7 wonders of the Riviera Maya you must see


1. Explore the Mayan Ruins

Who were the Maya? How did they live? What was Yucatan like before the Spanish conquistadores arrived? The Maya still live along this coast and you’ll hear their unique language spoken everywhere, but to dig into their mysterious past, you need to see the pyramids


Here’s a tip. Start off with the most famous of them all: Chichen Itza. Take a guide. Experience the magic of the serpent whose shadow slithers down the pyramid at the equinox. Wonder at the record in stone of a highly developed and utterly alien civilisation. But then, once you’ve got the general picture, go to Tulum and see how all this translates into a seaside setting. Even if history is not your thing, you’ll be captivated by the experience: the little beach below the pyramid, the glorious stretch of sand to the south, and the silent, secretive ruins overlooking the blue water.

Then try Coba or Ek’ Balam. These two pyramids are deep in the jungle, which is an experience in itself, and here you can clamber up the steep stone steps to take in the infinite view of sun, sky, jungle and sea. They are also blessedly free of the market stalls that surround Chichen Itza: nothing against shopping, but you can find a lot more time to reflect. Not least, on how these sites were discovered. Coba, for example, was virtually unknown to the outside world until the explorer Thomas Gann was taken there by Mayan hunters in – believe it or not! – 1926! Go see: and make up your own mind.

2. Scuba diving and snorkelling

You mustn’t miss the reef. It would be hard to do so. The Great Maya Reef stretches for more than 600 miles along the Mexican coast and down into Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. It’s the second longest coral reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Apart from anything else, it protects the coast from the ravages of the Atlantic, but it’s also a magical water world which has to be seen to be believed.

First the facts. More than 500 species of tropical fish live around the reef and more than 65 different kinds of coral have created its living structure. The fish vary in size from tiny plankton to the gigantic whale sharks, the biggest fish in the sea, who live off the plankton. Plus everything in between. Experience the colours down there, because the light is beautiful. Swim alongside the whale sharks (really – they are huge, beautiful and friendly), follow the turtles and manta rays, just dive into the warm and inviting Caribbean wherever you are along the Mayan Riviera.


And then (assuming you’re only human) when you need a bit of dry land to digest everything you’ve experienced, just chill under a palm on the nearest soft white beach. Paradise? You bet!

3. Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) Playa del Carmen

One of the world’s great strolls. You can buy souvenirs, slip into the cool boutiques, snack on street food, dine by candlelight in leafy gardens, stop and listen to the guitars and harps and mariachi brass, catch the score in the sports bars, but above all, you can stroll. Of course there’s a great deal of interest in your custom. Tip: if you want to avoid the conversations, look poor, or local, or both, but it hardly counts as hassle, just a series of friendly chats.

It’s a lovely, tree-lined, pedestrian street, throbbing with life at any time of day or night, and it still has the relaxed atmosphere of the village Playa once was. If you know anyone in Playa (and you soon will!) you’ll bump into them some time on Quinta Avenida. Watch out for Victor, though. “You remember me, from the hotel?” (Well, maybe.) “My uncle runs a silver shop just round the corner…” Hey! Just stroll.


And there’s the sea. For most of the length of Quinta Avenida, the sea is just a block away. In the daytime, you keep getting these enticing glimpses of the turquoise Caribbean and the soft white sand. At night, the lights of Cozumel across the water. Now how’s that for a sideshow? Take a break from the buzz in the simple white chapel of Our Lady of Carmen (Capilla de Nuestra Señora del Carmen) in the Parque Fundadores where Quinta Avenida crosses Juarez, and gaze at the sea through its elegant palms.

Just – stroll.

4. Tour the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

Imagine an endless stretch of ever changing colours. The boat skims across the calm waters as you try to piece together tiffany, electric, maya, turquoise and azure midnight blues with spring, jungle, mint and Persian greens. As you ponder just how many colours there are in this spectacular fresh water exhibition, an eagle drops out of nowhere. It glides effortlessly alongside the boat for a few minutes until it changes direction in the split of a second and slows itself down as if a parachute had just been deployed. The eagle perches itself on the highest branch of the small island it calls home. No need to stop the boat, this is just one of many amazing species of wildlife you will see in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.


Sian Ka’an is approximately 1.3 million acres in size and spans 120 kilometres from north to south (comprising almost one third of the Caribbean coast of Mexico. Low-impact human activities and sustainable development occur in the area of the reserve known as the buffer zone. Approximately one percent of the land within the reserve is privately owned. A number of villas are available for vacation rental providing a truly special experience as you have the tranquil Caribbean Sea on one side and the sublime reserve on the other.

Clamber through ancient temples, float down the Mayan built canals and swim with the gentle Manatees. This is a unique day out for the whole family to enjoy.

5. Swim with Whale Sharks

A gigantic shape slowly looms alongside you out of the blue, blue Caribbean, patterned with line after regular line of luminous spots, like portholes in a vast submarine. It’s flanked by shoals of smaller fish, whose sudden changes of direction and flashes of colour only emphasise the massive scale of what you are witnessing. This is truly where reality meets science fiction. It’s like the opening shot of Star Wars, but without the gunfire. In fact, in total silence, except the sound of your own breathing. You are privileged to be in the company of the biggest fish in the sea, the whale shark. This one is a staggering 13m (43ft) long, longer than a school bus and at 20 tons, the weight of more than three elephants. This is why you came.

whale shark snorkel - snorkelling2

There are a number of places you can live this special experience. The most popular and easily accessible option is Isla Mujeres, about 8 miles northeast of Cancun. The island itself is gloriously laid back. The secret is to potter round on a golf cart, stopping whenever you feel like a spot of great seafood, a beer, or maybe just a dip in the clear water and a walk along the cool white sand. It was a sanctuary to the Mayan goddess Ixchel when the Spanish arrived in 1517. As the island was full of images of the goddess, they named it Isla Mujeres, the Island of Women. It still has that ancient magic about it, and it seems to attract people who want to add to its calm beauty. Another option is the less visited but spectacular Isla Holbox. The island is about 30km long and from 500m to 2km wide, with seemingly endless beaches, tranquil waters and a galaxy of shells in various shapes and colours. Not yet heavily touristic, the island's main industry is fishing. However, it is developing a growing tourist industry in the form of… You guessed it, whale shark viewing.

6. Exploring the cenotes

If you want to know what makes the Riviera Maya truly magical, make sure to visit one of 6,000 cenotes. Each one wholly different to the next, these natural sinkholes derive from the collapse of limestone bedrock, uncovering fresh groundwater. They define the Yucatan Peninsula.


If you are staying in Playa del Carmen you have a number of options close by. If lounging by the pool with a picnic is your style then head to Cenote Azul. After walking down the lush path where you will find catfish in small equally picturesque ponds, the forestation opens up to the almost blinding blue waters. It’s no wonder where Cenote Azul (Cenote Blue) get’s its name from. Remember this is fresh water, where visibility can reach up to 70m under water! So be sure to bring a snorkel and mask (alternatively you can rent them on site) because this is one of few cenotes that is home to an array of underwater wildlife. Swim in between the fishes, chase the tiny turtles or if you are feeling really adventurous jump off the 3 metre ledge!

Each cenote has something different to offer. If you want to see the incredible stalactites and stalagmites, visit Dos Ojos (Two Eyes). Here you can snorkel in to a bat cave or for the scuba divers out there go deeper in to the underwater caves for a heart pumping experience.

7. Day-tripping to Cozumel

Eight o’clock on a warm spring morning, and you’re on the ferry from Playa to Cozumel, sipping a refreshing agua de Jamaica and watching the sea go by. It’s time to chill, because although Cozumel is Mexico’s largest Caribbean island, that 45 minute voyage from the mainland has kept it largely undeveloped. You’ll enjoy downtown San Miguel and its 300 restaurants, but the real Cozumel is among the jungle trails, the unique fauna, the soft white beaches, and above all, the diving.

There are more than 40 diving and snorkelling sites, most of them on the sheltered east coast, facing the mainland. You are right out on the Riviera Maya Reef here, and the colours are startling. You may not have time for the history of the island, so here’s a potted version to read on the boat.


Cozumel in Maya is Cuzamil, Land of Swallows. Pilgrims flocked to the island to pay homage to Ix Chel, goddess of the moon and childbirth. But when the Spanish arrived in the early sixteenth century, they destroyed the shrines and all but wiped out the Maya through smallpox. By the seventeenth century the island was abandoned to the unwelcome visits of pirates like Henry Morgan and Jean Lafitte. It was not resettled until 1848.

Yet today, Cozumel is recognised as one of the world’s most spectacular dive sites, as Jacques Cousteau himself declared in 1961. Heart of Mexico; spirit of the Caribbean - it's a heady mixture! Enjoy!

Quintana Roo, Cozumel, Lagoon Chankanaab, Christ - Photo by  Fideicomiso de Cozumel

For an organised tour to any of these magnificent places please contact us here.

Villa Aqua
Playa del Carmen
5 br, 6 ba,
Great view
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Villa Saasil
Playa del Carmen
5 br, 6 ba,
Golf Villa
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Casa de los Suenos
Isla Mujeres
10 br, 11 ba,

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Casa Nalum
Sian kaan
5 br, 4 ba,

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Casa del Agua
Puerto Aventuras
4 br, 4 ba,

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