The Riviera Maya in Mexico is known for its awesome archeological ruins and ecological preservation. Though only just a short drive from Cancun, the vast majority of the Riviera Maya is far less developed. In general, protecting the land takes priority over providing huge oceanfront beaches for tourists. Natural species are allowed to flourish and are replenished when destroyed by Mother Nature. Wildlife (including creepy crawly critters) are allowed to live … and visitors just have to deal with them.
Just like other areas of Mexico, it is unique in its geographic location and local history, and the efforts in retaining its natural beauty make it a worthwhile stop on a trip to Mexico. However, this uniqueness also means that traveling to the Riviera Maya requires some special consideration and planning. If you are planning a trip to the Riviera Maya, here are a few tips to make your travels easier and more enjoyable:
Expect warm, humid weather.
The Riviera Maya lies in a pocket of Mexico that receives a fair amount of rainfall and can therefore be quite warm. December, January and February are the coolest months with an average high of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the summer months can easily reach an average high of 90 degrees. The rain and oceanfront location also mean that the Riviera Maya is fairly humid, so anticipate not only high temperatures but high humidity as well.
Mexico pesos are the standard currency, and American dollars may be okay to use for small purchases in tourist areas, but there is no guarantee that your credit card will be accepted. If you do use a credit card, you may be socked with a surcharge of up to 5% of the purchase price.
The sun is intense in the Riviera Maya, so you’ll need to wear sunscreen. However, protecting the environment is the top priority here, so your sunscreen needs to be environmentally safe for coral reefs. This can be a bit harder to find, and some hotels may provide it for you in your room, but plan on bringing your own if at all possible. There are some attractions that forbid non-biodegradable sunscreen, plus it really is better for the environment to wear something organic, so make an effort to buy some in advance of your trip. You will need to reapply it every time you get out of the water.
Also, don’t forget there are creepy crawly critters, and the mosquitoes really can be relentless, so you’ll need bug repellant. However, that, too, should be biodegradable. You can buy this before you leave for your trip, but some hotels also supply this for their guests. Check with your hotel to determine what you’ll need to buy beforehand and what it provides.
Look beyond Tulum.
Tulum is the most famous Mayan archeological site in the Riviera Maya, and it’s also the one most heavily promoted by the tourism board. Travelers will find more than 60 well-preserved structures here, but they’ll also find hordes of other tourists. Instead of Tulum, consider visiting Cobá instead. At Cobá, many architectural structures have been uncovered including the Grand Pyramid with an impressive 120 stairs. If you visit early in the morning, you’re likely to see birds, butterflies and other animals in the surrounding jungle.
There are several “amusement” parks in the Riviera Maya that cater to different aspects of the area’s strengths. Xplor is very family friendly and encourage exploration of the Riviera Maya with zip lines, underground rafts and other adventure activities. Xcaret is an archeological park that emphasizes the country’s history, folklore and traditions. Xel-Ha is billed as a natural aquarium park with river floating, natural pool access and other fun water-related activities.
Though these parks have something to offer, they can feel a bit like Disney World, so don’t try to cram your whole vacation into them. If you don’t spend a day at Xcaret, I do recommend you at least make the time to see Mexico Espectacular, which is a massive performance that takes visitors through the history of Mexico in just over two hours.
Get back to nature.
The Riviera Maya is definitely a worthwhile destination for people who like to be immersed in the natural world. Because of the environmental consciousness of the area, it is a bit wild and no one is trying to hide it. In fact, that’s the real appeal. So if you’re a person who needs a cement sidewalk guiding your way from your hotel room to a beach that’s been sprayed for sand fleas, this may be a rough destination for you. Many resorts have been built back from the ocean to provide space for the natural mangroves, and swimming is prohibited in many cenotes just because the earth takes priority over tourists. For those who truly appreciate what has been done to protect the environment, though, the Riviera Maya is a truly rewarding destination.