A tropical haven where emerald waters and white sand beaches await: Our Riviera Maya travel guide

Published

15 April, 2022

Edited

12 August, 2022

Nestled upon the Yucatán Peninsula's Caribbean Coast, Riviera Maya is an 80-mile long slice of tropical paradise, just waiting to be discovered. Dive deep into the emerald waters of hidden cenotes, wander barefoot along the silken shores and visit the captivating Mayan ruins - whatever your tastes, this region offers an abundance of beautiful experiences.

Sporting a balmy, Caribbean clime, the region offers soaring temperatures and plenty of sunshine year-round. The best time to visit is from December to March, as this is the period with the lowest rainfall and the most settled weather. However, even during the rainy season, there’ll generally be heavy showers that clear away quickly, meaning you’ll still be able to enjoy a holiday here during the summer months too.

Things to do in Riviera Maya

Discover the island’s coastal delights

Home to the Mesoamerican Reef, the Riviera Maya coastline offers you the chance to reel in the catch of a lifetime, from Snapper and Grouper to Amberjack and Hogfish and even the mighty Barracuda. Ask your concierge to arrange a private fishing charter alongside a day itinerary tailored to your level of experience and fishing goals.

The Cenotes

With an abundance of rich natural beauty, there’s plenty to be discovered throughout Riviera Maya. One of the most unforgettable experiences is swimming in the area’s famous cenotes. These natural limestone sinkholes are ethereally beautiful, an unforgettable sight - it’s not hard to see why the ancient Mayans believed the cenotes were gateways to the underworld. Float through dazzling cerulean water, discovering towering stalagmites and elegant stalactites as you go. Visitors will find a cluster of these cenotes along the popular Ruta de Los Cenotes. However, there are over 300 in the region in total, leaving plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten path and explore some of the more secret ones.

Experience the beauty of Holbox Island

The Riviera Maya boasts a long list of spectacular beaches, but if you’re searching for something extra-special then a visit to Holbox Island is a must. Easily one of the best-kept secrets in the region, this stunning white-sand beach can be tucked away in the north of the Yucatan Peninsula. Part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve, the beach is often frequented by visitors of the feathered kind - it’s not unusual to see a flamboyance of flamingos glide by as you bathe by the shore.

Soak up the sunshine from Playa Norte

Eight miles off the coast of Cancun, the teeny-tiny Isla Mujeres is home to the beautiful Playa Norte. Often considered to be one of the most gorgeous beaches in Mexico, this small yet stunning stretch of coast is renowned for its crystal-clear waters and sparkling white sands. Be sure to stick around until sunset - the views are absolutely mesmerising.

Lush jungles and thriving nature reserves

Luckily, for any groups with mixed interests, there are also endless options for those who want to dial it up a notch too. Whether you’re keen to uncover the region’s many Mayan ruins or perhaps planning an all-day trek through the jungles of Playa del Carmen, there’s so much to discover.

Soar above the jungle on an exhilarating zip line adventure

Soar through the jungle of Playa del Carmen on a zipline, enjoying the views and the thrilling feeling of wind upon your face as you go. With 2.4 miles of zip-lines, as well as a waterslide and two water landings, Xplor park promises a world of fun in the heart of the Mexican jungle. If you’re not one for heights, there are plenty of other options on offer too, such as rafting along underwater rivers and through caves and whizzing through the Mayan jungle in amphibious ATV-style vehicles.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

For those who wish to explore the local landscape in a little more laidback style, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a perfect choice. Nestled south of Tulum, this nature reserve spans a staggering 1.3 million acres and is home to an astounding array of plants and wildlife, including jaguars, pumas, Black-handed Spider Monkey, Yucatan Black Howler Monkey and the Central American Tapir. Set off on a boat trip past lush coastal wetlands and shimmering lagoons and enjoy rare glimpses of the reserve’s magnificent wildlife and spellbinding Mayan ruins, including the archaeological site of Muyil - one of the oldest Mayan ruins in the area.

Chichen Itza

Speaking of archaeological sites, while you’re in the area you have to pay a visit to the world-famous Chichen Itza. Bursting with towering pyramids and endless Mayan ruins, including the Grand Ball Court, where the Ancient Mayans played their deadly games, this is one of the most important archaeological sites in the whole of Mexico. Tucked away in the depth of the jungle, make a day trip out of your visit and take the time for a wander through the lush landscape, exploring some beautiful cenotes along the way.

History, culture and a spot of shopping...

As well as brimming with natural wonders, Riviera Maya offers plenty to delight history and culture loves alike.

Playa del Carmen

First-time visitors and old-timers alike will want to make tracks for the hustle and bustle of Playa del Carmen. Situated halfway between Tulum and Cancun, this vibrant little beach town offers plenty in the way of activities. From shopping for holiday souvenirs and artisanal products on La Quinta, the town’s five-mile-long main street, to tucking into fresh burritos, smokey elotes (smokey and spicey Mexican street corn) and tangy pineapple shakes, there are so many local flavours to be discovered and enjoyed here.

Cancun

Similarly, Cancun is well worth a visit too. Known for its glitzy resorts and vibrant nightlife, there’s so much more to Cancun than just a fun night out. Spend a morning following the beautiful ocean-themed murals which can be found throughout the city, drawn by both local and international artists. Finish your stroll at the Cancun Mayan Museum and discover more about this region’s rich history and ancient customs.

Just off the shore of Cancun, you’ll find the otherworldly Museo Subacuático de Arte or MUSA. This breathtaking underwater art installation is composed of several ‘sunken’ galleries - swim past over 500 life-size sculptures, set on the ocean floor. Crafted using materials to aid the growth of the coral reefs, the works of art are now alive with an abundance of tiny little fish and other sea life, blissfully exploring the hidden nooks and crannies of their new home.

Tulum

Meanwhile, the idyllic white sands and fresh juice bars of Tulum are a must-visit for any wellness aficionados in the group. A hotspot for yoga retreats, farm-to-table dining and luxury spas, this sophisticated seaside town also boasts a gorgeous beach with the breathtaking backdrop of the famous Tulum Ruins. Rent bicycles and spend a day exploring the town. You can find the iconic Ven a La Luz sculpture by artist Daniel Popper at the Ahau Tulum hotel - stop here for a refreshing drink and to admire the incredible artwork. After a spot of lunch, spend the afternoon browsing the town’s array of luxury boutiques and independent stores, selling everything from handcrafted homeware to vibrant Mexican craftwork.

Puerto Morelos

Finally, the sleepy little beach town of Puerto Morelos is a wonderful option for a relaxing day trip. Sandwiched between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, this lesser-known spot is much more laidback than its glitzy neighbours. Boasting endless stretches of pristine, peaceful beaches and plenty of authentic little taquerias run by friendly locals. Friday and Saturday evenings see a bustling local market take over the main square, selling local craft products and street food. Meanwhile, the nearby Jardín Botánico Dr Alfredo Barrera Marín are considered to be some of the world’s most diverse botanical gardens. Spanning over 160 acres and boasting an array of medical plants, ancient trees, lush palms and an orchid garden, these spectacular gardens can be explored by a suspended boardwalk.

Dine, drink and dance the night away

Whether you’re searching for fine dining extravaganzas or rustic chic farm-to-table restaurants, there’s something in Riviera Maya to satisfy every sort of craving. From fabulous foodie hotspots to captivating underground eateries and charming cocktail bars, here are a few of our favourite spots in and around the local area.

Hartwood

Tucked away in Tulum, Hartwood is a must-visit for any foodies in the group. Offering a daily changing menu, crafted with fresh ingredients selected from the local markets, farms and fishermen, the setting is every bit as breathtaking as the dishes. Situated ‘off the grid’ down a luscious jungle road, arrive and immediately feel welcomed by the convivial atmosphere, with rustic benches and tables situated under canopies. Sip on a cocktail or fresh juice and watch as the chef grills you up the catch of the day or a local cut on the open fire. You could get anything off the menu and be blown away, but the lobster is really what everyone raves about.

Oh Lala! by George

If you’re searching for an intimate spot, then Oh Lala! by George over in Playa del Carmen is just the ticket. Sporting just nine tables, this petite restaurant is a cosy and personal affair, world’s away from other more crowded spots. Situated in an old house, the open kitchen, small capacity and genuine friendliness of the staff here will make you feel like a guest in someone’s home. Come for the warm ambience and linger over endless plates of extraordinary food and excellent cocktails - oh là là indeed.

Alux Restaurante

A Playa del Carmen classic, Alux Restaurante is well worth adding to your list. While the food is great, the setting is the true knock-out part. Descend a candlelit stairway into a magnificent network of caverns, over 10,000 years old. Some of the rooms are dedicated to lounging, others to eating and more to drinking and dancing. Come for dinner and linger afterwards, taking time to properly explore the cave complex, as well as some of the vintages in the excellent wine cave.

Gitano's Jungle Restaurant

If you’re seeking an atmospheric spot to enjoy a finely crafted mezcal cocktail or two, then the Mezcal Bar at Gitano’s Jungle Restaurant is the place for you. Serving up an array of creatively crafted drinks, as well as some delicious small plates, this is the perfect spot for both casual drinks and a late-night boogie. Either way, bring your best dancing shoes and come prepared for a fun-filled night.

The onefinestay experience

At onefinestay, we understand that your holiday should be unique to you. Whether it’s booking you into the region's best beach clubs or chartering a private yacht for you to catch the best sunset views, we’re here to ensure your holiday is every bit as unforgettable as it should be. Our selection of exclusive concierge services offers all you need to unwind and make the most of your beautiful Mexican surroundings. After a busy day exploring, why not indulge in an in-home spa experience or have a private chef create a selection of mouthwatering dishes upon your return? We can plan these little extras for you before your arrival, so all you need to do is turn up, sit back, and relax.

Enraptured by the Riviera Maya?

If you're searching for a majestic Mexican hideaway, we know all the region's loveliest spots. Speak to a Travel Advisor and book your dream getaway today.