish
Learning the basics of this accent helps a lot in your trip.
Power Adapters in Mexico
The sockets are Type A and B as in the USA (127 V / 60 Hz). Consider taking a universal power adapter. You’ll also find them at the Mega and Walmart.
Cellphone Use in Mexico
The country code is +52. The area code for Playa Del Carmen is 984.
If you want to buy a Mexican SIM card, you will find it at the OXXO (chain of small stores which can be found almost on every corner). We suggest you take a TELCEL Amigo card.
You can top up between MXN $ 20 and $ 500 (approx. € 1 and € 25) for a period of 1 to 45 days.
Gratuities in Mexico
Like the USA, Mexico is a country of propane (tip). Some workers live on tips or rely on tips to supplement their extremely low wages.
In cafes and restaurants, we advise you to leave between 10% and 15% of the bill (if the service is not included). During your excursions, your guide and your driver will greatly appreciate propane if you have been satisfied with the service provided.
Conculsion of Things to do in Riviera Maya and Riviera Maya Excursions
Finally, enjoy your vacation in Riviera. The food is delicious. Test new flavors! Don’t worry (except for the extremely hot green sauce, which should not be confused with guacamole).
Riviera Maya is a peaceful and stress-free region where life is good. Mexicans are very welcoming, festive and warm. There are a lot of activities to do in this part of Mexico.
Don’t forget to pack these items:
• Hat and sunglasses
• Biodegradable sunscreen
• Swimsuit and beach towel
The best part of any vacation is the mystery and the discovery, so start planning today and BOOK YOUR RESERVATION NOW to the Riviera Maya today!
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