Travel Guide to the Riviera Maya: more than only Cancun and hotels

The Riviera Maya, one of the many paradisiacal corners that Mexico has in its deck of wonders for travelers. In the last three decades, this destination has earned a well-deserved worldwide fame for the variety of places and activities that take visitors on a journey through history, exuberant nature, gastronomy, parties, extreme sports, amusement parks, beaches and luxury services.

The traveler’s menu served in this part of the Mexican Caribbean is designed to please even the most demanding tastes. There are so many things to do and see in the Riviera Maya and its surroundings that it may be impossible to cover in a single trip, but what is a fact is that whoever arrives at this destination will take home indelible memories.

How can you forget a sea so blue, so crystalline? How can you not remember the overflowing attention and special kindness of the Mexicans? How can you erase from your memory the imaginary journey through the beauties that the Mayas signed with their ancestral cities?

In this guide I will give you fundamental tips for you to plan your trip to the Riviera Maya.

General Aspects

The Riviera Maya is the strip of Caribbean coast that extends along the eastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is incredible to think that until the middle of the last century this tourist corridor was made up of small fishing villages, and was transformed into an area of luxury designed as a strategy to move the economy of the region, taking advantage, as we were told, of the triumph of the Revolution in Cuba and the consequent expulsion of U.S. capital from the island.

Cancun alone has a hotel offer of more than 90 thousand rooms that are fully occupied during high seasons.

Seasons

Keep in mind the high seasons when planning your trip.

– From mid-March to the first week of April are the Spring Breaks for college students in the United States. Some hotels, especially in Cancun, raise their prices to cater to the horde of young Americans who come to Mexico looking to party during this season.

– Last week of April: Semana Santa (Holy Week).

– July and August: Mid-year vacations.

-From the second half of November to the first week of February is considered the high season.

Currency

As in the rest of Mexico, the official currency in the Riviera Maya is the Mexican peso, but almost all establishments receive payments in dollars. However, it is advisable to change money to the local currency.

Getting there

From the airport:

Cancun’s international airport is located 16 kilometers from the city and cab fares may prove to be the first pain for your pocket, so we recommend booking online with the official Cancun Airport Transportation service, which is quite cheaper, has many services depending on the type of trip and their vans are very comfortable.

Although it is much more tedious and complicated to use the bus in Cancun, here are some recommendations if you wish to use this type of transportation. 

Bus: To get to Cancun’s hotel zone you have to take two buses. The first one is the ADO that goes from the airport to downtown Cancun for 72 pesos (4 USD) and runs until midnight. Remember that you can pay in dollars and they receive them at a higher rate than the exchange rate inside the airport. The ADO station is in the airport itself, it is not necessary to walk too far to find it; anyone can tell you how to get there. Don’t forget that there are also buses from the airport to Playa del Carmen.

Once in downtown Cancun ask for the R1 bus stop, which will take you to the hotel zone for 10.50 pesos (less than a dollar). Total transportation: 5 USD per person.

Cities

Cancun

Although it is not the capital of the state of Quintana Roo, this city is the object of all eyes in the world when talking about the Caribbean Sea. Its 23 kilometers of beaches bathed by crystal-clear waters were reason enough to build a gigantic tourist complex designed to compete with the best destinations on the planet.

Cancun’s inhabited area is divided into two main parts: the Hotel Zone and the Urban Zone. The Hotel Zone is a 23-kilometer stretch of coastline totally built up with luxury hotels like we have never seen in our lives, at least not without a screen in between. Nightclubs, restaurants, shopping malls with ultra expensive brand stores are also part of the urban landscape of Cancun’s hotel zone.

The urban area is like any other city. There, people go about their daily routines under the Caribbean heat and, above all, without fluorescent bracelets on their wrists. The market, the taqueria, the park, the public transportation, the neighborhood, the hairdresser. In the shadow of the lights hides a city of more than six hundred thousand inhabitants, many of whom go daily to the 23 kilometers of hotels to provide their services to tourists.

What to do and see in Cancun

Many of the activities that are generally recommended to do in Cancun are outside the city. Some, like the famous Xcaret parks, are almost two hours away. Which means they are not in Cancun (but near from Playa del Carmen). However, the city offers plans to get out of the hotel and get a taste of the local culture.

Our number one recommendation is the Parque de las Palapas, a place frequented mostly by locals where there are a variety of activities such as free concerts and performances, food stands, regional pastries and local fairs.

Although access to most of the beaches is through the hotels and resorts in the hotel zone, there are also public beaches with free access. We went to Playa Delfines, a space open to the general public with white sand, palapas for free use and free of street vendors. The entrance is right at the ‘photo spot’, a place to take pictures with a colorful sign in capital letters that says CANCUN and has the turquoise blue sea in the background.

Where to stay in Cancun:

I was invited to the Secrets The Vine Cancun hotel, ranked fourth on Tripadvisor’s list of the city’s best hotels. Arrive here through Cancun Transportation directly to the hotel. Staying at this super luxury hotel is a unique experience. And how could it not be, if it has six a la carte restaurants, nightclubs, bars, gym, 24-hour room service and everything the guest can think of to feel at ease.

Playa del Carmen

It hasn’t been more than forty years since Playa del Carmen began to grow into what it is today. The dizzying development that turned this former fishing village into a mecca of tourism in Mexico has come about thanks to the massive arrival of tourists, mostly from the United States, Canada and Europe.

Playa del Carmen has beaches as beautiful as Cancun’s but in a much more authentic and less artificial context than its ultra-luxurious neighbor. In Playa del Carmen there is something for everyone’s budget. Apart from its spectacular beaches, this city has a diverse party offer, on the Fifth Avenue offers a boulevard with businesses of all kinds and to walk along it is to share space with people from all over the planet who mix their languages in a tower of Babel four kilometers long.

Playa del Carmen has a huge advantage over Cancun: the surrounding activities are just a few kilometers away, including the jetties to unmissable places like Holbox or Cozumel.

We recommend spending an afternoon at Los Fundadores Park, watching the spectacle of the voladores de Papantla and taking a dip in the sea.

Tulum

128 kilometers from Cancun is Tulum, a small town that, although it has a growing tourist infrastructure, does not even reach the ankles of the prefabricated luxury of its neighbors Playa del Carmen and Cancun. But that does not make it any less attractive.

In Tulum the traveler will find an authentic population that preserves and shows its traditions and ways of life. It is an arrival point for backpackers from all over the world who want to explore the city’s surroundings, which offer wonderful places such as the surrounding beaches, Mayan ruins, amusement parks and cenotes.

What to do in Tulum

During our stay in Tulum we went to Akumal, a beach very famous for being one of the oldest destinations in the Riviera Maya and for being the natural habitat of gigantic sea turtles that come ashore.

Akumal is an ideal place to spend a day at the beach because of its breathtaking scenery: crystal clear water, thousands of shady palm trees and white sand.

You can swim with the turtles, we did. However, we feel that the control exercised to avoid disturbing them is insufficient. The beach is full of people full of sunscreen that contaminates the turtles’ habitat and they also chase them with selfie sticks. Sadly I realized this when I was doing it, we got out of the water and enjoyed the beach better. Avoid disturbing or disturbing the local wildlife as much as possible and always use organic sunscreen to preserve these natural wonders.

Where to stay in Tulum

Jose at Mama’s home: We can safely say that this is one of the best hostels in all of Latin America. The cost-benefit ratio makes your pocket and your travel experience a winner. Comfort, common spaces with everything you need, night activities, tours and the best breakfasts in the Riviera Maya make us want to return to this place right away.

Address: Calle Orion S / N between Venus and Sol Oriente 77780 Tulum

How to get to Tulum

To get to Tulum there are different ways, currently there is no direct public transportation from Cancun to Tulum, however, there are very good options, such as a private shuttle from Cancun to Tulum, which is the most comfortable way to get to your accommodation safely and quietly. 

Other sites

As we have already said, the Riviera Maya’s offer is unmanageable in a single trip. So you will need more than one trip to enjoy them all. Visit other destinations in the Riviera Maya, there are many more and you can discover them yourself by listening to the locals.

1 thought on “Travel Guide to the Riviera Maya: more than only Cancun and hotels”

  1. There’s a bus that runs from playa Del Carmen to Tulum for 45 pesos. Seats about 12. Was just on it.

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