The best towns and resorts in the Riviera Maya are where many locals and travelers flock when it’s time for a top-notch vacation in the sun. Stretching along the Yucatán Peninsula in northeast Mexico, this simply beautiful region comes to life with gorgeous beaches, world-class snorkeling, and sumptuous traditional cuisine.

    With many towns across Riviera Maya overflowing with historic Mayan ruins, hidden cenotes, and local shopping boutiques, choosing where to spend your vacation is an almost impossible choice. Check out these rewarding destinations to make sure you have an unforgettable visit.

    1

    Playa del Carmen

    Spend your days relaxing on white-sand beaches and bathing in cenotes

    Playa del Carmen is one of the most popular towns in Riviera Maya. Famous for its incredible year-round weather and pristine beaches, having the vacation of your dreams is within your grasp. Simply take a dip in the remarkably turquoise waters or sun it up on the sand.

    There are also ample dining and shopping opportunities in Playa del Carmen. Stroll down 5th Avenue to find trendy boutiques and department stores, along with a great selection of restaurants, bars and cafes serving delicious local dishes. Plus, every visit must include a dive into cenotes (natural bathing holes) and a tour of nearby Mayan ruins, such as the iconic Chichén Itzá.

    Location: Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico

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    2

    Tulum

    Soak up the beach and archeological landmarks

    • Food
    • Couples
    • Families
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    • History
    • Adventure

    Tulum makes for a fascinating vacation destination, with its stunning coastal scenery running directly alongside ancient Mayan landmarks. If you’re after a relaxing day at the beach, there’s no shortage of standouts such as Playa Paraíso and Playa Ruinas. Overlooking the sea just a short distance away, you’ll find archeological sites from the 13th century at the Tulum National Park.

    After experiencing these remarkable ruins, you can go deep underground to enjoy a series of impressive caves. Gran Cenote is possibly the most magnificent, featuring captivating sections for snorkeling and boardwalks that help you explore this natural complex. Alongside a huge array of places to taste traditional Mexican cuisine, visiting Tulum is a must.

    Location: Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico

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    3

    Puerto Morelos

    A quiet town with sandy beaches and laidback shopping

    Puerto Morelos is on the Yucatan Peninsula, approximately halfway between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. While this part of the Riviera Maya lacks a party atmosphere, there’s still a wonderful assortment of activities to explore throughout this peaceful waterfront community.

    If you love snorkeling, you'll feel right at home in Puerto Morelos, with sea turtles, tropical fish, and vibrant coral all beneath the waves. Complementing its fantastic range of white-sand beaches are charming places to shop, including the Puerto Morelos Flea Market and the Multi Plaza Puerto Morelos. 

    Location: Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, Mexico

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    4

    Puerto Aventuras

    Test your swing at a world-class golf course

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    • Adventure

    Puerto Aventuras is about a 20-minute drive from Playa del Carmen, making it a great place to escape the crowds. As you wander along its beach that stretches across the front of the town, you'll come across numerous marinas, hotels and eateries overlooking the shoreline. Outdoor enthusiasts won't be bored, with fishing, snorkeling and kayaking experiences abound.

    When it’s time to chill out, several local markets operate throughout the week. There’s the Puerto Aventuras Golf Club if you feel like practicing your swing across a 9-hole course.

    Location: Puerto Aventuras, Quintana Roo, Mexico

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    5

    Akumal

    A coastal town with outstanding dining and diving

    Akumal is one of the most popular coastal towns along the Yucatan Peninsula. Every year, it draws a big crowd that can’t wait to lounge on sandy beaches and explore coral reefs. Spend the sunniest parts of the day coasting along ​​Central Akumal Beach or North Akumal Beach and enjoying great snorkeling in Jade Bay.

    If you’re keen to feast on delicious local and international dishes, you’ll find a great selection of eateries along the waterfront. Head to Taverna Akumal for awesome Italian cuisine and after-dinner beverages, or stop by Lol-Ha Restaurant for a myriad of vibrant cocktails with stellar ocean views to match.

    Location: Akumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico

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    6

    Cozumel

    Discover first-class snorkeling reefs and upmarket shopping

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    • Luxury
    • Adventure

    Cozumel is an idyllic island just off the coast of Playa del Carmen. While you won’t find a bustling nightlife scene, there are incredibly relaxing beaches and vibrant reefs to explore. It even has an international airport that makes your journey a breeze. A ferry from Playa del Carmen reaches the island in around 40 minutes if you'd prefer to see the coast from the water.

    As Cozumel sits above the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, you can find outstanding snorkeling on every side of the island. There are also great retail experiences to enjoy, with the Royal Village Shopping Center featuring a vast array of local and international brands.

    Location: Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico

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    7

    Xpu Há

    Relish the peace and quiet with dreamy nature activities

    • Families
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    • Adventure

    Xpu Há is a serene beach town that features a much quieter way of life compared to the tourist hotspots of Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Overlooking the Caribbean Sea, this laidback stretch of coastline is a great spot to soak up the year-round warm weather.

    If you’re feeling adventurous, take a quick drive inland to find the awe-inspiring hiking and diving spot known as Cenote Chikin Ha. Just a short distance away, the eco-park of Kantun Chi features underground bathing holes alongside native plants and wildlife.

    Location: Xpu Há, Quintana Roo, Mexico

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    8

    Isla Holbox

    A car-free island with pristine beaches

    • Couples
    • Families
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    • Adventure

    Isla Holbox is a tranquil island just northwest of Cancun. With this remarkable tropical destination entirely car-free, seeing the landscape on foot or by bike is a memorable experience. You’re bound to come across a variety of unspoiled beaches, with Punta Mosquito and Punta Coco among some of the island’s best stretches of sand.

    If you time your visit during peak whale shark season (July–September), Isla Holbox has many ethical tours taking you on breathtaking wildlife encounters. Plus, the restful town of Holbox is where you can discover a splendid collection of welcoming restaurants, bars, and handicraft stores.

    Location: Isla Holbox, Quintana Roo, Mexico

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    9

    Bacalar

    Go ziplining in the jungle

    • Families
    • History
    • Adventure

    Bacalar is perched on the edge of the famous Bacalar Lagoon, about a 2-hour drive from Tulum. With this community recognized as one of Mexico’s official Magic Towns, it won’t take long for you to understand just how special this place is. You can take a kayaking trip on the Bacalar Lagoon to see how it transforms between different shades of blue.

    Meanwhile, the 18th-century Fort San Felipe Bacalar provides a wonderful overview of the region’s history with a sprawling museum and stone moat. Alongside caving adventures, the ancient Mayan ruins of Kohunlich and zipline adventures through the jungle, you won’t run out of lively activities.

    Location: Bacalar, Quintana Roo, Mexico

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    10

    Felipe Carrillo Puerto

    Learn a bit of Spanish and experience local flavors

    • Food
    • Families
    • Photo
    • History
    • Adventure

    Felipe Carrillo Puerto might not be located on the oceanfront, but there’s still a great selection of places to visit throughout this tight-knit Mayan community. For example, you can brush up on your Spanish, with the Na'atik Language and Culture Institute presenting a range of welcoming workshops.

    There are also loads of great foodie activities to experience, with Los Bambús Restaurante beloved for its varied Mexican menu and cocktails that pack a punch. If you want to sample traditional Yucatecan flavors, Restaurante El Faisan Y El Venado is where you can find some of the best in the region.

    Location: Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo, Mexico

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    photo by Rayttc (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    Hudson Brown | Contributing Writer

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