Tropical Paradise: Highlights of Riviera Maya Holidays
Dreamy Caribbean meets ancient culture and a cocktail (or two): welcome to Riviera Maya, Mexico.
This glorious sweep of swaying palms, dazzling sands and turquoise waters is THE place to combine a blissful beach break with something a bit more. As well as lazy, sun-soaked days by the sea, Riviera Maya holidays could see you snorkelling with sea turtles, zip-lining above bird-filled forest, cycling around Mayan ruins or diving into secret sinkholes hidden in the jungle. This is Caribbean paradise with Mexican zing: hot, hot, hot and super cool.
There’s a perfect retreat for everyone too: romantic honeymooners’ boltholes, family-friendly hotels and all-inclusive Riviera Maya resorts with their own water parks, rock-star spas and five-star restaurants.
Brilliant Riviera Maya Beaches
- Swoon at Paraiso Beach – the name of this paradisiacal stretch of sand is spot on, and it sits just south of Tulum, the most scenic Mayan ruin of all.
- Go wild at Akumal Bay, the ‘place of the turtles’. These graceful creatures are drawn to the lagoon (see them with a snorkel) and haul up onto the beach to nest. Stay at ultra-elegant Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya for a front-row seat of this natural spectacle.
- Party at Mamita’s – the beach fronting lively Playa del Carmen is the hipster’s Riviera Maya holiday spot of choice. Just inland from the sand are chic boutiques, while some of the world’s best DJs hit the decks here. Stay a little out of town at the luxe all-inclusive Riviera Maya resort of Grand Velas for the best of both: a quiet retreat within easy reach of the action.
- Chill out at Punta Bete, the laid-back alternative. Follow the jungle road here to enjoy a Riviera Maya holiday’s simple pleasures: lolling under palm trees, listening to the gentle waves and squidging snow-white sand between your toes.
- Mingle with locals at Xpu-Ha. Uncrowded and unhurried, it’s super for swimming, snorkelling or a game of beach footy, while the beach shacks serve a mean fresh fish taco. The nearby Barceló Maya Grand Resort makes a fantastic base for exploring the Riviera Maya.
- Watch sunrise at Tulum – this former fortress city is the only Mayan site built beside the Caribbean, teetering on a bluff above the sea. Arrive to see dawn break on the azure waters then explore the site, climbing up the towering Castilo for the best views.
- Stroll down Playa del Carmen’s Fifth Avenue to shop for arts and crafts made in the Riviera Maya and Mexico, from bright embroidered shawls to traditional pottery. Visit on a Thursday night if you can, when the Caminarte art fair fills the streets. Stay at the indulgent villas of the Viceroy Riviera Maya, just a ten-minute drive away.
- Cycle around Cobá, one of the Riviera Maya’s most important sites. This vast, jungle-encroached complex is best seen by bike – pedal between the different areas via the ceremonial sacbé (‘white roads’) laid by the Maya centuries ago.
- Every December, the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival soothes and sways Playa del Carmen – three nights of world-class jazz performed on the beach, under starry skies, all for free. Nice.
- Delve into the Riviera Maya hinterland for a cultural wallop: massive Mayan sites such as Chichen Itza are doable on day-trips from the coast. Uxmal in particular is a magical mix of carvings, temples, toucans and forest – climb the great pyramid for sweeping views.
- Slip into a cenote – an essential element of all great holidays to Riviera Maya. The limestone Yucatan peninsula is riddled with these water-filled sinkholes and a network of caves and passageways. Head for Xel-Ha park to snorkel on some of these surreal spots.
- Do it all at Xcaret, a marvellous eco-park/museum/theme-park mash-up where you can learn about Mayan life, swim (safely!) with sharks, walk through butterfly-flittered jungle, whizz down water shoots and more. Stay at the Occidental at Xcaret Destination, right next to the park to get unlimited access.
- Snorkel the ‘Great Maya Reef’, just off the laid-back village of Puerto Morelos. Part of a marine park, it’s brimful of coral and underwater life – look for dolphins, turtles and gliding rays.
- Have an Indiana Jones adventure in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, one of the largest protected areas in Mexico and home to more than 300 species of birds, 23 known archaeological sites and a wealth of wildlife – including jaguar. Explore by taking a boat or kayak trip amid the mangroves.
- Whizz above pristine jungle by zip-wire. There are plenty of chances to get a bird’s eye view on Riviera Maya holidays – try the Selvatica Extreme Zip Line, a two-mile course between the trees which you can experience upside down, if you dare.
Luxury Riviera Maya holidays
- Book your own ‘butler’ for your holiday to Riviera Maya. At UNICO 20°N 87°W, an opulent adult-only all-inclusive Riviera Maya haven right by the sea, butlers will tend to your every whim, from securing hard-to-get reservations to preparing your spa tub.
- Live like an A-lister at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya. Be pampered at the Legendary Rock Spa before getting glammed up at the Posh Beauty Salon.
- Hide away at the Viceroy Riviera Maya. Each of the adults-only resort’s luxurious villas is tucked amid the rainforest, so you feel far removed from the rest of the world. Even more romantic, arrange a candlelit dinner for two in a seaside palapa and eat alone, under the stars.
- Sink into your own private plunge pool at Grand Velas. This all-inclusive Riviera Maya hotel has adults-only Grand Class suites with pools on every terrace; there are also exotic Zen Grand family suites with private hot tubs overlooking the koi-filled pond.
- Tantaslise your tastebuds – holidays to Riviera Maya are a marvel for foodies. For instance, the Cocina de Autor restaurant at the Grand Velas has become world-renowned for its creative take on Mexican-Caribbean dishes – try its fresh-caught squid with corn truffle and hot recado, the signature Yucatan spice.
Home to some of Mexico’s best beaches and diving, Riviera Maya is a tropical paradise waiting to be discovered. To plan your holiday to this idyllic region, browse our Riviera Maya resorts and hotels today.