The Maya Riviera!
It’s beautiful with endless turquoise beaches, lush green jungles and fresh water cenotes.
But a word of caution:
Most of the Maya Riviera is a tourist attraction.
Unless – of course – you rent a car and explore it on your own!
To some, this is an act of insanity; but to the true adventurer, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.
The 236 mile (380km) journey spans from Cancún to Chetumal near the Belize border and follows the second longest reef in the world, the Great Mesomerican Reef.
Everything there and in-between is the ultimate outdoor playground, from horseback riding to snorkeling and scuba diving, there’s something for everyone.
Credit: Mel B.
Stops Along the Maya Riviera
Slow paced coastal towns, each possessing their own unique charm, are sprinkled all along the Maya Riviera. Here’s a list of must see towns and activities as you make your journey from north to south.
1. Snorkeling in Puerto Morelos
Puerto Morelos and was once a busy port town exporting hardwood and chicle. However, today the town is a slow-moving fishing and tourist village. The Maya Reef is close to the shore and water’s surface making it one of the best spots for snorkeling.
2. Shopping the Avenida Quinta in Playa del Carmen’s
Playa del Carmen is not as quaint as Puerto Morelos but the beaches are just as nice. Most people head straight to the beach for lounging, swimming and water sports. However, a walk down the Avenida Quinta in the evenings is a nice way to see the town and pick up some great locally made textiles, crafts, and clothes.
Note: If you have time, take a ferry out to Cozumel (40 minutes one-way) for arguably the best scuba diving in the western hemisphere.
3. Horseback Riding in Punta Verando
Rancho Punta Venado is south of Playa del Carmen just past the Calica Pier. It’s one of the best horse back riding in the area with healthy and well taken care of horses. Contact them in advance to book a ride at firstname.lastname@example.org or 984-116-3213.
4. Swimming with Dolphins in Puerto Aventuras
Puerto Aventuras is an up and coming condo and marina development that features a 9-hole golf course. Swimming with the dolphins is a big attraction in the area so book in advance with Dolphin Discovery.
5. Beach-going in Xpuha
One of the best beaches along the Riviera Maya is in Xpuha. The long white sand stretch of beach is lined with private homes and condos. There’s enough room to roam where you won’t feel overwhelmed by the crowds.
6. Swimming the Cenotes of Tankah Bay
All along the Riviera Maya cenotes, or freshwater sink-holes, offer excellent swimming, snorkeling and cave diving. One of the best cenote is in Tankah Bay in the back of Casa Cenote where the cenote winds underground and bubbles just a few feet off shore.
7. Discovering the Ruins of Tulum
Tulum is walled Maya city that’s quickly becoming a tourist destination. The ancient ruins are located on a cliff above the ocean. Go early to avoid the crowds. Expect a small fee to enter and a five minute walk to the actual site.
8. Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve outside Tulum
In 1986 the government named this a reserved and only one year later it became a UNESCO world heritage site. Monkeys, jaguars, crocodiles, turtles, and many more animals and plants flourish in this protected land. The one to two-hour car ride to the end of the reserve (Punta Allen) is worth it – if you’re able to handle the rough roads.
9. Swimming the Lagoons of Bacalar
Nicknamed, the Lake of the Seven Colors, Laguna Balcalar is actually a lagoon filled with cenote water. Perhaps that’s why the color of the lagoon is so vivid and beautiful. Swimming and kayaking are popular activities in the lagoon.
10. Museo de la Cultura Maya in Chetumal
Chetumal is the last stop on the epic journey and the capitol of the Mexican state, Quinana Roo. The Museo de la Cultura Maya is a must see where they depict the interesting Maya culture through exhibits.
From Chetumal you can continue south into Belize or head back to Cancún partaking in more adventures along the way… perhaps some of them twice!
Map of Maya Riviera
When To Go
The best time to drive the Maya Riviera is from November to February. November is quite possibly the best month as there will be fewer tourists and better rates. December to February marks the beginning of the high season when tourist flock to the area for the perfect weather.
The following climates are from Cancún’s averages which are very consistent with the rest of the Riviera Maya. Year round, the high temperatures range from 70 to 81°F (21 to 27°C) and low temperatures range from 45 to 55°F (7 to 13°C). The coolest months year round are December through January.
Getting There & Around
The Maya Riviera extends for 236 miles (380km) from Cancún in the north to Chetumal in the south all along the state of Quintana Roo’s Caribbean coast.
The fastest and cheapest way to get to the Riviera Maya is to fly into the Cancún International Aiport. From there you can rent a vehicle and head south to start your trip.
The Carretera Federal 307 is the main road that will take you almost the entire route (4.5 hour drive one-way) with a few turn offs to get to small towns along the beach.
- Mid-range accommodations: $100-150
- Meals: $10
- Bottle of beer: $2
- Freshen up on your Mexican road signs before heading out.
- Give yourself plenty of time to stop along the way. Two weeks would be an ideal amount of time to make the drive.
- Bring a guidebook for more detailed information on the towns and activities. Also, buy a map for exact distances between stops.
- Pump your own gas. An attendant will pump your gas and check your oil. Make sure they don’t over pump the gas though.
- If you get stopped along the route by a “police officer” and asked for money, ask for the officer’s name and badge number. Inform him that the activity is illegal and that you will report him. Most of the time, they will back off with a warning and let you go.
- Two of the longest underwater cave systems in the world are in the Riviera Maya.
- The Riviera Maya is also known as the Mayan Riviera.
- The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (aka the Belize Barrier Reef) is the second longest in the world and spans the more than the length of the Riviera Maya.
Feature Image Credit: Michnessiest