On Mexico’s Caribbean coast, stretching from party-town Cancun in the north to beachy-chic Tulum in the south, the Riviera Maya has long been a popular vacation destination for North American travelers. It’s easy to see why. The beaches are big and beautiful – with stretches of white sand fringed with palm trees and edged with turquoise water, the food is great – hot new restaurants are opening all the time, and the vibe is laid-back and friendly. Add to the mix seriously good diving, some excellent spas, and a buzzy nightlife and you’ll be booking your ticket in no time.
The most popular time to visit is January-March, when warm temperatures and sunny days offset chilly winter days in much of North America, although late October-December can be great too when the threat of hurricanes have passed and the crowds are yet to arrive.
You’ll find direct flights to Cancun from major cities including Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, NYC, LA, Miami, Toronto and more.
50 years ago Tulum was little more than beach, jungle, and long-forgotten Mayan ruins. In the far south of the Riviera Maya, the town is now a favorite outpost of the barefoot luxury set. Where chic hippies set out to open beachy boutiques, like Coqui Coqui, with its handmade perfumes and cosmetics, top chefs followed, like Eric Werner whose Hartwood restaurant is the town’s leading culinary light. Last year legendary Michelin-starred chef Rene Redzepi opened a pop-up version of his Danish restaurant Noma, making it clear that Tulum had definitely arrived on the global scene.
When you’ve had your fill of the cool cafes and stores in Tulum town, make your way to the Mayan ruins 10 minutes north for some ancient exploration. The ruins hint at their past as a bustling Mayan town some 800 years ago and boast incredible views of the sea below.
Snorkeling and diving are big news in this part of the world – all thanks to the Great Mayan Reef, sometimes knowns as the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Starting near Cancun and following the coastline down, the reef is a Unesco World Heritage Site and offers incredible diving and snorkeling.
One of the most unique ways to explore the underwater world here is at the Underwater Museum in the Cancun National Marine Park. The museum has around 500 sculptures, many by British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, which are submerged between 9 and 20 feet deep in three different watery galleries. Diving down and exploring the museum is a truly unique way to spend day in the area.
For snorkeling, head to Puerto Morelos, where the reef lies in shallower waters close to the coast, providing easy access. Speak to your Luxury Retreats concierge to organize a guided boat trip to the best snorkel spots.
If diving is not your thing, but you still enjoy getting your feet wet, exploring the many natural underwater swimming holes, or cenotes, is a great way to enjoy the outdoor life in Riviera Maya. Formed when cave ceilings collapsed leaving a crater open to the sky, exploring these beautiful rock formations and mineral-rich natural pools is one of the most popular activities in the area. Some of the most accessible are Cenote Yokdzonot and Cenote Azul. If you’re not confident scrambling over rocks your concierge can organize a guided tour to take you through some of the best spots.
If you’re traveling with kids, a must-visit spot is Xcaret eco-theme park in Playa del Carmen. The focus is on both traditional heritage and local flora and fauna, and there’s a butterfly house, aviary with tropical birds, manatees, flamingos and Mexican jaguars. Every night there’s a spectacular with song and dance bringing to life the history of the region. The park is right on the sea so pack your swim gear too and make time for a refreshing dip in the lagoon.
From buzzy Cancun in the north to fun Playa del Carmen and chilled-out Tulum in the south, the Riviera Maya has a beautiful beachfront town for every type of traveler.
The biggest and most well-known of the Riviera Maya’s hotspots, Cancun has a reputation as a party destination, and its true that there’s a whole host of bars and clubs to enjoy here, plus a number of large resorts. There’s more to the city than meets the eye, however, such as Isla Mujeres, just opposite the mainland, a quiet and lovely island with incredible views and a slow pace of life. There are a number of significant Mayan ruin here too like Yamil Lu’un, and the Underwater Museum is excellent.
Our Cancun villas and penthouses offer the perfect balance of proximity to the city’s many attractions and the peace and quiet you crave for a good night’s sleep.
Halfway along the Riviera Maya’s coastline, you’ll find Playa del Carmen, simply known as Playa to its many dedicated fans. The town has some of Cancun’s hedonistic feel but is overall more laidback and less busy. The beaches are lovely, fringed with palm trees and the town’s cobblestone streets invite you to stroll around for a break whenever the midday sun gets too hot on the beach. In the early evening, walk along the pedestrian Quinta Avenida and choose a beach bar to stop in at for a sundowner cocktail before heading back to your villa for a chef-cooked feast.
Our Playa del Carmen rentals sleep up to 18 people – making them an ideal choice for a friend’s getaway or family reunion trip. Each has a swimming pool and shaded terrace area, and many come with chef services included.
If you’re dreaming of days chilling out in Tulum, we’ve got some great options. Our Tulum villas on the beach mean you can wake up whenever you feel before heading straight to the sand for some outdoor sun salutations, the ideal way to welcome in the morning in this luxe hippie hotspot. If your idea of paradise involves reading the afternoon away on a sun lounger under a palm tree, you’ll be in heaven at one of our Tulum villas.