What to Do on the Riviera Maya
Collected by Laura Winfrey, AFAR Local Expert
Leaving an impossibly perfect beach may not sound like a wise idea, but the Riviera Maya offers so much: Climb 13th-century Maya pyramids, swim in freshwater cenotes, and shop for locally made crafts. See as much as you can of this charming region.
Blvd Kukuklcan Km 9, Zona Hotelera Cancun, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Benito Juarez, Q.R., Mexico
Also called the Party Zone, this block along Cancún’s main boulevard pulsates with lights, music, and gaudy signs inviting partyers into nightclubs lining the street. From smaller open-air clubs like La Vaquita and Congo, to...
77500, Tulipanes LB, 22, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico
Hidden in the center of a quiet neighborhood between the main thoroughfares of Avenida Tulum and Avenida Yaxchilán, this area has been a top gathering spot for Cancún families for decades, especially after sunset on weekends. Despite...
Boulevard Kukulcan km 1, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico
This sleek outdoor mall sits in the lavish neighborhood of Puerto Cancún, known for its marinas, golf course, and luxury homes. The shopping center features international brands like Zara and Sephora, along with a stylish, upscale food...
Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico
This extensive white-sand beach is the one Cancún locals love the most, and it’s still largely unknown to tourists. Bisected by a lengthy pier, Playa Langosta has calm, shallow, crystal-clear waters like most other beaches on the...
Boulevard Kukulcan, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
A massive stretch of soft white sand calls you to the Caribbean at Cancún’s largest public beach, a quiet spot amid Hotel Zone resorts. The waves can be a bit rougher than elsewhere, so it may not be great for swimming, but the strand...
Carlos J. Nader, 5, Cancún, Q.R., Mexico
The quiet street known as Avenida Nader, where several pioneers lived during the city’s 1970s genesis, ranks among the most “historic” neighborhoods in this all-but-brand-new city. With City Hall’s rear garden to the west...
Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico
If you’ve dreamed of climbing an ancient Mayan ruin yet remaining free from the madding crowd, Cancún has a little secret: the El Rey Ruins, an archaeological treasure tucked into the Hotel Zone and just a 10-minute bus ride from most...
Boulevard Kukulcan KM 13 , LOCAL 410 y 411A, Benito Juárez, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico
Beginning right at the entrance to downtown Cancún (kilometer 0, where the median is also home to a spacious outdoor gym) and tracing the Hotel Zone’s entire northern stretch, this wide, red-paved path is a favorite for runners,...
Boulevard Kukulcan km 12.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico
Cancún’s best-known mall offers travelers an easy-to-reach location in the heart of the Hotel Zone. Known to locals simply as Plaza La Isla, this outdoor shopping center is a lovely spot to beat the heat thanks to its Venetian...
Av Yaxchilán 51 Mz 23 Lt 51 Sm 22, Centro, 22, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico
After dark, locals and tourists alike gather on this avenue. Here, you’ll see a blend of affordable downtown hotels side by side dimly lit dive bars, but the street is mostly known for its colorful eateries serving authentic Mexican food:...
km 32.7, Ruta de los Cenote, 77580 Leona Vicario, Mexico
About half an hour south of Cancún stands the rickety wooden entrance sign to La Ruta de los Cenotes, a small highway leading into the jungle, populated only by the occasional souvenir stand or rental cabins. But the real attraction here is...
Acamaya S/N, Javier Rojo Gomez, Puerto Morelos, Q.R., Mexico
This sleepy fishing village sits halfway between Cancún and Playa del Carmen, and has gradually evolved into a signature destination known for fresh catches and lovely white sands. Due to a nearby coral reef, it’s also one of the...
Calle Quinta Avenida 141, Solidaridad, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
Playa del Carmen’s winning charm emerges all along this wide pedestrian avenue, which runs parallel to the beach. Eateries here include everything from cheap fast food like Pizza Piazza to upscale restaurants such as Frida Kahlo or La Casa...
Calle 14 bis entre Av. 10 y Av.15 Colonia Centro, Gonzalo Guerrero, 77720 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
Playa del Carmen’s 10th Avenue runs parallel to the city’s famous 5th Avenue but has a more low-key vibe, a relief when you tire of crowds, malls, and big-name brands. This bustling one-way street does allow cars, but it’s also...
Lote 3 Mza. 29, Fracc. Playacar, Playacar, 77711 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
This unassuming two-story plaza has become a popular Friday- and Saturday-night hangout for 20- and 30-something locals. In addition to its shops, Plaza Paseo Cobá is home to several restaurants and bars with a trendy, bohemian vibe that’s...
Calle 38 Nte. 152, Gonzalo Guerrero, 77720 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
Situated at the eastern end of Playa del Carmen’s quiet, charming Calle 38, Shangri-La Beach is named after a small hotel that used to sit right there but has since been renamed and renovated. This stretch of the city’s coastline has a...
Carretera Chetúmal-Puerto Juárez Kilómetro 282, Solidaridad, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
The massive nature park called Xcaret may be the Riviera Maya’s most touristy attraction, but there’s a reason it’s popular: It’s the only place in the area where you can do it all—snorkel, visit animal habitats, swim...
Carretera Cancún -Tulum Km 282, Puerto Juarez, Solidaridad, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
The Riviera Maya’s most beautifully styled adventure park begins with a reception area inside a natural cave. Tours here include Latin America’s highest zip lines over the tropical forest, amphibious vehicles you drive through caves...
Carretera Federal Libre Chetumal- Puerto Juárez Km. 283.5 Ejido Sur, 77712 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
Thousands of years ago, the entire Yucatán Peninsula was under water, as evidenced by its massive network of rivers that flow beneath the region’s limestone surface. No place better presents the area’s captivating caverns and...
Carretera Federal & Cancún - Chetumal Km 230 307, 77780 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
While not as large as other ancient Mayan cities in the region, Tulum draws in visitors for its stunning setting of centuries-old temples perched on a cliff by the Caribbean Sea. You’ll pass a large market with souvenirs, a casual Mexican...
Carretera Cancun - Tulum Km. 246 Lote 32 Manzana 3, Tankah 3, 77780 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
Also known as Cenote Manatee, this natural spring is completely open, unlike so many others in the region that are situated in caves. You can kayak or snorkel in the cenote’s small river, which is lined on either side by dense mangrove...
Carretera Federal Cancún-Tulum. Km 124, Jacinto Pat, 77780 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
This cenote’s name, which means “Two Eyes” in Spanish, refers to its two separate pools that lead into a large cavern of incredibly clear water. At more than 40 miles long, Dos Ojos is the largest underwater cave system in the...
Paseo Akumal, Quintana Roo, 85200 Cuernavaca, MOR, Mexico
Ideal for travelers who daydream of swimming beside sea turtles, this bay has clear, shallow, pool-like water and a silky white-sand floor that means you can chill, carefree, as fish poke around your feet. For more adventure, rent snorkel gear and...
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