Looking for the best things to do in Riviera Maya Mexico? You’ve come to the right guide!
As a travel blogger that lives in Playa del Carmen, I’ve gotten to personally experience pretty much all of the area’s best excursions and activities.
The Riviera Maya offers some incredibly unique adventures with its stunning natural attractions such as beaches, coral reefs, freshwater cenotes, and jungle landscapes.
But with so many amazing options to choose from, it can be hard to know which activities to choose during your limited time here.
MY TOP PICK
In this post, I’m sharing my top recommendations for the best things to do in Riviera Maya that you won’t want to miss on your Mexico vacation.
So whether you’re looking for a boat trip, an amazing snorkeling tour, an adrenaline-pumping adventure park, or a cultural excursion, I’ve got you covered!
I’ll also share some helpful tips and important things to know when booking and planning your Riviera Maya tours and excursions.
Ready to find out which of these amazing Riviera Maya excursions is right for you? Let’s get started!
Top 3 Picks: Best Things to Do in Riviera Maya Mexico
Best Things to Do in Riviera Maya Mexico
These are the best Riviera Maya sightseeing tours and activities including a mix of water excursions, cultural experiences, and adventure activities:
One of the top excursions in Riviera Maya is a catamaran sail to Isla Mujeres, which is a tiny island just off the coast of Cancun.
The color of the water near Isla Mujeres is the brightest shade of turquoise you’ll find in the region–it’s really unforgettable!
And you can’t miss visiting the famed Playa Norte, the most popular spot on the island and considered to be one of the best beaches in the world.
On a catamaran tour, you can usually snorkel, swim, and lounge on the deck with food and an open bar included.
Most catamaran tours leave from Cancun and offer round trip transportation from Playa del Carmen or the Riviera Maya.
Travelista Tip: If you have a larger group or want a more exclusive experience, consider booking a private catamaran tour.
The ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza are located about 2.5 hours from both Cancun and Playa del Carmen, which makes it a great option for a cultural excursion and day tour.
With impressive pyramids and large ancient remains, Chichen Itza is one of the largest Mayan ruins and one of the most visited archaeological sites in North America.
It is even considered one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The easiest way to visit Chichén Itzá from Riviera Maya is on a guided Chichen Itza and cenote tour, which includes round-trip transportation, a cenote swim, and a leisurely stop in the quaint colonial town of Valladolid.
It’s a long day but so worth it for a captivating cultural experience! And you’ll get to cross off visiting one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World! ✅
⏫ Upgraded Option: For a more private and personalized visit to Chichen Itza, consider booking one of these best private tours to Chichen Itza.
Located halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Akumal is a small beach town where you can swim with sea turtles in their natural habitat directly off the beach.
The easiest way to visit Akumal Bay is to book a guided Akumal snorkeling tour which includes the use of snorkeling equipment, knowledgeable guides, entrance fee and taxes, life jackets, and roundtrip transportation.
Plus, when you go with a reputable guide, they’ll make sure you’re respecting the environment and not doing anything to disrupt the turtles’ natural habitat.
I’ve been to Akumal multiple times and it’s truly an incredible experience getting to swim alongside sea turtles of all sizes right off the beach.
You can read my full Akumal snorkeling tour guide for all the details!
There are many adventure parks in Riviera Maya but the most well known are the theme parks operated by a company called Grupo Xcaret.
Grupo Xcaret has 8 different adventure parks in the region offering various types of adventurous Riviera Maya activities.
The original of Grupo Xcaret’s parks, Xcaret Park (pronounced “Ish-ka-ret”) features 50 attractions within its massive property.
Visitors can spend a full day out among the jungle trails, swimming in underground rivers, exploring caves, and frolicking on beaches or natural pools.
Drawing your attention towards the country’s culture and heritage, its range of park activities makes it one of the best Riviera Maya excursions for families with younger children.
Stroll through open-air aviaries, the Butterfly Pavilion, and Coral Reef Aquarium. Plus, historians will love the Maya ruins and Mexican Folk Art Museum.
Xcaret Park’s main highlight is the Xcaret Mexico Espectacular production , which is a 300-person crew show that is a history lesson but fun – featuring pre-Hispanic dances and more!
You can read my full Xcaret park review for all the details!
One of the best snorkeling excursions in Riviera Maya Mexico is visiting “El Cielo” in Cozumel, a sandbar where you can snorkel with giant starfish in crystal clear water.
El Cielo can only be visited by boat so the easiest way to get there is to book a guided El Cielo snorkeling tour.
On the El Cielo tour, you’ll get to snorkel at three different coral reefs, as well as visit El Cielo and a super stunning beach called El Cielito.
You can read my full El Cielo tour guide for all the details–it really is an unforgettable experience!
For Mayan Ruins exploration that is not as far away as Chichen Itza, I would definitely recommend visiting the Tulum Ruins.
Located just north of downtown Tulum, the Tulum Ruins are the closest Mayan ruins to the Riviera Maya and an incredible oceanfront fortress.
The Tulum Ruins can be visited fairly easily on your own or you can book a guided Tulum Ruins tour for the added convenience of an experienced tour guide and roundtrip transportation with hotel pickup.
Once at the archaeological site, you can explore the ancient ruins at leisure or go for a swim at the impressive public beach.
🆚 Related Reading: Tulum vs Chichen Itza Ruins: Which is better?
Another Xcaret park known for aquatic adventures, Xel-Ha Park (pronounced “Shell-Ha”) has a prime location around an inlet of the Caribbean Sea, which yields the best water activities.
This stunning natural water park near Playa del Carmen offers cenotes, caves, hidden beaches, and hammock gardens.
In the center lies an expansive “pool” offering unlimited snorkeling, where red flags mark areas rich in marine life.
While swimming and snorkeling take the spotlight, the eco-waterpark isn’t just a large natural aquarium.
Manmade slides, high jumps, and water ziplines add dimension to the park and there’s even a mile-long lazy river.
And you’ll definitely want to climb the Scenic Lighthouse for panoramic views over the park and then glide down one of its four spiral water slides.
You can read my full Xel-Ha review for all the details!
The Yucatan peninsula is known for its incredible cenotes (pronounced “say-know-tay”), which are freshwater swimming holes where you can swim, snorkel, or just hang out in a beautiful place in nature.
There are literally thousands of different cenotes in Riviera Maya and the Yucatan peninsula, unlike anywhere else in the world.
Visiting a cenote is one of the most unique things to do in Riviera Maya and a great way to experience the natural wonders of the destination.
Plus, a lot of them have adventure activities like snorkeling, cliff jumping, or overwater ziplines.
Or for a hassle-free option, consider booking an all-inclusive cenote tour with transportation and a guide included.
Travelista Tip: Regular sunscreen is prohibited at cenotes so you’ll want to be sure to bring biodegradable sunscreen to avoid a sunburn.
At Xplor, you’ll be treated to a full day all-inclusive adventure experience where you can go ziplining on multiple circuits, swim and raft through underwater caves, and drive amphibious vehicles.
Xplor has hands down the best ziplines in Riviera Maya and they even have some overwater ziplines where you will end with a splash!
The park offers a full day of Riviera Maya adventures that will definitely get your adrenaline pumping!
You can read my full Xplor review for all the details!
Travelista Tip: For an after dark adventure park experience, check out Xplor Fuego 🔥
Rio Secreto is one of the most popular attractions in Riviera Maya where you can swim through an impressive underground river with over 1 kilometer of stalactites and stalagmites.
At this totally unique natural attraction, you get to trek through underwater caves, as well as participate in additional activities like biking and rappelling.
And with it being underground, Rio Secreto is an all-weather activity and makes for a great rainy day activity in Riviera Maya.
It really feels like you are in another world! You can read my full Rio Secreto review for all the details!
Located about 30 km north of Isla Mujeres, Isla Contoy is a small, uninhabited tropical island that will leave you with a jaw-dropping first impression!
Only allowing 200 visitors per day to its pristine white-sand beaches lined with palm trees, the island offers a totally exclusive tropical island experience.
Despite its small size, the island is also home to a variety of plant and animal life, including over 100 species of birds.
Isla Contoy can only be visited on an Isla Contoy tour, where you can enjoy the island’s jaw-dropping beach and birdwatching opportunities.
I personally visited Isla Contoy and can honestly say it’s one of my favorite places in Riviera Maya and the most beautiful beach I have seen in Mexico 😍
You can read my full Isla Contoy tour guide for all the details!
For a one-of-a-kind underwater adventure, check out MUSA, the Underwater Museum of Art located off the shores of Isla Mujeres.
This underwater sculpture museum is full of giant artificial habitats including art installations, human statues, and even a house and a car.
To visit MUSA, you can book a MUSA snorkeling tour or scuba diving tour to get an up close view of life-sized statues.
If you are feeling daring, a more adventurous activity is swimming with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres, which is one of the best Isla Mujeres tours from Riviera Maya.
Whale shark season is only between the summer months of May-September, when the plankton blooms in the shallow waters off the shores of Isla Mujeres.
A whale sharks snorkeling tour is a truly unforgettable experience, where you get to swim right alongside these giant creatures.
They are actually considered gentle giants so really it’s not as scary as it sounds!
You can read my full Isla Mujeres whale sharks tour guide for all the details!
Located at Vidanta Resorts, Joyà is the only resident Cirque du Solei performance in Mexico.
I’ve seen the show twice and the acrobatic performances are so impressive! And the story is so unique and inspired by local culture.
I even took my entire family when they came to visit and they said it was the highlight of their trip!
Plus, what makes Joya unique is that it is one of the only Cirque du Soleil shows to offer a gourmet dining experience where you can optionally enjoy a 3-course meal and champagne before the show.
You can read my full Joyà Cirque du Soleil review for all the details!
The Riviera Maya landscape is admittedly pretty flat but you can still find some very fun all-terrain vehicle (ATV) or “jungle buggy” experiences.
Be prepared to get dirty as you’ll likely be driving off road through water and mud!
Many Riviera Maya ATV tours include a visit to a cenote afterwards where you can wash off the grime and cool off with a refreshing cenote swim.
Located just south of Tulum, Kaan Luum Lagoon is a secret swimming hole and one of the less well-known Riviera Maya attractions.
It’s definitely a hidden gem and makes for a fun excursion or day trip. Its most notable feature is a deep cenote in the middle of the lagoon where you’ll see a sharp contrast in the color of the water.
At Kaan Luum Lagoon, you can spend the day swimming in the lagoon, lounging on the dock, or applying a mud mask.
Standup paddleboarding (SUP) is a unique and fun Riviera Maya activity, offering the opportunity to paddle board right off of the beach and get a killer workout too.
It’s really an incredible experience to go standup paddleboarding in Riviera Maya on the Caribbean Sea with bright turquoise hues and some impressive ocean views.
You might also be lucky enough to spot some tropical fish and other marine life!
I recommend paddle boarding at Aloha Paddle Club in Playa del Carmen, which has the best reputation for paddleboarding and water sports in Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
You can choose from mixed tour groups, sunrise sessions, or even book a SUP tour with them to a nearby cenote or lagoon.
Located at Vidanta Resorts, Jungala is the newest and largest water park attraction in Riviera Maya.
The water park is a great Riviera Maya excursion for families and features extreme slides like a looping water slide, a free fall slide, a near vertical slide, and a high speed flume ride.
And for adults or those looking for a more relaxed experience, you can also take advantage of their private cabanas and spa pool.
If you are a foodie, then I would definitely recommend a Playa del Carmen walking food tour for a chance to experience the local food culture.
Playa del Carmen food tours are a fun way to try the best foods and local dishes, and give you the opportunity to meet new people in a relaxed environment.
On the tour, you’ll get to try many different local Mexican and Yucatan specialties, as well as popular Playa del Carmen street foods all hand picked by a local guide.
Most are walking tours, which is also a great way to explore the town of Playa del Carmen on foot as well as 5th Avenue, the town’s main street.
Taking part in a temazcal ceremony is one of the most unique ways to experience the Mayan culture in the region. A temazcal is essentially a sweat lodge heated by hot stones.
The spiritual sauna experience takes place in the jungle and is led by a Mayan shaman that will conduct a traditional ceremony for healing, relaxation, and releasing toxins.
The Riviera Maya temazcal experience is followed by dinner and a dip in a freshwater cenote.
It’s a totally unique way to experience the Mayan culture, while also improving your health and wellness.
Cenote Zapote is an eco park near Puerto Morelos along the famous “Ruta de los Cenotes” where you can go ziplining, swim in cenotes, and do other adventure activities.
The park is located pretty far off of the main highway so for easy access, the best way to get there is by booking a guided Cenote Zapote tour.
Visiting Cenote Zapote is a full day adventure park experience where you’ll visit three stunning cenotes, as well as zipline through the jungle, explore the park on bikes, and cruise around on ATVs.
I visited the park with some blogger friends and it was one of the best Playa del Carmen private tours I’ve done!
What I love about Cenote Zapote is that it feels much more natural and is not overly commercialized. You can read my full Cenote Zapote tour guide for all the details!
Located just south of Tulum, Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is one of the most outdoorsy things to do in the Riviera Maya and perfect for nature lovers.
Officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Sian Ka’an is one of the largest protected areas in Mexico and offers the unique opportunity to explore a tranquil nature reserve.
While visiting, you’ll have the opportunity to observe wild marine animals like dolphins, sea turtles, and stingrays, as well as exotic plant varieties and birds all in their native habitat.
Due to its remote location, the easiest way to explore the reserve is through a guided Sian Ka’an eco-tour, which is a full-day wildlife expedition offering a small boat trip, snorkeling, and nature observation.
The newest of Xcaret’s adventure parks, Xavage is located just south of Cancun, Mexico.
I’d equate it to an Xcaret park on steroids since it’s where you’ll find some of the most adrenaline-pumping activities!
Xavage offers 7 different heart-racing activities including an intense ropes course, Superman-style ziplining, white water rafting, monster trucks, kayaking, a high-speed jet boat experience, and a kids pool.
The white water rafting and monster truck course are intense–and probably some of the most unique experiences you’ll find at Xcaret theme parks.
You can read my full Xavage review for all the details!
Advertised as a Las Vegas-style production, Coco Bongo is an all-you-can-drink show and nightclub with locations in both Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
The Coco Bongo Mexico experience attracts vacation-goers from around the world for a 4-hour long pop culture inspired production.
The show features giant screens, acrobats, confetti explosions, celebrity impersonators, tribute singers, and more.
The massive, multi-level halls hold up to 1,800 spectators for a lively night of drinking and dancing–it’s actually a lot of fun!
You can read my full Coco Bongo review for all the details!
Saddle up for a horseback riding adventure if you’re looking for a low key, yet exciting way to explore the Riviera Maya.
Suitable for riders of all levels, this Riviera Maya horseback riding tour takes you horseback riding through the Mayan jungle.
During the ride, you’ll learn about the flora and fauna and even get the chance to spot monkeys, coati, and other wildlife.
Once you reach a natural cenote, you’ll get to dismount and cool off with a cenote swim before heading back to the ranch.
How to Book Riviera Maya Tours
There are so many tours in Riviera Maya that it can definitely be an overwhelming booking experience.
From my personal experience, these are the best ways to book your Mayan Riviera activities:
This is what I personally do and recommend for booking Riviera Maya tours. Not only does it allow you to reserve your spot in advance, but it’s much more reliable.
I once purchased an El Cielo tour from a street vendor on 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen and had a terrible experience.
When we arrived in Cozumel for the tour, the tour operator had absolutely no record of our booking and we were almost turned away. Talk about stressful!
While the tour vendors on 5th Avenue may be a little cheaper, booking online from a reputable site such as Viator (owned by TripAdvisor) or Get Your Guide will give you an electronic record of your purchase and a paper trail.
You’ll also have the opportunity to read loads of customer reviews and get firsthand information on what the tours are actually like.
Plus, if there are any issues, it’s much easier to work with these companies’ customer service departments for questions, disputes, or refunds.
I once had to contact Get Your Guide support and they were super responsive and sent me straight away to a direct Whatsapp chat with a support agent.
Book at your hotel or resort
If for some reason you’re not able to book a particular tour or activity online, then I would recommend booking with a tour representative at your hotel or resort.
Most hotels and resorts in Riviera Maya will have a tour desk in the lobby where you can book tours and get brochures with more information.
⚠️ Just keep in mind all inclusive resorts will only offer tours with their chosen operator so your options will be much more limited. Plus, you can’t reserve them in advance so it’s possible the spots will sell out for your desired dates.
Riviera Maya Tour Transportation
It’s important to know that the Riviera Maya region is pretty widespread and transportation here can be very expensive.
For this reason, I would highly recommend booking a tour that has transportation included with hotel pickup.
This will by far be your easiest and most hassle-free option, where a large van or bus will pick you up directly from the lobby of most major hotels in Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya.
And if you’re staying at a smaller hotel, Airbnb, or vacation rental, then they will typically give a meeting point in downtown Playa del Carmen like outside of Coco Bongo or La Bodeguita del Medio.
Alternatively, if you are comfortable driving in Mexico on your own, then renting a car in Playa del Carmen is also an option for getting around and exploring the region.
This is a great option if you want to get to some of the more off-the-beaten-path attractions, hidden beaches, and less well known activities in Riviera Maya.
If you do want to rent a car, I recommend booking with Discover Cars, where you can compare rates from both local and international rental companies.
Tips for Planning Your Riviera Maya Mexico Excursions
Follow these tips to make the most of your Riviera Maya tour experience:
Plan in advance
There are so many fun activities and tours in Riviera Maya that you’ll want to take some time to plan out your excursions to really make the most of your trip.
Everybody’s vacation style is different so you’ll want to decide what’s most important to you in terms of activities. Are you a total beach bum or more of an activities person?
The luxury resorts in Riviera Maya are pretty spectacular so it’s always a solid option just to stay at the resort!
But if you want to get out and explore the destination, then definitely take some time to research and plan the best tours in Riviera Maya in advance.
Mix it up
Depending on the length of your trip, I would try to aim for at least 1 or 2 excursions during your stay.
Plan a mix of water activities, adventure activities, and cultural activities depending on your interests.
And don’t be afraid to try something new! After all, one of the most rewarding things about traveling to a new destination is the opportunity to try something new and different. I bet you’ll be glad you did!
Check the weather
It’s best to check the weather forecast to determine ideal days for your excursions, especially for boat and water activities.
If it’s raining, stormy or very windy, then there’s a chance that activities may be canceled.
Normally tour providers are pretty good about alerting you of concerning weather conditions and will help you to reschedule if needed.
Leave time for R&R
Make sure to leave adequate days for relaxing by the pool and soaking up the sun on the incredible white sand beaches in Riviera Maya.
I tend to try to schedule activities at the beginning of the trip so I can reserve the rest of the days for pure rest and relaxation.
Don’t drink too much the night before
Most tours have extremely early pickup times (like 7AM) so I would avoid scheduling them the morning after a night out of heavy drinking.
Trust me, there’s nothing worse than being hungover on a long boat ride or tour bus!
FAQs About Top Things to Do in Riviera Maya
Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about what to do in Riviera Maya:
Tours and activities can fill up quickly (especially during high season) so it’s best to book excursions as far in advance as you can. Most tour companies like Viator and GetYourGuide have flexible booking options that allow you to cancel with a full refund up to 24 hours before the tour date.
Cancun is a beach town located at the north end of Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Riviera Maya is the name of the entire coastal resort district than spans from Cancun all the way down to Tulum.
Riviera Maya is known for its clear turquoise waters, beautiful white sand beaches, and Mayan archaeological sites. The region is also a popular tourist destination, with many resorts and hotels catering to visitors from all over the world.
The weather in Riviera Maya is warm all year round so there really isn’t a bad time to visit. High season runs from December–April, which is when the weather is dry and sunny. The rainy season is from June–October, where chances of rain will be higher but there will still be plenty of sun.
Yes, the beaches in Riviera Maya typically have shallow waters, calm waves, and warm temperatures so you can swim in them all year round. Some beaches may be more rocky or have more seaweed depending on their location and the weather conditions.
Conclusion: Best Things to Do in Riviera Maya Mexico
Are you ready to experience all these amazing things to do on the Mayan Riviera?
As you can see, there are endless amounts of Riviera Maya tours and activities to suit every interest.
My top recommendation for the best thing to do in Riviera Maya is a catamaran sail to Isla Mujeres–the water there is just so unbelievably clear!
And if you’re looking to upgrade your Riviera Maya tour experience, check out these best private tours in Riviera Maya for a more intimate and personalized experience.
But no matter which of these best Riviera Maya excursions you choose, you’ll get to enjoy Mexico’s beautiful beaches and incredible natural attractions and will no doubt have an unforgettable time.
So what are you going to cross off your must do Riviera Maya Mexico bucket list first?!
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🇲🇽 Traveling to Mexico soon?
These are the Mexico travel resources I use and recommend:
✈️ Flights: I recommend using Skyscanner for the best Mexico flight deals. Be sure to sign up for their price alerts for your preferred travel dates.
🚗 Rental Cars: I recommend using Discover Cars because you can compare multiple car rental companies and see detailed ratings for overall value, ease of pick-up, efficiency of agents, car condition, and overall time spent.
🚙 Cancun Airport Transportation: I recommend booking a private transfer with Cancun Airport Transportation for the quickest and most hassle-free option!
🤿 Tours & Activities: I always use Viator or GetYourGuide for booking tours and activities in Mexico. You can cancel up to 24 hours before the tour for a full refund, plus they have excellent customer service if you were to have any issues.
🚨 Travel Insurance: After my Dad broke his hand in a taxi accident in Playa del Carmen, I always recommend buying travel insurance before your trip for added peace of mind! I recommend Travel Insurance Master for short trips or Safety Wing for digital nomads.
☀️ Biodegradable Sunscreen: Don’t forget to add biodegradable sunscreen to your Mexico packing list! Regular sunscreen is prohibited when swimming in the ocean and cenotes in Mexico, so you’ll need to pack some biodegradable sunscreen for sun protection. I recommend Sun Bum Sunscreen, which is reef-friendly, vegan, and cruelty-free.