With endless white-sand beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters and ancient Mayan ruins, there’s never a shortage of amazing things to do in the Riviera Maya, Mexico! Still, these are just a few of the many unforgettable activities and attractions you will find in this beautiful and historic part of Mexico, which stretches south from Cancun for more than 80 miles along the Caribbean Sea and offers countless hidden gems just waiting to be discovered.
Here are five of the best-kept secrets of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, offering the ideal opportunity to reconnect with nature and enjoy incredible experiences that simply can’t be found anywhere else in the world!
Pronounced “say-note-tays,” cenotes are rare geological marvels that the ancient Mayans believed were sacred entrances to the underworld, and that also served as a critical source of water during times of drought. These freshwater sinkholes were formed thousands of years ago in the limestone bedrock of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and today, the massive underground reservoirs offer endless opportunities for exploration. We love cenote Dos Ojos, which translates to mean “Two Eyes” and is nestled in a picturesque nature preserve just north of Tulum and south of downtown Playa del Carmen. Connected to one of the world’s longest cave systems, these two large cenotes are perfect for swimming, diving and snorkeling, with crystal clear, azure-hued water and a striking setting.
Located about 80 miles south of the Cancun International Airport, the eco-chic town of Tulum is known for sustainable travel options and a laid-back, yet luxe vibe centered around the wellbeing of the local environment and everyone in it. Tulum is also home to ancient Mayan ruins perched on a cliff overlooking the Mexican Caribbean Sea. As the remains of one of the last cities built by the Mayans, its structures are in fantastic condition. And as the only (known) Mayan city ever built on the coast, Tulum was once a busy seaport that traded in turquoise and jade. Designed by astronomers, Tulum’s main temple is constructed in direct alignment with the summer solstice, while an expansive walkway makes it easy to explore the site, where you will also find the best beaches in the world, not to mention some of the best diving and snorkeling, just offshore!
Even among the many immaculate white-sand beaches in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, the beach town of Akumal stands out for its extraordinary beauty and distinct ecological significance as a breeding ground for sea turtles. In fact, the name Akumal means “place of turtles” in Mayan and the coastline here creates a natural refuge for the turtles to lay their eggs on the beach between May and November. The protected offshore reefs also make this area ideal for diving, kayaking, snorkeling and swimming in the crystalline waters, while the local beach bars offer a fun, festive atmosphere to take in the breathtaking ocean views while sipping delicious tropical drinks and fresh seafood with your toes in the sand under the shade of palapas.
Situated just south of downtown Playa del Carmen and just north of both Akumal and Tulum, the exclusive beach, marina and golf community of Puerto Aventuras is a one-stop-shop for fun, sun and adventure! Visitors can choose from a variety of different accommodations and vacation home rentals in Puerto Aventuras, including condos, boutique hotels and resorts, which means this is a great choice for travelers who want to enjoy the beach and marina, as well as the Riviera Maya’s many fantastic golf courses, Mayan ruins, delicious restaurants and a wide variety of other activities.
Translated to mean “Secret River,” Rio Secreto is often referred to as one of the best-kept secrets on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula! This collection of natural underground caves and rivers is home to tens of thousands of dramatic stalactites and stalagmites that have been formed over thousands of years as rainwater filters down through the lush jungle above to form these crystalline freshwater passageways. Guides are available to take visitors in wetsuits with helmets and lanterns on a mesmerizing journey through this maze of labyrinths, which is easy to access via a spiral staircase.
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Want to see more of the best things to do in the Riviera Maya? Read Fun Family Activities in Riviera Maya, Mexico to plan your next unforgettable vacation!