Skip Expedia and Use These Top Online Resources to Help Your Brain Plan an Outstanding Riviera Maya Vacation
As long time residents, we get asked all the time by family and friends – and friends of friends – the same standard questions. People want to know what the best hotels are in the Riviera Maya, what our top-rated experiences are, and is Mexico really safe?
First things first –if I felt that the Riviera Maya was unsafe, I guarantee that I would have bought a one-way ticket for my husband and three children at the first sign of immediate trouble. However, it’s been nearly a decade since we basically renovated our entire life and moved from Canada to Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
To this day, I am in awe of the sheer magnitude of beauty we regularly encounter here in the Riviera Maya. From sunrises and sacred cenotes, to friendly faces and rustic beaches with water so clear you would swear you were in a swimming pool, it’s still seems very surreal that I am living this Caribbean dream.
If you decide to join the other four million annual visitors to Mexico’s Mayan Riviera, this list of online resources and travel tips can be helpful as you begin to plan your trip.
What Is The Riviera Maya and Which Town Suits Your Needs Best
The Riviera Maya is a hundred plus kilometre stretch of white sand beaches that run along Mexico’s Caribbean coast. This wondrous natural playground begins at Puerto Morelos and continues south just past Tulum. Dozens of adult-only, family-friendly and ultra-luxurious all-inclusive resorts run along this spellbinding corridor.
The tropical climate is one of the most appealing draws with an average year-round temperature of 30 degrees Celsius. Boasting a diverse conglomeration of ecosystems, this unique piece of paradise presents world-class diving and golfing, the longest underground river system, the second largest reef system on the planet, numerous protected biospheres and an extensive rainforest speckled with the abandoned remains of an ancient civilization.
Just a handful of seaside towns occupy the captivating coastline, each with its own set of attractive characteristics. Puerto Morelos (20 minutes south of the airport) is a quaint village with one central square where all of the action stems from. It is a popular destination for snowbirds as expats can easily integrate into the community and enjoy a peaceful and quiet existence. There are a few delightful restaurants, cafés and beach clubs surrounding the main square along with a sprinkling of typical souvenir shops.
Puerto Morelos Activities
- Xenotes Park
- Joya by Cirque du Soleil
- Little Mexican Cooking School
- Ixchel Jungle Spa
Continuing twenty minutes south is Playa del Carmen, the Heart of the Riviera Maya (40 minutes south of the airport). Once a small fishing village, it is now a vibrant, metropolitan city with a multitude of options for dining and entertainment.
The principal tourist area is on the east side of the 307 Federal Highway from CTM Avenue to Playacar on the south end of the city. The multi-cultural community is made up of a colourful mix of national and international residents and the vibe is very casual. Despite its easy-breezy ambience, an abundance of upscale restaurants, luxury hotels, brand name and boutique stores give the city its sophisticated essence.
Playa has everything you could possibly need from every type of cuisine to banks and hospitals, big box supermarkets and specialty stores as well as restaurants selling vegan or gluten free products.
Playa del Carmen Activities
- 3-D Museum of Wonders
- Frida Kahlo Museum
- El Pueblito Cooking School
- Teatro de la Ciudad
- Beach Clubs
- Roof Bars with Pools
- Xcaret Park
- Xplor Park
- Xenses Park
- Rio Secreto
- Emotions Native Park
- Cenotes Parque Fundadores
- Free Daily Cultural Shows
- Shopping Malls
- Night Clubs
Next on the map is Puerto Aventuras (55 minutes south of the airport) yet another enchanting village consisting of one square with a Dolphin Discovery as its main attraction. Houses, a few cafes and a school border the canals, which run through the golf course and residential neighbourhood.
There is a marina from which many of the Riviera Maya catamaran, fishing and yacht tours set sail. A modest hotel zone offers ocean views and a couple of all-inclusive lodging options. The shopping and dining experience is limited but there are some nice eateries with fantastic happy hour specials and sublime water views.
Puerto Aventuras Activities
- Golf (9 hole course)
- Swim with Dolphins
- Beach Clubs
- Xpa Eco-natural Spa
- Cedam Maritime Museum
- Rauxa Dinner Show
- Xpu Ha Beach
- Xel ha Park
- Woodward at Hard Rock Hotel
Ten minutes further south on the 307, you come to the Akumal, meaning ‘The Place of the Turtles’ (65 minutes south of the Cancun airport). This beautiful bay is home to an abundant source of sea grass, which makes it an ideal feeding area for Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead turtles. There is a main dive shop on the beach, a few beach club restaurants and a hotel or two.
On the road in from the highway to the parking for the bay, you will pass by convenience stores and ice cream shops, more eateries, such as the highly recommended Turtle Bay Café, and some souvenir shops. If you continue down this road, you will arrive at Half Moon Bay, lined with quaint little hotels, water-front homes, residential houses and vacation home rentals. Heading north still, to the end, you will come to the Yal Ku Lagoon, a spectacular site for snorkeling and cooling off in the crystal clear waters.
- Yal Ku Lagoon
- La Buena Vida Beach Bar and Restaurant
- Akumal Monkey Sanctuary
The last stop on the Riviera Maya tour is the famed bohemian-chic town of Tulum (85 minutes south of the airport). It’s a quieter version of Playa del Carmen, but still offers some charming boutique shopping, upscale lodgings with thatched-roof cabañas and luxurious beach clubs. Although the style is rustic, the prices are on the posh side. However, the quality of cuisine and service tend to be fairly matched to what you will spend and the views you will encounter on these beaches are truly priceless.
Tulum is renowned for its sustainable tourism, its wide alabaster beaches, Yoga and world-class cuisine. You will come across elegant jungle hideaways and endless hole-in-the-wall restaurants showcasing healthy, locally sourced menus, which feature authentic Mexican offerings with a modern twist.
- UNESCO Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
- Punta Allen (2 hours from Tulum and the last town on this stretch of white-sand beach)
- Muyil Ruins
- Tulum Ruins
- Yoga and Wellness Retreats
- Xel Ha Eco-Park
- Tulum Jungle Maya Park by Alltournative
- Coba Ruins
Although Cancun is not part of the Riviera Maya, the Cancun International Airport (CUN) is the destination you will choose when booking your flights. There are plenty of popular big player online sites such as Expedia that offer hundreds of options to choose from when searching for the best and most economical flights. But it may mean a few extra dollars in your pocket to look beyond the usual suspects for more price comparisons. Try these additional suggestions for flight deals.
The first four options allow you to book your tickets right from the site. Although you will have to contact a travel agent, Itamatrix.com provides the whole calendar month of prices and compares almost every airline that flies to your destination. Our family has found plane tickets for half price with Itamatrix versus other giants in online travel industry, so it definitely deserves a mention.
From the airport, you can board a tourist bus to transfer you to your lodgings, or there are taxis, private vans services and the ADO bus, which stops at the major cities in the Riviera Maya including Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Expect anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours for shared transportation. If you do not mind the extra travel time, the ADO bus to Tulum takes approximately two hours, but is the most cost efficient mode of transportation. The buses are very comfortable and provide air-conditioning, wide seats and televisions, with pickup points at all four terminals.
The Riviera Maya presents a vast selection of top-notch accommodation options. Whether you are coming to celebrate your honeymoon, reuniting with relatives for a family reunion or planning a getaway with friends, the hotel and vacation rental offerings are endless. Travelyucatan.com showcases a plethora of choices in all of the hot spot destinations in this area.
The best vacation tip we like to share that never fails to please guests is to break up your stay. Pool bars, unlimited food and umbrella drinks can be blissful and relaxing for a couple of days, but seven consecutive days of this becomes boring fast.
To the right is a compiled list of first-choice accommodations in the Riviera Maya. We recommend a mix and match to have two completely different, yet unforgettable vacation experiences in one.
Spend a couple of relaxing days at an all-inclusive for your fill of Eat. Drink. Sleep. Repeat. Then choose a vacation rental in one of Playa del Carmen’s top condo hotels near 5th Avenue, the city’s main dining, shopping and entertainment district. This will give you the chance to really get a sense of the incredible Playa lifestyle, its sensational tastes and fun-loving people. It is just small enough to navigate by foot or bicycle, while offering museums, aquariums, galleries, boutique shops and over three hundred restaurants in the downtown area.
Its central location offers convenient access to the many ecological parks, ancient Mayan ruins, and picturesque cenotes in the region.
Once you have confirmed your dates with the flights and accommodations booked, you can delve deeper into your research and read honest reviews on the best activities in the Riviera Maya at Everythingplayadelcarmen.com. This site is chock-full of un-biased information along with restaurant, hotel and attraction reviews. It also contains updated travel tips and covers some of the newest concepts to pop up around the entire Yucatan Peninsula.
As the name states, you will find everything you need to know about Playa del Carmen and area including detailed instructions on how to get around, best economical or authentic menus, as well as what to expect at popular and lesser visited gems in the Riviera Maya.
The travel blogging duo from Gettingstamped.com spends a few weeks each year in Playa del Carmen and have even called it home for a four-month period. Hannah and Adam know this region well and have put together several guides from living in Playa del Carmen to the best day trips with Playa as a home base. They continually update their content so you can count on current and honest content.
A third option that offers travel tips and day trip ideas with full guides for some of the area’s top and less touristy, hidden Riviera Maya gems is the Bric Travel Blog. Any experiences that are worth sharing to help visitors have fun and memorable vacations are documented here. Also, Bric’s Playa del Carmen experts are available through an online chat to answer any questions you may have regarding the area.
If you are fluent in español, Rivieramaya.com presents a wealth of information on the fore- mentioned destinations.
Should you want to do some exploring on your own, minus the expensive group tour prices and crowded buses, hiring a reliable private van service is recommended. This company allows you to customize your adventure and you have a private guide to give you insider information on some of the area’s top sites.
Additionally, you can use the local Taxi WhatsApp service (+52 1 984-138-1075 / +52 1 (984-197-0814) to reserve your ride. The best feature of this service is that you have a guaranteed price at the time of booking so there are no surprises when you arrive at your final destination.
For any other information regarding a Playa del Carmen vacation, our offices are open everyday to answer your calls. Contact us anytime and we will do our best to help!