Many people think Cancun is the start of the Riviera Maya, but this section of tourism development actually stretches from the area just south of Cancun near Puerto Morelos and goes all the way south to Tulum before ending at Punta Allen inside the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. In between these two points lie pristine white sand beaches, underground caverns, open-air cenotes, coastal cities, quaint fishing villages, Mayan archaeological ruins, and much, much more. There are so many things to do in the Riviera Maya to explore and enjoy with family, friends, or your significant other!
Note: This guide, unlike many other guides for things to do in Riviera Maya, does not include recommendations or affiliate links to Xel-Ha and Xcaret Parks for the simple reason that I am against promoting destinations that feature wildlife in captivity – such as dolphins. My guide highlights the natural beauty of Riviera Maya and original things to do instead and I whole-heartedly recommend them! Learn more about how to be a responsible traveler here.
Here are 21 amazing things to do in Riviera Maya in Mexico!
Ultimate Bucket List for Things to Do in Riviera Maya
1. Swim, Snorkel, & Dive in a Cenote
Cenotes, have you heard of them? There are over 6,000 cenotes spread out across the Yucatan Peninsula. They are essentially flooded freshwater limestone sinkholes that were formed when the Chicxulub crater event hit earth 66 million years ago. You can’t come to the Riviera Maya without jumping, snorkeling, or diving in one! There are three “types” of cenotes you’ll find here:
- Open-air cenotes
- Semi-open, semi-cave cenotes
- Underground (closed) cenotes
The Riviera Maya has all three, but it’s also home to the entrance to the largest underground rivers in the world — the Sac Actun cave system. You will find a cluster of cenotes especially between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum and the surrounding area. Many of them are open-air cenotes (similar to ponds or natural swimming pools), but a whole other world lies underneath the surface which you can explore either by snorkeling or cave diving.
2. Scuba Dive off the Mesoamerican Reef (Best Thing to Do in Riviera Maya!)
I’d argue that one of the best things to do in Riviera Maya is to go scuba diving in Tulum. Here, you can either go diving in a cenote or off the Mesoamerican Reef. I’ve done both and it’s seriously amazing! The cost of a discovery dive ranges from $90-120 USD for 1-2 dives. If you’re interested in getting your PADI Open Water course done here, you can do so for around $400-550 USD. Thanks to its underground caverns and the lively and colorful reef just off-shore, Tulum has become famous among divers. But you can also scuba dive elsewhere in the Riviera Maya as well, such as in Cozumel or Akumal.
3. Explore Ancient Mayan Archaeological Ruins
Mexico’s biggest flex is perhaps its breathtaking archaeological ruins sites sprinkled throughout the country. There are over 200 alone! Riviera Maya is home to dozens of them. Perhaps the most well known Mayan ruins site in the world are none other than at Chichen Itza. But the Riviera Maya has many more ruins to discover.
If you want to explore the Riviera Maya’s ruins (beyond Chichen Itza), here are a few of my favorite places:
- Calakmul Ruins hidden in the jungle of Campeche
- Tulum Ruins on the coast
- Muyil Ruins inside Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
- Coba Ruins (a popular day trip from Tulum)
4. Float Down Mayan Canals in Sian Ka’an
Sian Ka’an, meaning in Maya “Origin of the Sky” is a protected biosphere situated on the Riviera Maya coastline. You can reach the Muyil Ruins and enter into Sian Ka’an just 20 minutes south of Tulum pueblo. It’s here where you can take a thrilling boat tour across the lagoons to float down an old Mayan trading route connecting the lagoons.
5. Snorkel or Kitesurf in the Arrecife de Puerto Morelos National Park
The National Reef Park of Puerto Morelos is a seriously underrated thing to do in the Riviera Maya. Less crowded than its coastal neighbors, Puerto Morelos offers a beautiful and relaxing Mexican escape.
Morelos is a small yet lively Mayan fishing village teeming with local life. The town is laid-back and gives a birds-eye view into Mayan and Mexican culture, while the coastal part spoils you will its clear turquoise waters and beachfront restaurants. Snorkeling in the National Reef Park is an adventure in the Riviera Maya you and your family aren’t likely to forget!
A single snorkel tour on the reef will set you back only $25 USD while a full-day tour visiting 2-3 spots on the reef will cost around $80 (gear included for each). You can check out a full snorkeling report here.
Pro Tip: Puerto Morelos is a great place to stay along the Riviera Maya since it is cheaper and is only 35 minutes from either Cancun or Playa del Carmen. Reserve in advance and save on Booking.com
6. Lounge on Playa Paraiso
Playa Paraiso, appropriately named “Paradise Beach” is a free public beach in Tulum. Over the years, it has grown massively in popularity so it’s not so secluded anymore. However, you can still enjoy a beautiful pink sky evening as you dance about in the warm Caribbean waters.
The beach also has a few great beachfront cabanas you can rent. Or even better, if you head to Villas Pescadores you can chow down on fresh seafood with your toes in the sand.
7. Street Art in Tulum Pueblo
One of the most underrated things to do in the Riviera Maya is to explore Tulum pueblo’s growing art scene. Hidden to most travelers, biking or walking around the backstreets of the town gives you a unique perspective and insight into life in Tulum beyond the overly developed and touristy Hotel Zone.
Trust me on this one, you will be surprised at just how many – and how large and beautiful – some of these artworks and murals are.
8. Cruise Around Cozumel Island
Cozumel island, also known as San Miguel de Cozumel, sits just off the coast of the Riviera Maya. It’s a unique destination for adventure travelers and anyone who loves diving, swimming, and snorkeling. In fact, the Cozumel reef is one of the best places for diving in the world! But more than its turquoise waters. Cozumel also is a popular cruise port and thus receives quite a bit of tourism. As a result, the downtown part of Cozumel is fairly developed, offering travelers tons of options for dining, shopping, and restaurants/bars (and without being overbearing like Cancun).
Also Read: Cozumel, Mexico: The Complete Travel Guide
9. Escape to Punta Allen
Punta Allen is an underrated Mayan fishing village lying directly south of Tulum on a small stretch of land. To get there is quite the challenge because, despite it being only 45 km away, it takes 2-3 hours driving due to the bumpy road conditions. There is also zero fuel/gas service in Punta Allen, so you have to make sure you have enough fuel to make the trip there and back on one tank. But, if you’re able to reach it, you won’t want to leave! It’s the perfect quiet retreat away from the crazy crowds of the Riviera Maya’s more popular travel destinations.
10. Stroll 5th Avenue in Playa Del Carmen
Playa del Carmen (PDC), is a traveler’s hub and a hotspot for digital nomads escaping to the Riviera Maya for free-flowing wifi and tequila. If you are thinking about beaching it up on PDC, then a typical thing to do is to stroll 5th Ave. Also known as La Quinta Avenida, 5th Ave is a bustling street full of bars, shops, stores, galleries, restaurants, markets, clubs, and more! Although I wouldn’t enjoy staying here for an extended period, exploring PDC by foot is a fun thing to do during a trip to the Riviera Maya.
11. Climb Nicte-Ha Pyramid at Coba Ruins
Coba is a popular day trip from Tulum that attracts lovers of adventure. Unlike the Tulum ruins on the coast, Coba is hidden in the jungle about 40 minutes outside of Tulum. The archaeological site is pretty large and can take a few hours to explore.
I would highly recommend you rent a bike once inside so you can explore the grounds much quicker. There’s not a whole lot of signage at Coba explaining about the pyramids so it’s best if you hire a guide or brush up on its history via Google before you head out.
12. Go Underground into the Coba Cenotes
Once there, definitely take advantage of the nearby underground cenotes. There are three: Cenote Tankach-Ha, Multum-Ha, and Cenote Choo-Ha. I love recommending Coba as a top thing to do in the Riviera Maya because in just one day you can be climbing above the jungle treetops on top of the Nicte-Ha pyramid and swimming underground in a crystal clear (and cold) freshwater cenote.
Also Read: The Ultimate Guide to Coba Ruins & Cenotes
13. Watch Sunset from a Rooftop Cocktail Bar
Whether you’re in Cancun, Puerto Morelos, PDC, or Tulum, there are many chances to enjoy a deliciously salt-rimmed margarita or mezcal cocktail. But one of my favorite places to go in the Riviera Maya is in Tulum pueblo at the top of The Good Pizza. The cocktails are creative (and kinda expensive), but you get to have a neat view of downtown Tulum from inside this neat little “pod” that hangs off the roof. If you want a more beachy sunset experience, you can go up on the roof at Kin-Toh right beside Azulik for drinks at sunset.
14. Swim or Dive with Sea Turtles in Akumal
One of the most AMAZING experiences I’ve had so far in the Riviera Maya is swimming with sea turtles in Akumal. Akumal in the Mayan language translates to the “land of turtles” and is still one of the best places to see turtles in the water. To experience this, I’d highly recommend taking a snorkeling or scuba diving tour. I completed my PADI Open Water in Akumal and dove on both the Las Redes reef and Motorcycle reef. If there’s one thing you must do in the Riviera Maya, it’s going scuba diving and exploring all the beautiful marine life!
15. Marvel at Tulum’s Coastal Ruins
If there’s one thing that really sets Tulum apart from the other Riviera Maya destinations, it’s the Tulum Ruins which sit perched overlooking the Caribbean sea. The entry to the ruins is around $80 pesos or $3-4 USD. It’s definitely one of the most budget-friendly things to do in Riviera Maya that gives you a birds-eye view into the life of this remarkable lost civilization.
16. Observe Marine Life at Boca Paila
If you want to explore another side of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, you simply need to head south of Tulum’s sprawling Hotel Zone. You will essentially be on the opposite side of the lagoons which you float down with a tour from Muyil. On this side of the reserve, however, is a beautiful long stretch of native beach. Boca Paila is the place and meeting point where the lagoon meets the sea. You can cruise down here on a scooter or in a car and stop across the bridge to see this conjunction.
You can also take a boat tour on the lagoons on this side of Sian Ka’an to see crocodiles, manatees, and plenty of endemic birds. Just from looking from the bridge at Boca Paila, we were able to see a school of baby barracudas! I would also recommend you stopover at the free Visitor’s Center and climb the watchtower to get unique panoramic views of Sian Ka’an.
Other Things to Do Beyond the Riviera Maya
17. Kayak in Bacalar’s Lagoon of 7 Colors
Bacalar is one of Mexico’s “Magic Towns” (pueblos magicos) in the southernmost part of Quintana Roo (about 2 hours drive from Tulum). It is a sleepy, down-to-earth village surrounded by nature. Its most prominent attraction is none other than the Laguna de Siete Colores (Lagoon of Seven Colors). Rather than seven different colors, it’s more like seven different hues of blues. It is truly a magical place to visit on a trip to this side of Mexico.
Also Read: Kayaking in Bacalar’s Lagoon of 7 Colors
18. Road Trip the Yucatan Peninsula
Want to explore beyond the Riviera Maya coast? Then follow my 3-4 week road trip Yucatan Peninsula itinerary which takes you across the entire Peninsula, including the states of Yucatan, Quintana Roo, and Campeche. I also included suggestions for shorter trips, too.
19. Explore the Mayan Culture & History in Valladolid
Although not technically in the Riviera Maya, the colonial city of Valladolid makes it on many travelers’ itineraries when visiting the coast, seeing as it’s only an easy 1.5-hour drive away. There are several reasons why you should visit Valladolid – it has beautiful museums, architecture, sprawling plazas, and not to mention a handful of underground cenotes!
20. Tour Chichen Itza
If you come to the Riviera Maya for vacation, you’ll only be a 2-3 hour drive away from one of the most inspiring Wonders of the World – Chichen Itza! Anyone who visits the Riviera Maya or the Yucatan Peninsula for the first time usually end up spending 1 day in Chichen Itza to finally check it off the bucket list.
21. Get Lost in the Jungle at Calakmul Ruins
Not far away from the Riviera Maya lies a thick, dense jungle in the state of Campeche (just beside Quintana Roo). It’s here, deep in the forest canopy, that you can find the mesmerizing lost city of Calakmul. By far one of the best places to visit in Mexico, Calakmul simply enchants you like no other Mayan ruin archaeological site. The climbable pyramids tower above the treetops, giving you an endless view of the jungle around you. You also get the chance to spot wildlife such as spider monkeys, endemic birds, and maybe even a jaguar…
What to Pack for the Riviera Maya
The Riviera Maya has a pleasant climate year-round with hot summers and fairly mild winters, although some mornings and evenings can get chilly in the months of Dec-Jan. Pack for beach clothes including swimsuits and breathable linen dresses, but also a few long-sleeves and pants for when the temps drop and jungle adventures.
The best time to visit will be sometime between November and April. Personally, though, I prefer to visit the Riviera Maya sometime after the holidays from January-April, when temperatures pick back up while crowds begin to dissipate.
Here are a few other things you should pack for trips to the Riviera Maya:
- Biodegradable sunscreen
- Eco-friendly insect repellent balm
- GoPro Hero 8 or DJI Osmo Action
- Waterproof phone pouch
- Sandals for beach days + sneakers for hikes and adventures
- REI day bag
- Sunglasses & sunhat
- Reusable water bottle like the travel-friendly S’well
Enjoy These Things to do in Riviera Maya!
I hope you have a blast on your trip to Mexico’s stunning Riviera Maya! Please remember to visit these destinations responsibly and with the awareness that your travels have an impact on the local communities and environment. If you have any questions or suggestions for what to do in the Riviera Maya, feel free to reach out and drop a comment below.
Pin this Riviera Maya bucket list for later!