Best Mayan Riviera Beaches
Mexico’s Coast Offers a Wealth of Sun and Culture
by Erica Walsh / Travel Chanel
The Mayan Riviera is a stretch of immaculate Mexican beaches spanning towns between Puerto Morelos in the North and Tulum in the South. The pristine shoreline features aquatic activities, luxury resorts, soothing spas and vivacious nightlife.
Puerto Morelos is considered the gateway to the Mayan Riviera; its warm welcoming beaches match the temperaments of its people. The main beach is in the center of town, with smooth natural sand and cerulean waters. To the north and south of this centralized main beach are smaller, private stretches of sand belonging to resorts. Ocean Turquesa is a 5-star hotel located to the north of Puerto Morelos. The modern accommodations offer old-fashioned pampering and service, as well as some of the best sand and sun in the Riviera.
The reef surrounding these idyllic beaches is a protected national park, home to tropical fish, dolphins, turtles and corals. It’s the perfect place to snorkel and appreciate the natural beauty of the Yucatan peninsula.
A beachside city that grew up just south of Cancun, Playa del Carmen is now the primary tourist destination in the Riviera. La Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue, is the main pedestrian throughway flanked with restaurants, boutiques, luxury shopping and nightlife. The street runs parallel to the ocean, making it a popular meeting place after a day spent soaking in the sun.
The beaches are most populated along Fifth Avenue where many resorts are located. The crowds taper off the farther north you go from this bustling city center. Many resorts, like the 5-star Mandarin Oriental are not only beachside, but every room offers a view of water, be it the lagoon tributaries or the crystal Caribbean.
A more affordable accommodation option is Hotel Kinbe, located on Fifth Avenue. Featuring lush gardens and fantastic views, you’ll be only steps away from the hum of Playa del Carmen’s nightlife.
Although Cancun might be most commonly associated with an anything-goes spring break scene, there is another aspect to this Mayan Riviera town. Cancun’s Xcaret is an eco-archaeological park brimming with culture, nature and plenty of adventure.
The beach here is perfect: sugary white sands meet the warm, crystalline waters of Xcaret Bay. There are plenty of beach loungers in the shade of the palm trees and inner tubes for rent if you want to lounge in the calm waters.
Lazing on the beach is the most relaxing activity Xcaret has to offer. Turn the adventure up by scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming with the dolphins, diving in the underground rivers, exploring the coves of the Xcaret lagoon, floating down Paradise River or taking a guided shark tour.
On dry land, you can tour archaeological sites, enjoy a Mexican wine tasting and Xcaret’s nightly performances combining traditional Mexican food, dance and theater.
Akumal features some of the most stunning beaches on Earth. Offshore reefs protect the silky white sand and filter warm water currents through the coastal caves and subterranean rivers.
In the Maya language, Akumal means “place of the turtles.” This natural refuge is still a popular place for sea turtles to lay their eggs; see them between the months of May and November on Half Moon Bay beach.
The protected reef is a favorite snorkeling and dive site. The Akumal Dive Shop has all the gear you’ll need and is easily accessible from the main road entering Akumal.
While enjoying Akumal’s natural beauty, consider staying at the eco-friendly Vista del Mar. Their green policies are kicked up a notch during the turtles’ nesting season. Lights are removed from all the balconies and the security guards are all environmentally certified to assist turtles nesting on Vista del Mar’s stretch of beach.
Tulum is the only archaeological site located along the Caribbean shores in the Mayan Riviera. Over 60 structures can be viewed within the massive walls that protect the ancient pre-Columbian Mayan city from the sea. The principal structures of the ruins include the city square, the Temple of the Descending God and Temple of the God of the Wind. Within the city square is the Castillo, sometimes referred to as the lighthouse, standing alone on the city’s bluff offering stunning views and a sense of historical awe.
There is a small beach beside the Temple of the Descending God where you can swim and sunbathe beneath this ancient city; the same beach where Mayan trade ships would have docked at Tulum centuries ago.
During your stay here, make sure to take the 45-minute night tour of the Tulum’s archaeological sites. You’ll be guided along lighted paths through the ancient city where the temples and monuments are lit in an array of colors. Enhance your experience by opting for the audio component of the tour.