Riviera Maya, Mexico Travel Guide by LukeTravels.com

Riviera Maya: Destination Introduction

Riviera Maya is considered one of the fastest growing tourist destinations. Riviera Maya is an ideal spot for a perfect vacation getaway for an individual, couple, or a large family. Riviera Maya is a coastal strip of natural beach and jungle paradise stretching more than 100 miles on the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo along the turquoise-colored Caribbean Sea. Riviera Maya is made up of several notable beaches: Puerto Morelos Beach; Mamita's Beach, Playa del Carmen; Playacar, Playa del Carmen; Akumal Beach, Akumal; Xpu-Ha Beach, Xpu-Ha; Tulum Beach, Tulum; Playa Paraiso, Tulum. There are many other secluded beaches not listed here. Most of these beaches are not easily accessible by land due to lack of roads leading to them, however these spectacular beaches are easy to access by boat.

This is an ideal place to relax or enjoy the unforgettable activities at luxurious resorts and boutique hotels located along the white-sand beach of Riviera Maya. Many of the resorts offer world-class golf courses, exotic spas, white-sand beaches, and great all-inclusive couples and family entertainment where you can relax in the sun and indulge in fine dining and nightly entertainment.

Riviera Maya is a destination that offers options for every taste and budget; in fact, Riviera Maya Hotels range from enormous all-inclusive spa and golf resorts to secluded small boutique beach-front hotels. You can pay as little as $50 a night for an economy-style hotel or several hundred dollars a night for an exclusive resort with luxurious amenities.

Several of the Riviera Maya resorts offer on-site scuba diving facilities with daily offshore diving in and around the Great Meso-American Barrier Reef. Also referred to as, The Great Mayan Reef, the world’s second largest, runs along the entire coastline of Riviera Maya, where the sea is filled with colorful fish and other underwater animals. Many beaches have coral areas just few feet offshore for some of the best snorkeling. Just throw on your mask and dive in. Ancient Mayan cities such as Coba and Tulum are a must see while you're in the area. Be sure to check out cities of Puerto Morelos, Puerto Juarez, Playa del Carmen, Akumal, Puerto Aventuras and Tulum where you'll find various activities, restaurants, bars, and shops.

Riviera Maya: How to Get There

Before you can get to Riviera Maya, you will need to fly to Cancun International Airport ICAO CODE: CUN, Mexico. Cancun International Airport has numerous non-stop scheduled and charter flights from around-the-world. Majority of those flights originate in North America, Europe and South and Central America respectively.

Riviera Maya: How to Get Around

By shuttle or private transfer service: Shuttles can be booked in advance, through a travel booking website like Orbitz.com or your hotel, or you can wait until you arrive at the airport and book your transportation at the airport terminal after you pass customs and immigrations. There are several booths set up. This is the fastest and most direct way to arrive to any destination in Riviera Maya from the Cancun International airport.

Most travel companies, such as Orbitz, Expedia, American Airlines Vacations, MLT/Northwest WorryFree Vacations include transportation to and from your hotel with your vacation package. Check with your travel provider to ensure airport/hotel transfers are included in your vacation package. If airport/hotel transfers are not included in your package, you can expect to pay anywhere from $30 to $50 USD each way per person to any hotel or destination within Riviera Maya.  However, a return taxi ride from most Riviera Maya hotels to Cancun Airport will cost approximately $75-150 USD per car, not per person. You do not need to reserve or prepay your return transportation. While you're checking out, have your hotel call a cab or a van if more than four passengers are traveling. Mexican law does not permit more than four passengers riding in a car. Vans or SUV's are the alternatives.

By rental car: To drive to any destination in Riviera Maya from the Cancún airport, take the highway 307 south until you see your hotel or destination. Approximate drive time is anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes, depending on traffic and where your final destination might be.  Highway 307 connecting Cancun and Riviera Maya resorts was recently given a complete facelift and an upgrade.  This two-lane concrete highway has a smooth surface and clear signage, however, driving at night can be difficult as the highway does not have night lighting.  Don't speed as there are many police squad cars roaming the highway.  Also, you will need to keep your eyes open for speed-bumps each time you pass a village along the highway. Larger villages have traffic lights which will delay your travel time.

By bus: If you prefer a more economical method of traveling south from the airport to any destination in Riviera Maya, you can take a bus to Playa del Carmen directly from the Cancún International Airport. The Riviera bus line leaves the airport for Playa about every hour, daily from morning to evening (about $6.50 usd. per person, 45 minute drive). From Playa del Carmen, you can take one of three options: a second-class bus heading to Tulum and stop at Akumal, a colectivo that will also stop on the main highway at Akumal, or a taxi (this is the best option to get you straight to your hotel or condo).

Colectivos: The easiest (and least expensive) way to get around between Akumal and other areas is by colectivo. These are white vans that go up and down the highway between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum every 10 minutes or so. The fares range depending on how far you want to go, but the most you should pay is 15-40 pesos, most of the time you pay $15 pesos.

To flag down a colectivo, stand on the edge of the highway in the direction you would like to go, and if there is room in the van the driver will flash the lights. Wave, and they will pull over. Tell the driver where you would like to go, and he will drop you off at that point on the highway. You pay as you exit. You don’t have to worry about having exact change, as they usually do, but big bills are not a good idea.

Colectivos are primarily used by locals. Also be aware, they drop you off only along the highway, so for some places that are a long ways off the road like the Tulum Ruins and Aktun Chen, you may want to consider a taxi. They are more expensive than a colectivo, but are a good option for certain destinations as they take you directly where you want to go. Be sure to clarify how much the taxi driver will charge before you get in. They are usually set fares, so negotiating the price is not an option. [Contact LukeTravels.com if you feel this section needs an update]

Riviera Maya: Weddings

Destination weddings have become a huge trend. A destination wedding can actually end up costing much less than a hometown ceremony: the obvious fact that not everyone is willing to travel abroad will slim down the guest list.

Guests are generally expected to pay for their travel and lodging expenses.

When planning a beachside wedding in the Mayan Riviera, think about whether you want an informal wedding ceremony, or whether you want your marriage to be legally recognized.

In Mexico, religious figures do not have the power to legally marry couples, so keep that in mind if you want a legal ceremony. The only person who can perform a legal wedding ceremony is the local justice of the peace, who can come out to the beach to perform a simple legal ceremony that can be combined with a religious or spiritual ceremony before or afterward.  

Riviera Maya: Safety

Riviera Maya is a pretty safe destination, but travelers need to exercise the same common sense that they would at home. If you don't feel safe in an area (walking alone after dark, for example), then head to an area where you'll find more people. 

Most resorts in Riviera Maya are secluded and are located away from towns and villages.  Therefore, beaches seem like they are private and only accessible to guests and staff of a particular resort.  Also, most resorts have security guards patrolling the property day and night.  Some of the resorts are quite large and might seem intimidating after dark. Study the hotel's map so you don't get lost of wander off the property.  

Riviera Maya: Taxis and Car Rentals

Taxis: If you need a taxi to get somewhere from your hotel or condo, you can either ask your hotel's receptionist, who can call a taxi, or you can walk out to the main entrance to the taxi stop at the arches. You can always flag one down as you are walking down the any road.

Rental cars: If you are planning on having an active vacation, consider renting a car at the Cancun airport so you can have the rental for your entire stay. This saves you, of course, the shuttle transportation to and from the airport, which can run about $145 USD roundtrip, depending on number of travelers.

If you plan on taking it easy while on your holiday, you might consider renting a car in for just a day or two to take advantage of neighboring sights such as ancient Mayan ruins at Coba, or Tulum.

Riviera Maya: Tipping

Most travelers recommend bringing about $100 USD in singles for tipping for their one-week stay. Others have suggested bringing two dollar bill for tipping as a novelty.  It is my observation that European travelers generally do not tip, while North American/Canadian travelers do. And in all honesty, hotel staff do appreciate the tip, but tend to give the same level of service to tippers and non-tippers.

General guidelines for an AI (All Inclusive)

Housekeepers: $2-3 USD per day - tip extra if you want your room's minibar fully replenished
Waiters: $2-3 USD breakfast-lunch, $5-10 USD for dinner or for excellent service during other meals - this applies to buffet-style restaurants, as well as a-la-carte restaurants.
Bartenders: $1-2 USD for drinks

General guidelines for an EP (European plan) hotel (not AI)

Housekeepers: $2-3 USD per day
Waiters: 10-15% of the bill, depending on service
Bartenders: 10% of the bill, depending on service

There has been a lot of discussion online regarding bringing gifts for staff in addition to tipping. The general consensus has been that if the gifts don't take away from the cash tip amount, then they are fine, but that most staff prefer cash tips to gifts. The Riviera Maya differs from Cuba and the Dominican Republic in the general standard of living and the products available to local workers. With Sams Club conveniently located in Playa del Carmen, local hotel staff have access to American products at a low price.

Riviera Maya: Weather

Riviera Maya  is a great destination any time of the year, but you need to know what to expect before you go.

The weather is pretty much summery all year long (it cools off in the evenings in winter), so the seasons are divided into rainy and dry.

The rainy or wet season usually begins in June or July and lasts until November, with the heaviest rains usually being in July-August. This can mean rain all night, every night, with sunny days, or it can mean rain during the day as well.

Rain is usually seen during this time of the year, as the summer months are pretty hot and the rain cools things off. The rainy season does not scare away visitors, though.

The dry season is, of course, for the remaining half of the year. There can be very short downpours or light rains during the dry season as well.

Generally, the coolest months of the year are December-January, and the warmest are June-July.

Do not believe the weather reports you see either before you leave for your vacation or during it. They may be accurate as far as temperature is concerned, but totally inaccurate when it comes to rain predictions. A five-day forecast may show rain for each and every day, but as days go by, you won't see a drop of rain. In most cases, a drizzle or rain downpour may last for a very short time, and when its all over, you won't even see a cloud in the sky. This, of course, will vary during the wet season or during a hurricane. font size="2">[Contact LukeTravels.com if you feel this section needs an update]

Riviera Maya: What to do, where to go

Puerto Morelos

The town of Puerto Morelos is located twenty miles north of Playa del Carmen, located just off Highway 307. Puerto Morales is made up of upscale and modern resorts and condos, however, the town retains much of the charm and peacefulness of the original fishing village. Puerto Morales is considered a quiet and laid-back town. The National Marine Park at Puerto Morales offers white-sand beaches, great snorkeling, and many land attractions such as the crocodile park and a botanical garden.

Puerto Aventuras

Further south, the town of Puerto Aventuras, may look like an exclusive time-share and condominium community. Puerto Aventuras is also home to the Dolphin Discovery Park. One of Riviera Maya's best interactive attractions, here you can watch, play, and swim with the dolphins. Dolphin Discover park is also home to other marine animals. You can visit Dolphin Discovery park at the Puerto Aventuras Marina at no charge, however there is a fee to participate and interact with the animals. There are several restaurants and shops in the marina area. Puerto Aventuras has several beach-front all-inclusive resorts. These resorts are ideal for those who enjoy mid-size properties where all amenities are within walking distance. Beaches at Puerto Aventuras aren't as grand and vast as in other Riviera Maya areas, however you'll find soft white sand and amazing coral reef formations just few feet offshore.


AAkumal is located south of Puerto Aventuras, and about 25 miles south of Playa del Carmen. Akumal was the original resort area in the Riviera Maya region. First beach front hotels and guest houses date back to the late 1970's. Much has changed since then and new luxury resorts had been built near the Town of Akumal. The Grand Sirenis Hotel and Dreams Tulum Resort are some of the new luxury resorts added just few miles away from the Town of Akumal. The Town of Akumal is home to small privately-owned boutique hotels, family-run restaurants, grocery stores, shops, and private residences. This area offers a much different experience for the traveler who wishes to avoid commercial mega-hotels, chain-restaurants, and the all-inclusive trend. In addition, you'll find many eco-friendly attractions in this area. The Centro Ecological Akumal is an environmental group which provides awareness and classes about turtles and their nesting areas which are abundant in this part of Riviera Maya. Xel-Ha, an unbelievable water park, is located approximately 10 miles south of Akumal. Xel-Ha is a natural aquarium for you to explore. At Xel-Ha you can enjoy adventure activities, ecological attractions, and water activities such as diving or snorkeling in creeks, lagoons, natural wells and ancient caves fed by subterranean rivers flowing to the beautiful Mexican Caribbean Sea of the Riviera Maya. While you're snorkeling underwater, you'll see Caribbean salt waters mix with underground fresh water rivers - a truly unforgettable experience.

Riviera Maya: Archaeological Sites and Protected Habitats


Tulum, located some 40 miles south of Playa del Carmen, is the last town on the Riviera Maya. Tulum is home to a great Mayan Archeological Park. Tulum has Mayan ruins which are characteristic of the Post Classic period of ancient Maya civilization. Tulum has many altars, temples and shrines. Tulum was a center for worship and religion. Mayan people worshipped the Descending god, a deity of the Yucatan peninsula, and the Great Palace. Tulum is spectacular site due to its location on the edge of the Caribbean Sea. Tulum offers several accommodations for the traveler ranging from small hotels to luxurious hotels like Dreams Tulum or The Grand Sirenis Hotel.

Coba and Mayan History

The ruins of Coba are approximately an hour away from Tulum. This is another Mayan archeological site located within a jungle. Coba is located around two lagoons. A series of elevated stone and plaster roads radiate from the central site to various smaller sites near and far. These are known by the Maya term "sacbe" (plural "sacbeob"). Some of these causeways go east to the Caribbean coast, and the longest runs over 100 km to the west to the site of Yaxuna. The site contains several large temple pyramids, the tallest, known as Nohoch Mul, being 42 meters in height. A number of longer sacbeob, radiate out from Coba to other Maya sites in the area, the longest being over 100 km long, running west to the site of Yaxuna. Coba is estimated to have had some 50,000 inhabitants (and possibly significantly more) at its peak of civilization, and the built up area extends over some 80 km². The site was occupied by a sizable agricultural population by the 1st century. The bulk of Coba's major construction seems to have been made in the middle and late Classic period, about 500 to 900, with most of the dated hieroglyphic inscriptions from the 7th century. However Coba remained an important site in the Post-Classic era and new temples were built and old ones kept in repair until at least the 14th century, possibly as late as the arrival of the Spanish.³

About the Mayan Civilizationbr>
The Maya civilization is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as its spectacular art, monumental architecture, and sophisticated mathematical and astronomical systems. Initially established during the Preclassic period, many of these reached their apogee of development during the Classic period (c. 250 to 900), and continued throughout the Postclassical period until the arrival of the Spanish. At its peak, it was one of the most densely populated and culturally dynamic societies in the world. The Maya civilization shares many features with other Mesoamerican civilizations due to the high degree of interaction and cultural diffusion that characterized the region. Advances such as writing, epigraphy, and the calendar did not originate with the Maya; however, their civilization fully developed them. Maya influence can be detected as far as central Mexico, more than 1000 km (625 miles) from the Maya area. Many outside influences are found in Maya art and architecture, which are thought to result from trade and cultural exchange rather than direct external conquest. The Maya peoples never disappeared, neither at the time of the Classic period decline nor with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores and the subsequent Spanish colonization of the Americas. Today, the Maya and their descendants form sizable populations throughout the Maya area and maintain a distinctive set of traditions and beliefs that are the result of the merger of pre-Columbian and post-Conquest ideologies (and structured by the almost total adoption of Roman Catholicism). Many different Mayan languages continue to be spoken as primary languages today; the Rabinal Achí, a play written in the Q'eqchi' language, was declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2005.³ [Contact LukeTravels.com if you feel this section needs an update]]

Muyil Archaeological Site

The Mayan ruins of Muyil (also known as Chunyaxche) are located about 10 miles south of Tulum pueblo on the main highway. The best way to get there is by rental car or taxi. It's best to arrange a rate with the taxi driver so s/he can wait for you while you walk through the site. Muyil is located in the northern region of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve and is the largest Mayan site within the reserve. The site is open seven days a week. There are no services at the site, so be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks. This is actually a large site, but only a small area is open to the public. This is a great site to visit, very few people actually make it to these ruins.

Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reservee/b>

Nearby, you'll find the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, which is a protected jungle habitat that spans approximately one million acres. "Sian Ka’an" is translated from Mayan as "where the sky is born" or "gift from the sky". The reserve is thought to have been inhabited in the pre-Classic and Classic periods as part of the chieftainships of Cohuah and Uaymil. There are twenty-three known archeological sites inside the reserve. Discoveries of human remains, ceramic pieces, and other artifacts have been dated up to 2,300 years old. The northernmost section of Sian Ka’an contains what is thought to be an ancient trade route through lagoons and mangrove channels between the cities of Tulum and Muyil. Parts of what is now the Reserve were once areas of chicle production and trade through the middle of the twentieth century, and the fishing industry is still one of the most important economic activities of the Reserve’s population. Common species include spiny lobster (Palinurus espinosa) tarpon, grouper, permit, nurse shark, hammerhead, black tipped shark, and snapper. Tourism is a another source of income for fishermen in Sian Ka’an, hired to run boat trips to see the reefs and lagoon systems. There is a nominal charge to enter the reserve. The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve was established on the 20th of January 1986 by presidential decree (under President Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado) and became part of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program that same year. In 1987 the reserve was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As part of the MAB program, Sian Ka’an faces the greatest challenge of conservation: to find a way to integrate human activities without compromising other forms of life contained within its boundaries.² [Contact LukeTravels.com if you feel this section needs an update]


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Special thanks to contributors and authors of TripAdvisor. 2. Special thanks to Sian Ka'an. 3. Special thanks to Wikipedia and its authors. Last updated on Wednesday February 17, 2016.