In this post, I will tell you all about the best beaches of the Riviera Maya. I should, in fact, say the best beaches of Quintana Roo, as they all happen to be on the Riviera Maya, with the exception of Cancun which has its own spectacular beaches too, but that’s for another post. (You should check it out too)
The Riviera Maya is that stretch of Caribbean coastline that goes from Puerto Morelos all the way down to Playa del Carmen, Tulum. The Carretera Federal, or Route 307, starts in Cancun and runs all the way to Bacalar down to Chetumal, in the state of Quintana Roo, in the Yucatan Peninsula.
I am sure that staying in a beautiful hotel it’s usually hard to leave and do tours, instead of enjoying all the perks of luxury.
However, what is the point of traveling that far if you don’t go out and explore the place, mingle with the locals, know their culture and history, and enjoy the natural beauties, including the pristine beaches?
And then you go back to your hotel, richer, more fulfilled and you will appreciate your tranquillity even more.
By the way, if you can’t decide among the huge number of options of the Riviera Maya hotels, check out my guide on the best hotels of the Riviera Maya.
I am sure while organizing your next vacation in Mexico, you are wondering if the Riviera Maya is safe. It is, but you still need to use the same common sense that you would use anywhere else. You can read my article on Safety in Mexico, which will shed some light on the topic.
All along the Riviera Maya, there are uncountable side roads leading to the beautiful beaches of the Caribbean coastline, hotels, and private properties. I have explored almost all of them and I keep coming back to see what’s new, swim with the sea turtles and various tropical fish species
Here is a pretty much full list of the accessible pristine beaches of the Riviera Maya in order of driving distance from Cancun towards Tulum.
Please note that Cancun is not on the Riviera Maya, which stats in Puerto Morelos, 35 km south.
Read also: the 23 best things to do in Riviera Maya.
The best Mayan Riviera Beaches
Puerto Morelos Beach
Marking the beginning of the Riviera Maya, at an only a 20-minute drive from Cancun International Airport, Puerto Morelos is a quirky little town, very laid back, with pretty much anything to do if not enjoying the quiet lifestyle.
Although in Puerto Morelos the beach is amazing, the water is not properly what you expect from the Caribbean sea, as it is murky and full of weeds most of the time for the first 50 mt.
However, there are fishermen who are willing to take you snorkeling to the coral reef which is about 300mt from the coast.
Also in Puerto Morelos, you can enjoy a variety of beachside restaurants offering seafood and other Mexican food dishes.
I love Puerto Morelos most of all for the cluster of beautiful cenotes a few miles from the town, the popular Ruta de los Cenotes.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is one of the most popular beach destinations on the Riviera Maya and in all of Mexico and it’s also lined with a sandy shoreline that runs along the famous Quinta Avenida.
It’s located at a fare distance from the Cancun International Airport which is at 45 minutes drive.
But most of all, differently from the other town on the Riviera Maya, in Playa del Carmen, it’s is easy to get to the beach in Playa del Carmen but because of that, it is usually crowded and less appealing than other more private beaches I mentioned in this post.
If you want to enjoy one of Playa del Carmen’s beautiful beaches though I recommend you should go further away from the center and either get to Playacar or further north in the opposite direction where it’s less crowded. You will also find several private beach clubs there too.
One of the best beaches of the Riviera Maya, Playa Maroma is a private beach now, but you can easily purchase a day pass in one of the prestigious hotels and enjoy a day in one of the most beautiful pristine beaches in the Riviera Maya.
It’s located between Puerto Morelos e Playa del Carmen.
If you are willing to splurge you can stay in one of those fancy resorts such as the gorgeous Chablé Resort.
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Beautiful beaches of the Riviera Maya: Punta Venado
Located about 15 km from Playa del Carmen going towards Tulum, Punta Venado is actually an adventure park where you can choose among different activities.
However, since I am not particularly fond of motorized sports unless it is necessary (such as a boat ride to reach a dive site), what we like the most about Punta Venado is the beautiful beach.
There is also a huge park where you can go horseback riding and if you have your own mountain bike there is an interesting 5k trail that you can enjoy, riding in the jungle on your own.
When I went it was with my parents and we just chilled on the white sand beach and we took a few walks along the shore. The beachside restaurant offers a variety of choices but we opted for our favorite ceviche mixto and fresh papaya juice. It is a lovely option to spend a full day to spend on another beach.
Beaches Riviera Maya: Paamul
Paamul is one of my favorite beaches of the Riviera Maya. It is also an interesting place, located 20 km from Playa del Carmen, it is a beautiful bay where a community of people, mainly from the US, settled with their caravan and built their houses around it.
When you arrive from the main road, though, the first thing you will see is the Paamul Hotel, and if you are doing a tour and wish to stay for a night, waking upright on the beach is an incredible experience.
The hotel has been recently refurbished and offers stylish spacious rooms facing the spectacular beach of the Mexican Caribbean coastline.
But you wouldn’t go there for the hotel since what makes it a beautiful place is the beach itself. it is a small bay, quite rocky, but the snorkeling is really lovely. Remember to bring your own masks and fins.
Beaches Riviera Maya – Xpu ha
Xpu-ha Beach remains one the best beaches in Riviera Maya and I believe it deserves more attention. This is why I have dedicated a full post about it. Xpu-ha beach is located right after Puerto Aventuras and about 28 km from Playa del Carmen.
I remember 10 years ago when I used to work in Playa del Carmen and this beach was my Sunday escape. It was still among the most untouched pristine beaches with very few constructions.
It has become a bit too exploited now, with beach bars beachside restaurants and hotels, but it hasn’t lost its charm and is still a place where you can find relief from the mad crowd of Playa del Carmen, Cancun, or even Tulum, especially if you go on a weekday, you will really find the place almost all to your self.
You can also decide to stay there in one of the amazing hotels and decide to get to sleep while hearing only the sound of the water and wake up on that spectacular beach every day.
Here below is my hotel choice.
Esencia – luxury elegant property, for those who love to splurge.
Serenity Glamping – for those who love adventure and comfort
Catalonia Royal Tulum Beach Resort and Spa – All-inclusive adult-only luxury property.
Beaches Riviera Maya – Akumal Beach
Among one of the most popular beaches in the Riviera, Akumal is in fact one of the few places where you can swim with the turtles without them being kept in captivity.
The beach is always very crowded, but it is always worth spending a day there.
Besides the stretch of beach is really long and you can really have your space.
When you swim you can easily find yourself alone with a couple of turtles a manta ray and a barracuda just a few meters from the shore.
I am always in bewilderment at the thought that so many people aren’t really a bother for the friendly Testudines.
Please be aware that they have now changed the rules and you need to hire a certified guide to take you to see the turtles. Check out my Akumal turtle beach post for more information and pictures.
If you wish to have real-time information on events and activities in Akumal you can check out the site AKUMAL NOW, very interesting, done by locals, and continuously updated.
Hotels in Akumal Beach (or close)
Akumal Caribe – mid-range property right on turtle beach
Akumal bay Beach and Wellness Resort – on Turtle beach but far from the most crowded part – luxury property
Secret Akumal Riviera Maya – All-inclusive Adult only luxury property, has a private entry- the hotel is not on Turtle beach.
Riviera Maya Beach – Yal-ku Lagoon
Located in Akumal right past Akumal beach, it’s an interesting spot to snorkel and swim among mangroves in relaxed and transparent water.
Although it’s not properly a beach I thought I should include it in this list of the beaches of the Riviera Maya because, it is on the Riviera Maya and it implies swimming. 🙂
It’s definitely worth a visit, especially if you are in the area. There are several entrances to the lagoon and each of them has its own entrance fee. They all provide you with lockers, snorkeling equipment, and guides, if you wish and at a separate cost and not obligatory.
ENTRANCE FEE: see in the picture below all the rates and entrance rules.
DIRECTIONS – You won’t see signs on the main road (Carretera federal). You will need to follow directions for Akumal beach. Once you get there, you will pass it and continue straight, past different beautiful villas, and a couple of bars and after about a km you will see the first sign of the YAL-KU lagoon.
If you follow the first one, going left, you will get to the first entrance. From there you can swim all along the canal and up to the sea. It will be easy to go up and a little more difficult to come back because of the currents but definitely doable.
If you continue straight, you will get to the main entrance of the Yal-Ku lagoon, which is located right at the end of the canal where it merges with the sea. You can also rent palapas or have lunch in a cozy restaurant in the jungle.
OPENING HOURS: 9 am to 5 pm
IMPORTANT NOTE- please forget the sunscreen unless you are using an ecological one, as it will damage the marine flora and fauna!
2nd IMPORTANT NOTE – now there are two entrances of the Caleta Yalku, the one on the left is the original, it’s cheaper and they don’t have the mandatory life jacket rule. The other one, on the right has been bought by the Xcaret group, it may be fancier with a coffee shop inside, but it’s more expensive and they force you to wear the life jacket even if you are a good swimmer.
I prefer the original one because it’s at the very beginning of the lagoon and you can swim all the way to the end into the sea, besides being cheaper. 🙂
Kay beach club Akumal
Part of the Bahia Principe all-inclusive hotel, Kay beach club has separate beach beds and sunshades that you can rent for a minimum of 300 MXN (15 USD) spent. This means that you can stay there all day, buy lunch or breakfast and you are free to use the comfortable facilities.
The stretch of beach is kind of narrow, enough for 2 lines of beach bed but the access to the sea is amazing. The sea is calm and looks like a natural pool with turquoise waters. You can have long walks along the bay or go for a swim, chill in the comfortable beach beds and enjoy a good meal.
There is also Valet parking, which costs 50 pesos (2.5USD), which is very convenient.
Best beaches of the Riviera Maya – Casa Cenote
That’s the name of a restaurant on a lovely and quiet beach. The access to the sea is a bit rocky but nothing difficult and you have a great snorkeling experience. There is a Dive Shop in the premises where you can rent your fins and mask if you didn’t bring them with you.
But why is it called CASA CENOTE? you might ask. Well, on the other side of the road opposite the beach there is a beautiful cenote where you can swim in the transparent green waters through the mangroves. And snorkel too.
The entrance fee is about 5 USD. After you enter the water you can swim into the canal making their way through the mangroves whose roots are real underwater nurseries, home of thousands of juvenile fishes. A paradise for natural aquarium lovers. This is one of the best open cenotes of the Riviera Maya
DIRECTIONS: As I was mentioning, along the main road that goes from Cancun to Tulum there are different side path that either leads to hotels or public beaches.
The next one that you are going to take is right after Xcacel beach, on the way to Tulum. There you will see different signs among which CASA CENOTE or HOTEL PAVO REAL, which is probably more visible.
Take that entrance and keep driving.
Right before the entrance of the hotel Pavo Real, turn left and keep going. There is a sort of Security gate just tell them you go to Casa Cenote. You will arrive in about 500 mt.
An amazing white sand piece of beach with easy access to the blue waters and small natural swimming pull with less current for the shiest ones 😉
COST: In order to have access to this beautiful white beach you need to pay a fee to the hotel TAN KAH ( which is not the Tankah Inn, close to Casa Cenote, it’s another one, without the “inn”).
The cost is only 150 pesos or about 9/10 USD and you can have access to a cenote they have on the premises, beach chairs, and an umbrella. You can have lunch in the Restaurant of the property which is not included in the access fee).
DIRECTIONS It’s situated right before the Tulum Ruins, coming from Cancun. The sign is easy to see. You cannot miss it.
Xcacel Sea Turtles Sanctuary
I am happy to inform you that Xcacel has just been reopened to the public after a long period of closure. Besides being an incredibly stunning deserted stretch of sand it is also a sea turtle sanctuary where they look after turtle nesting and local flora and fauna in general.
Beach lovers, you will love this beach and here below are some things you should know about Xcacel beach.
The Sanctuary opens from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
During the turtle nesting season MAY – NOVEMBER, beach activities are restricted. Xcacel will open a calendar of activities so you can learn about everything that happens in the Sanctuary, so check out the Xcacel website for updates.
In the dry season, from December through April it’s possible to swim and surf but it’s prohibited to bring alcoholic beverages, food, music, or any other activity because they are considered to be a threat to the life of the species within the Sanctuary.
Being a protected area there are no beach restaurants either nor sunshades or beds. You are allowed and recommended to bring your own umbrella to protect you from the sun.
Also, keep in mind that in Xcacel there are no trash cans and it’s mandatory to bring your trash with you and leave only footprints. Keep in mind that this is not just a beach, it’s a protected reserve and sea turtles sanctuary which require your cooperation and common sense to be preserved.
Unfortunately, the Cenote (Xacelito) is closed for now. But there are many other cenotes in the nearby area that you can check out.
The list of the best beaches of the Riviera Maya wouldn’t be complete without Tulum beach. With over four miles of white sand lined with palm trees and high-end boutique hotels, Tulum beach is one of the most popular and yet, never crowded.
Although Tulum beach is free there are very few accesses to it, but you can easily book one of the Tulum Beach Clubs and enjoy a full beach day swimming in the crystal blue waters and basking in the sun on comfortable lounge chairs.
The entry fee varies but you can check out my post where I share as much detailed info as possible.
On the northern beaches, you are in the protected natural park, close to the Tulum ruins and you can take some time off from the beach and pay a visit.
How to get to the Riviera Maya Beaches
BY CAR – It is the easiest way and you can find here interesting info on driving Mexico and where to rent a car. The access to the included beaches is from the Federal Highway (Carretera federal) and renting a car will give you the freedom to move around at your convenience and pace.
If you are concerned about renting a car in Mexico and getting scammed I have got you covered too.
Find the best car rental deals and explore around freely, at your own pace. My favorite way to enjoy a destination!
BY BUS, either from Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum, you can easily take the small white van ( COLECTIVO) it will cost from 20 to 40 pesos depending on the distance. If you arrive from Cancun, you will need to get Playa del Carmen and get another one towards Tulum.
Ask the driver where you need to stop before departure and he will drop you off on the side of the road. You will need to walk a little in order to reach the beach, except Akumal which is right there, all the others are at about 1 km distance. Casa Cenote is a bit too far you will need to take a taxi.
BY TAXI, it’s the easy way, even though a little more expensive but they will drop you off directly on the beach. TIPS. make sure the taxi has been previously called by your hotel and he’s recommended and reliable, agree beforehand that he has to pick you up at a certain time.
Take the cell the taxi driver’s telephone number and the taxi number, take with you the general telephone number for a Taxi reservation and your hotel number, just in case your driver doesn’t show up. Don’t pay the taxi driver in advance, just one ride at a time.
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