Things to do in Riviera Maya
Beyond the beaches (those in Playa del Carmen are the most beautiful, while those in Tulum tend to be more quiet), there are lots of nature- and history-focused things to do in the Riviera Maya. Coral reefs are a major draw here; so is Xel-Há, a private park where you can swim with parrotfish and manta rays. Nature lovers will want to also consider making a phone reservation with the office of Flora, Fauna y Cultura to watch turtles lay eggs on the sand (July through September). Wildlife spotting is equally on the itinerary at Laguna Yal-Kú, which runs inland all the way to the sea. You can rent snorkel gear and life jackets to get a better view of the colorful fish, but keep in mind that park rules forbid the use of sunscreen to protect the lagoon's delicate ecosystem. Ancient ruins abound in the Riviera Maya (consider renting a bike to get around). One highlight: The Cobá Ruins, which are extensive, so be prepared to walk a lot. Local Rivera Maya culture is just as vibrant—it's worth stopping by the fisherman's cooperative, which operates four-hour fishing and snorkeling trips; the funds go back to the community.
The tour takes small groups on snorkeling trips to lesser-known underground rivers like the recently opened Kin-ha.
Modest compared with those on the Yucatán peninsula, Cozumel's Mayan ruins are still distinct. San Gervasio, in the interior, was occupied by the Maya for more than 1,300 years and served as a trading hub as well as the worship center for the goddess Ixchel.
Once the most powerful Mayan city-state in the northeastern Yucatán, this 26-square-mile site, crisscrossed by raised limestone roads called sacbéob and home to three pyramids, remains relatively untouched by excavators’ hammers and tourist traffic.
Divers shouldn’t miss an excursion to see the first phase of artist Jason de Caires Taylor’s underwater sculptures series, a collection of 400 sunken works off the Caribbean coast.
Modest compared with those on the
Jaguars, ocelots, and tapirs, as well as hundreds of species of birds and fish, roam these 1.3 million acres of coastal jungle, home to nearly every Yucatán ecosystem and studded with unexcavated ruins.
You can actually swim with parrot fish and manta rays in lagoons. You can also hike tropical trails, picnic under a palapa, and sack out in a hammock.
A group of palapas by the town square make up the Mercado de Artesanías, where you’ll find traditional textiles and handcrafted, painted pottery made by Mayan artisans.
Four compact galleries chronicle the island's Mayan history, Spanish conquest, Caribbean pirates, and ecological diversity (with a focus on the coral ecosystem—the giant underwater mountain of Palanacar Reef lies just off Cozumel).
Many cenotes—sinkholes in the subterranean rivers that riddle the Yucatán—are either limited to divers or overrun with crowds, but not this 15-by-130-foot pool, fringed with fan palms on a rocky bluff.
A mix of guided jungle and water activities are offered at this park in an up-close, jungle environment. Water activities are focused on snorkeling and diving in the cenotes—underground pools and waterways common in the area.
The bar and restaurant on the ninth floor of the new Hotel Wynston has panoramic views of the harbor, the town center, and the sea. In addition to the usual spirits, the bar stocks an extensive wine list to complement the restaurant's Mediterranean-Asian–fusion menu.