Skip to Content

Top Things to Do in Riviera Maya & Best Places to Visit

Top Things to Do in Riviera Maya & Best Places to Visit

A Riviera Maya vacation is so much more than gorgeous white sand beaches and margaritas! There are many fun things to do in Riviera Maya and places to visit.

Riviera Maya is a coastal destination in Mexico where tourists will find white sandy beaches and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. It is also one of our favorite places in the world. We previously lived here and now visit every year for a month.

Millions of tourists come to the Mayan Riviera every year to relax on beaches, repel into caves, swim in cenotes, hike through lush jungles or take a buggy tour, scuba dive among fantastic coral reefs, and learn more about the Mayans by exploring their ancient civilizations and Ruins.

You can enjoy world-renowned Mexican cuisine at many local restaurants in the vibrant towns located along the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.

If you are looking for a balance of historical sites, natural wonders, and modern amenities such as fine dining, then Riviera Maya is the perfect destination to enjoy a tropical paradise.

We’ve traveled to Mexico over 40 times in the past 15+ years and lived in Playa del Carmen; here are some of our favorite things to do in Riviera Maya and the best places to visit.

Best Things to Do in Riviera Maya Mexico

Aerial View of Playa Paraiso - Paradise Beach Tulum - top areas for visitors to stay

1. Explore the Beaches

Home to some of the best beaches in the Caribbean, they are the perfect place to enjoy swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling, and relaxing with the coastal scenery. Some Riviera Maya beach towns you will want to visit include Tulum, Akumal, and Playa del Carmen.

Woman standing in front of Chichen Itza in an orange dress

2. Visit Mayan Ruins

The creation of the Riviera Maya is deeply rooted in ancient Mayan history and, therefore, is home to many important ruins and unique archaeological sites to visit.

Some sites you will want to explore include the temples, pyramids, and structures of Tulum that overlook the Caribbean Sea, the Mayan ruins of San Gervasio in Cozumel, the tallest pyramid Nohoch Mul in Coba, or lastly, the Acropolis pyramid in Ek Balam.

One of the most popular sites tour Chichen Itza, which is a short day trip excursion from the Riviera Maya. We think Chichen Itza is the most impressive ruins and a must visit, make a day trip out of it and add a few nearby cenotes.

inside of cenote Il Kil with light filling the catherdal style cave area of the cenote

3. Swimming in Cenotes

There are over 6,000 cenotes in Mexico! These natural sinkholes have fresh water, perfect for diving, swimming, and snorkeling. One of the most epic things to do is jump into a cenote.

There are a ton of cenotes around the Tulum and Valladolid areas. You can easily add in a few cenote stops when visiting Tulum Ruins, Coba Ruins, or Chichen Itza. A few of our favorite cenotes are Cenote Suytun, Cenote Calavera, Casa Cenote, and Cenote Ik Kil (pictured above).

single diver approaches a dead tree poking out of the misty cloud layer of cenote angelita

If you are a certified diver, a bucket list dive should include diving in a cenote. Most dive shops in Tulum and Playa del Carmen offer cenote diving with two tanks and visit two cenotes. Adam is open-water dive certified and loves cenote diving; it is way different than any other dive.

Here are a few of his favorite cenote dives: El Pit, Cenote Angelita, and Carwash.

Woman swimming with sea turtles in Akumal

4. Explore the Reef

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is the second largest reef in the world and runs parallel to the coast, making the Riviera Maya an ideal location for water-based activities such as deep-sea fishing, snorkeling, and scuba diving.

If you visit during the right time of year, you can go swimming with whale sharks or diving with the bull sharks. We have always loved going to Akumal and swimming with the sea turtles.

Xcaret Themepark Playa del Carmen Mexico

5. Visit Xcaret Eco-Parks

There are lots of unique eco-parks that allow visitors to explore natural landscapes, interact with wildlife, and experience cultural experiences through a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking and snorkeling.

Some eco-parks you don’t want to miss include Xcaret, Xel-Há, and Xplo Ecoparks, which teach tourists about Mexico’s diverse ecosystems through sustainable tourism practices.

  • Xcaret: Activities include snorkeling, swimming in cenotes (underground rivers), Mayan ruins, and traditional Mexican performances.
  • Xel-Ha: This is a natural aquatic park that offers snorkeling in an inlet, cliff jumping, and swimming in cenotes and lagoons while being surrounded by a lush jungle.
  • Xplor: This is the perfect place for those who like adventure tourism, as they can experience ziplining, explore ancient caverns, or take a guided tour through the Mexican Jungle.

El Fogon Playa del Carmen Menu and food on the table

6. Eat Tacos

If you were to ask me what my last meal would be, it would be the above! Al Pastor tacos with cilantro & onions, chorizo taco, queso fundito con chorizo, chips & guacamole, and a margarita on the rocks from El Fogon.

Whatever you do, make sure to visit local taco restaurants and taco trucks/carts. You know you are in the right spot if there is a long line of locals. Don’t expect white linens; most likely, it will be plastic chairs and plastic forks.

El Fogon Street view the best tacos in Playa del Carmen

The best tacos in Playa del Carmen can be found at El Fogon. They now have 4 locations, but we frequent the Calle 30 & Constituents location the most. Here are more of the best restaurants in Playa del Carmen.

Tipping is a common practice in Mexico. We’ve put together a tipping in Mexico guide to help explain who to tip and suggested tip amounts.

If you’ve never been to some of the famous Mayan ruins, you should consider a cenote tour that combines Coba Ruins, Tulum Ruins, or Chichen Itza.

View from the viewing platform of Cenote Il Kil - perfectly circular and lush cenote in Mexico
#1 – Chichen Itza, Cenote and Valladolid 
Essential Experience
There is no better way to visit Chichen Itza, a cenote, and Valladolid (one of our favorite towns).
woman climbing out of Cenote Calavera on a ladder - One of the best Cenotes in Tulum and Mexico
#2 – 3-in-1 Discovery Combo: Tulum Ruins, Snorkeling, and Cenote & Caves 
Visit Tulum Ruins, go snorkeling, includes lunch buffet, swim in a cenote, and visit Xtun Cave. This is an action-packed day!
View from the entrance of Suytun Cenote with stalactites hsnging from the cave cenote ceiling
#3 – ATV Tour, Ziplines, and Cenote Swim 
Explore the Mayan jungle by ATV, then jump in a cenote for a little swim before heading off to the zipline!

Riviera Maya FAQ

Woman standing at the tulum ruins near Grand Palladium Riviera Maya

Where is the Riviera Maya?

The Riviera Maya is a 120km (75 miles) popular tourist destination located on the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.

The Mayan Riviera stretches from just south of Cancún to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Major cities and towns in the Riviera Maya include Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Cozumel, and Akumal.

woman standing against a yellow building in Izamal Mexico

What to wear in Mexico?

If you are unsure what to pack, read our Riviera Maya packing list. Here, I cover what to pack based on the season, activities, and where you are staying in the Riviera Maya.

Aqua colored water and white sand on Tulum Beach - Places to stay

When is the Best Time to Visit?

The best time to visit the Riviera Maya is between the months of December and March, when it is the dry season, so the weather is warm, with low humidity and little to no rainfall.

The dry season brings warm, sunny weather with average temperatures of mid-70s to mid-80s Fahrenheit (mid-20s to low 30s Celsius), which is ideal for outdoor activities but not too hot to enjoy.

a large surfacing whale shark in Holbox Mexico - Summer whale shark season tour

However, if you want to snorkel and see whale sharks, you will want to visit between May and September when they migrate through the area.

Unfortunately, the best time of year is also the peak tourist season for Caribbean travel, so resorts, restaurants, and attractions are often very crowded and can be very expensive at this time of year. If you can travel during shoulder season (slightly before/after) peak season, you will find more budget-friendly accommodations.

Hotel Shuttle Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen people with signs

What is the Biggest Airport in Riviera Maya?

Most tourists to the Riviera Maya fly into the major airport in Cancun, Mexico. Cancun is the major residential area, where the Mayan Riviera to the south is a popular tourist destination.

Guests either take a shared or private transfer from the airport to their resort or rent a car in Cancun to start their adventure. We also have used and recommend this company for airport transfers. If you are on a budget, the ADO bus leaves from the airport and stops at most of the best places in the Riviera Maya; see how-to guides below for more details.

The Tulum International Airport opened in late 2023. There still are not many international flights to Tulum from the USA. We are yet to fly into Tulum airport. The Tulum airport code is TQO.

woman standing next to a rental car in Cancun after picking it up from the airport

What is the Best Way to explore the Riviera Maya?

Renting a car in Cancun and driving yourself gives you so much freedom to explore! You can go where you want to go when you want to go. Renting a car in Mexico can sound intimidating, but in the Riviera Maya, it is easy.

We have a complete guide to walk you through the process. Our Mexico Rental Car Guide can be found here. For the best prices and free cancelation, we always book online here with

a couple sitting on the roof of a rental jeep in Aruba during a honeymoon
Explore on your own
#1 Tip – Rent a car in Mexico
Have ultimate freedom and save tons of money on tours with your own rental car! Don’t worry – It’s safe (we’ve rented 20+ times), the roads are good, and it’s easier than you think! We always rent from Discover Cars, it’s easy & they have the best prices.

Best Places to Visit in Riviera Maya

Cancun Beach & hotel zone

Cancun and Tulum

The two most popular destinations in the Riviera Maya are Cancun and Tulum, and each offers unique experiences. If you are looking for a high-energy party, then Cancun is the location to visit, as Tulum is a tranquil place to learn more about Mayan culture but is becoming more and more popular by the day.

Cancun is the entry point to the Riviera Maya for most visitors to Mexico. Cancun attracts visitors looking for a combination of relaxation and adventure. If you prefer all inclusive resorts, here you will find many options and the best prices.

Cancun is a crowded, busy destination with a lively party scene known for its nightlife, busy markets, and amazing restaurants that feature a variety of flavors.

Cancun offers lots of adventure activities, including snorkeling, underwater museums, swimming in cenotes, exploring ruins, visiting eco-parks, and much more! Tons of tours and excursions are easy day trips from Cancun.

palm trees on the beach in Tulum Mexico

Tulum is a beach town that appeals to both budget and luxury travelers and is a popular destination for yoga, wellness, meditation, and healing treatments. It is located on the cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea and is known for its ancient Mayan ruins and beautiful beaches.

We first visited Tulum in 2012 and loved everything about it. However, you should know that Tulum is no longer a small beach town it was. It is still gorgeous; it just isn’t what it once was.

Tulum has become increasingly expensive over the last 5 years. All the Tulum beachfront hotels and restaurants are luxury with high price tags. There is no public transportation from Tulum Town to Tulum Beach, so you either need to take a taxi ($25+ USD one way) or rent a car/bike, but parking can be tough and expensive.

If you are on the hunt for the best beach in Riviera Maya, the gorgeous white sand beaches of Tulum are where you want to go. No other beach in the area compares.

Make sure to read our Where to Stay in Tulum guide to understand the difference between staying in Tulum Town and Tulum Beach. If you are traveling with children, here are our favorite Tulum family resorts.

Aerial view of the Mayan ruins in Tulum Mexico - Top places to visit

The Tulum ruins are one of the unique Mayan sites to visit, as the walled ruins include a castle and watch tower. Tulum has many boutique hotels, a fantastic culinary scene, and pristine beaches like Playa Paraíso that are perfect for sunbathing and water sports.

You could easily visit both places on a one-week trip by splitting your time. This would be the perfect trip, and you could get a taste of both places in Riviera Maya.

We would suggest renting a car in Cancun (airport or downtown) and drive from Cancun to Tulum. That way, you can explore the Tulum Ruins and cenotes in Tulum on your schedule and see many more things to do in Riviera Maya.

If you are staying in Cancun or Playa del Carmen, you can take a day tour to Tulum. We suggest this Tulum full day excursion. Which visits the archaeological ruins, beach, and a cenote.

Xpu Ha Beach Club from above - White sand beach with lounge chairs

Xpu Ha

Xpu Ha (pronounced as “shpoo-ha”) is a secluded beach destination located on the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Xpu Ha is located between two other famous destinations: Playa del Carmen to the north and Tulum to the south.

Tourists enjoy visiting the Riviera Maya for its sandy white beaches with clear water and lots of marine life, making it the perfect place to sunbathe, swim, and snorkel. The beach and water activities are less crowded here than in Playa del Carmen and Tulum.

For those who love adventure, Xpu Ha has kayaking, paddleboarding, and many cenotes for unique diving experiences. Guests will also enjoy unwinding at one of the many beach clubs that offer sun loungers, restaurants, and beachside bars.

The beach and pool of Elements in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is one of the most popular locations to stay in the Mayan Riviera as the hotel and restaurants are excellent quality and affordable, as well as the location is very accessible allowing guests to take a variety of day trips to further explore the region.

We love everything about Playa del Carmen. This is where we used to live and where we come for the month every February to escape winter in Wisconsin. We rent a car in Playa del Carmen and a condo on the beach for a month, but here are some of the best family resorts in Playa del Carmen.

Playa del Carmen has a vibrant nightlife that allows guests to enjoy dancing and socializing at a variety of bars, music venues, and clubs.

Playa Mamitas is one of the most popular beach clubs in Playa del Carmen that offers guests the opportunity to sunbathe, swim, or just relax on loungers.

Playa del Carmen travel guide - 5th avenue walking street Playa

You won’t want to miss visiting Quinta Avenida, which is a pedestrian-only street with shopping, restaurants, and street performances. Playa del Carmen has a large selection of eco-parks to choose from, including Xcaret and Xel-Ha, which offer eco-adventures such as snorkeling and cultural experiences.

Woman swimming with sea turtles in Akumal


This coastal town is best known for amazing snorkeling opportunities that allow guests to get up close and swim with green sea turtles in their natural habitat. Akumal has multiple ecotours to teach visitors about the different ecosystems beneath the Caribbean Sea.

Known as the “Place of Turtles” in the Mayan language, Akumal has so much natural beauty under the sea as the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is home to a colorful array of tropical fish, sting rays, and sea turtles.

boat dock streched into the Muyil Lagoon with boat docked

Sian Ka’an

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is over 1.3 million acres of diverse ecosystems that allow visitors to get up close to marine life, observe over 300 bird species, numerous reptiles, mammals, and amphibians, and learn more about Mayan culture at a small fishing village called Punta-Allen.

Sian Ka’an is a great location to take a boat tour through mangroves and lagoons to observe wildlife and the natural landscapes of the reserve. The Sian Ka’an is over 120 kilometers (75 miles) of beautiful ocean water that acts as a nesting area for loggerheads, green turtles, and sea turtles.

Isla Mujeres Beach one of the best places in Mexioo

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is a much quieter location to explore the neighboring Cancun. The best way to explore is to rent a golf cart that allows you to move at your own pace to check out all the amazing attractions.

The downtown area known as El Centro is a fantastic area to stroll in and check out the colorful buildings, shops, restaurants, and local atmosphere.

Soar across the ocean, you zipline through Garrafon Natural Reef Park or enjoy swimming in the infinity pools with beautiful views of the ocean. Head to Panta Sur on the cliffs to explore the lighthouse, sculpture garden, and breathtaking views.

If you enjoy marine life, then you can swim with dolphins at Dolphin Discovery or learn more about turtles at the sanctuary.

Cozumel Coast Aerial Drone


Cozumel is an island best known for world-class diving and snorkeling; fortunately, it is only a short ferry ride away from Playa del Carmen. Click here to learn more about the Cozumel Ferry from Playa del Carmen.

Divers will enjoy watching fish, sting rays, turtles, and sometimes even small sharks as they swim around the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. The following locations offer unique underwater landscapes, including Palancar Reef, Columbia Reef, Paradise Reef, and Chankanaab Beach. At Chankanaab Beach, you can enjoy swimming with dolphins and exploring the Mayan ruins and botanical gardens, making it a full-day trip.

ancient stone structure found at the San Gervasio Mayan Ruins - Things to do in Cozumel Mexico

If you are looking for a different type of tour, you may consider visiting Panta Sur Echo Beach Park to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the southern tip of Cozumel, a historic lighthouse, and even some crocodile habitats. If you enjoy history, then be sure to visit the ancient archaeological site of San Gervasio to learn more about Cozumel’s history.

Cozumel can get busy as it is a popular port on many cruise ship itineraries. If you want to explore the island on your own, book your car far in advance. Renting a car in Cozumel is popular, and cars sell out daily.

Two Other Great Places to Visit Near the Riviera Maya

While these two locations are not technically in the Riviera Maya, they are worth considering for your next Mexico vacation.

woman standing on a sandbank in Isla Holbox Mexico - Places to visit

Isla Holbox

Isla Holbox, situated on the Northern Coastline of Mexico, offers a tranquil and laid-back atmosphere. The island has miles of pristine white sandy beaches and clear Caribbean turquoise waters, making it an ideal destination to unwind and enjoy nature’s beauty.

The area has no paved roads or cars, so it is definitely a hidden gem to visit. The Holbox ferry takes only 15 minutes and runs throughout the day.

While exploring this charming island, you can enjoy various boat tours that allow you to witness incredible wildlife, such as whale sharks, and explore stunning landscapes, including beautiful cenotes perfect for swimming.

large mural of a man fishing on the beach of Isla Holbox Island Mexico

Strolling around the town offers a chance to admire unique street art, beautiful murals, monuments, and the vibrant colors that give Isla Holbox its distinct charm. Indulge in authentic Mexican cuisine at the excellent local restaurants with outdoor patios steps away from the beautiful beaches.

One of the most appealing aspects of Isla Holbox is its relative lack of tourists compared to the Riviera Maya. This makes it a wonderful place to explore on foot without the hassle of cars, and it maintains a more authentic and less developed atmosphere than other parts of the Yucatan Peninsula.

woman in a red swimsuit sitting on a water swing at Cenote Cocalitos in Bacalar


This small town is located in the nearby state of Quintana Roo and is famous for its breathtaking Lagoon. Bacalar is known as the “Lagoon of Seven Colors” as the calm, tranquil waters are varying shades of blue and green and are a natural wonder to explore.

Bacalar is off the beaten path, so it has a more relaxed vibe to unwind and escape the crowds that flock to the resorts in the Mayan Riviera. Enjoy strolling down the cobblestone streets past colorful buildings that have a rich history as far back as the pre-Columbian era.

white boat anchored near Cocalitos in Bacalar

There are lots of fun things to do in Bacalar for visitors to explore, including the nearby historic fortress known as San Felipe Fort, which protected Bacalar town from pirates. A must visit spot is the Canal de los Pirates.

Take a Bacalar boat tour through the lagoon, where you can see the seven shades of water up close and view cenotes and mangroves. At the lagoon, you have the option of a guided boat tour, kayaking, or paddleboarding.

man swimming in the current of Los Rapidos in the Bacalar Lagoon

You can also enjoy swimming in the natural sinkhole known as Cenote Azul, which has deep fresh water and is a few minutes from the town center. Float down the rapids at Los Rapidos. Lastly, if you enjoy plants, then you can visit the Botanical Garden to see native plants and fruit trees in Mexico.

Whether you are looking for rest and relaxation, outdoor activities, or to learn more about the history of the area, you are sure to enjoy Bacalar as it is a great option for the touristy Mayan Riviera.

Now that we have shown you all the fun things to do in Riviera Maya and the best places, what will be your first activity, and where will you visit? Leave a comment below, we’d love hear about your trip to Mexico!