Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond
Riviera Maya

Riviera Maya Vacations: Tips, Attractions and Weather

Riviera Maya photo
Riviera Maya beach; © Riviera Maya Tourist Promotion Trust

A Riviera Maya vacation offers visitors a chance to experience one of the top beach and resort destinations in the Caribbean.

Riviera Maya on the east coast of Mexico includes cities and towns such as Puerto Morelos, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Tulum and especially Playa del Carmen.

Playa del Carmen draws huge crowds not only because of the resorts but also because of cruise visitors—even though it isn’t a cruise port.

The island of Cozumel, the largest of Mexico, is one of the most popular cruise destinations in the Caribbean. It also is only a 45-minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen.

Anyone planning to vacation at Riviera Maya for a week or more will likely land at Cancun International Airport as we did. They take a taxi, shuttle or rental car to one of the many elaborate resorts that line the coast between Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

And yes, the resorts are quite elaborate. Most of them also are all-inclusive.

Where is Riviera Maya?

Riviera Maya is on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. It is a long resort strip that starts just south of Cancun and runs down the east coast of Mexico past Playa del Carmen to a point below Cozumel island, which lies just offshore.

Playa del Carmen, which is the dominant city in the region, is 41 miles south of Cancun.

Quick Travel Tips

  • Playa del Carmen is the top attraction.
  • Tulum is the site of major Mayan ruins.
  • April is the best month to visit.

Attractions and Shore Excursions

Riviera Maya Map

Fifth Avenue in Playa del Carmen is the biggest shopping, dining and entertainment attraction in the region for good reason.

Also known as La Quinta Avenida, this major tourism district is more than a mile long. It is packed with shops, restaurants, outdoor cafes and boutique hotels. Much of the street is cobblestone and limited only to pedestrians.

What makes it so appealing compared to other major shopping districts in the Caribbean is its festive atmosphere, which includes locals in extravagant costumes standing in frozen poses on street corners. They are always willing to get their photo taken for a small donation.

Fifth Avenue draws visitors from throughout the area including the Riviera Maya resorts, cruise visitors to Cozumel island and even vacationers in Cancun to the north who make the 41-mile drive south.

Another major attraction is the city of Tulum, the only known Mayan archaeological site located by the sea. It is 45 miles south of Playa del Carmen.

Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is the top attraction in Riviera Maya. © 2019 Scott S. Bateman

The site contains more than 60 well-preserved structures within three massive walls.

Other attractions in the area include Xel-Ha, a “natural aquarium” where the ocean combines with fresh water from springs and underground rivers. This popular eco-tourism attraction is surrounded by thick jungle, caves, cenotes and a few archaeological sites.

Another eco-tourism attraction is Xcaret, which was once a Mayan port for departures to Cozumel. Visitors come to learn about the area’s ecology and Maya history, relax on the beach, float down one of two subterranean rivers, swim with dolphins or wander along jungle shrouded trails.

Popular Riviera Maya beaches include Maroma, 10 miles north of Playa del Carmen; Paraiso near the Tulum ruins; and Akumal, about 24 miles south of Playa del Carmen. But most beaches along the Riviera Maya coast are home to all-inclusive resorts.

Getting Around

Renting a car for anyone flying into Cancun and staying at a Riviera Maya resort is worth considering for three reasons.

One, the distance from the airport to the resort is far enough that a taxi or resort shuttle will be expensive unless the resort offers a shuttle as part of the package.

Two, attractions in the area such as Tulum also require some travel time, which again makes a taxi expensive.

Three, getting from the airport to the resorts is easy even for people who rent a car and don’t know Spanish. Highway Mexico 307 is a straight shot from Cancun airport down the coast. Many of the major resorts have entrances on the highway.

Mexico 307 continues through Playa del Carmen, Akumal, Xel Ha and down to Tulum.

Ferries from Cozumel usually start during the early morning and run hourly throughout the day.

The ride takes about 45 minutes and costs about $10-12 U.S. for adults and about half that amount for children. The ferry terminal is located in downtown San Miguel at the extension of Av. Lic. Benito Juarez.

Vacation Weather

Riviera Maya monthly rainfall
© 2022 Scott S. Bateman

Riviera Maya has much of the same weather as Cozumel and Cancun because of their close proximity.

The average high temperatures range from the low 80s Fahrenheit in winter to the low 90s in the summer.

Rain is moderate from January through April and starts to climb with the start of the annual Caribbean hurricane season in June. Late spring is the best time to visit for a combination of warm temperatures and low risk of rain.

Rainfall is especially intense in September and October when the area can receive as much as 10 inches a month.

Other Tips

English is widely spoken, and U.S. dollars are commonly accepted. Shoppers should note that prices are often negotiable in shops catering to tourists.

Safety can be an issue. Drivers should make sure they know where they are going and stay on main roads and near active tourist areas.

On one drive into Playa del Carmen, we made a left turn from the highway a few blocks too soon. As we drove through a poverty-stricken neighborhood, quite a few locals gave us hostile looks that made us a bit nervous.

Tipping is generally 10-15 percent with 15 percent being more common. Always ask for rates before getting into a taxi.

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.
September 14, 2022

When to Visit Riviera Maya

Riviera Maya beach
The best time to visit Riviera Maya in Mexico is the same as Cancun and Cozumel.

Riviera Maya Attractions

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

Riviera Maya Vacation Guide

Riviera Maya photo
Riviera Maya in Mexico is one of the top resort vacation destinations in the Caribbean.

Playa del Carmen Shore Excursion Tips

Riviera Maya Monthly Weather Averages

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Xcaret Park Visitor Tips

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