Fringed by a lush jungle and washed by the tranquil Caribbean Sea, the beaches of the Riviera Maya are among the best in Mexico, mostly deserted, and when the sargasso weed is not invading, the best spots to swim and enjoy the refreshing water. In this post, I will tell you about what I consider the best beaches of the Mayan Riviera and how to get there.
The first time I came to Mexico, I spent 6 months working as a tour rep, and I would drive up and down the Riviera Maya to visit my guests vacationing in some of the hotels along the Caribbean coastline.
Sometimes, at the end of the day, I would stop by one of those hidden bays to enjoy the soothing view and cool down. Fast forward 15 years, those pristine beaches are certainly less deserted but still charming and appealing.
Let me tell you about the best beaches of the Riviera Maya so that you can plan your perfect Mexico itinerary.
Where is the Mayan Riviera Located?
Although it’s easy to include Cancun in the Mayan Riviera, it is wrong. In fact, the Riviera Maya is that stretch of beach that begins in Puerto Morelos and ends in Tulum. It’s lined by the Carretera Federal, also called Route 307 that crosses over the entire state of Quintana Roo, from Cancun to Bacalar.
I am sure that staying in one of the stunning hotels in the area will discourage you from going out to explore, but I assure you, if you love beautiful beaches, the beaches of the Riviera Maya will make your trip worth it.
All along the Riviera Maya, different side roads make their way through the lush vegetation and lead to amazing beaches private homes, and hotels. Regardless, remember that beaches in Mexico are all public.
I have explored all of them and I am now telling you what are my favorite Beaches of the Riviera Maya.
The top 13 beautiful beaches of the Riviera Maya
Puerto Morelos is a very laid-back, quirky village, with nothing but a wide beach and an easy lifestyle, located only 20 minutes from Cancun International Airport Many expatriates prefer Puerto Morelos to Tulum or Playa del Carmen for their second home for its more peaceful and not pretentious lifestyle.
The beach is great, sandy and wide, but the water can be a disappointment if you expect the usual turquoise Caribbean sea, as it is often murky and weedy for the first 50 mt.
However, snorkeling is great as there is an almost untouched coral reef at about 300 mt from the coast. Fishers are available to take you for a reasonable price.
The beach in Puerto Morelos is also lined with beach bars and beachside restaurants where you can have delicious devices and other Mexican delicacies.
Also, do not forget that Puerto Morelo is also home to La Ruta de los Cenotes, a road towards the mainland that is lined with the magical cenotes, a blessing for the Yucatan Peninsula, the ancient sinkholes used by the Mayan for their ceremonies and now a source of income for locals, and refreshing lakes for all.
They are just a few miles from Puerto Morelos downtown, and I will tell you all about it in another post.
Playa Maroma is a private beach right between Puerto Morelos and Playa del Carmen. Unfortunately, there is no public access to the beach (although all beaches are technically public), but you can purchase a day pass in one of the prestigious hotels enjoy a day in Punta Maroma, and have lunch in one of the world-class hotels in the area.
If you are willing to splurge you can stay in one of those fancy resorts such as the gorgeous Chablé Resort.
Playa del Carmen
I was not sure if I should include it in the best beaches of the Riviera Maya because I find Playa del Carmen beaches a little too crowded and less noteworthy but if I want to be honest, there are parts of its shoreline that are absolutely amazing. And therefore here it is.
Of course, Playa del Carmen is one of the most popular beach destinations of the Riviera Maya and the only town that is built right on the beach, compared to Tulum and Cancun where the beach is farther away. So one score more for Playa.
Playa del Carmen beaches have easy access from the Quinta Avenida, the main street and the beating heart of the city lined with restaurants and bars, trendy shops, and commercial centers.
However to find the most tranquil less crowded beaches you would want to go up to the further ends south and north.
On the south side, you will find Playacar, a residential area with luxury hotels. You can get to the beach from either the pier where the ferry to Cozumel is or from the entrance to Playa Car where Phase 1 and 2 areas, before the hotels.
On the north side of Playa del Carmen, you will just walk along the Quinta Avenida until you find no more shops, just homes, and some aparthotels. There you will find some beach entrance where you can get in and it’s completely free and beautiful.
If you have a sporty soul you can also join a Kite-board school over there for some lessons.
If you prefer comfort you will find some great beach clubs on that side of the beach as well.
For party lovers, you can just stay right in Playa del Carmen center where some of the most popular party beach clubs are, with loud music and a young crowd of guests. Mamitas is the most central and popular.
Paamul Beach Riviera Maya
Paamul is a hidden treasure that I have discovered a few years after I arrived in Cancun and I still believe it’s one of the best beaches of the Riviera Maya.
It’s located 20 km from Playa del Carmen, and 50 from Tulum. It’s a spectacular bay where a community of expatriates has established their motorhomes and built their nest around them.
There is also a nice boutique hotel, Paamul Hotel, not luxurious but pricey and very convenient as all the rooms are beachfront. Certainly a great weekend getaway and among one of my favorite Riviera Maya hotels, mostly for the location.
Coming from the Carretera Federal you will see the Paamul Hotel sign. You can turn into the unpaved road and get to the hotel parking lot.
The beach’s access is completely free during the week, and you can use the hotel facility, such as beach chairs and umbrellas if you eat a meal in the hotel restaurant, which is right on the beach and offers delicious plates. (vegan and vegetarian options available).
During the weekend you have to pay 100 MXN per person but you can use it as a credit for the restaurant. So it’s basically free as well as during the week.
Besides relaxing on the tranquil white sand beach you can also take your snorkeling equipment and check out the underwater world, you will find lots of different kinds of tropical fish and maybe sea turtles.
Xpu-ha beach Riviera Maya
Among the best beaches of the Riviera Maya, Xpu-ha is one of my favorites as well, and probably among all the beaches in Mexico. It’s located a few miles past Puerto Aventuras and about 28 km from Playa del Carmen.
it was my favorite Sunday escape when I used to live and work in Playa del Carmen about 15 years ago. It was deserted back then, with only a little shack where they served the best guacamole ever.
Now it’s a very well-known beach with busy beach clubs and hotels. However, it’s still a great spot to enjoy the Caribbean sea. Also, being the beach so long and wide, you can still find isolated and tranquil spots. I would suggest you should avoid weekends, though.
If you wish to stay there are a few hotel options.
Esencia – luxury elegant property, for those who love to splurge.
Serenity Glamping – for those who love adventure and comfort
Catalonia Royal Tulum Beach Resort and Spa – All inclusive adult only luxury property
Read more about Playa Xpu-ha in my dedicated post.
Akumal beach Riviera Maya
Akumal is for sure the most popular and visited beach because this is where you can swim with the turtles without them being kept in captivity.
A few years ago, you could just go and swim on your own with a mask and fins. Nowadays there is a rule in place. They set up a specific area, which is where normally turtles hang out, and in order for you to swim there, you need to pay an authorized guide, which will cost around 300 MXN.
The group needs to be less than 6 people and stay in the water no longer than 1 hour approximately. Also when you spot the turtles you need to keep a distance of 3 mt and you can stay no longer than 5 minutes.
However, if you wish to swim on your own, you still can, outside the designated area, and you still have the chance to sea turtles.
Hotels in Akumal Beach
Akumal Caribe – mid-range property right on turtle beach
Akumal bay Beach and Wellness Resort – on Turtle beach but far from the most crowded part – luxury property
Secret Akumal Riviera Maya – All-inclusive Adult only luxury property, has a private entry- the hotel is not on Turtle beach.
Read more on my dedicated post on Playa Akumal.
Kay Beach Club – Bahia Principe Riviera Maya
Kay beach club was created to serve the guests and homeowners of the Tulum Country Club, the Residential area of Bahia Principe however is also open to the public.
With a separate entrance from the Bahia Principe, it offers beach beds and sunshades that you can rent for a minimum of 300 MXN (15 USD) spent.
So you can stay there all day, buy lunch or breakfast and you are free to use the comfortable facilities. If you spend only less than 300 on food and drink you will still pay 300 MXN if you spend more, that is ok and the use of the facility is included.
The stretch of beach is kind of narrow, enough for 2 lines of beach lounges but the access to the sea is great with shallow crystal clear water. The sea is calm and looks like a natural pool because of the artificial barrier they put in front.
You can also have long walks along the bay or go for a swim, chill in the comfortable beach beds and enjoy a good meal.
There is also Valet parking, which costs 50 pesos (2.5USD), which is very convenient.
If you want to stay at the Bahia Principe Hotel check out the rates and availability on Booking.com
Xcacel Sea Turtles Sanctuary
After being close for such a long time, I am glad to inform you that Xcacel just reopened its door to the public.
Not only is it an incredibly stunning deserted stretch of sand but is also a sea turtle sanctuary where a no-profit organization looks after turtle nesting and the preservation of the environment.
If you are a fun of deserted beaches with no infrastructures this is the right place for you.
The Sanctuary opens from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
However, you should know that during the turtle nesting season MAY – NOVEMBER, beach activities are restricted. Xcacel will open a calendar of activities so you can learn about everything that happens in the Sanctuary, so check out Xcacel website for updates.
From December through April it’s allowed to swim and surf but it’s prohibited to bring alcoholic beverages, food, music, or any other activity because they are considered to be a threat to the life of the species within the Sanctuary.
Also, keep in mind that in Xcacel there are no trash cans and it’s mandatory to bring your trash with you and leave only footprints. Keep in mind that this is not just a beach, it’s a protected reserve and sea turtles sanctuary which require your cooperation and common sense to be preserved.
Unfortunately, the Cenote (Xacelito) is closed indefinitely. But there are many other cenotes on the Riviera Maya that you can check out.
Caleta Tankah – Riviera Maya
A pristine white sand stretch of beach with easy access to the blue water and small natural swimming pull with less current, suitable for everybody but mostly for families.
To have access to this beautiful white beach you need to pay a fee to the hotel TAN KAH ( which is not the Tankah Inn, close to Casa Cenote, it’s another one, without the “inn”).
The cost is only 150 pesos or about 9/10 USD and you can have access to a cenote they have in the premises, and beach facilities. You can have lunch in the Restaurant of the property which is not included in the access fee).
DIRECTIONS It’s situated right before the Tulum Ruins, coming from Cancun. The sign is easy to see. You cannot miss it.
And the list of the best beaches of the Riviera Maya
How to get to the Riviera Maya Beaches
BY CAR is the easiest way, and you can find here interesting info on how to drive in Mexico and where to rent a car.
BY BUS, either from Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum, you can easily take the small white van ( COLECTIVO) it will cost from 20 to 40 pesos depending on the distance. Arriving from Cancun, you will need to change in Playa del Carmen.
Ask the driver where you need to stop before departure, and he will drop you off on the side of the road. You will need to walk a little to reach the beach, except Akumal, which is right there. All the others are at about 1 km distance.
Casa Cenote is a bit too far. You will need to take a taxi. It’s not possible to go by ADO because they won’t stop on the Carretera Federal.
BY TAXI – Although much more expensive, this is the easy way. You don’t have to drive and you can choose your pick up and drop off, besides it’s a door to door service. Make sure you agree on the rate before, and you get the taxi number. Do not pay in advance, ever.
For Further Reading
- 35 Mexico travel tips you need to read before traveling
- The 39 best places to visit in Mexico
- How to get to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen, Cancun and Tulum
- 3 great tips on how to get from Cancun to Playa del Carmen
- 8 fun facts about Cozumel