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In this post I will tell you what are the best beaches in 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 first of all, where is the Riviera Maya?
The RIVIERA MAYA is that stretch of coast that goes from Puerto Morelos all the way down to Tulum, crossed by the Carretera Federal, or Route 307 that starts in Cancun and runs all the way to Bacalar in the state of Quintana Roo.
I know very well that staying in a beautiful hotel normally has the “disadvantage” that you never want to leave it, and you get lazy about exploring the surroundings no matter how many good things you’ve heard about them.
However, what is the point of traveling that far if you don’t go out and explore the place, mingling with the locals, know their culture and history and enjoy the natural beauties?
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, click here to 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 “Is the Riviera Maya safe?”. I wrote a very thorough post on this topic and you can read it by clicking here.
All along the Riviera Maya, there are uncountable side roads and I always wonder where they go to, what is hiding beyond all that lush vegetation.
After the huge development of the area (not sure if development is an appropriate word, but they have been building a lot), the majority of those entrances lead you to new hotels or private properties, and a few others will take you to public heaven for everybody to enjoy.
Here is a pretty much full list of the accessible beaches of the Riviera Maya in order of driving distance from Cancun towards Tulum.
Puerto Morelos is a quirky little town, very laid back, with pretty much anything to do if not enjoying the quiet lifestyle.
Although the beach is amazing, the water is not properly what you are expecting from the Caribbean sea, as it is murky and full of weeds 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.
I love Puerto Morelos most of all for the cluster of beautiful cenotes at a few miles from the town. Click here to know all about them
Located about 15 km from Playa del Carmen going towards Tulum, this 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 do 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 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.
is an interesting place, located 20 km from Playa del Carmen, it is a beautiful bay where a community of people, mainly from the States, settled with they 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 it is a lovely experience even though not luxury per se; then again waking up right on the beach is a total luxury in itself.
The hotel has a choice of accommodation between the cabañas, more simple but more private, as they are located further away from the restaurant and main building, and the deluxe rooms which are a little more “polished” if I may say so.
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.
Xpu-ha is, to me, the best beach in Riviera Maya and I believe it deserves more attention. This is why I have dedicated a full post about it. You can read it here. It 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 wild and free, with very little constructions.
It has become a bit too exploited now but I was happy to see, when I returned after so long, that 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.
UPDATED MAY 2019
I came back from my trip to South America and wanted to check out all the beaches of the Riviera Maya to see what is the seaweed situation. The entire coast is suffering from an excess of seaweed, known as Sargasso, and this is undeniable. Playa Xpu-ha has also a little issue and it’s not the usual dreamy white sand beach that you would expect in the Caribbean.
However, it’s not as bad as I thought. The seaweed is only on the shore but if you wish to swim the water is almost crystal clear, except for today that was really windy and therefore a little murky.
Here below I leave you with a few pictures.
Also, I was pleased to find a new access to the beach that will lead you to the public area. You only pay 30 MXN (1.5 US) and you can just park along the dirt road and walk a few steps to the beach.
Akumal is for sure the most popular and visited beach and I am not surprised since it is one of the few places where you can swim with the turtles without them being kept in captivity.
The beach is always very crowded for the same reason of course, 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 at 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.
Click here 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.
Located in Akumal right passed Akumal beach, it’s an interesting spot to snorkel and swim among mangroves in relaxed and transparent water. 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: 14 USD for adults and 9 for kids. The lagoon is full of underwater life including the lovely turtles and the local guides can help you to find them and identify the different spices.
DIRECTIONS – You won’t see signs on the main road (Carretera federal). You will need to follow direction for Akumal beach. Once you get there, you will pass it and continue straight, passed different beautiful villas and a couple of bars and after about a km you will see the first sign of 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 the 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!
I didn’t know such a wild and untouched beach could still exist in the so popular and beaten Riviera Maya until I was browsing on a map and the Mayan name Xcacel caught my attention. I
decided then to go and explore.
I was in dumbfounded: about 1,5 km (1 mile) of the untouched soft sand beach, the water was of a light blue color vanishing in the white soft horizon.
Even the cloudy day didn’t spoil the beauty of the scene I was watching.
What I loved about this beach was the wild jungle at the back, no constructions, no bars, no man-made stuff, just pure wilderness.
You don’t hear about it in the organized tours or travel brochure and I give thanks for that.
This beach, just like Akumal, is actually a very important spot for nature conservancy projects because it is one of the beaches where turtles nest their eggs in spring.
The area is actually managed and taken care of by a private institution Flora, Fauna y Cultura de Mexico which, besides other maintenance works, is in charge of protecting the turtle eggs from any sort of perils when they are laid and help the newborn little turtles to reach back to the sea.
You will see in fact fenced area with the warning not to step on the beach because many new lives lay underneath. Fascinating.
On the right side on the beach, if you follow a path in the mangroves and lush vegetation you will find a cute little cenote, Xcacelito hiding in the vegetation. The sweet water, surrounded by the vegetation is refreshing. As in any other place, I suggest you should go on a weekday if you wish to have the cenote all for you.
Extra notes: the cost to the beach is 60 pesos and it is used to finance the conservation project. There is no food or drinks, so you should bring your own beverages, always and food if decide to spend the day there, not to mention sunscreen.
PLEASE remember to collect your garbage and through it in the first available bin even though it might imply bringing it at home!
UPDATE – please know that since Summer 2018 the place has been under a strange fight among local owners, not sure for what reason but the result is that it’s not always open and unfortunately I am not sure how is the situation evolving. As soon as I have update I will certainly share them with you.
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 to 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 its way through the mangroves whose roots are real underwater nurseries, home of thousands of juvenile fishes. A paradise for natural aquariums lovers.
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.
This next one that you are going to take is right after Xcacel, 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.
UPDATED on MAY 2019
The cenote is still the same, but the beach is full of seaweed. The good news is that you wouldn’t really care because this place is best enjoyed if you snorkel and beyond the shore, the water is so crystal clear that you just want to jump in and stay all day. So I wouldn’t worry too much about seaweed here.
An amazing white sand piece of beach with easy access to the blue water and a 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 TANKAH ( 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 in the premises, beach chairs and 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.
HOW TO GET THERE
BY CAR is the easiest way and you can find here interesting info on how to drive in Mexico and where to rent a car.
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 change in Playa del Carmen. 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 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.
For more info on the amazing beach of Xcacel scroll down to read the article 🙂 happy swimming!