25 Best Things to Do at the Riviera Maya
The Riviera Maya is a tourism epicenter known for its Mayan ruins, white-sand beaches, and thrilling underwater sinkholes referred to as cenotes. It’s an area that was made for road tripping, and although its popularity is growing quickly, it’s still an area where visitors can find uniquely remote activities, attractions, and charming little fishing villages. Spanning roughly 84 miles from Puerto Morelos to Tulum, the Riviera Maya is easy to travel by bus or car, and stopping to have breakfast in Playa del Carmen won’t get in the way of making it to that tour in Tulum in the afternoon. The region is known for having a little bit of everything, and visitors can enjoy the party-driven tourist hot spots just as easily as they can explore a hidden underworld in the heart of the jungle. Photo: eddygaleotti/Fotolia
»National Reef Park of Puerto Morelos
The National Reef Park of Puerto Morelos is home to the world’s second largest coral reef, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. This area of the reef is only six feet under the water’s surface and is the closest section to shore in the Riviera Maya, making it one of the most popular diving and snorkeling locations. The reef became a protected area in 1998, requiring each visitor to be accompanied by an accredited guide; swimming to the reef without one is illegal. While viewing the various flora and fauna is encouraged, visitors are expected to take special care and not touch the reef to avoid damaging it.
Contact: Avenida Rafael e Melgar 1,2,3, Puerto Morelos 77580, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-99-88-71-01-62
»Kantun Chi Ecological Park
Kantun Chi is an ecological park surrounded by lush tropical gardens featuring an abundance of wildlife, including spider monkeys, deer, and raccoons as well as various bird and reptile species. The park’s most prominent features are its four cenotes, natural freshwater sinkholes boasting beautiful crystal clear waters. Of the four cenotes, Sas ka leen Ha, meaning transparent water, is the largest, and it features a small Mayan shrine that is believed to have been used by this ancient civilization for purification ceremonies. The other three cenotes include Uch Ben Ha, a gorgeous open-air sinkhole teeming with colorful fish, Zacil Ha (clear water), known for its natural formations, and Kantun Chi, a semi-open sinkhole ideal for snorkeling and swimming.
Contact: La Avenida 20, Entre Calle 4 y 6, Norte, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-98-48-03-01-43
»Emotions Native Park
Located in a thick jungle, the Emotions Native Park is a fun and exciting place where recreational activities take center stage. Visitors can ride ATVs throughout the trail system, walk along beautifully landscaped pathways and protected natural areas, and soar high above the lush vegetation on zip lines. Visitors can also discover archeological vestiges and learn about Mayan culture, history, and traditions through a tour of one the area’s earliest houses, a building that has been fully restored. They will also have the chance to explore a few small Mayan ruins, experience a Mayan ceremony, swim in a crystal clear cenote named Media Luna, and walk through a cave with stalactites and stalagmites.
Contact: Carretera Federal Chetumal-Puerto Juarez Km 285, Ejido Sur, 77712, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: 877-432-1569
Photo: stockphoto mania/Fotolia
Located outside of the ancient Mayan city of Tulum deep in the Mexican jungle is a series of caves and sinkholes that serve as a gateway to an incredibly fascinating submerged world. One of these openings is the Angelita Cenote, a spacious, 200-foot-deep pool that suddenly appears from the thick jungle surroundings. The steady flow of water meeting the crumbling of porous limestone created this gaping cavern, which the ancient Mayans considered a holy site after they discovered it. Today, it serves as a popular spelunking and scuba diving site that provides visitors with an extraordinary experience of an underwater “river.”
Contact: Downtown Avenue, Tulum 200, Plaza Mexico, SM 4, Mexico, Phone: +52-87-16-70
»Akmul Monkey Sanctuary and Rescued Animals
Akmul Monkey Sanctuary and Rescued Animals (AMS) is devoted to the love and care of animals who come from extremely poor conditions where they were once working in circuses and other animal-centered attractions. The sanctuary was designed to educate people on all the natural wonders of the Mayan jungle in an enjoyable environment. AMS serves as a cultural corridor where visitors can learn about art, animals, and Mayan traditions. You have the opportunity to go on 2.5-hour guided tours through the sanctuary and its habitats as well as visit their underground cenote. During the tour, guests will also have the chance to interact with a troop of primates for up to twenty minutes.
Contact: Gonzalo Guerrero, 77780 Akumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-98-41-60-02-72
»Crocco Cun Zoo
Located near the peaceful village of Puerto Morelos at the edge of Riviera Maya, Crocco Cun Zoo is a conservationist interactive animal park where guests can touch, hold, and feed a variety of regional wild animals. While this zoo allows an up-close-and-personal animal experience that others do not, they do so with education and connectedness in mind. Their expert staff provide guided 60 to 75-minute tours designed to teach visitors to understand and respect the role and significance of different species’ parts in the ecosystem. While traversing a maze of outdoor paths among indigenous plant life and ponds, guests will see and interact with various mammals such as monkeys, birds, and reptiles like crocodiles and snakes.
Contact: 307 Highway, Carr. Cancun – Tulum km 31, 77580 Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-99-88-50-37-19
»Dolphin Discovery Playa del Carmen
Situated on the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, the Dolphin Discovery Playa del Carmen habitat is located in Punta Maroma. It is the largest of its kind in the region with the added benefit of being on one of the ten best beaches in the world – Playa Maroma – a pristine white sand beach featuring crystal clear waters and warm tropical breezes. It’s a picture perfect paradise offering a wealth of entertainment and recreational activities with the Dolphin Discovery center playing a central role. Visitors can choose from a selection of dolphin encounters that allow them to get up-close-and-personal with these impressive marine mammals, feeding them, swimming with them, and even riding on them.
Contact: Carretera Chetumal-Pto. Juarez Km. 503 + 200, El dorado Maroma Solidaridad, Punta Maroma, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: 800-727-5391
Photo: Patryk Kosmider/Fotolia
Adventuras Mayas is a premier tour company that offers unforgettable, extreme excursions throughout the Maya Riviera. They are focused on providing visitors with unique and magical adventures in a sustainable environment while respecting essential ecological processes, cultural integrity, and biological diversity. Visitors can choose from one of eight specialty tours provided by Adventuras Mayas, including Tulum Xtreme, Snorkel Xtreme, Maya Xtreme, Dolphin Xtreme, ATVs Zipline, ATVs Snorkel, ATVs Tulum, and Maya Adventure. The latter explores three extraordinary ecosystems, an underground river in the center of a jungle, the turquoise waters of the Caribbean teeming with marine life, and the mystical beauty of Mayan cenotes (sinkholes).
Contact: Col. Ejido Sur, Solidaridad, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-98-48-03-25-51
»Bel Air Animal Park
Both an animal sanctuary and an amusement park, the Bel Air Animal Park focuses on connecting visitors with nature and over 350 species that include mammals, birds, reptiles, farm animals, and other regional wildlife. Bengal tigers, lions, kangaroos, Patagonian hares, Cameroon goats, Peacocks of India, and African tortoises are just a few of the animals found here. The park is also home to several species of primates including the famous Timo and Tea, two very small yet remarkable chimpanzees. The park offers several guided tours that teach visitors about the animals’ origins, intellectual capacities, and what’s needed to care for them, as well as various interactive animal shows, a waterpark, and a fresh and saltwater estuary.
Contact: Carretera Puerto Juarez – Chetumal, KM.265, Puerto Aventura, Riviera Maya Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-98-41-71-03-25
»Coba Mayan Traditions
The Coba Mayan Traditions tourism company was designed to show visitors the various treasures of the Maya ancient city of Coba. As the heart of Mayan civilization, each tour explores the greatness of the city’s traditions and its transcendence into the modern world. They offer authentic and unique insights into the cultural background of Mayan history and heritage through an ancient and active archaeological site, a fabulous cenote, and a real Mayan village. Guests will visit Nohoch Mul, Mexico’s tallest Maya pyramid, enjoy a local lunch at an ecological restaurant within the rainforest, and experience a Maya Purification with a shaman. Additionally, guests visit with Maya descendants while watching a demonstration on how to make Mayan gum.
Contact: Plaza Chacah, local numero 6, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-98-48-03-88-70
Photo: Patryk Kosmider/Fotolia
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»La Calypso Dive Center
The La Calypso Dive Center is located in the famous Maya city of Tulum, an area known for its ancient pyramids that tower over the pristine, turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea and magnificent white sand beaches. This diving center caters to exclusive, remote dives far from the large resort complexes in Playa del Carmen and Cancun. They provide personalized service for each of their excursions, tailoring them to each guest’s preferences, from beginner diving trips to the Mesoamerican Coral Reef to more advanced dive trips through stalagmites and stalactites in rarely seen cenotes. No matter your skill level, you will enjoy swimming with an assortment of multicolored tropical fish during your dive.
Contact: Calle Sagitario Esquina con Calle Osiris S/N Lote 11, Centro, 77780 Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: 984-106-8002
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»L’Aquarium Playa del Carmen
L’ Aquarium Playa del Carmen is a Mexican company created by a group of marine life experts who are passionate about generating awareness and respect for the ocean’s ecosystem in a fun yet educational environment. The Aquarium of Beach boasts three levels featuring over 200 species of marine animals. Their 45 exhibits have been organized into several environments and themes creatively showcasing their importance to endangered ecosystems. Corals, seahorses, sharks, marine stars, jellyfish, reptiles, and amphibians, as well as a large variety of saltwater and ornamental species are exhibited here. They offer 30-minute guided tours for anyone who wants to gain a little more knowledge of these creatures.
Contact: El Acuario de Playa, Plaza Corazon, Quinta Avenida y Calle 14, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Phone: +52-99-82-87-53-13
Photo: Maciej Czekajewski/Fotolia
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»Mexican Caribbean Kitesurf
Mexican Caribbean Kitesurf (MCK) is a watersport recreational company that specializes in kitesurfing and stand-up paddle-boarding lessons and tours in Tulum. From beginner to advanced levels, MCK has packages that will fit anyone’s skill level. Most of their kitesurfing adventures take place on Ahau, Tulum – the best kitesurfing spot in the region, but they also make trips to Isla Blanca and El Cuyo if the wind is non-existent in Ahau. SUP tours include SUP Cenote, where you paddle between mangroves; SUP Lagoon involves tranquil paddling; SUP Reef allow you to paddle through Tulum’s turquoise waters; and SUP Ruins offers the best views of ancient Tulum ruins from the water.
Contact: Ahau Tulum Hotel, Boca Paila Road Km 7.5 Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-98-41-68-10-23
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»Museo Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo is one of the most influential and talented artists of recent decades, both nationally and internationally. The Museo Frida Kahlo honors her artistic legacy and life of purposefulness and fearlessness in the face of great suffering by exploring the key events in her life and displaying them in such a way that allows the public to understand and relate to her story on an entirely new level. The museum showcases a series of unique conceptual exhibits such as Chronology, which displays a timeline of historical events in Mexico and around the world. Through its time lapse, visitors will see how these events impacted Kahlo’s life and work.
Contact: 5ta Avenida esq. Calle 8, Centro, Playa del Carmen, Solidaridad. Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-98-48-03-29-20
Photo: Museo Frida Kahlo
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»Pet Cemetery Cenote
Located deep in the lush jungle outside Tulum, what is now referred to as the Pet Cemetery Cenote was a surprising discovery in 1987. It is the second longest underwater cave system in the world, extending an estimated 51 miles. The warm, crystalline fresh water is derived from 28 known sinkholes, referred to as cenotes by locals. Mexican tourism, conservationists, and diving leaders have made the Dos Ojos underwater cave system easily accessible to tourists. They are welcome to explore its mysterious marine life, odd collection of scattered animal skeletons both familiar and ancient (including a tapir’s lower jaw bone), and breathtaking rock formations highlighted by stalagmites and stalacites.
Contact: 1a Avenida Sur por Zona Maritima Federal, Centro, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-98-48-03-57-50
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»Playa del Carmen Food Tours by Cozumel Chef
When attempting to escape the hustle and bustle of the tourist district of Playa del Carmen, the exceptional Playa del Carmen Food Tours by Cozumel Chef just might be the ideal activity. On this ultimate foodie adventure, you will experience various Mexican culinary styles and regional dishes such as the local flavors of the Yucatan, Tex-Mex, and central Mexican dishes. Visitors will sample an array of vibrant flavors in each colorful and titillating dish whether it be from a street cart or a traditional Mexican restaurant, all while exploring the dynamic streets of Playa del Carmen. All tours last roughly 2.5 hours and include a visit to an open-air market, plus tasting Mexican specialties such as delicious Pozole, cochinita pibil, and fresh tacos.
Contact: 1a Avenida Sur por Zona Maritima federal, Centro, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-98-71-05-53-00
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Hidden deep in the jungle, Rancho Baaxal is a horseback riding tour company that puts the health and well-being of their horses above all else. Baaxal, a Mayan word meaning “a place to have fun,” perfectly captures the heart of this rustic ranch. Their philosophy is that if their horses are happy and having fun, everyone else will too. All of their horse training methods are non-violent and focus on communication and positive reinforcement. They offer 1.5-hour daytime tour and full-moon tours that take visitors riding through the lush tropical jungle spotting various wildlife along the way, and along the white sands of Maroma Beach – voted one of the world’s Top Ten Most Beautiful Beaches for the last four years.
Contact: Solidaridad, Punta Maroma, Maroma Beach, 7710 Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-98-41-45-89-62
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Rio Secreto is a majestic underground river featuring thousands of stalagmites and stalactites. A virtual crystal museum, it welcomes visitors into its depths to explore this mysterious Mayan underworld. Examining this spectacular river is like stepping back in time. The myriad geological formations tell tales of the past while crystal clear fresh waters welcome visitors to learn something new about themselves. Tours through this exceptional underground world require guests to hike and swim through this 1-km long river as they pass by some of the world’s most dramatic mineral formations. Access to the Nature Reserve, specialized guides, wetsuits, life jackets, lamp helmets, towels, nonalcoholic drinks, and a regional buffet are all included in the tour.
Contact: Carretera Federal Libre Chetumal – Puerto Juarez Km. 283.5, Ejido Sur, 77712 Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-99-81-13-19-05
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»Ruins of Tulum
Hundreds of Maya ruins are scattered throughout Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, but the Yucatan Peninsula, an area encompassing Playa del Carmen, Cancun, and Tulum, is the most impressive of them all. This is especially true when it comes to the Ruins of Tulum, the only seaside ruins that provide visitors with a truly unique experience where history and nature beautifully collide. There are three additional tours of Maya ruins that are especially popular, including the COBA ruins thirty minutes northwest of Tulum, and Ek Balam and Chichen Itza, both about a 2.5 to 3-hour journey from Tulum. The latter is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Contact: Carretera Federal 307 Cancun, Chetumal Km 230, Tulum 77780, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: 888-537-9797
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»SAYAB Planetario de Playa del Carmen
A place where science meets community, The SAYAB Planetario de Playa del Carmen is an educational attraction whose mission is to be a platform for cultural, technological, and scientific outreach. It does more than explore the wonders of the planets and stars; it delves into a multitude of topics related to discovery, science, and the ecological systems of the Yucatan Peninsula. Exhibitions focus on everything from underwater rivers and fossils to spiders, animal anatomy, and ancient civilizations. Visitors will learn all about topics such as the ocean’s connection with land, the discovery of cenotes, and the importance of cave divers who spend an exorbitant amount of time mapping these complex underwater river systems.
Contact: Avenida Central Entre Avenida 115 Norte y Avenida 125 Norte, Manzana 1, Lote 16, Cruz de Servicio, Solidaridad, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-98-46-88-39-56
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»Sian-Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is one of the largest parks in Mexico, spanning over one million acres. This coastal jungle is the sanctuary and home to countless species of tropical flora and fauna such as the jaguar, a protected species. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sian Ka’an is a natural and cultural oasis boasting a wealth of activities both on land and in the water. Visitors can observe sea turtles, dolphins, and manatees via boats, or swim around and explore the coral reef that runs along the entire length of the area. There is also a mangrove area for viewing various species of birds as well as multiple Mayan archaeological areas.
Contact: Carretera Federal 307, Cancun – Chetumal Km 230, 77780 Tulum, Quintana Roo, Phone: +52-98-41-51-40-36
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Sidecar Adventures is a unique tour company specializing in off-the-beaten-path style excursions around the Yucatan Peninsula on vintage motorcycles equipped with sidecars. Tours are led by Fredrik, a devoted food, photography, and architecture lover whose knowledge of the area makes for exciting and enthralling adventures. Tours can be given in English, Swedish, German, and Mandarin while cruising around in classic Royal Enfield-style motorcycles. Each of the tours is specifically designed and personalized to guests’ preferred locations and according to what events may be going on that day. Merida, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Puerto Morales, and Tulum are the locations visitors can choose from, opting for one-hour to full-day tour options.
Contact: Calle 10, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-99-93-66-89-58
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»Xcaret Eco Theme Park
The Xcaret Theme Park offers visitors a chance to explore the history of Mexico, its extraordinary ecosystems, and its Mayan culture in a fun and exciting way. A one-stop shop for entertainment, delectable food, and national pride, Xcaret offers a wealth of activities and attractions waiting to be explored. Located on the shores near Cancun, it boasts over 50 thrilling things to do including traditional festivals like, Fiesta Charra, playing a game of Mayan Ball, trekking along Jaguar Island, and visiting the colorful Butterfly Pavilion. The Caribbean Sea portion of the park also offers its own unique experiences, such as exploring underground rivers, swimming with dolphins, snorkeling, and diving.
Contact: Chetumal-Puerto Juarez Federal Highway, Km. 282. Solidaridad, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-98-42-06-00-38
Photo: Elena Shirokova/Fotolia
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»Xenses Half-Day Park
An innovatively designed world, Xenses offers visitors wildly unusual and thrilling experiences that allow them to learn about the region of the Riviera Maya in a way that has never done before. Guests will go through two circuits of one-of-a-kind activities in over 50 imaginative scenarios. On the Non-Sense Circuit, visitors will travel through a nonsensical Mexican town where keeping balance is key, listen to a giant red heartbeat, zip-line through the sky, glide down a slip and slide, and float down the Riverlaxing stream. The ConSentido Circuit takes visitors through varying ecosystems in complete darkness, traverses a fun area of giants and dwarfs, and explores an underground world beneath the earth’s surface.
Contact: Carretera Chetumal, Puerto Juarez Federal highway, Km. 282. Solidaridad, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-98-42-06-00-38
Photo: Xenses Half-Day Park
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Similar to its sister parks, Xplor is an adventure park featuring numerous activities that they’ve made uniquely their own. It’s an all-inclusive park where guests are given the opportunity to fill up on their delightfully delicious buffet and quench their thirst with unlimited signature non-alcoholic beverages before and while they explore the park. Activities include soaring high above the jungle via zip-lines, driving through the jungle in an amphibious vehicle, and swimming or hand-paddling fun board rafts across an ancient river. They also take visitors into a world hidden beneath the earth’s surface to explore crazy caverns and magnificent rock formations.
Contact: Carretera Chetumal, Puerto Juarez Federal highway, Km. 282. Solidaridad, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Phone: +52-98-42-06-00-38
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25 Best Things to Do at the Riviera Maya
- National Reef Park of Puerto Morelos, Photo: Courtesy of whitcomberd - Fotolia.com
- Kantun Chi Ecological Park, Photo: Courtesy of Kertu - Fotolia.com
- Emotions Native Park, Photo: Courtesy of stockphoto mania - Fotolia.com
- Angelita Cenote, Photo: Courtesy of leonardogonzalez - Fotolia.com
- Akmul Monkey Sanctuary and Rescued Animals, Photo: Courtesy of sergioparra - Fotolia.com
- Crocco Cun Zoo, Photo: Courtesy of imtakingphotos - Fotolia.com
- Dolphin Discovery Playa del Carmen, Photo: Courtesy of Patryk Kosmider - Fotolia.com
- Adventuras Mayas, Photo: Courtesy of CL-Medien - Fotolia.com
- Bel Air Animal Park, Photo: Courtesy of Brocreative - Fotolia.com
- Coba Mayan Traditions, Photo: Courtesy of Patryk Kosmider - Fotolia.com
- La Calypso Dive Center, Photo: Courtesy of Oksana - Fotolia.com
- L’Aquarium Playa del Carmen, Photo: Courtesy of Maciej Czekajewski - Fotolia.com
- Mexican Caribbean Kitesurf, Photo: Courtesy of Mediteraneo - Fotolia.com
- Museo Frida Kahlo, Photo: Museo Frida Kahlo
- Pet Cemetery Cenote, Photo: Courtesy of aquapix - Fotolia.com
- Playa del Carmen Food Tours by Cozumel Chef, Photo: Courtesy of Marcos - Fotolia.com
- Rancho Baaxal, Photo: Courtesy of Douglas - Fotolia.com
- Rio Secreto, Photo: Courtesy of aquapix - Fotolia.com
- Ruins of Tulum, Photo: Courtesy of Marcos - Fotolia.com
- SAYAB Planetario de Playa del Carmen, Photo: Courtesy of hit1912 - Fotolia.com
- Sian-Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, Photo: Courtesy of lunamarina - Fotolia.com
- Sidecar Adventures, Photo: Courtesy of Shjmyra - Fotolia.com
- Xcaret Eco Theme Park, Photo: Courtesy of Elena Shirokova - Fotolia.com
- Xenses Half-Day Park, Photo: Xenses Half-Day Park
- Xplor Park, Photo: Courtesy of tong2530 - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of eddygaleotti - Fotolia.com
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