There are few places on Earth that can dazzle travelers like the idyllic beach towns of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula! Millions of visitors come here every year to enjoy an adventure like no other and relax on the picture-perfect white sand beaches of the Riviera Maya. From the big-city vibe of Cancun, all the way south to the eco-chic atmosphere of Tulum and beyond, here’s a quick guide to some of the best places to visit in Mexico’s Riviera Maya!
Comprising the northern border of the Riviera Maya’s stunning Caribbean coast, Cancun is a permanent fixture on any list of the world’s top beach vacation destinations, and since the 1970’s has grown into a bustling coastal city of more than 600,000 residents, with 32,000 hotel rooms that host upwards of 6 million tourists each year. Visitors can expect to find exclusive, high-end boutiques like Prada and Louis Vuitton, as well as charming souvenir markets where you can find many locally-made items. There are countless restaurants, bars, cafes and nightclubs to suit every taste, while the scenic Nichupte Lagoon and Mexican Caribbean Sea offer endless opportunities to experience water sports and other activities. Other popular things to do in Cancun include golf, island cruises and excursions to family-friendly theme parks.
Situated just 25 minutes south of the Cancun International Airport, the sleepy fishing village of Puerto Morelos has managed to retain its quiet, small-town vibe even though the entire Riviera Maya region around it has grown substantially in recent years. There are enough restaurants and bars to keep most visitors happy here, but it’s the clear turquoise waters of the Mexican Caribbean Sea that emerge as the real star in Puerto Morelos, where you can expect to find an authentic atmosphere with pelicans patrolling the beachfront and fishing boats lining the dock. Life moves at an unhurried pace here, so get ready to relax and enjoy the quirky cafes, fresh produce stands and plenty of local shops.
Playa Del Carmen
Travel about an hour south along the Riviera Maya coastline from downtown Cancun and you’ll come to the vibrant, international town of Playa del Carmen, which is one of the largest cities in the region and one of the world’s trendiest beach towns. The beaches in downtown Playa del Carmen play host to an ever-growing number of tourists and expats who come to enjoy the town’s unique cosmopolitan feel, while the pedestrian-only thoroughfare of Fifth Avenue (or Quinta Avenida in Spanish) offers unlimited opportunities for shopping, dining, entertainment and people watching. While here, be sure to take the ferry out to Cozumel island for the day and also make time to experience Playa’s many street performers, mariachi bands and local vendors selling souvenirs and other items that you simply won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Continue on southward from downtown Playa del Carmen for about 25 minutes along the Riviera Maya’s modern and well-marked main highway to find the exclusive gated beach, marina and golf community of Puerto Aventuras. This infinitely walkable area is home to beautiful white-sand beaches, a variety of delicious restaurants and shops - along with many other amenities - all in close proximity to one another. A favorite destination among expats who own real estate in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, Puerto Aventuras is also home to a Thomas Lehman-designed golf course and world-class marina, as well as a bilingual school, and has become a center for sport fishing in the Mexican Caribbean.
Last but definitely not least on this exciting mini road trip through Mexico’s Riviera Maya, Tulum lies only 35 minutes south of Puerto Aventuras on the coast, but it is worlds away from any other beach town you’ve ever visited. With breathtaking ancient Mayan ruins that sit high atop a cliff overlooking the warm cerulean waters of the Mexican Caribbean Sea, Tulum is home to one of the best beaches in the world and was once part of an important Mayan trade route. Today, it has evolved to become a leader in sustainable travel and tourism, with a distinctive eco-chic vibe that’s known for its close proximity to pristine unspoiled beaches, magical freshwater cenotes and a dizzying array of other attractions.
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Interested in learning more about the Yucatan Peninsula? See Exploring Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, from Tulum to Merida and Beyond!