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Mexico’s Riviera Maya is one of the prettiest and most-visited tourist destinations in Mexico. Located on the Northeast of the larger Yucatan Peninsula, this breathtaking 100 miles of coastline is home to some of the best beaches in Mexico, ancient Mayan ruins, and two very well-known tourist towns –Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
But this vibrant area is also home to some lesser-known gems like Puerto Morelos, the secret Xpu-Ha beach, and the UNESCO-listed Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. There’s so much to see and do on the Riviera Maya that we recommend spending at least a week here to get a true sense of the area!
We’ve visited the Riviera Maya lots of times, stayed in the different towns here, experienced lots of fun activities, and tried out some of the best restaurants in the region.
This is why today, I’m going to share with you my top tips for visiting this slice of paradise, as well as listing 33 of the most fun things to do in the Riviera Maya! The list includes plenty of water-based activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, and sailing, but it also highlights some unique things to do, like swimming in cenotes and driving a speedy ATV through the Mayan jungle!
I won’t keep you waiting any longer; here are 33 of the BEST things to do in the Riviera Maya!
About Visiting the Riviera Maya, Mexico
The Riviera Maya is a 120 km (75 miles) stretch of coastline that’s located within the bigger Yucatan Peninsula. It starts to the South of Puerto Morelos and stretches to Punta Allen with the popular tourist towns of Playa del Carmen and Tulum in between. Both these large towns are home to an abundance of tourist facilities like hotels, all-inclusive resorts, restaurants, and activities. It’s in these towns that most tourists decide to base themselves on vacation to the Riviera Maya.
As well as stunning beaches like Akumal Beach where you can go swimming with turtles and the bustling Parque Fundadores in downtown Playa del Carmen, there are also plenty of Mayan Ruins like the Tulum Ruins, Muyil, and Xel-ha just waiting to be explored on this famed stretch of coastline!
Getting to the Riviera Maya is easy, with a large international airport located in nearby Cancun, which is 55 km (34 miles) from Playa del Carmen and 118 km (73 miles) from Tulum. Also, public and tourist buses operate into the Mayan Riviera from other major cities across Mexico, like Mexico City and Oaxaca!
The BEST Things to do in the Riviera Maya, Mexico
1. Scuba diving
One of the best things to do from the coastal regions of the Riviera Maya is scuba diving. Yep, the waters surrounding the beachy towns of Playa del Carmen and Tulum are teeming with marine life, from sea turtles to whale sharks and plenty of tropical fish. And, in Tulum, you can take your dive up a notch and scuba dive in a cenote!
There are heaps of scuba diving tours available in both these areas, and the great thing is that no matter your ability, you’ll be able to find a suitable tour.
If you’re a beginner, then this discovery dive with an experienced instructor from Playa del Carmen is the best option for you. Before venturing into the open water, you will learn the basics of diving and practice your newly-learned skills in a swimming pool. Then your experienced guide will transport you by boat to the middle of the ocean, where you’ll get to dive in two different spots. No certification is needed for this particular tour!
While if you’re looking to get PADI certified while staying in Playa del Carmen, you can choose from a 3-day or more intense 5-day course. This specific 3-day PADI certification course is highly recommended and includes one day of classroom-based learning and two days of diving. All diving equipment is provided, and you will be granted a certification card upon completion, which you can use to dive up to 60 feet in other regions across the world!
As I mentioned, in Tulum, you can do a dive that’s truly bucket-list-worthy – yep, you can dive in cenotes in Tulum. Casa Cenote and Cenote Calavera are the two most popular cenotes in Tulum and they are perfect for scuba diving!
Casa Cenote is a memorable dive because you can dive beneath mangroves, and when you look up to the surface, you can see the roots of the trees! The surface is easily accessible too from Casa Cenote, unlike other cenotes in the region. In comparison, diving in Calavera Cenote is all cave diving and is done around the cenote opening. While diving here, you will see heaps of white rock formations, and what’s really cool is the false surface effect created by the saltwater that meets the freshwater. This dive is a little scarier than Casa Cenote as it’s very dark, and you will need to use your flashlight almost the whole time!
You can book this tour from Tulum which includes diving in both Casa Centore and Calavera Cenote. It’s the exact tour we did and one of the best day trips from Tulum.
2. Day trip to Cozumel
Cozumel is the largest inhabited island in Mexico and is located directly opposite Playa del Carmen. Although not technically located in the Mayan Riviera, it’s just a short 45-minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen, which is one of the main towns on the Riviera. Therefore, a day trip to this naturally beautiful island is one of the most fun things you can do on the Mayan Riviera!
The island is famed for its crystal clear turquoise water, white sand beaches, and, most importantly, it’s home to the largest coral reef in the Northern hemisphere! So, as you can guess, it’s classed as one of the best diving destinations in the world! There are so many diving tours on offer from Cozumel, and there’s one suitable for every ability. If you do just one activity on Cozumel – make it scuba diving!
And when you’re done exploring the underwater world here, there is the El Caracol Mayan ruin in Punta Sur Eco Beach Park; that’s another must-do when visiting this island. This small ruin was built in honor of Ixchel (the Goddess of the moon) and is said to have been constructed somewhere between 1200 and 1400 AD. Interestingly, historians discovered that this structure was used as an alarm to warn the mainland of approaching hurricanes! Because when strong winds blew into El Caracol, it made a loud whistle sound, like an alarm!
If you have time afterward, be sure to explore the rest of Punta Sur, where you can spot unique plants, birds, and even crocodiles! In fact, there’s a watchtower where you can see the crocs from a safe distance! There are also several nature trails and a beach here.
At the end of your day trip here, be sure to check out San Miguel de Cozumel, which is the island’s main city. Here, you can indulge in some boutique shopping or eat at a great restaurant. And ensure you pay a visit to the historic Iglesia de San Miguel, which is supposedly where the first Catholic mass in Mexico took place – over 500 years ago!
Related Read: Cozumel is one of the best day trips from Playa del Carmen, check out the rest here!
3. Visit the Underwater Museum in Cancun
While one of the more unusual things to do on a day trip from the Riviera Maya is to head underwater and explore the Underwater Museum in Cancun, aka the Museo Subacuatico de Art. This unique museum is an hour’s drive (69 km) from Playa del Carmen and 1 hour and 50 minutes (131 km) from Tulum! And, it’s the biggest underwater museum in Mexico – so it’s well worth the drive from the Riviera Maya, in my opinion!
This massive project started back in 2009, and its primary aim was to save the reef life around Cancun. Since its inception, over 500 sculptures have been submerged in the water, thus creating what you could call a really cool man-made reef! Over 100,000 people visit this submerged museum every year – and since its creation fewer people have visited the natural reefs in the region, thus, protecting them!
There are a variety of tours in Cancun that go to the Underwater Museum, including this highly-rated snorkeling tour or this scuba diving tour, both of which start from Cancun!
Related Read: Check out the other awesome things to do in Cancun and make a full day of it!
4. Swimming with whale sharks
If you want to experience a bucket-list-worthy animal experience on Riviera Maya, why not consider a unique tour to go swimming with whale sharks? Don’t let their name turn you off; whale sharks are not, in fact, part of the shark family; instead, they are known as the biggest fish in the ocean or the “gentle giants of the sea.” That’s because, despite their massive size (these creatures can measure up to 10 meters long), they only eat plankton!
Whale shark tours are offered in the Riviera Maya from Playa del Carmen and Tulum, and on this memorable tour, you’ll have the opportunity to swim next to these slow-moving sharks! But it’s worth noting that such tours only operate in this region from June 15 and September 15.
From Playa del Carmen, this full-day whale shark tour includes return transport from Playa del Carmen or any resort on the Rivera Maya. What’s most interesting, though, is that your guide is a marine biologist who will teach you all about whale sharks as well as share some helpful tips on how best to interact with them! As well as that, a yummy lunch which is served off the coast of the stunning Isla Mujeres, is included.
While if you’re based in Tulum, this particular tour is a full-day snorkeling tour that includes lunch, snacks, and drinks! As a matter of fact, it’s one of the most popular tours on offer in the Yucatan Peninsula. And what’s great is that not only will you get to swim alongside whale sharks, but you should also be able to spot sea turtles and tropical fish as you snorkel!
Whale shark tours in the Mayan Riviera cost between $100 and $175 USD, depending on the type of tour you pick and your starting point.
5. Day trip to Chichen Itza
I’m certain that you’re already familiar with the famed Chichen Itza – one of the most important Mayan archaeological sites in the world. Yep, this impressive site is one of the seven wonders of the world and has even been granted UNESCO world heritage status. And although Chichen Itza is not located in the Mayan Riviera, it is located on the nearby Yucatan Peninsula and is just 149 km (2 hours) from Tulum and 182 km (2.5 hours) from Playa del Carmen!
Chichen Itza was one of the largest ancient Mayan cities and is believed to have been built back in the year 5501. Would you believe that at its peak, it was home to approximately 35,000 residents?
El Castillo is the most recognizable structure at Chichen Itza (I’m sure you recognize it from your social media feeds) – it’s shaped like a pyramid and is 30 meters high. Interestingly, it is the world’s biggest man-made calendar. That’s because each of the 4 sides of El Castillo has 91 stairs, which equals 364, and when you add on the temple at the top, you get 365 – the number of days in a year! It’s a testament to the Mayans’ knowledge of the planets and earth!
Chichen Itza is also home to The Great Ball Court, the biggest of its kind in Mesoamerica – it measures 168 by 70 meters (551 by 230 feet.) The Mayans played a team sport here called Pitz, which is said to be the first team sport ever invented!
Getting to Chichen Itza is best done either with a rental car or on an organized tour, such as this tour from Playa del Carmen and this tour from Tulum. If you decide to do it without a guide, the entrance fee is 571 MXN ($29 USD) per adult. Chichen Itza is open from 8 am to 5 pm every day. We highly recommend booking your tickets in advance as there’s currently a cap on visitors of just 3,000 per day.
There are also plenty of different tours to Chichen Itza from Cancun that you can choose between. Lots are very affordable, too.
If you have time we highly recommend booking the unique Chichen Itza Night Show!
6. Sailing tour
A sailing tour is another awesome way to see the beauty of this region from the water – just imagine yourself relaxing on a catamaran while taking in views of the turquoise ocean, small white sand-fringed islands, and abundant marine life! The best sailing tours on offer in Riviera Maya start from the coastal towns of Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Puerto Morelos. And you can choose from full-day, half-day, or even overnight tours depending on how much time you have!
From Playa del Carmen, this luxury sailing and snorkeling cruise is 5 hours long and takes place on board a stunning french-made Catamaran! You’ll have the chance to snorkel and stand up paddleboard while keeping your eyes peeled for stingrays, sea turtles, and colorful fish. A light lunch and drinks are also included in the price, as well as return transportation from most Playa del Carmen hotels.
While this luxury catamaran sailing tour from Puerto Morelos takes place in the crystal clear waters of the Puerto Morelos lagoon and includes a stop at a secluded sandbar from where you can swim or stand-up paddleboard, the tour is 4 hours long and includes lunch as well as unlimited drinks. And because of the shallow water surrounding the sandbar, it’s ideal for children and those who may not be strong swimmers.
And if you’re staying in the Tulum area, this fun sailing experience from Tulum is highly-recommended and includes a stop at Isla Mujeres, where you can enjoy access to a beach club. It’s a high-energy full-day tour that also includes snorkeling, an open bar, as well as a buffet lunch! This is definitely a tour for those who want to party!
7. Explore the Tulum Ruins
One of the best things to do on the Riviera Maya is to visit the Tulum Ruins, 4 km (2.5 miles) from downtown Tulum. Besides the fact that these Mayan ruins are situated on a steep cliff that overlooks the stunning Playa Ruinas – one of the best beaches in Tulum, interestingly, the pyramid structure was once used as a lighthouse.
Tulum was the last great city to be built by the Mayans, and it was the center of sea trading in Mexico. And the steep cliffs and high wall provided the ideal defense to protect this Mayan city from potential attackers. Today several structures still remain, and it will take about an hour or two to wander around them and take some photos.
Visiting the Tulum Ruins is a great cheap thing to do in Tulum because it costs just 80 pesos ($4 USD) to visit and an extra 45 pesos ($2.30 USD) if you want to take photos here.
If you want to learn more about the history of the Mayans and the ruins, we recommend booking this early-access private tour with an archeologist. Plus, you can enter the site before the crowds making for a much more enjoyable experience!
8. Have fun at Xcaret Park
Xcaret waterpark is one of the most fun days out on the Mayan Riviera, and it’s a must-do for any families visiting the area. This eco-water amusement park boasts plenty of water-based activities like swimming in a Caleta and snorkeling, but there are also plenty of activities that don’t require you to get wet, like watching one of the incredible live performances or visiting the Mayan pyramids here!
Xcaret is located a 15-minute drive from Playa del Carmen and a 50-minute drive from Tulum! There’s even an aquarium here. And for an extra fee, you can swim with dolphins, sharks, or manta rays – which is definitely an activity that should be added to your bucket list!
If you have a rental car, you can drive to the park yourself, or if you prefer, this full-day tour that offers transportation is a great option too!
But my top recommendation for Xcaret is to book the Xcaret Plus service, which includes a lunch buffet as well as free access to handy services like dressing rooms, lockers, and snorkeling equipment.
9. Swim with Turtles at Playa Akumal
Playa Akumal, aka Akumal Beach, is one of the best places in Mexico to go swimming with sea turtles. It’s also considered one of the prettiest beaches on the Yucatan Peninsula! Nestled between the towns of Playa del Carmen and Tulum, it’s an easy drive from either of these towns.
This beach’s name literally means “place of the turtle,” and it’s aptly named – there are hundreds of turtles in the water here, and some come right up to the shore. The best way to guarantee to see these creatures on a swim here is by hiring a guide from the beach, as you can only access the sectioned-off area, which is where most of the turtles reside with a guide.
The prices for hiring a guide vary greatly, and if it’s quiet, you may be able to haggle. If you want to try to find the turtles on your own, you will need to swim to the East of the sectioned-off area for the best chance of spotting them!
Alternatively, instead of hiring a guide from the beach, you could book a private snorkeling tour with sea turtles, which departs from Playa del Carmen. It’s a good price at only $45 USD per person and includes return transport to/from Playa del Carmen and all entrance fees!
After all that swimming you’ll surely be hungry, and luckily you don’t have to travel far for a bite to eat because there are a few restaurants and beach bars nearby!
Playa Akumal is a 30-minute drive from Tulum and 37 minutes from Playa del Carmen.
10. Visit the Mayan Ruins and the Eco-Park at Xel-Ha
Many tourists tend to overlook the Xel-Ha Ruins in favor of more famous Mayan archaeological sites like Chichen Itza, Muyil, and the Tulum Ruins. Which I think is a shame because Xel-Ha has some beautiful murals as well as a cenote, which is located on the western end of the site.
Xel-Ha was a Mayan city and an important port for the Mayan people and is believed to have been inhabited as far back as 100 B.C as the years passed, the city grew into a major and important city with many temples, luxurious homes, and a closed plaza to be found here. And it is the ruins of these structures that you can view here today!
Interestingly, back then, Xel-Ha was the gateway to Cozumel, which is where the Mayans hosted fertility ceremonies before they got married.
Conveniently, the Xel-Ha ruins are located across from Xel-Ha Park. This eco-park has lagoons, beaches, and cenotes, and it’s a great idea to combine the two attractions for one epic day trip in Riviera Maya.
Xel-Ha Park is a water theme park owned by the well-known Xcaret brand, and it’s one of the top tourist attractions in the Tulum area! In fact, it’s one of the best things for families to do in Tulum! It’s just a 19-minute drive from the town and a little further from Playa del Carmen at 37 minutes!
If you’re a water baby, then this is the theme park for you because for the price of $90 USD (1,790 MXN), you can enjoy fun water-based activities such as snorkeling, tubing down a lazy river, and cliff-jumping. And as for non-water-based activities, you can try out the thrilling zip lines! Snorkeling is the main drawcard here, with a huge snorkeling area within the park that’s often described as swimming in an aquarium because, in this area, there are over 90 different species of fish!!
In short, Xel-Ha is the ultimate water-based playground for both adults and kids, and a couple of hours spent here makes for a super fun day out on the Riviera Maya!
A great choice would be to book a guided tour like this one which includes stops at both the park and the ruins!
11. Dos Ojos Cenote
Dos Ojos is one of the most famous cenotes in the Mayan Riviera and is just a 30-minute drive from Tulum. The reason it’s so popular is that it’s a great place to scuba dive, thanks to the crystal clear water that makes everything easily visible. There are also some cool rock formations here, and it’s recently been named the longest underground cavern in the world! Therefore, whether you visit Dos Ojos to dive or to swim in it, it’s well worth spending a few hours here on your vacation to Riviera Maya!
Dos Ojos means “two eyes,” and it’s named so because of how the cenote looks from the surface – like two bright blue eyes!
And even though it’s a very popular spot, it never feels too busy because of its layout and the fact there are so many different parts to explore. The entrance to Dos Ojos costs 350 pesos ($18 USD), and that includes a lifejacket, parking, and permission to snorkel in every area except for the underwater caves. You can rent snorkeling equipment here for 100 pesos ($5 USD) if you don’t have your own.
While if you’re keen to scuba dive here, you can only do so on a guided tour, and you’ll need to be certified! That’s because the caverns and caves that are part of the cenote system can be very dangerous to navigate without the help and guidance of a knowledgeable guide.
This Dos Ojos Cavern Dive tour from Tulum is awesome and includes two 45-minute dives. On both dives, you’ll spot stalagmites and stalactite and, most uniquely, the opportunity to surface partway in The Bat Cave (aka an open-air done), where you won’t see Batman, unfortunately, but you will see hundreds of bats! It really is one of the most dives you can do in the world!
Dos Ojos cenote is open every day from 8 am until 5 pm.
12. Spend the day at Paradise Beach in Tulum
Paradise Beach, or Playa Paraiso, on the outskirts of Tulum really is paradise – with the bright blue Caribbean sea, a white sandy beach and lots of amazing restaurants nearby. In fact, the color of the ocean here is unique because closest to the shore, it’s almost clear, then in the middle a bight turquoise and on the horizon a darker blue – I often say it’s like a painting!
It was no surprise to me to learn that Paradise Beach is regularly rated as one of the best beaches in the world!
Tulum is just 7 km (4.3 miles) from Playa Paraiso, and you can walk here from downtown, which will take most people about an hour. Alternatively, you can hire a bike and cycle to the beach, hop in a taxi for less than $10, or, if you have a rental car, you may drive here – but note that parking is limited. Playa del Carmen is the next closest major town to this beach at 68 km (42 miles) away.
At the beach, you can rent a lounge chair for approximately $10 USD, and this is the perfect seat to take in the stunning scenery while topping up your tan! What’s great too is that the warm, calm waters are ideal for swimming and are suitable for kids and non-swimmers.
If you visit just one beach on the Mayan Riviera, make it Paradise Beach; in my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico.
13. Xplor Adventure Park
Another fun day out on the Mayan Riviera can be had at Xplor Adventure Park, which is a gigantic theme park that’s part of the famed Xcaret Brand. Visiting here is a must-do for lovers of adventure. At Xplor, you can zipline, drive a 4-wheel buggy, and join a rafting adventure through caves.
Yep, at this adrenalin-fuelled park, you can zipline on 14 different ziplines and across two circuits which cover a whopping 2.4 miles. Afterward, why not go rafting through the caves here and see stalactites up close as you paddle along? Additionally, you can whizz through the jungle and even through a flooded cave on a speedy 4-wheel buggy! A day at Xplor is definitely not for the faint-hearted!.
A ticket to Xplor costs approximately $130 USD, which I think is great value for money, seeing as it includes all of the above activities and lunch!
Xplor Adventure Park is located about a 1.5-hour drive from Playa del Carmen and 44 minutes from Tulum. It is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily, but it’s closed on Sundays.
To ensure you’re not disappointed, you should book this all-inclusive Xplor package in advance. It costs $133 USD and includes your entrance ticket, lunch, and lots of other bonus extras. If you wish, you could try out Xplor Fuego, which is a fun night experience!
14. Rio Secreto
Rio Secreto is a bright turquoise underground river system that boasts heaps of stalactites and stalagmites, it’s one of the must-visit natural attractions on the Riviera Maya, and it is located a 12-minute drive from Playa del Carmen. The cave system at Rio Secreto is the longest of its kind on the Yucatan Peninsula at 38 km (24 miles) long, and much of the cave system remains unexplored. In fact, only 10% of Rio Secreto is open to tourists!
As well as the stalagmites and stalactites, you can also get up close to the unique fauna within the caves as well as some very unusually shaped spiders! But no need to be afraid of these little creatures; they’re harmless!
As you can imagine, because Rio Secreto is a cave for most of the tour, you will be wading through shallow water in the dark, and it can be a little scary at times. This is why you can only do a guided tour of the caves (you can’t enter the caves without a guide) because your knowledgeable guide will ensure you stay on the right track and help you if you are struggling.
If you have a rental car, you may self-drive to Rio Secreto yourself and book your tour from there to save money, or alternatively, book a tour with transport from Playa del Carmen or Tulum. This 3-4 hour tour from Tulum is perfect if you’re staying in that area. This particular tour starts at 8 am and includes an airconditioned vehicle and refreshments.
15. 3D Museum of Wonders in Playa del Carmen
A fantastic family-friendly activity on the Riviera Maya is the 3D Museum of Wonders on the bustling 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen. This one-of-a-kind museum features over 50 different optical illusions, and each one has been expertly painted to create a realistic 3D effect. So, although these images may first appear as just outstanding works of art – the way this museum works is that visitors can become a part of the art – making for a thrilling and interactive day out!
At the 3D Museum of Wonders, you can become a Formula-1 driver, a surfer, a hunter, a mountain climber, and more! As I said, the paintings are painted in such a realistic way that you will feel as though you can literally ‘jump into the art’ and become a part of the scene. As you can probably guess, families especially love this quirky museum. Plus, it’s the perfect rainy day activity on the Riviera Maya.
We highly recommend taking photos with the art to create a unique souvenir that you can show your friends and family back home!
You should book your tickets in advance for this cool attraction. Tickets cost $35 USD per adult and $30 USD per child.
16. Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka’an is one of the largest protected areas in Mexico, and it’s 126 km (2 hours and 13 minutes) from Playa del Carmen and 62 km (1 hour and 16 minutes from Tulum). It’s a very important region of the Riviera Maya, and if you’re a bird-lover, then this stunning reserve is well worth a visit! Would you believe there are over 300 different species of birds to be found here?
It’s home to thousands of different species of flora and fauna, which is why it was designated a protected biosphere reserve. The name Sian Ka’an means ‘gate to heaven,’ and it truly is a slice of heaven!
In one section of Sian Ka’an, there’s a barrier reef in the Caribbean ocean which is where you will see varied marine life, while the other section is completely different and boasts mangroves, tropical forests, and marshes!
It’s important to note that are two entrances to Sian Ka’an – Punta Allen and Muyil. From Punta Allen is where you will get the chance to see the ocean side of the reserve, which includes saltwater lagoons and white sand beaches. While from Muyil, you will be treated to jungle and wetland scenery as well as the chance to see Mayan ruins.
Muyil is the closest access point for both Tulum and Playa del Carmen, with Tulum being just a 19-minute drive from Muyil, and Playa del Carmen an hour and 13 minutes away! So, if you decide to drive her yourself, this is the entrance we suggest!
There are plenty of activities to do within the reserve, including going on a birdwatching tour, snorkeling, kayaking, and floating down the Chunyaxche!
While if you’re not keen to drive to the reserve yourself, then this full-day tour from Playa del Carmen is a great option. But you should know that it will be a long day of approximately 10 hours as it enters Sian Ka’an via Punta Allen. On this tour, you’ll get to walk next to mangroves, see the canals from a boat and explore the Muyil Mayan ruins! Plus, you’ll get the opportunity to swim too. Lunch is included in the price.
17. Akumal Monkey Sanctuary
If you’re after something a little different in the Mayan Riviera region, why not visit the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary? In fact, we think it’s a must-do activity for animal lovers, specifically those who want to see monkeys up-close in a safe environment. This sanctuary is most known for being home to a troop of friendly howler monkeys, but there are also snakes, ostriches, zebras, and a variety of birds to be seen here too!
Most interestingly, is that the majority of the exotic animals housed here were donated after Mexico passed a law banning animals from being used in live shows, so you can feel good abut supporting this sanctuary.
Plus, it’s only a short 37-minute drive from Playa del Carmen and 28 minutes from Tulum – meaning it’s an ideal half-day activity!
At Akumal Monkey Sanctuary, you’ll learn heaps of interesting facts about the monkeys and get to view them up close! These cheeky creatures love interacting with visitors, and they are so friendly.
18. Cirque du Soleil Joya
If you want a guaranteed fun night out on the Riviera Maya, then head to the Vidanta Theater to check out the renowned Cirque du Soleil JOYA show! It’s produced by the famed Cirque du Soleil entertainment company, which produces unbelievable live shows across the world. The JOYA show is a dinner theater production that aim’s to appeal to your five senses by offering several amenities during the show!
This mesmerizing show will take you on a memorable journey under the sea, in the jungle, and through history! You will watch acrobats fly through the air and execute heart-stopping leaps and flips, contortionists bend their bodies into crazy positions, and musicians perform beautiful musical numbers. The stage truly comes alive, and it’s a feast for the senses!
Dinner, aperitif, and champagne are all included. And this is a very popular activity with couples visiting the Riviera Maya!
If you don’t have a rental car, you should arrange an uber or taxi, and we recommend booking your tickets in advance! You can book several types of tickets for this show, including dinner only, drinks only, or VIP. Prices start at $94 USD.
19. Puerto Morelos
Puerto Morelos is one of my favorite small towns on the Riviera Maya. It’s a lesser-visited gem that doesn’t have too many tourist facilities, but that’s why I love it! It’s quirky, eccentric, and definitely off-the-beaten-path! But, its status as a hidden destination is quickly changing as more and more tourists fall in love with its charm. Plus, it’s between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, so it’s become a popular stopping point between these two destinations!
This town originated as a fishing village; its past is evident in the buildings that line the streets here. And wandering the streets here, I felt like I had stepped back in time!
The most popular activity in Puerto Morelos is snorkeling because off the shore of the town is the second-largest barrier reef in the world (the first is the very well-known Great Barrier Reef in Australia). The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is situated just 400 meters (1,300 feet) from the shore, and on a snorkeling tour here, you will see green sea turtles, stingrays, manta rays, eels, and large tropical fish!
It truly is one of the best places to go snorkeling in Mexico. But, you should know that you can only explore the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef on a guided tour, that’s because the reef has protected status, and the government is trying to prevent over-tourism, which will damage the reef’s unique structure!
The tour we did was fantastic value at only $35 USD, and it included snorkeling at two different sites. Our snorkeling gear and a life jacket were included in the price too. You can do either a morning or afternoon tour!
Some other fun activities in Puerto Morelos include drinking craft beer at a local brewery, scuba diving, and a luxury catamaran cruise. This particular catamaran tour cruises through the clear waters to a secret sandbar where you can either swim or paddleboard for a while before heading back on board for lunch (included).
20. Muyil Mayan Ruins
Only 23 km (14.3 miles) from Tulum and 87 km (54 miles) from Playa del Carmen lies the magnificent Muyil, one of the longest-inhabited cities in Mayan times. As a matter of fact, it is estimated the Mayans settled here as far back as 350 BC and left the city in 1500 AD!
The steep pyramids here are similar to those found at Tikal in Guatemala, and the site is located within the stunning Sian Ka’an reserve, which I recommended earlier! And therefore, we advise combining the two on a day trip from Tulum or wherever you’re staying on the Riviera Maya!
The city of Muyil was part of an important trade route on the Caribbean ocean and could be accessed via a series of canals. And you can still view evidence of the canals and aqueducts on a visit today.
The tallest structure here is the El Castillo, and it’s a massive 55 feet tall (17 meters); it consists of five tiers and a temple! It also has an observation deck that overlooks the Muyil lagoon.
Overall, the Muyil archaeological site covers 38 hectares, and many of the buildings have not yet been excavated. It’s one of the quieter Mayan ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula – and when we visited, I felt like we had the place to ourselves, which I loved!
You can book a tour of Muyil and Sian Ka’an from Tulum or Playa del Carmen and enjoy a boat ride through the biosphere’s lagoons and mangroves with an expert guide who’ll help you spot local wildlife.
Related Read: Muyil Ruins are one of the most important Mayan Ruins in Mexico, you can read about the others here!
21. Gran Cenote
Swimming with turtles in Gran Cenote, which is an 8-minute drive from Tulum town center, is one of the best things to do on the Riviera Maya. As you can probably guess from the name, Gran Cenote is one of the biggest cenotes in the area and boasts a huge 140 square meters for swimming and 100 square meters of wooden boardwalks for you to wander and take in the scenery!
Just make sure to look up as you do to see the many bats that call this cave system home!
Of course, swimming and snorkeling within the cave system is a must-do while here, and because this cenote has both deep and shallow areas, it’s suitable for kids and those not so comfortable in the water. Additionally, most of the tunnels and caves within it aren’t fully submerged, so you can explore most of them while snorkeling or swimming. And if you venture into the deeper sections of the cenote, you’ll be in for a treat with freshwater turtles and different species of fish to be seen swimming beneath you!
Cave diving is another popular thing to do within Gran Cenote because it connects to one of the biggest cave systems in the world.
The entrance fee is 500 pesos ($25 USD) and includes a lifejacket which you have to use as parts of this cenote do get deep. Because Gran Cenote is one of the busiest cenotes in the Riviera Maya, we advise visiting it on a weekday morning if possible so as to avoid crowds. It opens at 8:10 am, so aim to get here at 8 am. The last entry is at 4:15 pm, and the cenote closes at 4:45 pm!
22. Playa Xpu Ha
A popular local hangout and one of the best beaches on the Riviera Maya, Xpu Ha is a bit of a hidden gem, yet it’s located just 24 km (15 miles) from Playa del Carmen. Xpu Ha has bright white sand, turquoise water, and a laid-back vibe. In fact, it’s one of my favorite places on the Riviera Maya to sit back and relax. It honestly looks like something from a postcard!
The water here is calm and clear, making it perfect for snorkeling and swimming, and the underwater world here is teeming with marine life and coral reefs. Plus, there are a few beachside restaurants and beach clubs here that serve up yummy dishes like freshly-caught fish tacos and a wide array of drinks! Just imagine yourself taking in the incredible view here with an ice-cold beverage. Other popular activities here include kayaking and fishing.
Entrance to Playa Xpu Ha is 60 pesos (approx. $3 USD), and a parking attendant at the entrance gate will issue you with a wristband so that you can access the beach. It is cash only, so be prepared. The beach is open from 10 am to 6 pm every day, but it’s worth getting here early so that you can enjoy a full day at this idyllic beach!
23. Walking food tour in Tulum
I think that one of the best ways to get a feel for a new city is through its food – yes, sampling local cuisine is one of my favorite things about traveling to a new destination. And I must admit that Mexican food is one of my favorite cuisines in the world! So, I was delighted to learn about this walking food tour through Tulum while I was staying in the region.
On this tour, you’ll get to sample the best food in Tulum, from tacos to more traditional dishes like mole or cochinita (a type of pulled pork dish), and learn so much about the cooking methods and ingredients popular in this region.
Your guide, Juan, guarantees a memorable food experience with stops at no less than seven restaurants/ food stands! Including some of the best taco stands in the city, such as Tamales Don Taco, Mercado Tulum, and Parque Dos Aguas.
The tour is 3 hours long and costs just $55 USD! So, if you consider yourself a foodie, this is one of the best-value tours you can book in the Riviera Maya!
If you’re a golf lover, then Playa del Carmen is the spot for you because it’s home to some of the best courses in the country! So, if golf is one of your favorite activities, then you must add golf in Playa del Carmen to your Riviera Maya itinerary.
One of the best and most popular courses in the region is Gran Coyote Golf. This 18-hole course boasts stunning views of the Riviera Maya and is set on a gorgeous coastal jungle landscape; what’s great, too, is that it’s suitable for all skill levels.
Green fees here start from $295 USD per 18 holes. The course is open every day from 6:30 am to 7:00 pm. Facilities here include a pro shop, practice field, and an on-site bar and restaurant called the Coyote Grill. Clubs can be rented for an additional fee.
Another awesome golf course in the region is the 18-hole Par-54 Nicklaus Design Course at Vidanta Riviera Maya. Again, the scenery on this course is epic, with emerald-green lakes surrounded by large natural rocks.
Also worth checking out is the Hard Rock Golf Club Riviera Maya. It’s a challenging 18-hole Par 72-course with cenotes, several lakes, and archaeological ruins.
25. Head over to Isla Mujeres
If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy resort towns on the Riviera Maya, like Playa del Carmen and Tulum, why not escape for the day to one of the most picturesque islands in the Yucatan – Isla Mujeres?
The island, which translates to “land of the women,” is conveniently just a 15-minute ferry ride from Cancun, so if you’re staying in Playa del Carmen, you will need to drive 1.5 hours to Cancun to catch the ferry and drive two hours to Cancun if you’re staying in Tulum. But I say, no matter the distance, it makes for a fantastic day or overnight trip no matter where you’re staying on the Riviera Maya. Ferry tickets cost 450 MXN ($22 USD), and the ferry leaves every 30 minutes from 5:30 am to 11 pm daily. The schedule is similar on the way back.
This small island (it’s just 7 km/4.3 miles long) offers plenty of fun activities, with some of the most popular being a Snorkeling Tour to see the Manchiones coral reef, explore the ruins of the Ixchel Temple, which was built to honor the Mayan goddess of the moon. A full-day whale shark tour is also one of the most popular activities near the island.
Plus, you can’t visit this beachy paradise without checking out a few of its breathtaking beaches. Playa Centro is one of the most popular beaches on the islands, as it’s just a few meters from the ferry port. You can rent a deckchair for the day for 250 pesos ($12.80 USD) here.
Another incredible beach is the more remote Na Balan beach. It’s best to hire a golf cart to reach this beach because it’s a far walk from the ferry port! There’s a fantastic restaurant on this beach, which makes a great lunch stop. On both these beaches, the snorkeling is excellent, and its calm crystal clear waters make spotting the colorful fish super-easy!
26. Party at Mamitas Beach Club
While if you’re keen on a daytime party on the Mayan Riviera, then Mamitas Beach Club – one of the best beach clubs in Playa del Carmen is my top suggestion! This famous beachside venue features a large pool with plenty of lounge chairs and a fun atmosphere. I loved relaxing here on their comfortable lounge chairs with a delicious cocktail while the talented DJ spun some catchy electronic tunes!
Mamitas is a great place to people-watch (one of my favorite things to do in a new country) because it’s full of beautiful people having a good time. It’s also a great place to meet locals or other like-minded travelers!
It should be noted that Mamitas Beach Club is one of the most popular beach clubs on the Riviera Maya, so it can get very busy, especially on weekends. So, if you’d prefer to party in a less-crowded environment, it’s best to come here during the week.
Mamitas Beach Club is open daily from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm, and they often host fun events here as well as famous DJs so it’s a good idea to check their Facebook page for what events they have on during your visit!
27. Mexican cooking class in Tulum
As I mentioned earlier, one of my favorite ways to learn about a country’s culture is through its food because food connects people! And I think the way that people eat offers an insight into their way of life! So, what better way to learn about Tulum’s culture and people than in this authentic Mexican Cooking Class with a mezcal tasting that takes place in a local home? On this 3-hour tour, you will prepare a 3-course meal of soup, a main, and a dessert with homemade salsa and tortillas. And for only $87 USD, I say it’s a must-do experience on the Riviera Maya!
It’s such a unique tour because you will get to learn all about the ingredients and flavors of Mayan, Aztec, and Mexican cuisine and taste some yummy dishes that you prepared yourself! Plus, it’s a small group tour limited to just 10 people, so you’re guaranteed a more personalized experience!
What’s cool, too, is that you’ll also get to taste and learn the proper way to taste mezcal.
28. Sample some Craft Beer
Besides food, one of my next best-loved activities in a new town is seeking out some delicious craft beer and, ideally, finding a great craft beer brewery! So, if you’re like me, luckily, there are plenty of awesome craft beer breweries in the Riviera Maya – namely in Tulum, Puerto Morelos, and Playa del Carmen!
Cervecería Tulum is situated on the outskirts of Tulum, approximately 10 minutes from the town center. In fact, it’s hard to miss because there’s a huge Tulum sign in front of it. There’s a wide range of craft beers on tap here, and if you’re hungry, they also have a varied and delicious food menu.
While Playa del Carmen is home to Chela de Playa, a small brewery that’s located on 5th Avenue! Despite its size, this place offers over 36 different beers, from lagers to IPAs and everything in between. As well as the varied beer menu, Chela de Playa also offers a small food menu with typical Mexican food items like quesadillas and tacos.
Finally, if you’re staying in the Puerto Morelos area and you’re a beer fan, then make sure to head to Cerveza Artesanal Pescadores, which is located a short drive from the town center. They offer a delicious IPA and Habanero Ale, but the beer selection is more limited than other breweries in the region. What’s great is that you will often find a food truck out the front, so if you’re hungry, be sure to visit it! You can also join a tour of the brewery, which happens daily at 12 pm or 3 pm.
If you want to explore the magnificent underwater world of the Riviera Maya and don’t feel confident trying scuba diving, then a snorkeling tour is your best option to see the plentiful marine life here! On a snorkeling tour from the Riviera Maya, you can expect to see whale sharks, turtles, coral reefs, and different species of tropical fish.
As you can imagine, in the popular tourist town of Tulum and Playa del Carmen, there are heaps of snorkeling tours available. But deciding which ones are worth it can be difficult if you’ve never visited the region before, so, luckily for you, below, I’ve listed the best snorkeling tours available from both these towns!
From Playa del Carmen, this full-day whale shark snorkeling tour is unique because your guide is an expert biologist who will tell you some fascinating facts about the magnificent creatures you’re about to see! And he also knows the best spots to see the whale sharks! Lunch is included in the price, and it’s served in a breathtaking location – off the coast of Isla Mujeres. Hotel pick-up and drop-off are included, and this particular tour can also pick you up from other major towns on the Yucatan Peninsula, like Cancun and Tulum.
On the other hand, this snorkeling tour from Tulum is completely different from the one above because it involves snorkeling in cenotes, namely Gran Cenote, Casa Cenote, and The Temple of Doom. It really is such a unique snorkeling experience!
30. Parque Fundadores Beach in Playa del Carmen
If you want a beach day and don’t want to venture too far, then the centrally located Parque Fundadores in Playa del Carmen can’t be beaten! It’s the widest beach in the town, so even though it’s one of the busiest beaches in the Riviera Maya, there’s still plenty of space to spread out on the white sand. It’s one of my favorite spots in Playa del Carmen for people-watching because it’s always filled with so many different characters, from tourists to locals!
The water here is typically calm, too, so it’s ideal for swimming and snorkeling! And there’s also a full-sized beach volleyball court which is a fun way to spend an hour here. What we like about Parque Fundadores is that there are no beach clubs here, so it’s quieter than other beaches in Playa del Carmen (no loud music blaring!)
31. Do some yoga in Tulum
Yoga is another awesome activity that’s a popular thing to do on the Riviera Maya, especially in Tulum. There are plenty of wellness retreats and yoga centers in this bohemian town, and as a result, it attracts many tourists seeking some rest and relaxation.
The yoga classes on offer in Tulum are very different from the ones you may have done at your local community center. Many of the classes in Tulum are held in waterside bamboo villas, and there’s usually a gorgeous spa nearby where you can treat yourself to a massage, facial, or other treatment! You may choose from drop-in classes at hotels or yoga studios or opt for an overnight or multi-day retreat.
Some of the best places in Tulum to do yoga include:
Azulik Maya Spa – is one of the most beautiful yoga studios in town. Here, they offer different types of yoga sessions for $35 USD per class. Plus, you can try out unique sound healing sessions, which aim to heal through sound by using the sound of instruments, mystical noises, and aromatherapy to make you feel zen! You can also stay the night at Azulik, it’s known as one of the coolest hotels in Tulum!
Nomade Tulum – here, you can try out a wide range of yoga types, and they offer a variety of classes every day! The yoga space here is nestled within a lush jungle setting, and Nomade is also a popular place to stay in Tulum!
32. ATV and Ziplining Tour
Now, for a tour for the adrenalin junkies reading! If you’re after a thrilling day trip in the Riviera Maya, then this full-day ATV and ziplining tour will be exactly what the doctor ordered. On the tour, you will speed through the lush jungle, across streams, and over large rocks on a high-powered ATV – you can drive your own, or if you’re not confident enough to drive such a fast vehicle, then you can have a driver drive you!
Not to worry if you get covered in dirt and mud on your ride through the jungle because your first stop is a cenote for a refreshing dip! You can choose to access the cenote via a rope ladder or jump in; it depends on how brave you’re feeling!
But the fun isn’t over yet – you’ll then be taking to the ziplining course where you’ll fly through the treetops like Tarzan! Also included is a typical Mayan lunch at a local restaurant.
It’s important to note that only those over 18 years can drive an ATV. You should also only wear biodegradable sunscreen so as to protect the marine life in the cenote, and closed-toe shoes are essential if you’re driving the ATV. Pick-up and drop-off are included from most resorts on the Riviera Maya.
33. Laguna Kaan Luum
As beautiful as the beaches are in the Riviera Maya, sometimes tourists tire of the crowds on the more popular beaches in the region, and so they seek out somewhere quieter but equally as pretty! And that’s where Laguna Kaan Luum comes in, a lesser-known freshwater lake just a 13-minute drive from Tulum (if you’re staying in Playa del Carmen, it’s just over an hour’s drive).
An added bonus to this lake is that because its freshwater, you don’t need to worry about saltwater drying out your hair and skin!
A fun fact for you – even though it’s called Laguna (aka a Lake), it’s actually an open cenote because its water source comes from an underground river! There are two parts to this lake – a deep center which is actually fenced off from the public, and the shallow exterior, which is the ideal swimming spot. And because the water levels of this lake vary so significantly, the color of the lake looks like a collage of different shades of blue – for example, the shallow outer edge of the lake is a pale blue, and the deep center is a darker shade!
And not only is the lake itself like something from a postcard it’s surrounded by the lush Mayan jungle making it look even more magical!
Recently, a swing has been added to the lake, and it hovers just above the water, so be sure to sit on it and have someone snap a photo of you for the perfect Instagram shot. For those wanting an adrenaline thrill, they can jump from the central pier into the water. But if you would rather relax here for the day, then there are plenty of palapas and seating areas on its perimeter.
If you prefer, you can also do tours to Laguna Kaan Luum. This specific tour visits the lagoon as well as three cenotes. Or, join this SUP tour on the lagoon, which includes transport, lunch, equipment, and entrance fees.
Related Read: Ever wondered “is Mexico safe to travel?” – read our blog to find out what we think!
Where to Stay in the Riviera Maya, Mexico
When it comes to deciding where to stay in the Riviera Maya, most people choose to stay in either Tulum or Playa del Carmen where there are plenty of hotels to choose from. Below are our top picks in both towns.
Where to Stay in Tulum
Hostel Che Tulum ($) – This hostel prides itself in having a social vibe. They have a beautiful pool and a central location. For only $15 USD a night you can get a dorm bed in an air-conditioned room with breakfast included.
Hotel Blanco Tulum ($$)– This hotel is luxurious without the ridiculous price tag. For less than 2,000 MXN a night you can get a deluxe double room with air conditioning and a balcony. The hotel is centrally located and offers an outdoor pool as well as a hot tub!
Kan Tulum – This hotel is actually built around its own private cenote! The rooms here are uniquely designed and feel almost like a jungle treehouse. Every room is huge with a private seating area and terraces to watch the sunset from. You’re close to beaches and nightlife and rooms here cost around $300-400 USD per night.
Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen
Che Playa Hostel and Bar ($) – This budget-friendly hostel is one of the best hostels in Playa del Carmen. The hostel is located in the heart of town and comes with a small rooftop pool and bar, a social atmosphere, clean facilities, and helpful staff. The rooms are cheap, and you can book them on Hostelworld or Booking.com.
Soho Playa Hotel ($$). – When I’m traveling on a moderate budget and want a nice place, not in a resort, I love Soho Playa Hotel. The hotel has a fantastic location, a pool, free breakfast, a restaurant, and a really clean and modern design. Honestly, for the price, this place is a gem!
El Taj Oceanfront and Beachside Condo Hotel ($$$) – This is a luxury hotel that offers a great central location that’s still secluded. The hotel is oceanfront, has a pool, is located in the heart of town, and they offer a huge variety of rooms, including one, two, and three-bedroom apartments.
Renting a Car in Mexico
Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get around Mexico is in a rental car.
I struggled to get around by bus and taxi for the longest time. But after renting a car in Mexico in 2019, I never looked back. It allowed me to explore the country without worrying about tours or taxis. It was why I fell in love with Mexico and eventually decided to live here periodically.
I refuse to use local services whenever I rent a car in Mexico. The truth is they sometimes can’t be trusted or come with hidden fees (or costly insurance that doesn’t make sense.) There are even rental car scams! So instead, I use Discover Cars, the company most experienced travelers or ex-pats in Mexico recommend.
The rates on Discover Cars are cheap, too, with the average rental costing around $25 USD per day. Full coverage insurance can be added for an extra $10 USD a day too.
Driving in Mexico also only requires a driver’s license using the Roman alphabet. If yours uses another like Japan and China, you simply need an international driving permit.
Insurance is required, but if you book with Discover Cars and get the full coverage, that’s all you need! Oh, and being over 18 is required, and if you’re over 25, your rental will be much cheaper!
Thanks for reading!
I must admit that was a bit of a tough task – coming up with just 33 of the most fun things to do on the Riviera Maya. I’ve listed here what I believe to be the very best things to do, but, as you can imagine, there are many more awesome activities just waiting to be experienced in this famed tourist destination!
If you have any questions, we would love to hear from you. So, please leave a comment below and we will get back to you!
If you’re looking for more things to do in Mexico, check out our other Mexico guides for some ideas on some of the best things to do, eat, see, and explore while in Mexico. Or pick from these below:
20 BEST Things to do in Valladolid, Mexico
21 FUN Cancun Day Trips that you’ll love!