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Riviera Maya

Best Riviera Maya Tourist Attractions

Riviera Maya beach
© Riviera Maya tourism board

Beaches, shopping, eco tourism and Mayan ruins dominate the best Riviera Maya tourist attractions.

Riviera Maya on the east coast of Mexico is a major all-inclusive resort destination. Most of the resorts lie between Playa del Carmen to the south and Cancun to the north. Although Riviera Maya on the Caribbean coast isn’t a cruise port, it does get many cruise visitors from the massive cruise port on the island of Cozumel.

Cozumel visitors take a 45-minute ferry between San Miguel on Cozumel to the major city of Playa del Carmen and back again. Ferries run every hour between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen Location Map

Playa del Carmen is one of the best tourist attractions along the Riviera Maya because of Fifth Avenue. Fifth Avenue in Playa del Carmen is one of the best shopping and dining districts in the Caribbean.

The street is often packed with visitors from both the Cozumel and the many nearby resorts along the coast between this city and Cancun to the north.

In fact, Fifth Avenue is probably the single most important reason to visit the city. This mile-long pedestrian-only street is packed with boutique shops, restaurants, hotels and outdoor pubs. Street entertainment is common.

Mayan Ruins

Xcaret was once a Mayan port for boats that traveled to Cozumel. It is now a theme park that features a beach, subterranean rivers, swimming with dolphins and jungle trails. The park is six miles south of Playa del Carmen.

The “natural aquarium” at Xel-Ha, which is 30 miles south of Playa del Carmen, combines fresh water from springs and underground rivers. The area includes thick jungle, caves, cenotes and archaeological sites.

Tulum is 40 miles south of Playa del Carmen and another popular Mayan attraction. It is the only known Mayan site located by the sea. The Mexico Tourist Board calls it “the most picturesque archaeological site in the Riviera Maya.” It is a common cruise excursion, as well as Xcaret and Xel-Ha.

Some cruise lines also offer excursions to the massive and world famous ruins up north at Chichen Itza. The massive site is two hours west of Playa del Carmen and for some people is worth the long drive.

Beaches

Maroma Beach
Maroma Beach. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

Riviera Maya beaches are known for their white sand, light crowds and natural beauty. We found plenty of reasons to enjoy them while we were there.

Maroma Beach, about 10 minutes north of Playa del Carmen, is considered one of the best.

Many options are available around Playa del Carmen including Playa Central (the main beach), Playa Tukan and Playa Mamitas.

Paamul Beach is located north of Puerto Aventuras, while Xpu-Ha beach is located to the south.Akumal and Tulum also are popular options.

Eco Tourism

The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve covers more than 1.3 million acres.

This UNESCO Heritage of Humanity Site has beaches, coral reef, low tropical forest, wetlands,  cenotes, savannas, dunes, freshwater lagoons and brackish lagoons. It also has more than 300 species of birds and many other plants and animals, according to the Mexico Tourist Board.

Aktun-Chen is a 5 million year old cave system famous for its cenotes (underground sinkholes). This family attraction includes a cenote where visitors can swim.

The area also promotes ATV rides through the jungles accompanied by a local guide.

Golf Courses

Riviera Maya has at least four major golf courses located throughout the area.

El Camaleon Mayakoba, designed by Greg Norman, is an 18-hole, par 72 course located at the Mayakoba resort.

Golf Club Playacar, also a par 72, is located in Playa del Carmen. The Jack Nicklaus firm designed the 18-hole, par-54 Golf Course El Manglar, which is found between Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

Iberostar Playa Paraiso Golf Club is an 18-hole, par-72 course located 30 minutes south of Cancun.

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Xcaret, Xel-Ha and Yal Ku Lagoon all have snorkel equipment for rent. Yal Ku near Akumal allows a limited number of people to snorkel. Food and sunblock are prohibited.

The best diving is closer to Cozumel so most divers generally stay on Cozumel Island when diving although there are numerous dive shops and tours that will take you out from anywhere on the Riviera.

Dive shops are located all along the Mayan Riviera and at most hotels/resorts.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
October 13, 2021

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