Curious about the best things to do in Riviera Maya, Mexico? Read on for a collection of popular and lesser-known experiences in the region!
Mexico’s Riviera Maya refers to the stretch of coastline between Cancun and Tulum, in the state of Quintana Roo. With miles of incredible white sand beaches, a plethora of gorgeous resorts, and laid-back seaside towns, it’s not surprising that visitors flock here in droves.
But if you’re the type of traveler who can’t spend day upon day just laying on the beach, you’ll be glad to know that there are tons of awesome activities to partake in throughout the Riviera Maya.
I asked a group of fellow travel bloggers to help me highlight some of the very best tours and excursions in the Riviera Maya.
Between eco-parks, Mayan ruins, cenotes, street art tours, underwater museums, and incredible nature experiences, you’re bound to find yourself with a totally packed itinerary after reading this article!
- How to Get From Cancun to Playa del Carmen and Tulum
- The Essential Riviera Maya Packing List
- The Perfect 5 Day Playa del Carmen Itinerary
Best Excursions in the Riviera Maya
1. Splash around at Xel-Ha Park
By Josie of Where Jo Goes
Xel-Ha in Mexico’s Riviera Maya is a natural aquatic playground – a sustainable eco-resort around a huge sea lagoon, within easy reach of Tulum. Crystal clear waters are home to a host of tropical fish and its paths weave through jungle and mangroves richly (and naturally) populated with local animals and birdlife.
A huge hit with our family and brilliant for children, we’ve visited several times, most recently during our stay in Tulum. Cycle through the jungle to the river’s head and float down in huge rubber rings. Climb a lighthouse, enjoy the stunning view and slide down 30 meters into the water.
Whoosh down zip wires, splashing into the lagoon, and cross the floating (and undulating!) bridge across the turquoise water at the lagoon’s mouth.
For the adventurous, tackle an obstacle course over the sea, swing on ropes across cenotes, and jump from the aptly named Cliff of Courage. Snorkel in seawater or swim in freshwater sinkholes and caves.
Optional extras include scuba, sea trekking, and marine life experiences. For full relaxation, head to the spa.
Top tip: book online for the best prices. Tickets include all-inclusive food and drink, lockers, showers, towels, snorkel gear, and life jackets.
For an absolutely awesome and active day at the heart of Mexico’s marine environment, you cannot beat Xel-Ha.
2. Take a Cultural Bike Tour
If you like active adventures a bike tour is the perfect Riviera Maya excursion for you.
Pedalea Mexico offers bicycle tours that highlight all different aspects of the culture in Riviera Maya.
Pedalea Mexico is run by Luis and Lucrecia, a charismatic and enthusiastic husband/wife team who also happen to be friends of mine. They are super passionate about what they do and their enthusiasm is definitely contagious. I can’t recommend these tours enough!
The Graffiti and Munchies tour will show you all kinds of incredible street art in Playa del Carmen, and help you refuel will a delicious meal at the end!
If you’d like an even more active adventure, the Tulum Ruins & Cenote tour highlights the Tulum archaeological site and then takes you to cool off with a swim in a refreshing cenote.
And if those options aren’t already enticing enough, you can take a Cozumel bike tour which stops off in the popular Chakanaab Adventure Park for a snorkel session.
Whichever tour you opt for I’m sure you’ll be delighted.
3. Mayan Museum of Cancun
By Michele of A Taste for Travel
One of the most interesting things to do on a vacation to the Riviera Maya, Mexico is to spend an afternoon browsing the exhibits and archeological site at the fascinating Museo Maya de Cancun y Zona Arqueológica de San Miguelito, INAH.
Located in the heart of the hotel zone in Cancun, it’s an ideal activity if there is a wave of sargassum seaweed on Riviera Maya beaches or if it happens to be raining during your visit. But it’s well worth visiting at any time.
This modern museum, designed by acclaimed architect Alberto Garcia Lascurain, holds more than 3,500 valuable artifacts including jade jewelry, burial, and funerary objects, textiles, dioramas, and more.
It’s also home to the San Miguelito Archeological Site, which features several restored Mayan structures, including palaces, temples, and noble residences dating to the Post-Classic period.
Protected by still-evident sand dunes, the complex was once part of the Mayan trade network that stretched throughout the Yucatan of Mexico and south to Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras and so is a significant archeological site.
Access to the archeological site and museum is included in the admission fee (70 MXN pesos). Note that the museum is closed on Mondays.
4. Go Beneath the Surface at Rio Secreto Park
By Viktoria of Chronic Wanderlust
Rio Secreto has to be one of my favorite land-based things to do in the Riviera Maya. You could label it as an amusement park, but it’s more of an eco-adventure – especially compared to the other parks like Xcaret, Xel-Ha, and Xplor.
It’s a mixture of caving and exploration combined with great stories and the luxury of small groups. When I visited a couple of years ago, I noticed how much everyone liked to work there and how enthusiastic everyone was to share their knowledge about their extraordinary underwater world.
Rio Secreto is an underworld maze that is filled partially with water. You’ll be able to spend time learning about the different rock formations like stalactites and stalagmites and how those cenotes and sinkholes came to be.
I enjoyed this water adventure very much, especially the exploring feeling that it gave me. For about 80 USD it is still one of the cheaper day trips you can take from Playa del Carmen, and I’m absolutely certain that you’ll enjoy it there just as much as I did!
5. Take a Day Trip to Chichén Itza
By Lesley of Freedom 56 Travel
One of my favorite things to do in Riviera Maya is to visit Chichen Itza. As one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza is one of the most impressive ruins in Mexico and a must-see destination if you’re visiting the Riviera Maya.
Many tour companies offer day trips to Chichen Itza, often combined with stops at other destinations, such as Valladolid. These tours are great because the tour operators often have excellent guides that can provide really interesting background information about Chichen Itza that will enhance your experience.
Chichen Itza is a large pre-Columbian city built by the Mayan people around 600-900 AD. You’ll see some amazing structures, primary amongst which is Kukulkan’s Pyramid. It’s one of those sights that you can’t believe you’re seeing in person until you do! It’s incredible to think that such a complex structure was built without mechanical tools of any kind.
There are many other interesting stone buildings on the Chichen Itza site including the Grand Ball Court where the Mayan’s played a game to the death. Don’t miss the carvings of decapitated players with streams of blood flowing from their bodies!
Don’t forget to bring and use sunscreen during a visit to Chichen Itza. Another essential is definitely bug spray as there can be lots of biting insects. Also, don’t forget to bring lots of water.
6. Spend the day at Xcaret Park
Xcaret is an adventure park located just south of Playa del Carmen. The park highlights the culture of the Riviera Maya region in a contained setting.
You can float down a lazy river, learn how to make Mayan chocolate, swim in a cenote, snorkel with tropical fish, and more.
You’ll encounter all kinds of native animals within the park, whether running loose or within the aviary or butterfly gardens.
Xcaret is famous for its evening show, which highlights the history of Mexico through song and dance.
Because there are SO many activities to take part in, Xcaret makes a great outing, especially if you have limited time in the Riviera Maya. You can experience the best of what the region has to offer all within this park.
7. Explore the Laguna de Bacalar
By Hannah and Adam of Getting Stamped
If you’re looking for a fun Riviera Maya excursion we highly suggest making your way to Bacalar, known as the “Maldives of Mexico.” Bacalar is a town located in southeast Mexico, near the border of Belize. It’s a tucked-away secret spot that travelers are just hearing about!
Bacalar does not have an actual beach, but the Laguna de Bacalar makes it so worth it. The Laguna is known for its blue and turquoise hues – it’s truly a sight to see. It’s actually called the Lagoon of Seven colors due to these hues!
And the lagoon also allows great tourist activities, like boat tours, paddleboarding, kayaking, or simply just lounging on the many docks lining the area.
Also make sure to check out the El Canal De Los Piratas, a thin shallow strip of water that runs through the land on the Laguna. It’s a great, relaxing spot to spend your afternoon. This area is also included in most boat trips in the Laguna.
Recommended Reading: 36 Essential Mexico Travel Tips To Know Before You Go
8. Swimming with Whale Sharks
By Rai of A Rai of Light
Riviera Maya, with its beautiful coastline and surrounding tropical islands, is a delight for the adventure lover. An activity that cannot be missed is the experience of swimming with whale sharks. It is impossible not to marvel at the amazing size and grace of these creatures as they effortlessly glide through the water.
An interesting fact about Mexico is that it is home to the largest known gathering of whale sharks anywhere in the world. From June to mid-September, watch as boats from Playa del Carmen, Cancun, and Isla Mujeres travel the 2-hour distance to reach the sightings.
Whale sharks in Mexico are usually found swimming in shallow waters, so dive equipment is not required. When the usually solitary whale sharks congregate in one spot, by the hundreds, it is an amazing natural event.
To be able to witness the sight of these animals is an equally amazing experience. It is important to note that whale sharks are on the list of endangered species. Fortunately, the Mexican government in coordination with local biologists has set up specific viewing regulations, in order to protect the sharks.
Always keep a respectful distance and resist the urge to touch them or the use of flash photography to ensure a responsible and unforgettable experience.
9. Bar Hopping on La Quinta Avenida, Playa del Carmen
By Daniel of Layer Culture
If you find yourself in the Riviera Maya area of the Yucatan and looking for things to do after a long day of exploring Mayan ruins, or diving into one of the many nearby cenotes. Be sure to head over to 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen and check out some of the local bars.
One popular thing to do is to start your evening early at the Cervecería Chapultepec which not only has a great selection of drinks but also offers some very tasty tacos. Because of the prime location on the strip and its reasonable pricing, it can get quite busy, so the earlier the better.
There’s no need to worry about getting back to your hotel if you’re staying further up the coast because you can find transport to Tulum from the taxi rank right outside the Cervecería.
All in all, Playa del Carmen’s 5th Avenue makes a great location to spend time during sunset and watch all the night go by as you sip on one of the many craft beers on offer. If you wish to continue the party late into the night, you may want to head over to the La Embajada nightclub for a night of Reggaeton and micheladas.
10. Day Trip to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
By John of Roaming Around the World
One of our favorite things to do in Riviera Maya is a trip into the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve to float down an ancient Mayan-built canal.
Located just south of Tulum, Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site found along the Riviera Maya.
It’s recognized for its diverse habitat that ranges from tropical forests to freshwater marshes to pristine beaches that further boast a marine environment.
Yet it’s a half-day trip through the inland freshwater lagoons of Sian Ka’an that can make for a particularly intriguing excursion.
It all starts by exploring the lesser-visited ruins of Muyil. These ancient Mayan structures lay at the doorstep of Sian Ka’an, allowing travelers to enjoy this intriguing archeological site without the crowds that often swarm more prominent ruins in the area.
Yet Muyil also acts as a gateway into Sian Ka’an, where a boardwalk winds visitors through the thick jungle.
Eventually, the boardwalk gives way to a lagoon where boats can take curious travelers for a nearly two-hour ride into the Sian Ka’an’s freshwater lagoons.
But the major highlight of this boat trip is taking a plunge into the water to pursue a leisurely float down a Mayan-built canal.
This all takes place in the tranquility of the uniquely beautiful natural environment Sian Ka’an is recognized for. And it makes for such an awesome adventure to seek while traveling the Riviera Maya.
11. Swim with Sea Turtles in Akumal Bay
One of the best excursions in Riviera Maya, in my experience anyway, is swimming with turtles in Akumal.
Akumal Bay is renowned for its population of sea turtles who congregate there to feed on seagrass and lay their eggs in the soft sand. While it’s important to be respectful of these majestic creatures, you can snorkel with turtles in this gorgeous bay.
You can rent snorkel gear and a locker from the Akumal Dive Shop and snorkel on your own, or you can opt for a tour which will take you to snorkel with the turtles and then to swim in a nearby cenote. The choice is yours!
After your snorkeling experience, post up in the sand to enjoy the beautiful scenery, or grab a bite and a cocktail at the Lol-Ha Restaurant.
Akumal is one of the most stunning places in the Riviera Maya and it’s worth a visit even if you don’t plan to do any snorkeling.
Check out this post for more tips on how to execute a turtle snorkeling experience from Playa del Carmen.
12. Climb up the Coba Ruins
By Ruby of A Journey We Love
Coba is a Maya ruin that is slightly lesser-known than Chichen Itza or Tulum. Located about 45 minutes from Tulum, an excursion to this archaeological site is becoming a popular thing to do in Riviera Maya.
If you’re looking for a break from days at the beach, exploring this ruin is a great alternative!
There are few pyramids that you can climb in the Riviera Maya, but Coba is home to one of the few that you can.
Don’t let the pyramid deceive you though, climbing it looks easy but it’s actually really hard. The stones are so worn that it’s really slippery, but luckily they have a rope that you can use to help you balance yourself as you climb up or down.
From the top, you’ll be rewarded with amazing views, and of course, with the pride of knowing you burned so many calories from the hike up.
From the entrance of the ruins, you can opt to take a tuk-tuk of sorts (man-powered bicycle), or hike a short distance to get to the pyramid, where you’ll walk through trees, see more ruins, and get to go through shortcuts available only to those who choose to walk.
13. Kick Back at a Beach Club
One of the most alluring aspects of the Riviera Maya is the incredible beaches. Instead of being on the go all the time, consider taking an afternoon (or two!) to lay back and relax and soak in the gorgeous scenery.
The plethora of beach clubs in the area make a lazy day of sunbathing easy to accomplish. If you’re in Tulum, check out this guide to Tulum’s Beach Clubs to find one that suits your tastes.
There are tons of beach clubs in Playa del Carmen also. Again, you’ll have to poke around to determine which has the right vibe. I like INTI Beach for it’s cocktail menu and trendy feel, but Mamita’s is a good option if you’re looking for more of a party.
14. Botanical Garden in Puerto Morelos
If you’re interested in nature experiences, make a visit to the Jardín Botanico Dr. Alfredo Barrera Marin (yep, it’s a mouthful). Located just outside of Puerto Morelos, the garden is easy to get to via colectivo.
Wander the garden paths and admire the native foliage. There are some interpretive signs, but a base knowledge of plants will help you understand what you’re looking at.
Though, even if you don’t know what the plants are called (I didn’t) you will still appreciate their beauty!
You’ll also spot plenty of lizards and bird species. If you’re lucky you can spot the resident group of howler monkeys, which is pretty exciting!
View a replica of a traditional Maya homestead, learn about how rubber was historically harvested in the region, and (if you dare) climb a viewing tower to take in the view of the mangroves beyond the gardens.
After your visit to the garden, head into Puerto Morelos to wander the malecon and grab a delicious seafood lunch!
15. Swim in a Cenote
Cenotes are one of the most popular attractions within the Riviera Maya. These swimming spots are the result of sinkholes forming in the porous limestone bedrock of the region and revealing underground rivers.
There are thousands of cenotes throughout the Yucatán peninsula and each of them is unique. Some are fully exposed to the sky above, while others have more of a cave feel. Some cenotes are deep enough to Scuba dive, while others are better for just swimming.
The water in cenotes is usually quite cool because it comes from underground, so they make for a refreshing place to swim.
Most cenotes have entrance fees, and the fees vary depending on the amenities provided and how developed the cenote is. You may pay anywhere from 30 to 300 pesos in admission.
Check out this epic list of 34 cenotes in the Riviera Maya to find the perfect one to visit!
16. Take a Snorkeling Tour
With dreamy, warm, crystalline water the Riviera Maya is an enticing snorkeling destination. Hop on a tour from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, Cozumel, or anywhere else you can find a boat!
Beneath the surface you’ll encounter colorful tropical fish, sea turtles, reef sharks, whale sharks, and so much more! And, if you really love snorkeling, take multiple tours that head to different destinations just so you can experience a variety of different underwater settings!
If you’re looking for a reputable tour company, Phantom Divers is my recommendation. They operate out of Playa del Carmen and a friend of mine works for them so I know that they offer great service. You won’t be disappointed!
17. Dive the Palancar Reef
The Palancar Reef is one of the largest coral reefs in the world. Naturally, it’s a bucket list destination for many divers. If you’re curious about diving in the Riviera Maya, this is one of the most popular spots to visit on your dive.
The reef sits just off the coast of Cozumel, but there are dive excursions to the Palancar Reef that leave from Playa del Carmen every day. Again, Phantom Divers is the company I recommend, but there are many reputable tour operators to choose from.
18. Visit an Underwater Art Museum
Definitely one of the most offbeat things to do in Riviera Maya, MUSA (Museo Subacuatico de Arte) is an underwater art installation that you can visit via a snorkeling or diving tour from Cancun or Isla Mujeres.
According to their website, MUSA was created to “counteract the effects of climate change on our oceans and reef systems.” The idea is ultimately to help draw visitors to the art installation and away from the sensitive reefs in the region, which have been harmed over time due to climate change and tourism.
The museum also offers a new habitat for sea creatures to inhabit, and in turn, visitors have a chance to spot sea life in a less delicate environment.
19. Experience the nightlife in Cancun
In Cancun, the fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. There are all kinds of incredible things to do in Cancun at night. From dancing the night away in one of the many nightclubs to enjoying a sunset cruise, enjoying an evening food tour, or partying on a Xochimilco-inspired gondola!
So, if you’re visiting Cancun, don’t skip your afternoon siesta because you’ll need to recoup some energy to avoid missing out on all the fun evening activities!
As you continue planning your visit to the Riviera Maya, you may find the following posts helpful:
- Awesome Things to do in Playa del Carmen
- Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen (for every budget)
- What to Pack for the Riviera Maya & Cancun
- Incredible Things to do on Cozumel Island
Mexico Travel Planning Resources
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