Top 7 Things to Do in Riviera Maya and the Best Places to Visit

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Riviera Maya is one of the top places to visit in Mexico. It’s home to stunning beaches, countless Mayan Ruins, and lots of incredible snorkeling. If you like to spend time in the sun and sand, then Riviera Maya needs to be on your Mexico travel bucket list. 

Riviera Maya is on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and it boasts over 100 miles of beaches and sand! You may have already visited Riviera Maya if you have flown into Cancun airport or taken a cruise to Cozumel. 

Since it’s such a huge region, you might be lost on how to plan a trip. I’ve traveled to many different cities and places in Riviera Maya, so I made this guide with all the best things to do plus the cities you can’t miss! Get ready to explore all of the best that Riviera Maya has to offer. 

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Top Things to Do in Riviera Maya 

You can easily spend weeks exploring Riviera Maya since the list of things to do is endless. Here are my top choices to help you plan your time in this incredible area of Mexico!

Go Swimming in a Cenote 

If you have a short time in Riviera Maya, swimming in a cenote should be your number one priority. There are thousands of cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula. So, if you visit one and love the experience, you can visit more!

Cenotes are naturally formed swimming pools in caves, and Riviera Maya has over 300 of them! The top of the cave is open, so you still get to swim under the sun. 

Since Riviera Maya was home to the ancient Mayan people, swimming in a cenote also lets you learn some history! In Mayan culture, cenotes were part of religion and believed to be openings to the underworld. They were often used to make sacrifices and to bury the dead, but don’t let that deter you. These are fun!

Scuba diving is also possible in some cenotes if you have your gear and want to do more than just swim. You can also find snorkeling tours if you aren’t scuba certified. And if you really want to relax, you can rent tubes and float in the cenote. 

With so many cenotes to choose from, you might be wondering where to start. Gran Cenote, Native Park Tulum Cenote, and Cenotes Casa Tortugas are the most popular. 

Tour the Mayan Ruins of Coba 

You can’t visit Riviera Maya without seeing Mayan ruins. The ones in Coba are one of the largest ruin sites. They’re set in a remote jungle location, so you might want to book a tour to visit them. 

Many resorts and companies offer day trip tours to the Mayan ruins of Coba. It’s a good way to get to the area. 

Once there, rent a bike to cover more of the area in a shorter time. You can take photos of the ruins and even crawl through some pretty small tunnels to get to some of the sites. 

If you’re not a fan of small spaces, you can climb the Ixmoja pyramid and get spectacular views of the jungle from the top. 

Visit the Tulum Archeological Site 

The Tulum ruins are much more popular than Coba. Many people prefer the Tulum Archeological Site because it overlooks the ocean and is closer to resorts and the beach. 

The ruins even have a beach on-site, so feel free to bring your swimsuit and take a dip before moving on to the next thing on your itinerary. Since the Tulum ruins are extremely popular, consider going early in the morning. 

If you are booking a tour of the site, book the earliest time slot available. You’ll get better pictures of the ruins and the beach if there are fewer people.  

temple in tulum, things to do in riviera maya mexico
Tulum

See the Rio Secreto Nature Reserve 

If you didn’t get enough caves and the underwater world during your cenote experience, head to the Rio Secreto Nature Reserve. It’s full of underground rivers and huge caves that you can swim in and explore. 

The rock formations in the Rio Secreto are stunning. If you take a walking or swimming tour, you’ll be able to get close enough to them to take some awesome photos. Make sure to bring a swimsuit and a change of clothes with you for your visit. Bring a GoPro or an underwater camera if you have one!

Scuba Dive in the MesoAmerican Reef 

Brought your scuba diving gear? Head to the MesoAmerican Reef! There are some shallow parts of the reef as well, so you can snorkel or swim if you can’t dive. 

The Mesoamerican Reef is the largest one in the western hemisphere, so you can be sure there are plenty of things to see under the sea! It’s so big that it stretches for 625 miles across Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. 

Although it’s impossible to see everything in the reef in just the area of Riviera Maya, you can easily spot hundreds of fish species and over ten different types of coral just in the reef section closest to Cancun. 

turtles in the mesoamerican reef

Visit Sian Ka’an Reserve

One of the most famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Riviera Maya, the Sian Ka’an Reserve has over 1.3 million acres of nature to explore. It is close to Tulum and Playa Del Carmen. 

The center of the reserve is the only part open to tourists as Mexico aims to preserve the Mayan villages and the tropical wetlands located it. 

You can explore the pyramids of the Muyil Ruins or float down the river in the middle of the reserve. If you’re lucky, you might be able to see manatees! You can also grab food and drinks at the visitor center before or after your tour. 

Experience a Temazcal Ceremony 

This is definitely a different experience than most in Riviera Maya, but it allows you to get out of the hustle and bustle of the cities for some peace and relaxation. Temazcal is a Mexican purification ceremony that you can book at many different spas. If you want a more traditional experience, you can go to sweat lodges in Cancun or Playa Del Carmen. 

Temazcal Ceremonies take place in small domed buildings that look like igloos. They are pretty small inside, so I recommend booking a private ceremony. You can also take a friend along,  but not more than one, or the space starts to feel very claustrophobic. 

It’s very hot inside as you are meant to sweat out all the body’s negative energy. A shaman will also be inside the dome chanting and burning herbs and incense. 

igloo as part of the tezcamal ceremony, things to do in riviera maya

Top Places to Visit in Riviera Maya

Here are the most popular places in Riviera Maya and the top things to do in each of these areas.

Cancun 

Out of all the top cities to visit in Riviera Maya, Cancun is my favorite. It’s also the one I’ve visited the most. I love the pure white sand on the coastline, and Cancun has the best nightlife and restaurants in my opinion. 

If you’re coming to Mexico for diving or snorkeling, Cancun is the best choice. It has the MesoAmerican Reef, the Manchones Reef, Cancun’s famous Underwater Museum, and the C58 shipwreck. 

When visiting Cancun, you’re close to all the best Riviera Maya excursions. There are lots of options for half-day or full-day trips. Cancun is close to several cenotes and the Chichen Itza ruins. 

view of the ocean from hotel pool, things to do in riviera maya

Day Trips From Cancun

Looking for the best day trips from Cancun? Here are my top picks. 

  • Chichen Itza is the most popular of all the Mayan ruins in the Riviera Maya region. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most famous thing to see is the El Castillo pyramid, but there is plenty more to see and do. 
  • Isla Mujeres is only a 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun, so many people visit it 2 or 3 times during their time in Cancun. There are plenty of reefs right off the shore, so it’s a great place to snorkel. 
  • Xel Ha Park is the best day trip if you are traveling with children. It’s an aquatic theme park with slides, snorkeling, and ziplining. Certain ticket packages also offer you and your guest all you can eat and drink. 
isla mujeres, riviera maya excursions

Playa Del Carmen 

Playa Del Carmen is one of the most popular places to visit in Riviera Maya because of its central location. It’s also the best town for shopping and has plenty of restaurants and bars to visit. 

It’s home to 5th Avenue, known to be the best shopping street in Riviera Maya. It’s the top place to buy traditional Mexican items that make great gifts or souvenirs to remember your time in Mexico!

Playa Del Carmen is the top place for paddleboarding. You can bring your own, or you rent one and go out on your own! There are also several tours to take you to the best part of the ocean for stand-up paddleboarding. 

shopping street in playa del carmen

Day Trips From Playa Del Carmen 

There are many great places to visit near Playa Del Carmen. Some can be reached in even 20 minutes!

  • Xpu Ha is a beautiful beach less than 30 minutes from Playa Del Carmen. It also has a beach club where you can rent chairs and umbrellas. Grab a beer or cocktail at the little beach bar and relax in the sand with a good book. 
  • Tulum is another popular city near Playa Del Carmen. It’s a more relaxed city with boutique hotels rather than resorts, so you might even want to spend a few nights here if you have time! The beaches are also stunning. And, you can visit the Tulum ruins on the beach.
  • Valladolid is a lesser-known city in this area and a popular day trip from Playa. It’s an inland city, so you won’t have beach access here. But you can explore local culture much better off the tourist track. There are traditional Mayan markets and some of the best food you’ll ever eat!
colorful street in valladolid

Cozumel 

Cozumel is a popular island in Riviera Maya, very close to Playa Del Carmen. You can actually make it a day trip from Playa Del Carmen if you don’t have time to spend a few days on the island. 

I first visited Cozumel on a cruise and then returned for a weekend when I was in Mexico a few years later. Part of the MesoAmerican reef is located here, so definitely add snorkeling or diving to your to-do list.

Cozumel also has the famous Mr. Sanchos Beach Club with three swimming pools, a swim-up bar, and white sand beaches. You can also take a dive in the Palancar Reef for more snorkeling. You’re more likely to see sea turtles in the Palancar Reef than the MesoAmerican reef. 

iguana at a shop in cozumel, things to do in riviera maya

Day Trips From Cozumel 

If you have time, these are the best day trips from Cozumel that you can’t miss. 

  • Jade Caverns is one of the best cenotes near Cozumel. While the cenote is amazing, getting there is the real adventure. I booked an ATV tour where you can ride about 30 minutes through the jungle to get to the cenote. You can always book a regular tour if you are just interested in seeing the cenote and not off-roading. 
  • Playa Mia Grand Beach Park is great for solo travelers and families. It has water slides, tubing, and kayaking. It’s right on the beach, so you can always lounge in the sand if you aren’t interested in getting your adrenaline going. There are also a few restaurants and bars on-site. 
  • Chankanaab Beach Park is a natural marine park. The lagoon in the center has calm, warm water perfect for swimming or just floating. There are also a few coral reefs for snorkeling and a botanical garden behind the lagoon. 
lagoon in chankanaab, things to do in riviera maya

Riviera Maya is Waiting For You!

There are countless things to do in Riviera Maya since the region is so large with lots of personality. Lounging on the beaches and snorkeling in the warm turquoise waters are popular things to do. 

While most people visit Riviera Maya for the beaches and scuba diving, there are plenty of other things to do if you get bored of the water. Riviera Maya is full of ancient Mayan ruins, amazing spas, and cenotes. 

Booking tours is the best way to see the best of Riviera Maya as you can get safe transportation and a tour guide to tell you all the history of the places you are going. If you’re traveling with friends or family, you can also book a car to get around to all the best places!

Have you been to Riviera Maya? What’s one activity you can’t forget?

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