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22 Totally Awesome Things to Do in Riviera Maya, Mexico

So you’re in Mexico

Your beach chair is positioned just so under a palm tree to take in the cerulean sea. And the margaritas are stiff and cold.

Life is perfect at your luxury resort in the Riviera Maya, thank you very much.

But chilling is just one of the best things to do in Riviera Maya.

A slew of adventures and other activities are loads of fun too!

Snorkeling with sea turtles? Just one of the many fun Mayan Riviera activities.
Snorkeling with sea turtles? Just one of the many fun Mayan Riviera activities

Things to do in Riviera Maya, Mexico

If you can tear yourself away from your little piece of tropical paradise, even just for a day or two, you won’t regret it.

Things to do in Riviera Maya
There’s so much to explore beyond your hotel in the Riviera Maya!

So where is Riviera Maya?

The Mayan Riviera (or Riviera Maya) refers to the 100-mile stretch of coastline on the Yucatan Peninsula, running just south of Cancun to Tulum and beyond.

Hugging the Caribbean Sea, the cute coastal city of Playa del Carmen is halfway between Cancun and Tulum.

You’ll discover cenotes – natural limestone sinkholes filled with tequila-clear freshwater – where you can snorkel among amazing stalactites and stalagmites.

Adventure ecoparks – ziplining above the forest anyone?

Ancient Mayan temples and ruins (some you can even climb).

There’s also a vast UNESCO biosphere reserve for immersing yourself in nature – that’s Sian Ka’an.

And a whole lot more!

Riviera Maya: Things to do

Things to do in Playa del Carmen

1)  Learn to SUP

2)  Discover Xcaret

3)  Shop on 5th Avenue

4)  Chill at Xpu-Ha

5)  Experience the magic of Joya

6)  Take the ferry to Cozumel

7)  Get your thrills at Xplor Rivera Maya

Things to do in Tulum

8)  Bicycle around Tulum

9)  Enjoy the Tulum beaches

10) Explore the Tulum ruins

11) Do yoga in Tulum

12) Snorkel with turtles in Akumal

13) Kick back at La Buena Vida

14) Visit Sian Ka’an

15) Eat fish tacos

Things to do near Cancun

16) Swim with whale sharks in Isla Holbox

17) Explore Chichen-Itza

18) Tootle around Isla Mujeres in a golf cart

19) Snorkel at an underwater museum

Other things to do in the Yucatan

20) Take a dip in a cenote

21) Try a Temazcal

22) Visit the botanical gardens at Puerto Morelos

Riviera Maya travel tips

Where to stay | Best time to visit | Transportation

Checking out what to do in Riviera Maya

We write a lot about Mexico.

We’ve written about all the top things do in Mexico, and we’ve visited Mexico on many trips. (Tulum – indeed, the whole Riviera Maya – is among the best warm escapes in January, when the winter weather in North America and Europe is particularly miserable.)

One time, a magazine asked us to to curate itineraries for five dreamy days, to suit different traveling styles, for a Riviera Maya cover feature.

How could we say no?

So we jetted off to the fabled Caribbean coastline and set to work to specifically experience all the wonderful things to do in the Yucatan.

Checking out Tulum (an essential part of researching what to do in Mexico's Riviera Maya)
Checking out the food in Tulum (an essential part of researching what to do in Mexico’s Riviera Maya)

That was a particularly good “working” trip to get us out and about – exploring what to do in the Mayan Riviera.

But we’ve also visited Cancun, Tulum, the off-shore island of Cozumel and other areas in and around the Yucatan Peninsula on our own holidays.

We know this Mexico vacation area well and can point you in the right directions!

22 Cool things to do in Mayan Riviera

Best things to do in Riviera Maya

Here in this post, we highlight our favorite things to do on the Mayan Riviera. These are bucket list activities – no matter whether you dig nature, culture or adventure.

We’ve organized them around the main hubs of Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum.

But several adventures (like swimming in cenotes) can be enjoyed throughout the Yucatan.

Trying to decide between different Mexican hot spots? Cabo vs Cancun – which is better? What about Cancun vs Puerto Vallarta?

Things to do in Playa del Carmen

Let’s start right in the middle. Because no matter where you base yourself in the Riviera Maya, you’re likely to do at least one activity in Playa del Carmen.

A thriving beach town, Playa del Carmen is the area’s shopping and restaurant hub.

1) Learn to SUP

Go SUP boarding at sunrise in Playa del Carmen.
Go SUP boarding at sunrise in Playa del Carmen (Credit: Aloha Paddle Club)

One of the fun things to do in Playa del Carmen is to go stand-up paddle boarding (SUP).

The waters off Playa del Carmen are typically calm and still, especially at sunrise and just before sunset – making Playa del Carmen ideal for SUP boarding.

The top-rated Aloha Paddle Club rents a range of SUP boards and also offers lessons.

If you’ve never tried SUP, their sunrise session is the most popular.

After 5 to 10 minutes of basic instruction, you’ll be upright and paddling like pro! It’s a pretty amazing way to greet the day.

Tip:

Aloha Paddle Club is located at Fusion Beach Bar in Playa del Carmen.

With thatched palapas and tables in the sand, Fusion is a great place to stop for a drink and some Mexican food.

2) Discover Xcaret

Xcaret is one of the most popular attractions in Riviera Maya
Xcaret’s shows highlight Mexico’s history and culture through song and dance (Credit: Xcaret)

One of several theme parks in the region, Xcaret Eco-Park is a theme-cum-ecological-park.

It’s huge – and one of the top attractions in Riviera Maya.

It boasts everything from a replica of a Mayan village to evening entertainment, complete with a horse exhibition and pre-Hispanic dances – more than 50 natural and cultural attractions in all.

Xcaret dancer
The Mayan culture shows are great to watch (Credit: Xcaret)

But there’s a heavy emphasis on water activities, so you’ll find underground rivers and caves for snorkeling.

Family-friendly, Xcaret also has a lovely stretch of white sand beach with calm waters (beach chairs are available).

Even if your own resort has a great beach, this is a great spot to spend some time swimming and playing with your children.

Xcaret snuba
You can try snuba at Xcaret! (Credit: Xcaret)

Xcaret tickets:

Be aware: This Riviera Maya water park is not all-inclusive. There are 4 levels of pricing:

1) Basic Ticket Price includes tours in three underground rivers, access to the beach and several other attractions.

2) Xcaret Plus Admission includes the lunch buffet as well.

3) Xcaret Total Admission tops up the plus ticket with premium activities like a SeaTrek walk on the seabed or Snuba.

4) Xcaret at Night is a separate ticket you can buy for admission after 4:00 pm.

All Xcaret Park ticket pricing options can be found on Xcaret’s website.

See also this all-day tour from Cancun, which includes the night show and transportation from Cancun.

3) Shop on 5th Avenue

No, not the famous 5th Avenue in NYC. We’re talking La Quinta (5th Avenue) in Playa del Carmen.

The main street in Playa del Carmen, it runs for about three miles through the town.

Along with restaurants and bars, you’ll also find dozens of shops selling wonderful Mexican souvenirs and gifts – everything from ceramic plates and jewelry to leather handbags and embroidered children’s clothes.

Note that while bargaining in Mexico is common on the beaches and markets, prices are mainly fixed at these stores.

4) Chill at Xpu Ha

Xpu-Ha is one of the best beaches in Riviera Maya
Isn’t this beach beautiful?

A 20-minute drive south of Playa del Carmen takes you to Xpu-Ha, one of the prettiest beaches in the whole Riviera Maya.

The turquoise water is especially lovely in all its different hues of blue.

It costs 50 pesos (about $2.30 USD) to enter via the Xpu-Ha Beach Club – less than a cappuccino back home.

You’ll find beach chairs for rent, little beach bars, eateries, bathrooms and showers.

Do you go ga-ga over gorgeous beaches? Then check out these 35+ prettiest beaches in the world!

5) Experience the magic of Joya

For a special evening, book the champage dinner show of Joya.

This Cirque du Soleil Joya performance is only held in the Riviera Maya, nowhere else in the world – at a magical venue purpose-built for Joya.

Cirque du Soleil Joya
You walk by this lagoon with a waterfall to reach the palapa-shaped Joya theater (Credit: Vidanta Riviera Maya)

A wooden walkway leads around a lagoon into the whimsical theater, designed to look like a giant blue cenote.

Seated at your table by your lovely flower-costumed hostess, you’ll be delighted by the colorful chandeliers, pearly blue plates and breadsticks shaped like trees.

And what’s this? Why, an edible menu!

Riviera Maya excursions? You must watch Joya
While eating dinner, we were entertained by jazz singers and tango dancers (Credit: Vidanta Riviera Maya)

The three-course dinner starts one hour before Joya begins.

Sip Moet & Chandon. (Cirque has the exclusive licence to supply Moet & Chandon in Mexico, so in Mexico you can only drink this bubbly at Joya.) And nibble on smoked salmon appetizers and choose from a braised rib or salmon main course.

Just be sure to save room for the quartet of desserts – from a coconut jam pudding to a sinful chocolate confection, served in a surprising dish.

And then…

Be mesmerized as you watch trapeze artists swinging on vines, a mermaid contortionist, jugglers, an Olympic gold-medal gymnast, masked wrestlers and other artists perform incredible feats.

Riviera Maya tours and excursions: See Joya
The Cirque du Soleil Joya show is only performed in the Riviera Maya; it’s magical! (Credit: Cirque du soleil)

It was our first Cirque du Soleil – and we were utterly enchanted.

6) Take the ferry to Cozumel

One of the best Riviera Maya excursions you can make is a day trip to Cozumel.

Cozumel is a relatively small island a short ferry ride away from Playa del Carmen. It’s particularly known for its excellent scuba diving (and snorkeling).

A day trip to Cozumel is a fun excursion from Playa del Carmen
A day trip to Cozumel is a fun excursion from Playa del Carmen

One idea: Rent a jeep or car and drive along the 45-mile paved road that circles much of the island (there are some rentals near the Cozumel ferry dock).

Stop at scenic viewpoints or beaches as the mood hits you, and grab lunch at one of the many beachside restos that dot the route.

You’ll want to plan your Cozumel day trip for a day when there are no cruise ships in port in Cozumel, so you don’t have to share the island with thousands of other day-trippers.

How to get to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen:

There are two passenger-only ferries to Cozumel:

They leave from the ferry dock in Playa del Carmen. The ride takes about 30- to 35-minutes.

Should you stay in Cozumel? Find out if Cancun or Cozumel is the better holiday base for you

7) Get your thrills at Xplor

Looking for heart-pumping thrills?

One of the most adventurous things to do in Riviera Maya is to hit Xplor.

This adventure park is the place for ziplining in Riviera Maya.

It has some of the highest and most extreme ziplines in Latin America – two circuits of 14 bad-ass ziplines.

On the highest Xplor zipline, you’re flying almost 150 feet above the ground. At the end of another zipline, you splash down into a cenote.

We’ve done ziplining before (in Thailand, Canada and elsewhere in Mexico). One of us (would that be the fairer one?) really had to be strong-armed not to whimp out of the ziplining at Xplor.

But it was fun, really!

Fun things to do in Riviera Maya? Ziplining
Who’s having fun ziplining in the Riviera Maya? Janice, of course!

If you’re feeling a bit nervous about the ziplining, you can ask to be tethered to your traveling companion (though once you get the hang of it, you’re sure to feel comfortable enough to go it alone).

Plan to spend the day at the park because there’s a lot more to do too… Like riding amphibious ATV-style vehicles through the Mayan jungle and rafting through underground caves.

Visiting Xplor is one of the adventurous things to do in Riviera Maya
Rock on! It’s a bumpy, fun and wet ride in this amphibious vehicle (Credit: Xplor)

Xplor Riviera Maya tickets:

The daytime (9 am to 5 pm) ticket price includes lunch and smoothies or juices throughout the day plus all adventure activities.

There’s also the option to explore Xplor (oh, bad pun) at night from 5:30 pm to 11: 30 pm. A BBQ rib dinner buffet is included.

See different Xplor tickets and tours here. (Or check Xplor’s website.)

Things to do in Tulum

Tulum, Mexico
Ahhh, beautiful hippie-chic Tulum!

Chilled-out Tulum is one of Mexico’s coolest (hottest?) resort destinations, attracting an international mix of European and North American visitors.

It’s so magical that it’s been designated one of the Pueblos Magicos in Mexico (“magic towns”).

The town of Tulum is located right by Highway 307 (the highway connecting Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum).

But most of Tulum’s eco-chic boutique hotels are strung along a sugar-white, seven-mile beach. 

8) Bicycle around Tulum

Bicycling is one of the best things to do in Tulum, Mexico.
Bicycling is a great way to explore Tulum

A fun way to see the area is to go biking in Tulum.

We rented bicycles and went for an exploratory ride. There are many little bike rental stands around. And the cost is only a few dollars for a couple of hours.

9) Enjoy the beaches in Tulum

With white sand beaches lapped by azure waters, Tulum is paradise for beach bums!

Be sure to hit Playa Paraiso, one of the main beaches in Tulum.

Hang out on a beach in Tulum

Unfortunately, the last time we visited, a brown seaweed called “sargassum” had invaded many of the Riviera Maya’s shores.

Hopefully, when you visit, you won’t encounter sargassum on that gorgeous Tulum beach you’re lazing about on.

The scratchy sargassum makes swimming unpleasant. Not so good for tourists who like pristine beaches, but great for the coral reefs and marine life, which thrive on the seaweed!

Different methods are being used to combat the sargassum problem.

At some resorts, hotel workers bury the seaweed in the sand to make the beaches prettier to look at. Other resorts use a network of boats to collect the sargassum offshore, or install an offshore barrier, to prevent the seaweed from washing up on the beach.

We understand the Riviera Maya seaweed comes and goes, and there are times when it doesn’t appear at all.

It didn’t bother us though. We could still lounge by the beach, but we’d mostly swim in our hotel pool instead of the sea.

10) See the Mayan Riviera ruins of Tulum

Go on, dive in! The Tulum ruins beach had no sargassum when we visited
Go on, dive in! This beach at Tulum had no sargassum when we visited

One beach we noticed that didn’t have any seaweed issues was the beach below Tulum’s Mayan ruins.

Built by the sea, Tulum is the most beautiful of the ancient Mayan cities.

Iguana at Tulum ruins
We saw lots of iguanas enjoying the sunshine at the Mayan Riviera ruins of Tulum

Today the ancient ruins in Tulum are one of the most popular attractions in the Mayan Riviera – you’ll definitely want to visit them!

Bring your swimsuit, then you can cool off with a swim there afterward.

11) Do yoga in Tulum

yoga in Tulum - yoga at sanara
Eco-chic Sanara offers daily yoga in Tulum in an ocean-view studio (Credit: Sanara)

How would you like to practice your down-dogs and sun salutations at a yoga class in Tulum?

Jungle-meets-beach in feel, Sanara is a lovely contemporary hotel with a glass-walled beachfront yoga studio, featuring full-on views of the blue surf.

It offers yoga in Tulum two or three times a day, and its 90-minute classes are open to outside guests.

If you’re a yogi, you’ll love doing yoga at Sanara Tulum.

12) Snorkel with turtles in Akumal

You'll see sea turtles grazing on sea grass when snorkeling in Akumal.
You’ll see Akumal sea turtles grazing on sea grass when snorkeling in Akumal

Akumal Bay is about 16 miles north of Tulum on Highway 307.

Meaning “place of the turtles” in Mayan, Akumal is one of the oldest coastal resort areas in the Yucatan.

It’s also a nesting and feeding site for green and loggerhead turtles which graze on the sea grasses found off the Yucatan coast. There, you can snorkel with sea turtles in the wild.

Snorkeling with turtles in Akumal is one of the most special activities in Riviera Maya. The mornings tend to be busier, so go in the afternoon to avoid the crowds. 

How to visit Akumal:

Technically, the beach is public and free.

But practically speaking, you have to pay a fee of about $5 USD to access the beach if you’re coming on your own.

Check in first at the small ecological center to watch a short video about how to responsibly experience the Akumal turtle snorkeling. They can also refer you to a guide and equipment rentals.

If you’d like to go on a guided tour, this highly-rated Tulum, Sea Turtles and Cenotes day trip combines the Tulum ruins and a cenote swim with snorkeling with the Akumal sea turtles. (It includes transfers from your Cancun or Riviera Maya hotel plus lunch.)

13) Kick back at La Buena Vida Beach Club

On Halfmoon Bay near Akumal, La Buena Vida is the coolest beach club – for adults as well as families.

This beach bar and restaurant has a treehouse kids can climb, tables in the sand, a pool to swim in, hammocks, bean bags for lounging and bar swings.

You must try the tamarind margaritas – they’re absolutely delicious!

Tamarind margarita
You’ll love the tamarind margaritas at La Buena Vida!

On the food menu? Shrimp fritters, fresh salads, fish tacos, ribs, and burgers.

Because La Buena Vida is right on the beach, you can go for a swim while waiting your food.

In fact, the beach vibe is so chill you might end up spending the whole afternoon and evening here!

14) Take a Sian Ka’an Tour

The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage site, located south of Tulum – a 1.3 million-acre nature preserve.

As a biosphere, all living habitat is protected, including local Maya people who live in buffer zones on the edges.

Most of the reserve’s wetlands, tropical forest and mangrove lagoons are untouched and inaccessible. But a section is open for sustainable tourism exploration.

Explore the Muyil ruins:

Muyil is one of the oldest of the Mayan Riviera ruins and cities
Muyil is one of the oldest of the Mayan Riviera ruins and cities

First up on our Sian Ka’an tour was a visit to the archaeological site of Muyil and a tromp across rocky paths, slippery with green moss.

“Muyil” means “pile of rocks.” And most of the buildings have indeed been reduced to piles of rocks by banyan tree roots. But a few steep-walled pyramids remain, entangled by vines.

Because of its relatively remote location, buried in the humid rainforest, Muyil is visited by far fewer people than Tulum. 

The Muyil ruins feel wilder, more raw. It almost felt like we had time-traveled back to the movie set of Raiders of the Lost Ark!

Beware the poisonwood trees!

In the rainforest, we learned about native trees.

Thorns on the trunk of the sacred Ceiba tree (the Mayan "tree of life")
Thorns on the trunk of the sacred Ceiba tree (the Mayan “tree of life”)

The black poisonwood trees are the ones to be wary of.

Stand under a black poisonwood tree in the rain, and the dripping sap will burn your skin.

The antidote comes from the sap of the “tourist tree” – so named for its red peeling bark.

Walking in the tropical rainforest on our Sian Ka'an tour
Walking in the tropical rainforest on our Sian Ka’an tour

Float down a river:

Eventually our walk took us to a dock where a small panga ferried us across two lagoons to a gently flowing river.

What to do in the Mayan Riviera? Explore Sian Ka'an
We caught a boat ride here to cross a couple of lagoons for our “lazy river” float

Slipping into the water and using our life jackets as flotation devices, we floated down the river, pushed by the current.

Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any (harmless) baby crocodiles or manatees. You’re more likely to encounter them if you go earlier in the day.

But we saw many eagles, ibises, pelicans, herons and other birds in the mangroves, and the natural lazy river experience was novel – and fun!

Sian Kaan tours
If you’re lucky, you’ll spy baby crocodiles (harmless!) on your float (Credit: Alltournative Ecological Adventures)

Back at the Sian Ka’an visitor center, we tucked into a very late Mayan lunch of pibil chicken (made with red achiote seeds, in tomato paste), cooked in banana leaf.

The natural wonders of Sian Ka’an are a far cry from the big adventure theme parks like Xcaret and Xplor in the Riviera Maya.

If you’re a nature lover – or just want to get away from the main tourist attractions – put Sian Ka’an on your list of must-do Riviera Maya activities.

Sian Ka’an tour:

We booked our daytrip with Sian Ka’an Community Tours (based in Tulum). Our tour with them was excellent.

This boat trip adventure in Sian Ka’an, offered by Tulum-based Mexico Kan Tours, also gets high marks.

15) Eat fresh fish tacos at Taqueria La Eufemia

Cravin’ tacos? Mouth-watering, oh-so-fresh, really delicious fish tacos?

Then get yourself to Taqueria La Eufemia.

Add a great salsa bar (try the pineapple habanero salsa), ice-cold Mexican beer, friendly staff, decent prices and a great location on the beach – this Mexican food joint is the perfect taqueria!

Things to do near Cancun

There’s no doubt that Cancun is famous for its white sand beaches. But there’s more to Cancun than just the beach.

The area surrounding Cancun is rich in culture, history and biodiversity. You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to interesting things to do around Cancun!

16) Swim with whale sharks at Isla Holbox

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world (not sharks)
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world (not sharks)

How would you like to snorkel with one of the most amazing underwater creatures?

Then you must swim with whale sharks in Isla Holbox, a tiny island north of Cancun.

We’ve swum with whale sharks in La Paz, Mexico (near Cabo San Lucas). And it truly is an unforgettable experience.

Whale sharks aren’t in fact sharks, but fish. They’re the largest fish in the sea – some are larger than 40 feet long. But they’re completely harmless.

When whale sharks are spotted, you slide into the water from your boat, and snorkel alongside them as they swim just a few feet below the water’s surface.

Isla Holbox boasts undeveloped beaches and a very laid-back vibe. And you can swim with whale sharks there too!
Isla Holbox boasts undeveloped beaches and a very laid-back vibe

Whale shark season, Cancun:

The Isla Holbox and Cancun whale shark season is June to September.

That’s when an estimated 800 whale sharks (the largest congregation of whale sharks in the world) gather to feed on plankton in the warm waters off Isla Holbox.

Cancun whale shark tours:

Many visitors book their tour from Cancun (or Playa del Carmen), where they stay. This typically involves a 2-hour powerboat ride to get to where the whale sharks feed.

Unfortunately, the ride can be choppy, and sea sickness can sometimes be an issue on the boat ride.

Isla Holbox whale shark tours:

Swimming with whale sharks at Isla Holbox is one of the best Riviera Maya excursions!
Swimming with whale sharks at Isla Holbox is one of the best Riviera Maya excursions!

The other option for swimming with whale sharks in Cancun is to catch an early morning bus from Cancun to Chiquila (a ride of about 3+ hours), then the ferry (1/2-hour ride) to Isla Holbox – and take your whale shark tour from the island.

The island boasts beautiful white sand beaches, and there are places to stay in Isla Holbox. So some people stay overnight on Isla Holbox to do their whale shark tour there.

You still have a longish boat ride to reach the whale sharks’ feeding site, but some say the waters are calmer and sea sickness is less of a problem when you do the boat tour from Isla Holbox.

17) Explore Chichen Itza

Chichen-Itza is an spectacular Mayan city in the jungle
Chichen-Itza is a spectacular Mayan city in the jungle

A vast complex of Mayan ruins, Chichen Itza is one of the most important archaeological sites in Mexico.

Full of enormous pyramids and other monuments (including the Grand Ball Court, where the Mayans played to the death), the ancient city is amazing to behold.

Don’t miss it. It’s one of the best daytrips from Cancun.

How to visit Chichen Itza:

Snuggled deep in the jungle, Chichen Itza is about a 2-hour drive from Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum.

Here’s a good affordable small group tour of Chichen Itza that includes a cenote swim and visit to the colonial city of Valladolid as well. (Hotel pick-up and drop-off is included.)

18) Explore Isla Mujeres in a golf cart

A great day trip from Cancun is to take the ferry to Isla Mujeres.
A great day trip from Cancun is to take the ferry to Isla Mujeres

One of the best excursions in Riviera Maya is to visit Isla Mujeres.

This tiny laidback island is just across the Bay of Women from Cancun.

Reached by a 20-minute ferry ride, Isla Mujeres is popular as a day trip from Cancun as well as an overnight escape.

When you get to the island, we suggest you rent a golf cart from one of the rental companies near the ferry terminal so you can tootle around the island.

Be sure to check out Playa Norte. Sprinkled with beach bars and restaurants, this beautiful beach white sand beach is the perfect place to chill for a while.

But don’t spend all your time there, because you must also explore the rocky outcropping of Punta Sur on the southern tip of the island. Home to the Mayan ruins of Ixchel Temple, it’s bordered by a waterfront walkway with stunning views.

Other stops on your Isla Mujeres golf cart tour should include the colorful Crayola House (which resembles a box of crayons) and Garrafon Natural Reef Park.

19) Snorkel at an underwater art museum

Check out the eerie sculptures at the Cancun underwater museum (MUSA).
Check out the eerie sculptures at the Cancun underwater museum (MUSA)

One of the most unique Riviera Maya tourist attractions is the Museo Subacuatico de Arte or MUSA, found off the coast of Cancun.

This amazing underwater art installation consists of several sunken galleries, where more than 500 life-size sculptures are attached to the ocean floor.

They’re made of materials that encourage coral reefs to grow, so sea life can find new places to thrive.

How to visit MUSA:

You can only see these sculptures by scuba diving, snorkeling or going out on a glass bottom boat. Here’s a top-rated snorkeling tour of MUSA.

Other things to do in the Yucatan

Wait. We’re not finished yet! There are still more great Yucatan Peninsula activities to enjoy.

20) Take a dip in a cenote

Things to do in Mexico's Riviera Maya? Snorkeling in a cenote is unique.
Things to do in Mexico’s Riviera Maya? Snorkeling or swimming in a cenote is unique

The Riviera Maya region of Mexico is peppered with more than 300 cenotes – cave pools fed by underground freshwater rivers, with openings to the sky where the roof has collapsed.

The ancient Mayan people who lived in the Yucatan believed cenotes were gateways to the underworld. (They sometimes threw sacrificial victims and buried their dead in cenotes.)

When you see the fantastic stalactites and stalagmites inside some cenotes, you’ll think they’re other-worldly too!

Many cenotes in Mexico are filled with amazing stalactites and stalagmites.
Many cenotes are filled with amazing stalactites and stalagmites

One of the special cenote systems we explored was at Native Park Tulum (Jungle Maya eco-park), where we rapelled down into Sac-Actun.

Sac-Actun is the world’s longest underground river and cenote system, mapped by National Geographic cave divers. Mayan artifacts have been found here, along with 12,000-year-old human bones.

A Maya shaman blessed us first, then we snorkeled in the dark (underwater flashlights in hand) behind our guide through astonishingly beautiful freshwater caves.

Having fun on a rope swing at a Riviera Maya cenote
Having fun on a rope swing at a cenote

Of all the top things to do in Riviera Maya, snorkeling or floating in the crystal clear waters of a cenote (or three cenotes!) is our #1 pick.

(Next time we visit the Riviera Maya, we’d love to try scuba diving in a cenote.)

More cenotes? You bet! Read our post on the 10 most beautiful and best Riviera Maya cenotes

21) Try a Temazcal

A Temazcal is a Mayan sweat lodge experience and purification ceremony. It was originally reserved only for priests, kings and Mayan athletes.

Today, many travelers are interested in experiencing this ancient cleansing tradition for themselves – it’s said to be incredibly relaxing.

Temezcal at Azulik
We didn’t try a Temazcal; we found it hot enough in the Mayan Riviera! (Credit: Azulik)

It’s not for the claustrophobic though.

You hunker down inside a domed rock igloo to meditate and sweat, as your shaman chants and herbed vapors swirl around.

Where to go for a Temazcal:

Several local towns and resorts in the Riviera Maya have sweat lodges and offer a version of the Temazcal.

For an upscale personally-tailored Temazcal, we’d suggest the Mayan-inspired Wayak Spa at the Viceroy Riviera Maya.

The Temazcal at the Wayan Spa (Credit: Viceroy Riviera Maya)
The Temazcal at the Wayan Spa (Credit: Viceroy Riviera Maya)

22) Visit the botanical gardens in Puerto Morelos

For nature lovers, one of the cool things to do in the Riviera Maya is to visit the Jardin Botanico Dr. Alfredo Barrer Marin.

Found near the small beach town of Puerto Morelos, these botanical gardens comprise 160 acres of medicinal plants, an orchid garden, 300-year-old trees, native palms and other plants and bushes.

Explore mangroves by boardwalk, cross a suspension bridge and keep your eyes peeled for monkeys.

You can take a colectivo to get there (see Transportation below).

Bring bug spray to protect against annoying mozzies.

Traveling to Riviera Maya: Tips

to make the most of your stay, traveling to the Riviera Maya requires a little planning. You’ll want to figure out the best time to go for you, decide on where you want to stay and know how to get around. Read on…

Where to stay in Riviera Maya

Grand Velas Riviera Maya:

Are you a foodie?

Then you’ll love the Grand Velas Riviera Maya, a luxury all-inclusive resort known for its excellent dining. (Check rates and availability here.)

We drooled over the Grand Velas. See why: Eating at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya restaurants is like going on a 9-step foodie un-diet!

Tulum accommodations:

Tulum is your happy place if you like boho-chic boutique hotels. We’ve actually written a whole post about the 30+ best luxury hotels in Tulum.

Sanara Tulum, for example, has 19 minimalist-style (air-conditioned) rooms on a beautiful stretch of Tulum Beach, plus a beachside yoga studio and superb vegan restaurant.

Sanara Tulum
This is a lovely boutique Tulum hotel (Credit: Sanara)

Or you can save a little money and stay in Tulum Town.

It’s no hardship though at Hotel Bardo, where rooms come with private pools and open-air showers.

Other luxury accommodation options?

Did you know there are some fabulous overwater bungalows in Mexico? Well, there are – near Playa del Carmen. (There’s also a resort in Bacalar too.)

As for all-inclusive options, Secrets Silversands and the Hyatt Zilara Cancun are among the other best all-inclusive resorts in the Cancun and Riviera Maya area.

Best time to visit Riviera Maya

The best time to visit the Riviera Maya is between late November and early March. This is the dry season (also the high tourist season).

Know that the weather will be hot and tropical – but that’s why you’re going, right?

The rainy season is May to October, and the months with the most rain are typically September and October.

Transportation

How to get to Riviera Maya:

Flights to the Riviera Maya arrive at Cancun International Airport.

To get to your hotel or resort, you can arrange an airport transportation with your hotel before arrival, take a taxi, rent a car or take the ADO bus from the airport to Playa del Carmen or Tulum.

We’ve ridden the first-class buses in Mexico for longer distances – and they really are first-class. You’ll find the ADO bus quite comfortable.

How to get around the Riviera Maya:

Small mini-vans called colectivos zip along Highway 307 between Cancun and Tulum all day long.

They are air-conditioned and a great inexpensive way to get around from place to place.

That wraps up our post on Mayan Riviera activities!

Have you visited the Riviera Maya? What did you love best? Let us know in the Comments below :-).

Experience more of Mexico!

Read our posts on:

Los Cabos | From whale watching to sunset cruises by Land’s End, check out these 25 epic things to do in Cabo San Lucas.

Colonial cities | Explore the most beautiful colonial cities in Mexico. We visited many of them!

Zihuatanejo | Here’s all you need to know about the beaches in Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa.

Planning your next trip?

See the following helpful services:

Our Travel Resources Guide | Get airline booking tips. Discover great travel, tour and car rental companies. And find crazy useful trip planning info!

Booking.com | Score a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one.

GetYourGuide | Check out the best local guided tours and book skip-the-line tickets to attractions.

World Nomads | Never travel without insurance! World Nomads offers great coverage for adventurous travelers under 70 (including for surfing, scuba diving and bungee jumping).

Our Travel Shop | Find the best travel gear. We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.

CDC | We follow CDC travel guidelines to see what medications and vaccinations are needed for trips. You can get vaccines at your pharmacy, travel medical clinic or doctor’s office.

Pssst! If you make a booking or purchase through our site, we may earn a small commission (at no cost to you). Thanks!


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Things to do in Riviera Maya

Photo credits: 14, 23 to 27 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews and information, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Fanny

Thursday 27th of May 2021

Great content about Mexico! Thanks for sharing your experience. I also had a great time there, especially diving with the bull sharks in Playa del Carmen!

Janice and George

Thursday 27th of May 2021

Thanks for letting us know :-). The bull shark diving sounds like an interesting experience. We'll have to look into this further!

Kyuo Yun

Tuesday 10th of March 2020

Hi, love your blog! Our family is thinking of going spring break 2020... Can you tell me the conditions of the beaches? Especially in Tulum? Thanks!

Kyuo

Janice and George

Tuesday 10th of March 2020

We're jazzed you like our blog - thanks!

As for the Riviera Maya beaches, the seaweed is still there, but the hotels are working hard to keep it at bay with offshore barriers. Have a look at this 2020 update on the Sargassum seaweed affecting Mexico's beaches. If you go, have a great trip!

Fraser Laveay

Tuesday 24th of December 2019

Loved all of this. Thanks for some ideas for one of the best places on earth. I used yours and this article for a great trip to the Riviera Maya!

Janice and George

Wednesday 25th of December 2019

Glad you found our suggestions helpful... And glad you loved your trip!

Martha

Thursday 7th of June 2018

Wow what an amazing post! I absolutely recommend visiting between April and June because prices of condos, tours and airplane tickets drop then!

Janice and George

Thursday 7th of June 2018

Very true :-). Shoulder season is always good for deals!

Anda

Sunday 12th of June 2016

It's been so long since we've visited Tulum I can't even remember. Probably more than 15 years. We used to go very often in Mexico but we stopped going after a while. We noticed they didn't treat as nicely as they did many years ago. Things might have changed in the meantime, but we have already seen this area so many times that we don't feel like going back. It seems you were have having a blast though. Ziplining? I knew you are brave, but not quite that brave, Janice. Good for you, though. Did George try it too? Great pictures, like always.

Janice and George

Tuesday 14th of June 2016

We find the Mexican people very friendly, especially those in the hotel and restaurant service business, so we like going to Mexico :-). And yes, George went ziplining too! (And, no, not brave, just "close our eyes and hope for the best!")