A Family Guide to Mexico’s Riviera Maya

Riviera Maya, Mexico, is one of the most beautiful places in the Americas. With tantalizing beaches, lush forests, awe-inspiring ruins, colonial towns and more, it’s the full (vacation) package. In fact, the destination offers so much that it’s hard to summarize it in a single, short guide. There are too many sights to see, hotels and resorts to choose from and activities to partake in. Having featured some of its fun attractions a while back (click here for a recap), we thought we’d supplement it with a quick guide that might help travelers visiting the Riviera Maya for the first time.  Here are a few resort recommendations, top attractions, and even quick day trips for Riviera Maya virgins.

Tulum

Tulum, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

All-Inclusive Resort Recommendations

The Riviera Maya is seeping with resorts—some a la carte, many all-inclusives; some terrific, while a few others altogether disappointing. With so many choices, it’s hard to pick one that is guaranteed to give you the quality you want and expect. Not to worry; here are a couple of resorts we checked out ourselves and definitely recommend.

Family-Friendly Option: Gran Porto Playa del Carmen. If you’re traveling with kids, a kid-friendly resort is the best way to go. The luxurious Gran Porto Playa del Carmen, located right on Playa del Carmen’s exquisite stretch of beach, is a perfect choice, what with its Family Suites, Oki Kids Club, T-Zone for teens, poolside activities and more. The resort even has its own check-in process for kids, which includes a welcome amenity.

Gran Porto Playa del Carmen

Gran Porto Playa del Carmen, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

Gran Porto Playa del Carmen

Gran Porto Playa del Carmen, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

 

Family-Friendly & Adult Luxury: Grand Palladium Riviera Maya. What does your family want most in a vacation? Convenience? Relaxation? Fun? Something new? If you’re like our family, I’m sure some of those things are on your list. The Grand Palladium Riviera Maya, meets, or exceeds, all of those criteria. Convenient – the resort’s all-inclusive pricing allows you to forget about money once you’re there. Relaxation – how does a mile long stretch of beach on the Caribbean Sea or a spa treatment sound? Fun – pools, games, sports, activities, shows, good food, you name it. Something new – how about an excursion to ancient Mayan ruins? Click here for a full photo-rich review and details about this beautiful beachfront sanctuary on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Grand Palladium Resort Mexico's Riviera Maya

Grand Palladium Riviera Maya, photo by Dave Parfitt

 

Adults-Only Luxury: The Royal Playa del Carmen. If you’re vacationing without the kids, the only way to really get that much needed relaxing time off is to stay at an adults-only property. The incredible The Royal Playa del Carmen will not only welcome you with service from the heart, it’ll also spoil you endlessly… well, for the duration of your stay at least. Enjoy luxury here from beginning to end, from its beautiful pools and exquisite, international fares to the upscale comfort of your suite.

Royal Playa del Carmen

Royal Playa del Carmen, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

Royal Playa del Carmen

Royal Playa del Carmen, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

Royal Playa del Carmen,

Royal Playa del Carmen, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

Top Attractions

We’ve covered some of Riviera Maya’s best ones here, but there are a few more worthy of a mention. Here are four more that we cannot resist coming back to every time we visit.

Tulum. The archaeological ruins of Tulum are some of the most well preserved ones in the Yucatan Peninsula, which is part of the reason why tourists flock there. But it isn’t only that. The Mayan ruins are set on a beautiful patch of green atop a cliff overlooking the turquoise waters, making it a beautiful stop. It also has one of the best beaches in the area. The beach, accessible from the ruins by a set of wooden stairs, boasts fine sand, fun, gentle waves and clear blue waters. It can get crowded, but you can still find a quieter spot there.

Tulum

Tulum, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

Tulum

Tulum, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

Tulum

Tulum, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

Tulum

Tulum, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

 

Playa del Carmen. Whether you’re staying in a resort outside of town or you’re staying in Playa del Carmen, the town is certainly worthy of explorations. Walk the commercial stretch of Avenida Quinta and check out the bustle there, but also step out of your comfort zone and explore the streets beyond that. You might just find yourself in a small square that hosts street food stands every night, a fantastic carnitas spot, and even cheap stores. After, find a spot on the beach and enjoy the water.

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

 

Cenote Azul. Located along the main highway that connects the Riviera Maya to Cancun, halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Cenote Azul is an easy stop in the Riviera Maya. Think of it as a beginner’s cenote. There are many scattered all over the Yucatan Peninsula, but this one’s easily accessible, nestled in a pretty setting, and boasts a beautiful cenote with plenty of very shallow spots, making it very kid-friendly. You can even make a day trip out of it—spend your morning in Tulum then spend a couple hours here before heading back to the resort.

Cenote Azul

Cenote Azul, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

Cenote Azul

Cenote Azul, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

 

Xel-Ha. Riviera Maya has a number of aqua parks, but Xel-Ha is one of our favorites. Operated by Experiencias Xcaret, which also owns Xcaret and Xplor, Xel-Ha focuses more on kid-friendly water activities. The park encompasses an area full over stunning, emerald coves, a river and cenotes, and offers a multitude of water-related activities. There are plenty of snorkeling opportunities, during which you’ll encounter several types of colorful fish, as well as aquatic zip lining, a lazy river, a rope track over water and a cave accessible from the water. There are dolphin and sting ray encounters too, if you support that kind of thing.

Xel-Ha

Xel-Ha, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

Xel-Ha

Xel-Ha, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

Day Excursions Worth the Trip

The Yucatan Peninsula is full of amazing places that are only a few hours’ drive from the Riviera Maya that need visiting during your trip, from one of the New7Wonders of World to an old colonial city and a massive cenote. Here are just some of them.

Chichen Itza. Chosen as one of the New7Wonders of World, Chichen Itza is one of the most important and one of the largest cities in the Mayan World. And it’s one of Mexico’s most famous attractions, drawing more than a million visitors every year. The site is massive and includes several pyramids and other structures as well as sculptures, cenotes and a good number of souvenir stands, where you’re expected to haggle. It’s so big, in fact, that it’s separated into several architectural groups, the most famous of which is the Great North Platform, home to the site’s centerpiece, El Castillo.

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

 

Valladolid. The beautiful old colonial town of Valladolid will charm you with its historic buildings, shy yet friendly locals and lovely squares. It boasts a cathedral and several churches as well as other religious structures, historic houses and parks. Some of the most important sights in town are Cathedral of San Servacio o Gervasio, Francisco Cantón Rosado Park, Cenote Zaci, and Palacio Municipal. The town is also one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos, and that alone is reason enough to visit.

Cathedral in Valladolid

Cathedral in Valladolid, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

 

Ik Kil Cenote. There are many cenotes in town, but Ik Kil Cenote, not far from Chichen Itza, is definitely a must. This massive cenote, located underground and can be seen from the street level through a gaping hole, is an amazing sight to see. It’s also a great place for a refreshing swim. The cenote itself is very deep—deep enough you won’t be able to see the bottom. You’ll find a set of stairs from which guests can make a plunge; but if you’re not a strong swimmer, you better wear a life vest.

Ik Kil Cenote

Ik Kil Cenote, photo by Michelle Rae Uy

 

Cancun. Your first instinct may be to avoid Cancun if you’re not into the loud party scene, but the popular Spring Break destination is still worth visiting, even for just a day. Swim in its brilliant blue waters along the city’s hotel zone and then explore is less crowded spots including Parque de las Palapas where you’ll find food stands, restaurants and little shops as well as rub elbows with the locals.

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About Michelle Rae Uy

Michelle Rae Uy of Another Spur on the Road is an editor, travel writer and music publicist based in Los Angeles, CA. She is the Head of Content for MiniTime.com.