Alyssa has been writing about exciting travel topics for Trips to Discover since 2013. After living the big city life in Chicago, Washington, DC, and Atlanta, Alyssa sold the bulk of her possessions and became a digital nomad, living full-time in her camper and working from wherever she could find an outlet and an internet connection for her laptop.
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The Riviera Maya is one of those great vacation destinations that offers nearly equal amounts of adventure and relaxation at the same time. This is a region of coastline on the northeastern part of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that’s famous for natural wonders, all-inclusive resorts, yoga retreats, and ancient ruins. This means that you are an outdoor explorer one day, a luxury traveler, the next, and a beach bum the day after that! Here are our favorite things to do in the Riviera Maya.
Xcaret Eco Theme Park
This is an eco-archaeological park that allows you to learn about nature and Mexican history in one fun place. Guests come here to walk the forest trails, float down underground rivers, go rafting, and learning about birds, plants, and fish at the aviary, greenhouse, and aquarium. This is also a place to check out cultural performances, such as a Mayan Ball Game or the Papantla Flyers, that highlight the uniqueness of Mexican culture. There are over 40 activities and attractions to check out here, which are open 365 days a year. The general admission price online is $89.10, and you can add a lunch buffet and round-trip transportation onto that. Depending on when you visit, you may also be able to join the annual Day of the Dead festival.
Swim in a Cenote
Natural sinkholes are known as cenotes, and there are lots of them that you can explore in the Riviera Maya. In fact, there are around 7,000 cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula, and each one has its own unique features. Since the water in these sinkholes has been filtered through the ground, most of them are surprisingly clean and perfect for taking a dip. Just be aware that some of them are very deep, so you should be confident about your swimming and floating abilities. There are also local guide companies that you can hire to take you to the very best cenotes and equip you with personal flotation devices and some snorkeling equipment. Snorkeling, as well as scuba diving, are very popular activities in the Riviera Maya, thanks to the Great Maya Reef, the warm ocean waters, and the many colorful sea creatures that call the region home.
Rio Secreto, Playa del Carmen
One of the best cenotes to visit is called Rio Secreto, which is an accessible sinkhole that you don’t have to climb down ropes to get to. This underground river is dramatic and impressive with stalactites and stalagmites, and a recommended cenote if you only have time to visit one swimming hole. Rio Secreto is just a few miles from Playa del Carmen and is accessible by guided tour. Water shoes and wetsuits are provided by guide companies, and adventurous kids can join the tours too.
Ruins of Tulum
The city of Tulum is definitely a highlight of any trip to the Riviera Maya, thanks to its laid-back coastal town vibe, excellent beaches, and fascinating ruins. The ancient structures here are surprisingly well-preserved and date back to around 1200 A.D. To avoid the heat and crowds, plan your trip to the ruins early in the morning. One highlight is Castillo, which is a frequently photographed and impressive structure near a limestone cliff.
Croco Cun Zoo, Puerto Morelos
The Croco Cun Zoo got its start as a crocodile farm but is now a conservation zoo with many different types of animals. This attraction is located near Puerto Morelos, a peaceful Riviera Maya village that makes a nice home base if you’re looking for an alternative to the big all-inclusive resorts. When you arrive, you can take a 60-75-minute guided tour and get to touch and hold many of the local animals. Croco Cun Zoo is open from 9am to 5pm every day, and the general admission fee is $32 for adults and $22 for children between six and 12 years old. This is also a gift shop, cafeteria, snacks, picnic area, and children’s playground onsite.
Another iconic historical site worth visiting in the Riviera Maya is Chichen Itza, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the New World and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the largest archaeological city from the pre-Columbian Maya civilization and a popular tourism destination. You’ll find this site between Merida and Valladolid, making it perfect for a day trip from Playa del Carmen. You can join a guided bus tour or rent a car to check out the site at your own pace and schedule. Just be mindful that this site is almost always crowded with tourists, and the area is almost hot and sunny, so you’ll need to prepare for that. If you’re coming from Cancun, which is over 100 miles away, you may want to stay overnight in this area to check out other things nearby.
Quinta Avenida, Playa del Carmen
Travelers who love to shop for gifts and treasures when they visit new places will also enjoy spending a few days in the Riviera Maya. One of the best places to get your retail therapy fix is Quainta Avenida, or 5th Avenue, in Playa del Carmen. Here you’ll find local markets and unique shops where traditional arts and crafts are sold along cobblestone streets. Even if you’re not looking to spend a lot of money, Quinta Avenida is still a great place for people-watching and watching some live entertainment.
The word “Akumal” means the place of the turtles, and there many of them here that live here – some that are giants about 500 pounds in size! This is why Akumal is a popular snorkeling destination, but there are lots of other colorful fish to see the waters as well. Akumal is about 60 miles south of Cancun and a fun beach town to see between Tulum and Playa del Carmen. Beaches you can spend time at here are the popular Central Akumal beach, the North Akumal Beach near Yal-ku Lagoon, and the more residential Jade Bay and South Akumal beaches. Situated along a protected bay and nearby reef, this is one of the most peaceful places in the region to soak up some sun.