Bucket List Ideas: Riviera Maya, Mexico

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We started Wildhorn Outfitters in the spring of 2015. Since then we’ve become one of top 20 fastest growing outdoor brands on Amazon.com. Some of the inspiration in the brand stems from our love of the Riviera Maya.

Getting There

You will fly into the Cancún International Airport. From there you will either need to rent a car or take a certified taxi.

Pro tip: there’s a semi-round desk just before you exit the airport where you can purchase your taxi. Doing it here saves you money. Once you walk outside it’s a bit of a free-for-all.

I've rented a car and taken taxis. The advantage to the car rental is more freedom to move around. Taxis can add up, but there's less of a chance you run into issues with the local police. I was pulled over and asked to pay a bogus fine. I refused and eventually they let me go. There are many places to stay and visit, all within 2-3 hours of Cancun. If you are staying somewhere like Playa Del Carmen, a taxi might make the most sense. Downtown Playa will offer you everything you need within walking distance. If you stay down in Tulum, consider a car rental. Tulum is 2 hours from the airport and you will end up driving most places you want to go. 

Where to Stay

The Riviera Maya is situated on the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula along the warm waters of the Caribbean. Cancun is the most famous destination, but there are many other appealing towns to consider. Tulum, a sleepy town, has a population of less than 20,000. Once home to the pre-columbian Mayan people, Tulum features several breathtaking archeological sites, beaches, and cenotes. If you are taking a family or larger group, consider renting a beach house just outside Tulum. 

Playa Del Carmen has lots of VRBO options. Stay downtown and you'll be within walking distance of beaches, food, and entertainment. Playa is in between Cancun and Tulum. Just north of Playa you will find the infamous all-inclusive resorts. I've stayed in a condo downtown for around $120/night.

All-inclusive resorts aren't really my thing. But if I have to recommend one its the Vidanta Grand Mayan. If you want to skip out on the stress of meal planning or dealing with some of Mexico's current risk factors, you can spend a few days in this mini paradise. 

Pro Tip: check VRBO and AirBNB for some cool options to stay. They may not include food and other amenities found at resorts, but it's easy to go to a local grocery store and get many of the same staples you'd find in the States.

What to Do

When I'm on the Riviera Maya, I rarely wear anything besides my board shorts, a quick-dry tee shirt, and water shoes. I'm usually in and out of water all day including time spent at cenotes and beaches. cenotes are natural pools formed from the collapse of limestone bedrock. The water is crystal clear and cool. You can swim, dive, and snorkel in them. Here's a list of my favorite cenotes:

  1. Jardin Del Eden- Jardin features cliff jumping from multiple spots, deep waters, and is generally one of the most beautiful cenotes I've visited. Crowds are smaller. Snorkeling is beautiful here. There's not much underwater life, but the rock formations and clear water make for a great view. There's also an underwater cave large enough to SCUBA dive into. It's open Sun-Fri until 5pm. Closed on Saturdays. Entrance fee is 100 pesos. 
  2. Tamcach-Ha- This cenote is about a ten minute drive from the Coba ruins, which are worth seeing if you take the drive out there. Tamcach-Ha is under ground in a large cavern filled with crystal clear water. There's a man-made platform diving structure underground for some added entertainment. One of the platforms is quite high and the other two are more moderate. If you are looking for a more thrilling cenote, this is a good choice. My one caveat is that I found the air underground hard to breathe. They have a generator powering some kind of pump above ground that I assume helps with airflow. That being said...I'm not sure how well it's working :) Still fun, just don't stay down there too long if you notice the air feels unusually heavy. It's open Sun-Fri until 5pm. Closed on Saturdays. Entrance fee is 55 pesos. 
  3. Dos Ojos- There's some amazing SCUBA opportunities here with pools that are up to 70m deep. There's also another that is for swimming and snorkeling that has a cool hammock lounge area. It's a fun little park to visit. 
  4. Azul- Cenote Azul is gorgeous to visit and is just south of Jardin Del Eden. There's a small cliff to jump off and a man made boardwalk to help you explore the area. It's one of the more popular cenotes in the area so there's a bit of a crowd depending on when you go. 
Pro Tip: If you plan on seeing Jardin Del Eden and Azul, plan on going to Jardin Del Eden first. Logistically it's easier because it's the first one you would arrive to on the one-way highway. If you miss it, you could stop at Azul...but then you'd have about a 10 minute detour getting back to Jardin Del Eden.
Pro Tip #2: You aren't supposed to wear sunscreen or other chemicals in the cenotes. However, if you use a non-nano, reef safe sunscreen it won't hurt the environment or animal life.


Visiting cenotes is a lot of fun. It's a bit more adventurous as you spend your time moving from one to the next, cliff jumping, swimming, or diving. If you need a little bit of relaxation, there's some great beaches in the area as well. Here are my favorites:

  1. Akumal Beach- This spot has become much more touristy over the years. It's still a great spot with easy snorkeling. There's a grassy bottom to the ocean floor that attracts sea turtles. Every time I've been I've seen them, sometimes within reaching distance (tip: NEVER touch sea turtles, if you see others doing it, ask them to stop.) There's no cost to enter Akumal, but you will get hit up for gear rentals or fishing expeditions relentlessly until you actually enter the beach. We even named our microfiber travel beach towels after this scenic area.
  2. Cozumel Beaches- I just like the vibe of Cozumel a bit more than say Playa Del Carmen. The western side of Cozumel is home to various beach parks and is more popular. The eastern side is rocky but there are protected swimming/snorkeling spots. I rented a scooter and spent the day driving up and down the coast. Check out Playa El Cielo on the west side and Playa San Martin on the east. The beach parks are kind of fun, but more so if you've got kids that want to play on the inflatables.

Pro Tip: You have to take a ferry from Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel. You can buy tickets right by the dock. There will be lots of re-sellers along the way, but if you want a no-hassle experience just bypass them and head straight for the ferry.

Last Impressions

The Riviera Maya offers everything from relaxation to adventure. Besides the cenotes and beaches, there are amusement parks like Xel-ha and Xplor. You can find great restaurants all over. For something more relaxing try visiting the Mayan ruins up and down the coast and on the interior at places like Coba. The Riviera Maya is a unique trip and one worth putting on your list if you love water and beach activities. While there have been media reports of increasing risk for travelers on the Yucatan, I felt completely safe while I was there in early 2018. If you have any tips or updates for traveling to the Riviera Maya, let us know in the comments.


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Now gear up and get out there!