Everything You Need to Know About the Riviera Maya: Where to Stay, What to Do, When to Visit, and More

See recent posts by Oyster Staff

The Riviera Maya — a wildly popular stretch of coastline that runs from south of Cancun to Tulum — is one of Mexico’s hottest beach destinations. And we’re not just talking about the weather. Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the white sand beaches of Mexico’s southeastern coast for their sunkissed getaways. However, the Riviera Maya is a big place, and there’s a little something for everyone there. So before you book your flight, read on and get the lowdown on when to go, what to do, and where to stay in the Riviera Maya.

If you'd like a town-by-town breakdown of the Riviera Maya, check out our handy cheat sheet right here.

Jump to Sections

What’s The Best Time of Year to Visit the Riviera Maya?

Winter in the Riviera Maya: Clear Skies, Warm Temperatures, and Crowds

From December to February, the sun-drenched shores of the Riviera Maya attract thousands of North Americans looking to escape the winter doldrums. The weather is perfectly beachy — expect temperatures in the mid 80s and plenty of sunshine — but tourist crowds abound and hotel prices skyrocket around the holidays. Surges in crowds and prices also happen during President’s Day week and Valentine’s Day, as well as during spring break. For the best deals during the winter season, aim to visit between mid-January and mid-February, when the crowds thin a bit. You can also head to the Riviera Maya during the first two weeks of December to enjoy the same weather without the crush of people.

Spring in the Riviera Maya: Slightly Hotter, but Generally Less Crowded

The weather from March to April is equally as pleasant as during the winter months, though temperatures will be higher during the day. Keep in mind that the spring break season runs into April, so the Riviera Maya bursts with activity at times during these months. College age revelers tend to flock to Cancun, and families and couples head to resorts farther south, in Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Additionally, Semana Santa — the week before Easter — is prime travel time for domestic tourists.

Summer in the Riviera Maya: Hot and Humid, with the Threat of Rain

June through August brings scorching heat, high humidity, and low-season deals to the Riviera Maya. If you can stand the 95-degree temperatures, you can enjoy most of the region’s attractions crowd-free. Though don’t say we didn’t warn you — the sweltering temps can make most outdoor pursuits short of poolside lounging unbearable. You can also expect afternoon thunderstorms in the later part of the season (and, of course, hurricanes are a threat starting in June).

Fall in the Riviera Maya: The Wettest Season and a Higher Chance of Hurricanes

Though hurricane season technically begins in June, most storms don’t roll through the Riviera Maya until the autumn months. September and October are typically the region’s rainiest months, with storms tapering off by mid-November. Though temperatures tend to be a bit cooler than in the summer, travelers can expect high humidity that will make it feel hotter than it might be.

The Best Things to Do in The Riviera Maya

What to Do in the Riviera Maya for Families: Snorkeling, Water Parks, and More

Despite Playa del Carmen’s DJ-fueled atmosphere, the Riviera Maya is one of Mexico’s most family-friendly destinations. Tons of resorts in the region cater to families, and include tricked-out kids’ clubs, nightly entertainment, and action-packed activity schedules. But if you’re looking to leave your resort’s grounds with the kiddos, don’t miss eco-adventure theme parks like Xel-Ha, Xplor, or Xcaret. These offer aquatic adventures like cenote snorkeling and river tubing or land-based thrills like zip-lining.

What to Do in the Riviera Maya for Couples: Spas, Jungle Excursions, and Romantic Dinners

The tourist-clogged paths of Tulum’s Mayan ruins may not be as romantic as they once were, which is why we suggest kayaking through Sian Ka’an for an otherworldly escape. It doesn’t get much dreamier than a gentle paddle through this UNESCO-protected jungle biosphere — especially if you go around sunset. Plus, many local tour companies invest their proceeds back into the biosphere’s conservation efforts — something we can all fall in love with. The Riviera Maya is also flush with amazing spas — you’ll find that Mayakoba’s luxury hotels, to the north of Playa del Carmen, offer some of the region’s best. Don’t miss out on the high-end foodie scene in Tulum either, where restaurants like Hartwood and Arca are slinging some of Mexico’s best haute cuisine.

What to Do in the Riviera Maya for Adventurers: Ancient Ruins and Underwater Pursuits

The Riviera Maya’s underwater world is ripe for exploration. Just offshore, travelers can access the Mesoamerican Reef, an incredibly biodiverse reef system. This tropical barrier reef stretches 620 miles from the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula to Honduras, making it the second largest reef system in the world, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Divers (and snorkelers) can see more than 1,000 different marine species. On top of the water, wind- and kite-surfing are popular in some of the towns of the Riviera Maya. If you’re more comfortable on dry land, head into the Yucatan, where the ruins of Coba and Chichen Itza are calling. Be sure to stop for a dip in the region’s cenotes along the way to cool off.

What to Do in the Riviera Maya for Solo Travelers: Yoga and Exploring

Solo travelers looking for a holistic spin on their vacation can head to Tulum, where health and wellness pursuits sit side-by-side with white sand beaches and mystical cenotes. While Tulum isn’t the off-the-beaten track destination it once was, there’s still a bohemian vibe about the place that encourages travelers to disconnect, and reflect — albeit, with a margarita in hand. Plenty of hotels in Tulum host official yoga retreats — like the Amansala Eco-Chic Resort Retreat — and hotels like The Beach Tulum offer free morning yoga classes. If you’re traveling alone, we also recommend checking out the ruins of the region — including Coba, Chichen Itza, and Tulum.

What to Do in the Riviera Maya for Partiers: Nightclubs and Bars in Playa del Carmen

If you’re looking to party in the Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen is the perfect destinations. This city has the liveliest scene in the Riviera Maya, and you’ll find plenty of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs right in the center of town. Many of these are found along busy Fifth Avenue, though in Playa del Carmen, it’s all about the beach clubs. Favorites include Mamita’s, Indigo, and KOOL. There’s a small gay scene in Playa del Carmen as well. Tulum is a bit more relaxed, but still has its own party circuit. Every night of the week sees a different throw-down, with the legendary Saturday night parties at Playa Papaya Project and the Thursday night Casa Jaguar Jungle Party. Some beach clubs, like Taboo, have also sprung up as of late 2019, bringing the daytime party right to the beach.

Essential Things to Know Before Your First Riviera Maya Vacation

Spanish is the Primary Language in the Riviera Maya, but English is Widely Spoken

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that you’re in Mexico when visiting the Riviera Maya. Although Spanish is the official language of Mexico, English is widely spoken at hotels, restaurants, bars, and other tourist-oriented spots along the coast. Of course, if you’re looking to practice your Spanish, the region’s locals usually appreciate the effort.

Driving Distances Can Be Far in the Riviera Maya

When visiting the Riviera Maya, you’ll likely want to choose one city or town to visit and stick to it. You see, the Riviera Maya starts just south of Cancun and stretches all the way to Tulum, spanning a distance of around 85 miles. So if you’re staying near Cancun you won’t be driving to bars in Playa del Carmen or going out for dinner in Tulum. Since resorts are large and provide all sorts of dining and entertainment, most Riviera Maya visitors don’t rent a car, and instead opt to take taxis when visiting nearby sites off property. However, if you’re looking to make your vacation into a road trip (and you should consider this, as there are tons of non-hotel and non-beach things to see and do here), car rentals are cheap. Additionally, the main highway through the region is safe and — for the most part — well maintained.

Seaweed Is an Issue in the Riviera Maya

The beaches along the Riviera Maya are some of Mexico’s most beautiful, however they are plagued by the effects of global warming in a very specific way. Rising ocean temperatures have caused a spike in the production of sargassum, a species of seaweed found in shallow waters near coral reefs. The seaweed is a naturally occurring issue, but it is unsightly (and smelly) when it washes up in mounds along the shore. Many hotels and resorts do their best to clean up the piles and remove them from the beach, but there isn’t much that can be done to eliminate the seagrass completely. Seaweed in the Riviera Maya tends to be worst during the summer months, though there’s not always a logic to it, and there have been years when it has appeared all year long.

The Water in the Riviera Maya is Not Drinkable

Like the rest of Mexico, the tap water along the Riviera Maya is not safe to drink. Stick to bottled water for drinking and teeth brushing, and avoid any raw fruits or vegetables that may have been washed with tap water. Most restaurants that cater to tourists serve filtered water and ice. If you’re unsure, just ask, and if you’re still wary, stick to the bottled stuff — it’s inexpensive and available for purchase at hotels, restaurants, and convenience stores.

The Best Riviera Maya Food is Outside of the Resorts

Because of said water issue, many travelers are hesitant to visit local restaurants in the Riviera Maya, though we’d argue that the food at local restaurants is often fresher and of better quality than that found at many all-inclusive resorts. Plus, if you’re looking to sample the region’s incredible cuisine, you’ll need to head off property. Many hotel concierges and staff members are happy to suggest their neighborhood favorites. While you’re in the Riviera Maya, look for regional favorites like cochinita pibil — slow-cooked pork marinated with sour orange and achiote paste — and sopa de lima — the inspiration behind what many North Americans know as tortilla soup.

The Riviera Maya is One of the Safest Regions in Mexico for Tourists

Violence in Mexico is a spiraling issue that only seems to be getting worse (a bit more on that at Is it safe to travel to Mexico ?). However, the major tourist towns of the Riviera Maya are generally safe for travelers. The region has the same Level 2 advisory from the U.S. State Department as France, Germany, and the U.K. Driving along the main highway in the region and around the tourist zones of most major towns and cities in the area should be problem-free, as should road trips inland to Chichen Itza and Coba. If you’re nervous, opt for group tours or private ground transport rather than driving yourself.

Say No to Drugs

Drugs have become a growing issue in the Riviera Maya, leading to shootings and other violent acts (sometimes even in tourist-oriented destinations like Cancun, though generally far from the Hotel Zone where most tourists stay). Tourist demand is part of the problem. Be smart and don’t try to score drugs while you’re in town. It’s illegal, dangerous, and promotes violence.

What to Wear in The Riviera Maya

Where to Stay in The Riviera Maya

Jump to Oyster’s Expert Hotel Picks by Destination:

Hotel Picks in Cancun

Ok, ok — Cancun isn’t technically part of the Riviera Maya. But the truth is that many people think that it is. If you’re set on spending your “Riviera Maya” vacation in Cancun, you might not realize that Cancun is actually a bustling, congested city home to more than one million people. The touristy beach enclave where spring breakers flock for round-the-clock parties is actually known as the Hotel Zone, a miles-long peninsula that’s off Cancun’s coast. While Cancun certainly touts its reputation as a party destination, there are hundreds of hotel options, ranging from family-friendly all-inclusives to romantic resorts. It also has one of the prettiest beaches in the region.

Best Cancun Hotel for Families: Hyatt Ziva Cancun

The Adult Pool at the Hyatt Ziva Cancun

One of the most popular hotels in all of Mexico with Oyster.com users, this family-friendly all-inclusive has it all. Food gets solid marks, there’s a beautiful pool, a great slice of beach, and plenty to do for kids and adults.

Best Cancun Hotel for Couples:  Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun

Aerial Photography at the Le Blanc Spa Resort

When it comes to adults-only all-inclusive resorts, few get as much attention in Mexico as Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun. This lively, but refined, property spoils guests with excellent food, beautiful pools, a massive spa, and — of course — a pretty beach.

Best Cancun Hotel for Partiers: Hard Rock Hotel Cancun

Aerial Photography at the Hard Rock Hotel Cancun

It may come as no surprise, but if you’re after party vibes, the Hard Rock Cancun is for you. Music-themed decor aside, this hotel’s nightclub, live music events, and buzzing poolside bars all make it a wild time for anyone looking to let loose.

Hotel Picks in Puerto Morelos

A sleepy sidekick tucked between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos is a great pick for families and couples seeking an all-inclusive experience without having to devote much time driving to their destination from the airport. The town itself has some restaurants and bars that are worth hitting up, but by and large the pace is slow, low key, and prime for a week of relaxing.

Best Puerto Morelos Hotel for Families: Grand Residences Riviera Cancun

Aerial Photography at the Grand Residences Riviera Cancun

With incredibly spacious suites and a pretty beach, the Grand Residences Riviera Cancun ticks all the boxes of a Riviera Maya stay. The hotel also has exceptional dining, a great kids’ club, and shallow children’s pool.

Best Puerto Morelos Hotel for Couples: Excellence Riviera Cancun

The Excellence Club Junior Suite Ocean Front at the Excellence Riviera Cancun

The Excellence hotel group is known hotels with excellent dining options, lively-but-upscale vibes, spacious rooms, and amazing spas. The Excellence Riviera Cancun is no exception, and is one of the nicest adults-only all-inclusive properties in the region.

Hotel Picks in Playa del Carmen

About an hour south of Cancun, Playa del Carmen offers a smaller, more manageable party scene. It attracts a slightly older crowd than Cancun, but it’s by no means calm. Beach clubs are popular with twenty- and thirty-somethings looking to have a good time, while families enjoy Playa’s touristy downtown centered around Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) and Constituyentes. Filled with restaurants, trendy bars, and 24-hour entertainment, downtown Playa can sometimes feel like a miniature Cancun.

Best Playa del Carmen Hotel for Families: Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Aerial Photography at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya

If you’re looking for a truly luxe all-inclusive vacation with the whole family, Grand Velas Riviera Maya is the kid-friendly alternative to Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun up the coast. Dining options are great, the setting is stunning, services are luxurious, and your kids will never be bored.

Best Playa del Carmen Hotel for Couples: Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun

Aerial Photography at the Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun

One of the most popular adults-only all-inclusive hotels in the Riviera Maya, Secrets Maroma Beach draws loyal visitors year after year. A 2018 renovation gave the property a contemporary finish that makes it especially appealing.

Best Playa del Carmen Hotel for Partiers: Thompson Playa del Carmen

The Main Pool at the Thompson Playa Del Carmen

Thompson hotels always have a bit of a scene, but one with high-end polish. We love this chic, modern property with its lively dining options. You’re not right on the beach, but it’s hard to beat the beautiful design and upbeat atmosphere.

Hotel Picks in Mayakoba

An exclusive resort enclave about 20-minutes north of Playa del Carmen, Mayakoba is home to the Riviera Maya’s premier luxury resorts. The massive complex holds four luxury properties, hotel-managed residences, a golf course, and more than 25 restaurants. For luxury seekers, Mayakoba is the place to see and be seen.

Best Mayakoba Hotel for Families: Rosewood Mayakoba

Aerial View of the Rosewood Mayakoba

On par with the One&Only Palmilla in Mexico’s Los Cabos region, the Rosewood Mayakoba takes family-friendly vacations to spoiled heights. The setting makes you feel like you’re truly away from it all, while massive suites allow plenty of space for everyone to enjoy themselves.

Best Mayakoba Hotel for Couples: Banyan Tree Mayakoba

Aerial View of Banyan Tree Mayakoba

What can we say? When it comes to luxurious romantic escapes, the Banyan Tree brand is top-notch. Their Mayakoba outpost is no exception. The lush jungle setting, beautiful beach, stunning spa, and pampering service all make this a great pick.

Best Mayakoba Hotel for Partiers: Andaz Mayakoba 

The Beachside Pool at the Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya

While partying isn’t high on the list for travelers hitting up the Mayakoba properties, the Andaz Mayakoba has a more youthful, buzzy vibe to it. Even so, that upbeat scene comes wrapped in a completely refined package.

Hotel Picks in Tulum

Ahhh, Tulum. Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no doubt that it’s one of Mexico’s top destinations. What started as an undiscovered, barefoot, bohemian secret has turned into Cancun for Instagrammers, with a hint of health and wellness thrown in. Tulum Pueblo is the official town center — and it’s where you’ll find more authentic eats and a cool local vibe — but many travelers simply stick to the coastline. There, beachfront bungalow-style hotels offer boutique getaways that often define a week in paradise.

Best Tulum Hotel for Families: La Zebra Hotel Tulum

Beach at La Zebra Colibri Boutique Hotel

You won’t find too many hotels that allow kids in Tulum, which makes La Zebra something of an exception. This property is one of the most popular in town and has a playground to keep kids entertained.You’ll also find highly recommended dining on-site.

Best Cancun Hotel for Couples: The Beach Tulum

Restaurant at The Beach Tulum

If you’re after romance and a dash of the high life, you’d do well to post up at The Beach Tulum. Here, all rooms are beachfront and all come with either a rooftop hot tub or a beachside plunge pool. You’ll also score your own dedicated double beach loungers, upping the romance factor.

Hotel Picks in Cozumel

A 12-mile boat ride from the Riviera Maya mainland, Cozumel is perhaps best known as a major cruise port. The island draws at least one million cruisers every year, which means crowds — and lots of them. Cruise ship clientele tend to flood the island’s west coast, between the cruise piers and downtown San Miguel — the island’s main hub. Travelers also come to Cozumel for the diving. The Palancar Reef, located a mile offshore, is known as one of the best dive spots in Mexico.

Best Cozumel Hotel for Families: Iberostar Cozumel

Beach at the Iberostar Cozumel

If you want direct access to the amazing underwater life off of Cozumel’s shores, the Iberostar Cozumel is your pick. Families can jump right from the hotel’s pier into the sea to snorkel.

Best Cozumel Hotel for Couples: Hotel B Cozumel

The Junior Suite at the Hotel B Cozumel

If you’re after cool design, a lively bar scene, a beautiful infinity pool, and even some free yoga classes, Hotel B is the right spot for you. We love the sustainability focus here, and the bright, modern style is nicer than most boutique properties on the island.

You’ll Also Like:


All products are independently selected by our writers and editors. If you buy something through our links, Oyster may earn an affiliate commission.