What's the best vacation destination in Mexico? According to many sources, including Travel Weekly, USA News, TripAdvisor, and Travelers Choice Awards, to mention only a few, there is only one answer. The best vacation destination in Mexico is clearly the Riviera Maya. It's not even remotely close. And over 25 million visitors a year agree. But what makes it the best destination in Mexico and is regularly cited as the best vacation destination in the world? Read on and find out.
The Riviera Maya in Mexico is home to the best vacation destination in Mexico. It runs along the Caribbean coastline for over 100 km south of Cancun to the south of Tulum. It was first occupied by pre-Mayan cultures in 3000 BC. It was only sparsely populated until the late 20th century when it quickly became the best destination in Mexico. Now it welcomes over 25 million visitors a year from around the globe.
So how do you get to the best vacation destination in Mexico? Actually, it's pretty simple. You fly into Cancun International Airport. Located only 45 to 75 minutes from the main centers, it is the gateway to the Riviera Maya. First opened in 1974, it regularly undergoes modification and expansion and currently has 4 terminals. In 2022 there are now 1,219 international flights each week from over 100 cities worldwide! American Airlines alone have 22 flights daily. Cancun International Airport is one of the top 10 busiest airports globally.
But access to the best vacation destination in Mexico is also getting better. In a few years, there will be a second option of flying into Tulum. Since the Riviera Maya has become the best vacation destination for couples and families, its popularity has soared, and the Government is building a second international airport. And to further improve access, a separate project is underway to build a train linking up the coast from Cancun International Airport to Tulum. This is called the Mayan Train.
In the 10th century, Mayan settlements were established at Coba, Xcaret, Xel-Ha, and Tulum, with the principal city of Chichen-Itza only a short distance away. Chichen-Itza and Tulum are 2 of the most visited tourist sites in Mexico. And one of the reasons why the Riviera Maya is regarded as the best destination in Mexico. Easy access to these world-renowned historical sites provides great variety to your vacation experience.
In 1502 Spaniards from Christopher Columbus's last expedition first made contact with the local inhabitants when they encountered native fishing boats off the coast. In 1511 another Spanish ship was stranded in the area and was captured by the local people. The indigenous people only spared 2 of the survivors, who were integrated into the Mayan society.
Spanish explorers continued to arrive and tried to conquer the Yucatan Peninsula following orders from King Carlos V. In the 1540s, the Spanish founded the cities of Merida and Campeche. Their coastal settlements came under attack from pirates during the 16th and 17th centuries. But the Spanish persisted since the Yucatan Peninsula offered the closest ports to the Caribbean islands.
In the early 1970s, parts of the coast began to develop as tourist destinations: Cancun, Isla Mujeres & Cozumel. Slowly its reputation as one of the best vacation destinations in Mexico increased. In the 1980s, a building boom transformed Cancun into a major tourist resort. Cancun and Playa Del Carmen quickly developed into bustling tourist cities. However, development along the southern section has a less urban feel. The jungle is interspersed with small pueblos and periodic resorts. Each with the natural beauty of the Caribbean coastline on one side and the tropical jungle on the other.
More recently, Tulum has grown and developed significantly. It is becoming the third major center, alongside Cancun and Playa Del Carmen further north. And is quickly becoming one of the best vacation destinations in the world. However, there are many smaller beach towns between each of these major centers waiting to be explored, such as Akumal.
One of the main reasons the Riviera Maya has become the best vacation destination in Mexico is because it appeals to very diverse vacation interests. Young party-goers come to the all-inclusive resorts with 24-hour food and drinks, organized fun, and entertainment. Families come to boutique hotels or vacation rental apartments to enjoy the beaches in a safe environment. Retired or semi-retired couples come to enjoy the weather, the numerous activities, good fresh food, snorkeling with sea turtles, and the cultural activities.
As well, the Riviera Maya is a destination for adventurous millennials wanting to push the boundaries of extreme: sailing, scuba diving, ATV'ing, and sport fishing. And more recently, remote workers and digital nomads have found it a great place to spend a few months of the year.
But it's also a favorite destination for nature lovers, bird watchers, golfers, and festival-goers. And don't forget those looking to immerse themselves in culture and history. While everyone comes to get some R&R – the Riviera Maya easily appeals to them all. The diversity of activities and the natural beauty are some of the reasons why the Riviera Maya is easily the best vacation destination in Mexico.
Additional benefits that help make it one of the world's best vacation destinations include the infrastructure developed by the Mexican Government. This includes its highway and road network, modern facilities, wifi networks, water treatment, and visitor-friendly atmosphere.
And we haven't even mentioned the beaches or the fabulous weather!
"During the 16th Annual Readers Choice Awards, Riviera Maya was voted as the best vacation destination in Mexico."
The year-round climate (see below), the white sand beaches, and the turquoise-tinted Caribbean ocean are the top reasons why the Riviera Maya was voted the best vacation destination in Mexico. With over 100 km of coastline broken up by numerous coves and bays, the Riviera Maya has kilometers and kilometers of white sand beaches. Each is interspersed with wild, largely unexplored rocky outcrops that separate the numerous bays and coves. That is why tourists keep flocking back to these shores yearly.
From Playa Del Carmen, XpuHa, Akumal, and down to Tulum, famous beaches are full of amenities. And there are also the off-the-beaten-track gems. All framed between wild tropical jungle on the one side and warm Caribbean ocean on the other.
Whether you want to relax in unspoiled solitude, swim and snorkel with fish, sea turtles, stingrays, whale sharks, and dolphins, or participate in fun beach activities, there's plenty of space and opportunity for everyone.
The Riviera Maya is blessed with a year-round warm tropical climate. It's a significant reason it's become the best vacation destination in Mexico. The temperature highs range from 27oC to 33oC (82F to 91 F) throughout the year. If you like it hot, the weather in the Mayan Riviera will suit you any time of the year. The Riviera Maya's slight monthly temperature differences mean you can enjoy hot weather year long.
One of the best things about the weather in the Riviera Maya is how warm the sea is. On average, it is 10F 🌡️ warmer than the sea on the Pacific coast of Mexico. The ocean temperature is between 26 – 29oC (79 – 84 F) all year. A dip in the ocean here is luxurious. You can leave your wet or dry suit at home if you're a scuba diver. All you need to bring is a rash guard. It's another reason why the Riviera Maya is one of the best vacation destinations in the world.
#2 Playa Del Carmen
Best Vacation Destination In Mexico, US News & World Report Rankings"
Cenotes are a natural phenomenon, and the Riviera Maya has most of the world's cenotes. It's another unique feature that makes it the best vacation destination in Mexico. A Cenote is a natural sinkhole created where a cave ceiling has collapsed. These caves were formed by the highly porous coral limestone gradually dissolving.
Cenotes were the only water source in the jungle for the Mayan civilization and were considered sacred by the Mayan people. There are over 6000 different cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico alone.
As well as a great place to swim in the warm freshwater, cenotes attract cave divers who explore the extensive labyrinth of caves, some of which are 340 km or more!
In 2019 the readers of Scuba Diving Magazine agreed that the Riviera Maya is the best destination in Mexico. They voted it the #1 place to scuba dive in the world. Cenotes are a perfect place to either explore the underground caverns or relax after a day in the hot sun for a restorative late afternoon swim to cap off the end of a perfect day.
Sunny Cancun has much more to offer than its party-town reputation might suggest. Plenty of gorgeous, drama-free family resorts cater to folks who want to experience the tropical Yucatan climate.
Best vacation destination in Mexico, TripAdvisor, Travellers Choice, Best of the Best, 2022"
With vast tracks of tropical jungle surrounding the Caribbean ocean, there are numerous opportunities for unique and once-in-a-lifetime wildlife adventures. Again helping make this one of the best vacation destinations for families.
While you're never far from the Mayan jungle in the Riviera Maya, the Sian Ka'an Biosphere is a stunning natural region. It is an area of 5,280 km2 protected by the Mexican Government, which prevents development. It is home to 103 species of mammals and 345 species of birds, not to mention more than 1,400 species of plants. Among the wildlife here are pumas, ocelots, jaguars, tapirs, spider and howler monkeys, white-tailed deer, and white-cheeked wild boars. It's another spectacular area to explore, adding to the many others that make the Riviera Maya the best vacation destination in Mexico.
"Riviera Maya, Mexico
Best Vacation Destination For Families, TripSavvy"
And if you are a bird-watcher, you can enjoy a boat trip through the wetlands in the hopes of viewing aquatic birds such as white ibises, roseate spoonbills, the rare jabiru stork, and wood storks, flamingos, egrets, or one of the park's 15 species of heron.
You can explore the area hiking, by Jeep transportation, or by boat to take in the full breadth of the reserve's natural wonders.
In addition to the Sian Ka'an biosphere, there are numerous fun family activities or more extreme adventures that you can undertake to have a wildlife experience to remember. From a Monkey Sanctuary to eco-zoos designed to take care of rescued animals while allowing you to hold, touch and feel a variety of local wild animals.
And it’s home to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. Also known as the Great Mayan Reef. It stretches over 1000 km from northern Yucatan down the Riviera Maya coast into Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. The reef system is home to more than 65 species of stony coral, 350 species of mollusk, and more than 500 species of fish. It also includes sea turtles, rays, manatees, and sharks contributing to the complex ecosystem.
The reef provides for incredible snorkeling and diving experiences. But it also provides protection for the beaches. Akumal Beach is one of the more protected beaches, with the barrier reef actually consisting of 2 reefs. It's one of the reasons that the snorkeling in Akumal is so good. Along with the dazzling arrays of different types of coral form in this underwater wilderness. The coral provides homes and food to hundreds of fish species, marine turtles, and sharks. Along the shores, the mangroves provide habitat for fish and shorebirds too. As well, the mangroves protect coastal areas from damage from intense storms. Again helping to make the region the best vacation destination for families.
After arriving, you settle into your modern vacation rental apartment in a safe and secure neighborhood. In the morning, you awaken to the sound of the migratory birds in the jungle outside your window. As you watch the sun rising over the Caribbean ocean, you smell the coffee brewing. Your day starts with the morning sun warming you up as you sit on the balcony. Relax while eating your breakfast of the fresh tropical fruits you prepared in your well-equipped kitchen.
Mid-morning, you and your partner, relax poolside with a good book. While keeping an eye open for coati, capybara, and spider monkeys as they move through the jungle. Then a visit to a local white-sand Caribbean beach where you snorkel together with sea turtles, stingrays, and schools of tropical fish. All inside a safe, protected reef. There is just enough exercise to create an appetite for lunch and a cocktail at a beachside restaurant.
After a snooze on the beach under the shade of a palm tree, you decide to stop at a local cenote to take a cooling dip. You snorkel through the open-air limestone caverns with fantastic rock formations and numerous fish.
You freshen up before a romantic dinner at the local Italian restaurant after returning home. Or a special meal prepared by your partner. You finish the evening by watching the beautiful sun setting from the rooftop jacuzzi tub as you sip a cool glass of wine.
Tomorrow, same again, or add in a visit to the Mayan Ruins. Perhaps a few water activities - scuba diving or fishing? Or a hike through the jungle? Later on, visit a different beach or another cenote. Tonight perhaps a visit to a restaurant in the local pueblo, or order a pizza and a Netflix movie? And what would you plan for the next day? A day in the hammock with a good book, perhaps? It all adds up to the best vacation destination for couples.
Another essential feature of the Riviera Maya that makes it easily the best vacation destination in Mexico is the Mayan Ruins. It contains some of the best-preserved Mayan artifacts, buildings, and cities from a civilization that dates back to 3000 BC. So, where are the Mayan Ruins? In the southern part of the Riviera Maya is the fortified seaport of Tulum, sitting 12m high on cliffs above the Caribbean ocean. A bit further inland is largely unexplored Coba. Further north is the highly popular Chichen Itza. And within 2 hours of the Riviera Maya is the newly discovered ruins at Ek Balam.
Best Vacation Destination in Mexico, Travel Mexico Solo"
Chichen Itza is the #1 visited archeological site in Mexico and a UNESCO World Heritage site. As well in 2007, it was voted in a global survey as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It is undoubtedly the best destination in Mexico for those interested in understanding some of the ancient Maya culture and history.
If crowds of tourists aren't your scene, visit one of the lesser-known and off-the-beaten-track temples. For example, Muyil, where you can immerse yourself in understanding and exploring the Mayan culture.
The Riviera Maya has a diverse selection of restaurants for all tastes. These include everything from local taco stands to 5-star international restaurants and everything in between. Playa Del Carmen has every type of cuisine you could imagine and many restaurants to choose from. Tulum at the southern extreme has a smaller but excellent selection of restaurants in the Centro area. And some exquisite places such as La Zebra (incredible for breakfast on the beach!).
In the middle is Akumal, which has an excellent selection of restaurants for the size of the community. If you want Italian food, the place to go is Taverna. For breakfast, try the Turtle Bay Cafe. Reasonably priced Mexican food on the beach, then try Lol-Ha. There are numerous local bars, restaurants, and taco stands for you to try out in these communities.
There are also a growing number of events for the foodies among us. You can go for a Mayan dinner and show and attend the Tulum Food and Wine Festival. Or go for a 5-course tasting meal showcasing flavors and techniques from the Mayan empire to the present day. It all adds to the allure of the Riviera Maya. It is another reason it's acclaimed as the best vacation destination in Mexico.
#4 Playa Del Carmen
Best Vacation Destination In Mexico, Cotripia Magazine"
And Mexican food is fun, interesting, healthy, and enjoyable. With a selection of both local stores in small pueblos and access to larger supermarkets, a vast array of tropical fruits, vegetables, and local seafood is available. As well as all the supplies and specialty food items you might need. In addition, there are many brands of tequila or mezcal, local cocktails, and a large variety of South American wines that are readily available.
And we have 7 classic, traditional Mexican recipes that you can download and try for yourself. They showcase traditional dishes found across Mexico.
Get These Fabulous Recipes Now!
If taking a relaxing massage, facial, manicure, pedicure, or a Mayan clay body treatment is more your pace, then the Riviera Maya will not disappoint. There are numerous options. You can have a massage on the beach, at a private spa, or have a registered professional come to your accommodation.
Perhaps add a few yoga sessions during your stay or a Zumba class.
Another aspect of being one of the best vacation destinations in the world is the number of outdoor adventures available. You can visit one of the adventure, theme, or water parks. These include Xplor, Xcaret, Xelha, and Aktun-Chen. The activities include
They are another reason why the Riviera Maya is called one of the best vacation destinations for families.
Want to enjoy a festival or 2 while you're visiting and soak up some local culture? In the List Of 113 Things To Do In The Riviera Maya, there are nine festivals listed (numbers 16-24). There are several to choose from, including a beachside movie festival, food and wine festivals, tequila and mezcal tastings, Cinco de Mayo, Music & Jazz festivals, Mexican Independence Day, the sea turtle festival, and of course, the Day of the Dead. Another reason travel agents and tourists rate the Riviera Maya as the best vacation destination in Mexico.
Of course, it goes without saying that with the hundreds of km of coastline and open water Caribbean ocean, there are countless opportunities to get on or in the water. Adding to the Riviera Maya's reputation as the best destination in Mexico is the big-game fishing. Enjoy an offshore fishing charter for Tuna, Billfish, Wahoo & Dorado, Sailfish, White & Blue Marlin, and Mahi Mahi.
Alternatively, sail on a luxury catamaran or hire a local and his Panga boat to find a secluded snorkeling or swimming spot. Or hook up with a local dive shop and take a scuba diving excursion.
If you want the ultimate adventure, then go swimming with Whale Sharks. They are the largest fish in the ocean weighing in at 50,000 lbs. Adventurous scuba divers worldwide have this at the top of their bucket list. But swimming with whale sharks is an incredible experience that anyone can have. It's a unique adventure that again adds to the reputation of the Rivera Maya as one of the best vacation destinations in the world.
And suppose you're more into self-propelled watercraft. In that case, most of the local beaches have kayaks or paddleboards to rent for some exercise and fun on the warm Caribbean Sea.
If you want to go shopping for souvenirs and gifts to bring back with you, there's Playa Del Carmen at one end or Tulum to the south. Both have markets and stalls where you can haggle out a deal. You'll find lots of local craft items ranging from hand sculpted and painted ceramics, hand woven hammocks, rugs, and blankets. My personal preference is Tulum as it's a little less touristy and more bohemian.
However, if it's high-end fashion that you're looking for, then 5th Avenue Playa Del Carmen is where you'll find it.
Dotted in between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum, you'll find smaller Pueblos with a few essential stores to small centers that cater to all your needs.
One of the reasons it's voted the best vacation destination in Mexico is because there isn't a bad time to visit the Riviera Maya. While in the summer months, there is more rain, and there can be occasional storms, for most days, the rain only lasts for a short period. Then the clouds move on, and the sun shines again. Most precipitation comes late afternoon, so it doesn't interrupt the day too much. Summer has hotter temperatures and is a little more humid too.
As a result, summer is the low season, which is less crowded and is a cheaper time to travel, allowing you an inexpensive vacation. In the summer, there is often a higher percentage of European travelers. They take advantage of visiting the best vacation destination in Mexico during their long summer holidays and benefit from the low season rates.
Winter is the season that receives more North American tourists and is considered high season. It coincides with the harsh North American winters. It provides an extreme contrast to the weather in the Riviera Maya, where it is often 25-30 C every day. Winter is also the dryer season too.
Easter is popular with local Mexican and Latin American holidaymakers.
The Riviera Maya is the best vacation destination for families. It has fabulous weather and many different activities that easily meet a family's needs. Even the surliest teenagers will be impressed! And it offers excellent value for money. Families need to know that it's also a safe place, especially outside of the large centers and south of Playa Del Carmen.
For those who want beaches, the Riviera Maya's Caribbean beaches are among the best in the world, with many kid-friendly options. The warm Caribbean water is perfect for the little ones, while if you want some wave action, you can find that too. If you'd like to take a swim and cool off in a cenote, you can find quiet relaxing cenotes. Or wade in the water safely with your toddler. And for those adventurous teenagers you can find a cenote for some cliff jumping or diving. While your kids enjoy themselves, you can read a book and eat lunch.
If water activities are on your list of things to do, the Mexican Riviera has it all. Whether it's sedate snorkeling in a calm bay or lagoon or swimming with a turtle, stingray, whale shark, or dolphin. Or going on a scuba diving excursion. The Rivera Maya caters to all ages.
Suppose you want to prepare a few breakfasts or lunches. In that case, you have plenty of good quality and very reasonable supermarket options from Playa Del Carmen down to Tulum. And like all the best vacation destinations in the world, it has family-friendly restaurants and eating options, including local Mexican favorites to those catering to your international tastes.
Adults interested in the Mayan Ruins, but the teenagers aren't keen? No problem, you can leave them at the beach while exploring the Ruins at Tulum that overlook the beach and the Caribbean ocean.
There are several adventure and theme parks if you want some extra adventure or excitement. Whether it's ziplining, caving, ATVs, a wild animal encounter, or a water park, you can spend an active and fun-filled day together.
Where better to go for an exotic, fun-filled family vacation?
Now you know why the readers of Travel Weekly voted the Riviera Maya the Best Vacation Destination in Mexico. And why it's rated the best destination in Mexico by visitors and travel companies. Many fabulous beaches, cenotes, great year-round weather, Mayan ruins, excellent infrastructure, and more activities than you could wish to try. Lots of great restaurants for couples and lots of family-friendly activities. It's why it's rated the best vacation destination in Mexico. If you want to find more info about the Riviera Maya, read the following articles:
About Our Blog
Exploring The Riviera Maya is Ocean Breeze Akumal's Blog. We explore the diversity of the best vacation destination in Mexico and highlight the best beaches, cenotes, restaurants, attractions, Mayan ruins, etc. We provide information to help you explore this spectacular part of the world and give you tips and tricks that only the locals know. Helping to give you the vacation experience of a lifetime.
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