From all the places we visited, Mexico is one of the most complete countries; you can find anything you might want here, no matter your age, status, budget or travel preference. So here are the top 10 things you can do on your holiday on the Mayan Riviera, one of our all-time favourite vacation destinations.
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1. Visit Mayan Ruins
You can’t visit Mexico without a tour to see at least one archeological site from the Mayan times. For sure you’ve heard about Chichen Itza, and it is a must see when you are in Yucatan, but we have a few more ideas about what mayan ruins to visit on Riviera Maya.
2. Swim in cenotes
Mexico is the only country we visited so far to have cenotes and they are said to be among of the most spectacular in the world. Enough reason to visit a few cenotes during your holiday on Riviera Maya. We have a dedicated article with 5 Yucatan cenotes that we particularly enjoyed, very different one to another and that will help you create a full picture of what a cenota means.
3. Have a walk on the 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen
An evening walk on the famous 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen will show you the true spirit of the area. The whole place is bustling with people and it is a bit too touristic for our taste, but it is still very nice. From countless ice cream corners, bars, Mexican or international restaurants to souvenir shops selling everything you might imagine or touring companies with various deals, you will find anything here. Make sure you bargain when buying something and don’t mind when you are asked every couple of minutes if you want to enter a good deal; that’s part of the local hospitality.
4. Enjoy Mexican food
Mexican food was among our favourite cuisines before we’ve even visited Mexico. But after spending two weeks here, we totally love it and realise that what we’ve tried before was just a pale copy of how Mexican food really tastes like. Don’t fall for the touristic places on the 5th Avenue, they might be fancy, but you won’t find the true local food there. Better try a simple local restaurant on the side streets; you won’t feel sorry! The most recommended one in Playa del Carmen is El Fogon, where we’ve had the best tacos ever.
5. Visit an eco-park/theme park
Riviera Maya is all about entertainment, we’ve seen here some of the best theme parks in the world. Again, very touristic and crowded, Xcaret parks are a must when you are in the area. Some of the attractions in Xcaret brand a bit kitsch and they are totally overpriced, but still I think you can choose something for your taste. It is a unique experience, as the parks are very well organised and maintained. Since we were in Playa del Carmen with our less then 3 years old kid, most of the parks, like Xsenses, Xplor or Xel-Ha, were not suitable for us. So we just visited the main Xcaret Park, where we enjoyed a lot the beaches and the underground river system, but found a bit out of the place the replicas of various Mexican traditional places, like the Mexican Cemetery.
6. Have a tequila
What’s a trip to Mexico without trying the iconic traditional drink. You’ll find tequila here in all tastes and combinations and for all budgets. For its true taste, don’t go for the expensive, fancy places, and look for an authentic, local experience. Unfortunately I can’t really make a recommendation here, as drinking and parties can’t be in the agenda when you have a restless toddler with you.
7. Go to the beach
The white Caribbean beaches overlooking the perfectly blue sea are the best “do-nothing” activity on Riviera Maya. So, after you’ve explored enough the area, it’s time for some relaxing in the sun. Whether you stay in a large all-inclusive resort or in a budget apartment, you’ll definitely find the perfect beach for your mood. Our favourite around Playa del Carmen was Xpu-Ha beach, just 10 minutes drive from our apartment, not at all crowded and very child-friendly.
8. Enjoy the Caribbean underwater world
The Caribbean Sea is one the most impressive place we’ve seen when it comes to underwater world. The Mexican side of the Caribbean is not the diver’s paradise we’ve seen in Bonaire, but it still is more spectacular than most of the places we’ve snorkelled. So don’t miss a snorkelling trip or even a diving session, if you are into this activity. You will have awesome holiday memories!
9. Explore Cancun’s zona hotelera
We definitely recommend you to stay on Playa del Carmen for your vacation in Mexico. Cancun is much more famous, but this brings higher prices and more crowds, while Playa del Carmen is closer to most of the attractions in the area. Plus that Cancun is mostly about all-inclusive resorts, which is not our type of holiday. But take a stroll on Cancun Island, where all the tourism is concentrated. Just beware, the whole thing is over 20 km long, so choose your walking area carefully, the distances are greater than it seems on the map. Apart from fancy resorts, you’ll find here great shopping areas, from handicraft shops to upscale boutiques, and also some cultural places like the Maya Museum or San Miguelito ruins.
10. Take a day trip to Cozumel
Everybody heard about Cozumel, the paradise island where you can find it all: awesome beaches, water adventures, ideal snorkelling conditions, plus archeological sites to explore. I left this for the end of the list as it is the only thing we didn’t have time to do while we were on Riviera Maya. But we plan to visit Yucatan again after Eric is a bit older, so it was just postponed for the next time.