The Riviera Maya is full of exciting things to do and places to see and although you are tempted to lounge in your fancy hotel for the entire stay, it would be a shame not to explore the wonders of this regions.
My goal with this post is to show you all the beauties that you can visit from wherever you are staying either in the Riviera Maya or Cancun, places at an easy reach in a one day tour.
First and foremost, you must rent a car. No question! No, it is not dangerous; you just need to keep an eye on the speed to avoid getting caught by the police, who often go out of their way to get a bribe. I wouldn’t give in to them, preferring to pay whatever fine the ticket might incur. I really get annoyed about the corruption thing, but it’s a reality. Just do not encourage it.
If you want to read more about my tips on driving in Mexico this post is right for you.
Get a GPS, drive inland and also along the coast. Beware that at some points there is no cover and it would not work .
However, if you prefer to use organized tours, worry not, at the bottom of the article you will find a great selection of organized tours for you.
But let’s start with the list of my top 23 things to do from the Riviera Maya.
1) Isla Blanca (10km from Cancun) – the last patch of land north of Cancun, a beautiful stretch of white sand, and a paradise for kite surfers.
2) Puerto Morelos (30km away from Cancun) – That’s where the Riviera Maya officially starts. It’s a quaint fishing town where you can go for lunch or dinner after a visit to the ‘Ruta de los Cenotes,’ where you have can take your pick from a number of stunning natural pools, one after another.
3) Tulum (180km away from Cancun) – the only Mayan archaeological site to be situated on the beach, with stunning postcard-like views. Spending the rest of the day on the never-ending white-sand beach, and taking a stroll to the easy-chic downtown (pueblo) would make your day trip to Tulum a success. It’s definitely the antithesis of Cancun, and if we are sort of like-minded, you will kick yourself for not having stayed longer, or maybe end up improvising a night in Tulum… which you will neither regret nor forget.
4) Playa del Carmen. (70km away from Cancun) – Party all night long, do some shopping; beaches mostly crowded, with music-friendly beach clubs, fine, local and international dining for every taste.
5) Akumal (105km away) – it’s one of the most visited resorts along the Riviera Maya for its friendly turtles swimming just off the public beach, with which you can swim; you don’t need a tour, just bring snorkel gear. The turtles are free in the water and tend to come closer because people feed them. Please don’t! Click here if you wish to know more
6) Isla Mujeres – you can take the ferry from Cancun, rent a golf cart on the island and drive around. Stop at Playa Norte after you have seen the island (the perimeter of which is 16km) to enjoy the beautiful beach. Alternatively, pay for a catamaran tour (make sure you ask to see the catamaran beforehand) which will stop for snorkeling in the bay. I’m not keen on the latter option as they tend to accept loads of people on the boat and offer alcoholic drinks all day long, thus you end up like sardines in and amongst a bunch of drunken people. Not my thing. I’d rather go by myself, but… each to his/her own…
8)Chichen Itza – The magnificent Mayan city, considered one of the most important centers of the Mayan civilization. It is a bit commercial but it is definitely worth a visit.
9) Ek Balam ruins(171km from Cancun) – An interesting site, in the middle of the jungle and off the beaten path, on the way to Rio Lagartos. Whether you are staying on the Riviera Maya or Cancun, this is an easy place to visit.
10) Rio Lagartos (250km from Cancun) – a biosphere close to Ek Balam. Once you get there you can find fishing boats to take you around the lagoon to see the flamingos. A beautiful spot.
11) Mahahual (352 km South of Cancun) – a beach resort, very quaint, with lovely hotels and restaurants. If you love water sports and snorkeling, it’s ideal to spend a weekend here.
12) Valladolid (150km from Tulum) – a lovely colonial town. Walk around and watch daily life go by, note the peculiar constructions, churches, monastery, local ‘’comida yucateca “(food from Yucatan); and all this surrounded by cenotes and ruins. You can even rent a bike and defy the infernal heat…
13) Izamal (250km away) – my personal favorite, with its very unique historical center and monastery in the middle of the town; what’s more, everything is yellow, hence the common connotation as ´the yellow town’. You can get great shots here if you are into photography.
14) Merida (305 km away) – the capital of Yucatan and a colonial city, full of history and culture.
15) Bacalar Lagoon – (341 km from Cancun) – termed the ‘lagoon of seven colors’, and nothing like your mind eye´s image of a lagoon. It is a large lake (42 km long and 2 km wide), characterized by the 7 shades of blue throughout the clear water, thanks to its limestone bed. A beautiful place, complete with nice eco-lodges around the shore, where you can relax and/or enjoy water sports, guaranteeing you a peaceful and reinvigorating experience.
16) Calakmul (700 km from Cancun approx) – quite a distance, but if you take it easy and stop off at other attractions in between, such as Akumal, Tulum, Coba, and Bacalar, you can make the most of a fantastic tour of all the natural parks, as well as see the principal areas of flora and fauna. Calakmul is one of the most important Mayan sites, protected by a huge jungle, and home to many endemic and non-endemic animal species, like monkeys, jaguars, reptiles and an abundance of birds. It will take a whole day to enjoy this beautiful reserve.
17) Holbox – a 133-km drive from Cancun to the small town of Chiquilà, where ferries or fishing boats will take you across to the tranquil, laid-back island.
18) Contoy Island – Contoy is a protected area where until a couple of years ago you could only go with a special permission from the government. I was lucky to go during an incentive tour organized by my company and it was just mind-blowing. A totally unspoiled island where mantas would freely come close to the shore and let you play with her. She has now died but her baby manta is there in her place. The island is also home of birds colony and biologists live there to study and monitor them. The time spent on the boat to get there is a trip in itself, a long boat ride in the turquoise blue of the Caribbean sea. They have now opened it to organized tours that are still controlled by the authorities. This is the tour that I wouldn’t want to miss. You can check out price and programs by clicking here.
19) Swimming with whale sharks – a beautiful adventure in the sea which can be organized either from Cancun, Isla Mujeres or Holbox. You must not miss this encounter with friendly sharks, which happens only in the summer months.
21) Drive around the Costa Esmeralda on the north coast of Yucatan.
22) Spend a couple of days on the deserted beach at El Cuyo.
23) Drive around Yucatan through the colored colonial towns and stop for a local meal or to visit the old Henequen old factory or stop by to swim in a Cenote. For sure you will find a lot on this charming limestone land.
Thank you so much for reading this long list. I guess it was not too tedious as I thought if you are here. If you have any more questions on the Riviera Maya and Cancun or you think I forgot something important, or if you just want to say hi, please feel free to write in the comment below or in a private message. I’d love to hear from you.
In the meantime, I will leave you with a list of tours that I have selected for you as I understand not everybody love to drive or feels comfortable in doing it especially if you have a short amount of time.
So I thought I should partner with a trustworthy company to suggest you the best tours in the area.