The Mayan Riviera is comprised of the area just south of the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. It stretches along 120 km (75 miles) of the Mexican Caribbean coastline in the southeastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula. Weather is ideal, beautiful white sandy beaches, crystal clear blue waters make for a perfect vacation destination. The term Riviera Maya is fairly new and has varied definitions, it starts approx. 16 km (10 miles) south of Cancun the seaside village of Puerto Morelos and includes places like Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, Akumal and Tulum. It ends at the town of Carrillo Puerto.
The major cities of the Mayan Riviera are:
Along the Mayan Riviera you will find at least four Eco Theme Parks. In other countries, like the USA, parks like these are usually provided and maintained by the State. In Mexico, concessions are granted to commercial interests to develop, maintain and profit (commercial) from these enterprises. This does not make them any less attractive, and provides much needed employment. The parks are located in protected bays, usually with stone, rather than sand under the water, this is not uncomfortable and makes for very clear, blue water. These bays or inlets are somewhat shallow, but flushed on a regular basis by the tides, making for much cleaner water than you find around resorts or municipal areas. You can rent snorkel equipment, inner tubes, rafts and such. These parks are excellent places to take a break from a day of exploring or driving in this warmer climate. Fish are plentyful and can be seen all around you. Avoid being in the middle of a feeding frenzy when someone buys and throws fish food into the water. Using Cheese Whiz works well, but brings in bigger fish, who may nip at the fingers, so count that idea out.
The first three parks below (Xcaret, Zel-Ha and Xplor) belong to the same company. Expect entrance fees around $100, more if you want to include the most exciting attractions or the evening show. Discounts can be had if you buy multi-park packages.
- Xcaret. Set in a beautiful bayside location, this eco-archaeological park focuses on Mayan culture, with a restored Mayan archaeological site, traditional dance shows and a recreation of a Mayan village. The park has a host of other attractions as well, including a jaguar exhibit, a deer refuge, a regional wildlife farm, butterfly breeding facilities, a coral aquarium, a marine turtle conservation program, a wide range of flora, and opportunities for swimming and snorkeling.
- Xel-Ha is an ecological theme park or natural aquarium. Here you can swim with dolphins, see sea turtles, bicycle, snorkel, cliff-dive, and scuba. If you choose to scuba you will get to pet stingrays and see larger fish. This park is quite large, so bring good shoes to walk up river, you bag your dry belongings and they will be driven back to the main area. There is a buffet restaurant and free drinks as part of the park entry-fee, as well as snorkel equipment and rafts.
- Xplor. This nature park has a number of limestone caves, grottos and underground rivers for exploring on foot, on rafts, in amphibious vehicles, or by swimming. There are also some above-ground adventures to be had, including a 2.9-km-long adventure (1.8 mi) whizzing you through the trees on 11 ziplines.
- Aviario Xaman-Ha is a beautiful Aviary where you will find different species, not just birds, other animal species like the butterflies, iguanas, turtles and small mammals. The animals and plants that live here are in their natural habitat and they live in semi-captivity. There are endemic, threatened and endangered species.
- Tres Rios Nature Park is an ecological park in the Riviera Maya located inside the Hacienda Tres Rios Resort where three rivers converge and flow into the Caribbean Sea. The eco-friendly environment stretches across 132 ha (326 acres) of lowland jungles and subtropical mangroves. The nature park is an untainted and protected nature reserve that offers tourist the opportunity to kayak, snorkel, swim, bicycle and dive, while interacting and connecting with nature in unique and uncultivated ways.
Due to the construction of Cancun International Airport, this has become a popular and fairly inexpensive area to visit. You can fly in, pick up a car and explore the Yucatán Peninsula very easily. Most who visit the Mayan Riviera are staying at all inclusive resorts and are transferred from the airport to the resort along this path by bus or shuttle to their accommodations. It is a wonderful place for families or single visitors to visit. Tourism is the main industry and visitors are treated very well (almost too well). If you never leave the resort, you will likely be quite happy. If you choose to explore, it is a 120-km (75-mile) road, so be home by dark.
The official language is Spanish, like in the rest of the country. In the tourist areas, many locals also speak English, and some others French, German and Italian, as this area receives tourism from those places. However, some locals trace their heritage to the Mayans who settled the area before the arrival of the Spanish. The present-day Mayans tend to live inland and speak little Spanish. Mayan languages are very much still alive and even people in the tourist industry of Mayan heritage may speak them. While trying to speak a few words of one of these languages will certainly impress people, they invariably also speak Spanish and are just as happy to converse in that language with you.
The nearest international airport to the Mayan Riviera is Cancún International Airport (CUN IATA), the second busiest airport in Mexico. Receives international flyers from most large Western Hemisphere airports and several major European gateways, though there are no non-stop flights to Asia or Australia.
To get to your hotel you can rent a car or catch the ADO bus which is the cheapest option, but may result complicated if you're traveling with luggage or kids. Taxis from airport may be expensive, so you may want to prebook a private transportation service.
While Mexico boasts among the most comfortable buses in the world, a long distance bus ride from Mexico City to Yucatan while possible won't be much cheaper than a flight. If you are already in the area, taking a bus becomes the vastly preferable option.
The major cities, such as Cancun and Playa del Carmen offer many car rental agencies. North American drivers will feel at home on the road here, despite some drivers' quirks. For example, on the main two-lane highway along the Riviera, it is common courtesy for slower drivers to pull over onto the shoulder to let faster drivers pass.
Rent a car at the Cancun airport. Playa del Carmen is roughly 45 minutes from the airport. Tulum is another 45 minutes. After passing through Playa del Carmen, the main highway (Rte 307) turns from a modern 4-lane highway into a "two and a half" lane highway. There are two regular lanes and an extra-wide shoulder to allow slower vehicles to pull over to let faster vehicles pass.
From the city of Tulum, the Boca Paiala road provides access to the beach-side hotels and areas further south, such as Punta Allen. This dirt road, if not freshly resurfaced, has massive potholes (commonly wider than a car). It is passable with a VW bug or a scooter, but the trip will be much more arduous than if travelled with a Jeep or other SUV/truck.
By collective van
Many collectivo vans run between the major cities and offer cheap transportation for local workers and budget-minded tourists. The Collectives that run between the major cities like Cancun, Puerto Morelos, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. The thing to remember is that none go directly from one extreme to the other. If you are in Puerto Morelos (the beginning of the Riviera Maya) and you want to go to Tulum you will go out to the southbound side of the highway and wait for the collective that will take you to Playa Del Carmen and then change collective to get to Tulum. The direct collectives go from Cancun to Playa Del Carmen or Playa Del Carmen to Tulum and of course the reverse. The collectives pick up and drop off anywhere along the way so you will be making frequent stops.
By luxury bus
From the bus stations you can find first class bus service from bus station to bus station as well as limited bus service to the Cancun International Airport. ADO one of the largest national providers of first class and luxury bus transportation has routes from Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum to most major cities like Merida, Chetumal, Mahajual, amongst the most popular from the Riviera Maya.
The Mayan ruins at Tulum - right next to a beach where you can swim. While many people just go to the beach and do nothing else, the inland portions of this region are stunningly beautiful as well. Be it nature, Mayan remains or the Cenotes (Karst caves and small lakes), going inland is certainly worth it.
- Rio Secreto, discover one of the most incredible natural marvels found in the Riviera Maya. Rio Secreto is an underground labyrinth of endless passageways formed by ageless geological processes. Be transformed by this ancient, magical subterranean world that until now has remained unexplored for millions of years.
- Snorkeling , A popular activity and many beach-side dive shops rent equipment for US$7-10. Even though all beaches in Mexico are public, some require fees to enter and use the facilities. Beaches with a rocky limestone shoreline on the west coast are the best for snorkeling or shore dives, less sand is disturbed and so visibility and coral growth are better.
- Kitesurfing, Kitesurf the beaches of Tulum in Playa Paraiso and Puerta del Cielo, also Playa del Carmen at the Sandos Playacar and Coco Beach.
The Mayan Riviera is filled with all-inclusive hotels where the types of food varies from day to day, but you can count on a variety of international dishes from Italian, Argentine, and Continental as well as local Mexican dishes. There is nothing like getting out and tasting the local flavors, which you won't get in the all-inclusive hotel restaurants. Yucatan has a cuisine all its own and of course cities like Playa Del Carmen or Cancun enjoy a melting pot of both Mexican and International cultures who each bring their own flavors to their restaurants. You can find intimate restaurants with French or Italian cuisine dotting the city as well as Argentine steakhouses, and almost everywhere you will find typical American foods as well as Mexican food.
The majority of the swimming is done at pools located at the resorts. If you venture into the water along the shore, be prepared for large waves and rip-tides. It is not uncommon for there to be no lifeguards at the beach. The eco-parks tend to have better areas for one to swim, unless you prefer a pool. They are located in sheltered bays, with clear, clean water.
You should take care when driving: you will be sharing the road with cars, trucks, cattle and people. Take care and use caution and you should be fine. Driving after dark is a bad idea. Too many ways to have problems! The Policia are friendly, treat them with respect. Plan on being stopped at state borders and your vehicle may be searched. Just go along with it. The Federal Police patrol the area and they are a serious bunch. Be polite with them and do not photograph them, any military vehicles or establishments.
Due to problems in the past, spring breakers are not the favorite visitors with law enforcement. Don't push their buttons. Behave like an adult and you will have few problems. Behave like a drunken fool, and you may regret it, for a long time. Same goes for most places.