The pristine, sun-kissed beaches and brilliant turquoise water of the Mayan Riviera leave an indelible impression on anyone who is lucky enough to have put their toes in the sand there. Whether you’re sipping on a tropical drink, taking a swim in the 80°+ degree water of the Caribbean, or just lazing in the shade of a comfy cabana, it’s a memorable – and Instagram-worthy – experience if ever there was one. If a Mexican getaway is in your near future, here are some of the spots you will definitely want to check out:
Although it’s just 20 minutes from Cancun – and unofficially the northernmost point in the Mayan Riviera – that’s far enough to escape the crowds and non-stop parties of its northern neighbor. A slower pace, friendly people, and simple Caribbean way of life make this a perfect place for some relaxing downtime. Choose from several beach hotels. And National Marine Park is a great place to snorkel and see fish, corals, turtles, and dolphins.
Easily one of the most picturesque beaches on Riviera Maya, Akumal – meaning “place of the turtles” – features beautiful white sand, a coral reef, and waters teeming with marine life. Snorkeling is a favorite activity, as you can get in the water and swim alongside colorful tropical fish, sea turtles, and stingrays. Half Moon Bay, just to the north, is a crescent-shaped slice of heaven; it’s quieter and less crowded than the bay at Akumal, the snorkeling is outstanding, and there are several good restaurants within walking distance.
If you like your tropical paradise mixed with a little culture and history, Tulum is the perfect place. This striking 13th century walled Mayan archeological site is perched on a bluff overlooking the sea. Wander around the ruins – you’ll have to share the space with the iguanas – and visit the still-intact structures, including the City Square, Temple of the Frescoes, Temple of the Descending God, and El Castillo (The Castle), the largest structure on the site. When you’re done sightseeing, wander down to the white-sand beach and enjoy a swim in the sea. From any vantage point, Tulum is one of the most unique and stunning places on the Mayan Riviera.
Playa del Carmen
Undoubtedly the most popular tourist destination on the Riviera, Playa del Carmen is just plain fun. The beach is expansive and spectacular, but Playa offers so much more. There are many beach resorts to choose from, and just behind the beach you can stroll down La Quinta Avenida, a pedestrian street that is packed with shops, boutiques, upscale stores, street vendors, and restaurants with authentic Mexican food at reasonable prices. Get ready to dicker with the people in the shops; it’s all part of the game. Wander a block or two inland and find quieter, more local fare. From Playa you can take a day trip to Cozumel. The ferry departs from the pier in the heart of town. It’s a 45-minute trip, and they leave often enough so you never have to wait very long.