Mexico’s Caribbean Riviera Maya - Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, & Puerto Morelos

Playa Norte Isla Mujeres Mexico Caribbean Riviera Maya
Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres
- Mexico's Caribbean Riviera Maya
Villa del Palmar Cancun Mexico Caribbean Riviera Maya
Villa del Palmar in Cancun
- Mexico's Caribbean Riviera Maya
Cabana Tulum Mexico Caribbean Om
Our Cabana in Tulum
- Mexico's Caribbean Riviera Maya
Naked nude Bikini Girls Playa del Carmen Mexico Caribbean
Local Girls in Playa del Carmen
- Mexico's Caribbean Riviera Maya
White Soft Sand Beach Tulum Mexico Caribbean Om
White Soft-Sand Beach in Tulum
- Mexico's Caribbean Riviera Maya
Path from Our Cabana in Tulum - Mexico's Caribbean
Path from Our Cabana in Tulum
- Mexico's Caribbean Riviera Maya
Pescado Tikixic Fish Lunch Isla Mujeres Mexico Caribbean Riviera Maya
Pescado Tikixic Fish Lunch - Isla Mujeres,
Mexico's Caribbean Riviera Maya
Mexico’s Caribbean Riviera Maya (Big cities - Cancun & Playa del Carmen and Smaller villages - Tulum & Puerto Morelos) (1/25-2/8/2012)

What is your description of romantic paradise? How about sitting on a picturesque powdery white sandy beach under a thatch beach palapa sipping a margarita or cerveza (beer) enjoying the warm tropical Caribbean climate? Throw in swimming in warm crystal-clear turquoise water with gentle waves, bikini-clad beachgoers, long walks with warm breezes on palm tree lined white soft-sand beaches, dining at night in romantic soft-lit restaurants with romantic music, or partying to the wee hours of the morning.

Add in world-class snorkeling and diving in one of the most magnificent offshore coral reefs in the world, a rich history of ancient Maya legacy with a Mexican flavor, special attractions of highly rated nature parks and Mayan ruins, and hotels suitable for everyone’s needs ranging from luxury all-inclusive 5-star resorts to charming seaside inns and $60/night budget hotels. For us, that’s pretty close to paradise.

Beach Playa del Carmen Mexic Caribbean Riviera Maya
Beach at Playa del Carmen
- Mexico's Caribbean Riviera Maya
5th Avenue Night Playa del Carmen Mexico Caribbean
5th Avenue at Night - Playa del Carmen,
Mexico's Caribbean Riviera Maya
Welcome to Mexico’s Caribbean Riviera Maya in the Yucatan. Experiencing extensive recent development, just 10-15 years ago Mexico's Caribbean Riviera Maya was described as idyllic fishing villages. 90 miles of beaches (some the most beautiful in the world) affords a wonderful relaxing romantic get away with activities for the more active such as great snorkeling and scuba diving in the Great Maya Reef – the second largest barrier reef in the world with more than 500 species of fish, manta rays, and sea turtles. 

There is also sailing, fishing, kayaking, windsurfing, and parasailing. The Mayan heritage gives Mexico's Caribbean a different ambiance and cuisine than the rest of Mexico with a mythical history.

We explored four places along the coast – Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Puerto Morelos, and Cancun. 

At the center of the Mexico's Caribbean Riviera Maya and its largest city, cosmopolitan Playa del Carmen (know locally as just ‘Playa’) is now Mexico’s fastest growing city. Along mile-long pedestrian-only 5th Avenue (Avenida Quinta), you can stroll a cobblestone-like pavement of shops, boutiques, intimate hotels, restaurants, and sidewalk cafes (see photo).

We stayed right on Playa del Carmen's 5th Avenue in the quaint boutique hotels of Posada Mariposa and Hacienda Mariposa offering very good value for their great location near Playa del Carmen's best beach with a great deal at the upscale Mamita’s Beach Club (see photo). Our days passed quickly enjoying the beach and people watching during the day and choosing among the scores of restaurants along 5th Avenue at night. From Playa del Carmen you can take a ferry to the large island of Cozumel famous for its snorkeling, scuba diving, and Mexican cuisine.

Beach Ocean Tulum Mexico Caribbean Riviera Maya
Beach in Tulum - Mexico's 
Caribbean Riviera Maya
We loved Tulum about 40 miles south of Playa del Carmen. Although Tulum is rapidly upgrading (with increasing prices), it is what Playa del Carmen once was - ideal for solitude, contemplation, and communing with nature. With no Cancun-style big hotels, Tulum's stunning uncrowded beaches have small beach cabanas and chic eco-hotels nestled among palm trees offering a nice blend of laid-back ecological on-the-beach experience with modern comforts falling to sleep listening to gentle ocean waves. Many have their own small restaurant on the beach (see photos).

Bench OM Tulum Cabanas Tulum Mexico Caribbean
Bench at OM Tulum Cabanas
- Tulum, Mexico's Caribbean Riviera Maya
We stayed at the OM Tulum Cabanas and Beach Club - a good combination of laid-back budget comforts right on the beach with a nice restaurant and beach palapas (see photo). The town of Tulum is about 2 miles from the beach. Other than the exquisite beaches, the number one attraction in Tulum is the small Mayan ruins by the same name above a beautiful beach.

Dos Ojos Cenote Tulum Mexico Caribbean
Dos Ojos Cenote - Tulum, 
Mexico's Caribbean Riviera Maya
Near Tulum are over 110 cenotes that are entrances to underground rivers flowing through massive limestone caves and caverns with stalagmites and stalactites (see photo). All rivers in the Yucatan run underground and two of the longest underground rivers in the world are located here. Snorkeling or scuba diving these wonders is an interesting excursion.

Xcaret Mexico
Xcaret, Mexico
Also near Tulum, there are also several highly rated eco-archaeological parks such as Xcaret and Xel-Ha affording many activities (i.e. beaches, snorkeling, zip lining, river tubing, jungle and cenote discovery, boat trips, animal exhibits, Mayan culture) and all-you-can eat (at Xel-Ha) for one price - kind of like an eco-Disneyland. The nearby Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve offers an even more authentic experience of the remarkable natural wonders of this region encompassing almost every ecosystem that exists in the Yucatan.

Village Puerto Morelos Mexico Caribbean
Village of Puerto Morelos
- Mexico's Caribbean Riviera Maya
Just 20 minutes south of Cancun, Puerto Morelos is the gateway to the Riviera Maya. The town of Puerto Morelos retains a fishing village feel (see photo) with good restaurants, some of the best of the Riviera Maya Reef, spectacular beaches with wonderful swimming north of town, and a tranquil bohemian atmosphere. Huge new 5-star all-inclusive hotels dominate Puerto Morelos' beautiful northern beaches. 

Puerto Morelos Mexico beach
Puerto Morelos, Mexico
For a budget stay in Puerto Morelos on the northern spectacular beach, we choose to stay at 2-star Acamaya Reef in a rustic cabana with beach palapas – great location but not loaded with amenities or high price. A 40-minute walk along the beach or an $8 taxi ride to town gets you to many nice restaurants and shops. We took a snorkeling trip to the magnificent reefs of the National Marine Park with Charlie Brown - a great snorkeling trip with a personality you will never forget.

Cancun Mexico Hotel Zone beach
Cancun Hotel Zone, Mexico
To begin our trip, we found a brand new 5-star all-inclusive resort north of the Cancun hotel zone called Villa del Palmar Cancun Beach Resort & Spa - a gorgeous large hotel with gourmet restaurants, four beautiful pools, and nice beach (see photo above). A beautiful place to relax with few activities although they can arrange all the many excursions that Cancun has. Villa del Palmar is located next to the car ferry to the beautiful island, Isla Mujeres, where awaits you a fun less expensive adventure. 

Playa Norte Isla Mujeres Mexico Palm Tree
Playa Norte - Isla Mujeres, Mexico
A 45-minute ferry ride takes you to Playa Norte on the island of Isla Mujeres, one of the loveliest beaches in the Caribbean with open-air beach restaurants and bars to idle the day away meeting other travelers from around the world (see photo). A wonderful signature island dish is Tik-n-chik, which is a whole fish marinated in achiote and grilled (see photo). Great snorkeling trips can be arranged on Isla Mujeres or you can rent a golf cart and explore this beautiful 4-mile long island.

Mayan Tzolkin Calendar end of the world December Apocalypse
Mayan Tzolkin Calendar
Some history... An interesting historical note is after a run of 5,200 years (long time before even the Mayan's used this calendar), the amazing Mayan Tzolkin calendar ended on December 21, 2012. Believers of the Apocalypse say it meant the end of civilization. The explanation we like better is that it will usher in a new era leaving behind greed and selfishness bringing an era of love, peace, generosity, and a more balanced relationship with the environment.

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Helpful travel planning tips... Peak travel season (and peak prices) to Mexico’s Caribbean Riviera Maya is from November to April. Many people are escaping the cold season in North America and Europe. Because summers can be hot, this is a nice time to come because it is the coolest time of year (high temperatures averaging about 84ºF, 29ºC). Locals told us that early May and late October are good off-season times for better prices. Although we went to Mexico’s Caribbean Riviera Maya in the middle of the peak season, we were able to find some good deals using savvy traveler’s techniques.

Map Mexico Caribbean Riviera Maya Cozumel Cacun
Map Mexico's Caribbean Riviera Maya
Mexico’s Caribbean Riviera Maya is serviced by Cancun’s modern airport, English is widely spoken, people are very friendly, the food is very good with a wide selection of dining options, accommodations are available for everyone’s taste and budget, transportation around the region is efficient and inexpensive using buses and collectivos (air-conditioned vans), and using common sense, we never feared for our safety. USA Today said the Mexico’s Caribbean Mayan Riviera was the “Hot travel trend for 2012" and will probably be even more popular in the future. In fact, many cities have already increased air service to Mexico because of the boost in travel demands. 

We loved Mexico’s Mexico’s Caribbean Riviera Maya and plan to return. This beautiful destination is being discovered and prices are on the rise - don’t delay!

Please see our other 5 posts about other nice Mexican resort areas:

Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico

Huatulco, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Loreto Villa del Palmar Baja California

Cruise Beach Day in Cabo San Luis 

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  11. A very comprehensive post on a variety of options in this popular region. Nice job!

  12. I love Riviera Maya. Next time I go back, I will stay in Tulum. Here's my adventures in the area,

  13. The Mayan Riviera is a popular winter destination for Canadians, but I haven't ever stayed there. As part of a cruise stop, I spent a few hours in Playa del Carmen and some time at the Tulum Ruins. I'd love to go back and spend time in Tulum itself. I love the photo of the path from your cabana.

  14. Tulum and Puerto Moreles look marvelous to me. Cancun was far too touristic back in 1994 when I visited and I have had no desire to return. I did visit Tulum and Xcaret - I loved floating down the underground river!


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