The Ultimate Guide to La Riviera Maya (Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, & Tulum)

IMG_3096La Riviera Maya is hands down my favorite place to vacation to, because there is so much to see and do. I have been fortunate enough to travel there a couple times, and every time I leave, I am left wishing to come back and do something we didn’t have the opportunity to do. One of the best parts of traveling to this region, is the water. Cancun is located in the Caribbean Sea, so the water is warm and turquoise. There are parts of the Riviera Maya, where the water is nicer than others, the best water is closer to the Islands, such as Isla Mujeres & Cozumel.  Aside from the ocean, the Yucatan peninsula is home to more than 6,000 cenotes, each one is unique and an adventure visiting. The adventures are endless in La Riviera Maya, and this place is great to travel to for families, friends, but my personal favorite is with my significant other. This post is going to highlight some of the must see & do things while in the Riviera Maya, as well as food recommendations.

I’ll be moving down this list region by region geographically! When you fly in, you fly into Cancun so it is typically better to work your way down from Cancun -> Playa Del Carmen -> Tulum.

Getting Around: Renting a car is the best option if you are up for driving in Mexico. You can either rent a car for your whole stay or for certain days of your trip. If you are driving in Mexico, it is imperative to make safety your priority. If you would rather not worry about driving there are private shuttles which can take you around. If you are staying in Cancun & Playa Del Carmen, a car is not necessary at all, you can walk to most places or take the local bus or collectivos. You can also take ADO busses from Cancun, to Playa Del Carmen, and to Tulum. Make sure to check their schedule at the station to plan your trip accordingly! Tulum is also easy to move around in, the best way is through bike rental!

Cancun

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Many people insist on skipping Cancun, because of how oversaturated it is with tourism, I strongly disagree and love visiting the area. Cancun actually has way nicer beaches than Tulum does. Tulum is more for the Instagram and Cancun is more for the nightlife/ beaches. Cancun is also located north in the Yucatan peninsula and it is most optimal to visit certain tourist spots from this area.

Chichen Itza

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Known as one of the 7 wonders of the modern world, Chichen Itza is a must visit. In my opinion, the most optimal way to visit Chichen Itza, is through a tour. The tour company will pick you up and take you home. They often pair this with a visit to one of the most beautiful cenotes.

Cenote Ik-Kil

This is my favorite cenote to visit. It’s huge and super refreshing, it is also very deep, so if you are not comfortable treading water, I recommend you grab a life jacket. You can also jump into the cenote from various altitudes if you are seeking some adrenaline.

Coco Bongo

You can’t visit Cancun and not go to Coco Bongo, the experience is worth every penny. It is not like a regular club, its an immersive experience that blows your mind. The performers go all out, there is acrobats, stunts, live covers of favorites from Queen, Michael Jackson and many more. The ticket also includes open bar so make sure to get there early and get a good spot because it does get packed.

Isla Mujeres

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If there is one place of the Riviera Maya, I could go back to today, it would be Isla Mujeres. Since it is an island, the water is the best in the region. The island is beautiful, I recommend staying there for a night, you can find many affordable hotels and air bnbs. Isla Mujeres is accessed from Cancun from the multiple ferry ports, the ferry is cheap and a nice ride itself (as long as its not raining lol). Now the first thing you need to do when you arrive to Isla, is to rent a golf cart. Pack a day bag and wear your bathing suits, you can drive through the whole island and make pit stops to hop into the beach. There are even bar stops along the way for you to grab a cold cerveza or coco. Playa Norte is the most popular region on Isla and has the best sunsets.

Where We’ve Stayed

-Real Inn Cancun

-Hotel Bahia Chac Chi (Isla Mujeres)

Both of these hotels are super affordable yet still nice and enjoyable!

Restaurants

While were in Cancun, we typically do tours which feed you, so I really don’t have many places to recommend for eating except one.

Mextreme- Located on the strip where the nightlife is, this place has really good mexican food and even better margaritas. The restaurant is also super fun and has live music and the workers get into it by stacking drinks on their head.

and now we work our way down the Peninsula to……….

 

Playa Del Carmen

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Playa del Carmen is definitely worth visiting, especially if you love shopping. They have a main strip with a ton of restaurants, bars, and shops, the decor is beautiful especially at night with all the twinkle lights. Playa del Carmen is the most centrally located and is a good spot to stay to visit the most in the area. Tulum is only an hour away by car and, the island of Cozumel is also a ferry ride away. The best part of staying in Playa Del Carmen, is how close the excursion parks are, such as Xel-Ha, Xcaret, and Xplor. Finally, Playa Del Carmen is also close to many beautiful cenotes worth visiting.

Getting around Playa Del Carmen via Collectivo

My best recommendation to visit the cenotes/Akumal, is to take the collectivos from Playa Del Carmen. I should explain what this is, a collectivo is a local shuttle van that picks up people in Playa Del Carmen to take them to various stops along the highway which ends up at Tulum. The locals take these collectivos everyday to get to work at the various resorts along the highway, so they are super safe, just be aware of their times of operation so you do not end up stranded. The collectivos are cheap make sure you have small pesos in hand. Collectivos can be found on Calle 2 between 20th and 25th avenues. 

Xel-Ha

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Xel-Ha, if I could live here, I would. The ticket comes with all you can drink all you can eat. Did I mention, it’s all you can drink ALCOHOL? The buffet food is also really delicious. This park blows any disney resort out of the water. From the snorkeling, lazy river, cliff jumping, cenotes, and much more, this places is for everyone. There are even hammocks for you to take a nap in post alcohol binge.

Xcaret

This is the parent of the parks, its huge and best for families. There is a beautiful cultural show that will marvel the beauty of the Yucatan culture. To be honest, I haven’t been to this park yet, Ed and I always say we will come back to it when we have kids.

5th Avenue

The best shopping in La Riviera Maya. From local artisan crafts, to chain stores like forever 21, you are bound to find your perfect souvenirs here. Pro-tip: buy your souvenirs at the local wal mart, you will find the exact same things at cheaper prices (we were told by locals).

Akumal Bay

Have you ever wanted to swim with sea turtles? This is the place to go. We took a collectivo for a couple pesos from Playa Del Carmen to get to Akumal bay. We also bought our own snorkel mask and stick from Wal Mart and brought it with us to swim with the turtles. You do not need a tour to do this, and you can save money by doing it on your own. Swimming with the turtles was a beautiful experience, just be cognizant and respectful of their environment.

Cenote Jardin Del Eden

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 Cenote Jardin Del Eden, is actually the first stop of 3 cenotes worth visiting. It costs 5$ to get in, if you have your own snorkel gear, bring it with you to see the fish and underwater life. You can cliff jump into this cenote & it has some of the most beautifully colored water.

Other favorite cenotes to visit that are close by, Cenote Azul, Cenote Chickin Ha.

Where We’ve Stayed Before

-La Pasion Hotel Boutique- WE LOVE THIS HOTEL and it is also super affordable, just researching the name right now and the hotel costs 50$ a night. It is in a perfect location super close to all the walking shops and restaurants. It has a rooftop pool, rooftop bar, and another pool in the hotel. You also get free breakfast (sit down, restaurant style), and the amenities of the hotel are pretty sweet.

-Grand Mayan at Vidanta- I only stayed here because my mom has a timeshare. This resort is freaking awesome. Its huge and there is SO much to do, it probably would take two days to cover and explore everything this resort offers. One of the best things this Hotel offers, is its proximity with Cirque Du Soleil, where you can watch Joya! We loved watching the show here, it was much more affordable than Vegas and you can order packages where you you get drinks and appetizers.

Restaurants in Playa Del Carmen ( we have two favorites that we always make it a mission to visit to when were in the area).

-El Oasis Mariscos Calle 12 (best seafood ever) So many options to choose from and it is not that expensive

-El Fogon (there are various locations) best place to go for quality mexican food like tacos, especially el pastor.

and finally we head down to Tulum!

 

Tulum

 

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Tulum is every avid Instagrammer’s heaven, people go for the aesthetic and are drawn in by beautiful photos shared online. Because of how popular it is, this region is also much more expensive but it depends on which side of the town you are on . Typically most tourists go to the Tulum Hotel Zone, and if you are only there for the day, this is the region you want to visit and stay at. If you are in Tulum for an extended amount of time and are looking for a much more affordable stay with gorgeous AirBnB’s look into staying in Tulum Town. The only difficulty with staying in Tulum Town, is getting to and from the Hotel Zone where most of the attractions are located. Some of the airbnb’s do offer bikes which make traveling to the Hotel Zone a fun adventure.

here are some of my favorite spots to visit in Tulum

Azulik Hotel

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This hotel is so dreamy, I dream of staying there one day. For now i’ll just visit the beautiful attractions they offer. In this hotel you can find Kin Toh (restaurant), Sfer Ik (immersive art gallery that changes), and suspension bridge walkway at Azulik.

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Pro-Tip: Dining at Kin-Toh is pretty pricey and tbh the food was alright in my opinion. I did enjoy their cocktails and & bread they brought, but the food was kind of average. It is extremely expensive to dine on the nets and birds nests, but most people stop in for a drink at their bar, hop on the net for a quick picture and head out.

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Matcha Mama

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By far the best Acai Bowls i’ve ever had! They sell Acai bowls, smoothies, coffee, matcha, juices, and my personal favorite immunity boosters made out of juiced ginger. I love riding bikes here, and making this a pitstop. Aside from all the delicious food options, it makes for a perfect picture stop.

 

Coco Tulum

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One of my favorite stops for a drink and some beautiful beach views. This is also a great place for groups, in particular bachelorette parties. It has an all white aesthetic and has a great vibe to it.

Other Places worth Visiting in Tulum

-Casa Malca (Pablo Escobar’s Mansion)- Been dying to go here, last two times I was in Tulum it didn’t work out. Super cute and trendy for photos, check out the restaurant so you feel comfortable hanging around since it is a hotel.

-Coba Ruins ( you can climb these ruins, further away so you definitely need a car)

-Tulum Ruins (beautiful & by the water, there is also a trail that leads to a beach, can be accessed by bike coming from the hotel zone)

-Grand Cenote

-Cenote Calavera

 

 

 

 

since this blog is getting long, I will cap it off here. There are honestly SO many places to visit, you will love any region you travel to. These are just some of the highlights from the past times I’ve been. There is still so much I am yearning to see, I can’t wait to go back.

 

 

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