Best Beaches in the Riviera Maya, Mexico
The Riviera Maya in Mexico runs along the Caribbean coastline for 100 km. It goes from Cancun in the north, down past Tulum in the south. Recently the Riviera Maya was voted Mexico's #1 vacation destination and currently welcomes over 25 million visitors a year.
The popularity of the Riviera Maya is due to the vast number of activities, natural beauty, wildlife, and Mayan culture. However, the biggest draws are the spectacular white sand beaches, and the warm crystal-clear Caribbean ocean.
Out of the dozens and dozens of beaches we've identified the best along the Riviera Maya coast. By narrowing down your search, and finding the best Caribbean beaches that suit your interests and needs, you get to spend more time, enjoying life at the beach.
Why The Beaches and Sea of the Riviera Maya Are So Spectacular
One of the reasons the beaches here are so beautiful is their colour. They were formed from the erosion of rock and coral, which has created the gorgeous, soft, white sand. While the white sand creates spectacular tropical views it's also kinder on your feet too. Although the weather here is hot, the white sand reflects more of the sunlight than darker coloured sand. So, your bare feet don't burn as much! The white sand also helps to reflect the sun at the ocean bottom giving a lighter blue/green hue to the water. As well, this increases the ability to see coral, tropical fish, and other marine life such as sea turtles.
This shoreline is made up of many bays and coves separated by rocky headlands. As a result, this creates many different beach experiences. These range from small intimate coves to large tracts of beautiful beaches as far as you can see. Another reason the beaches here are so popular is that the Caribbean ocean temperature is often 10F warmer than the Pacific ocean. Hence, swimming, snorkelling, diving, and other water sports are fabulous because of the warm water.
Second Largest Barrier Reef in the World
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, also known as the Great Mayan Reef, 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 that all contribute to the complex ecosystem.
While a huge benefit of this reef is the incredible snorkelling and diving experiences it affords, it also provides protection for the beaches. This creates calm areas for swimming, bathing, and snorkelling. This is great for families and small children, even when the waves past the reef are rolling in.
All beaches in Mexico are public as mandated by the Mexican Government. Yet, access to a beach from public roads through private property isn't allowed unless you have permission from the landowner. So, while all beaches along the Riviera Maya are public, access to them can sometimes be a challenge. For example, numerous resorts are along the coastline. As a guest of the resort, you can access the beach through the resort property. But, you often can't if you're not a guest or don't pay a daily fee. Fortunately, there are so many beaches that there are still many options for everyone. The beaches below are some of the best beaches not only in the Riviera Maya, but are top beaches worldwide. All the beaches listed are accessible to the public, or for a small fee.
Beaches North of Playa Del Carmen
Cancun, the original tourist mecca of the Yucatan coastline is a well-established tourist destination. Cancun beach stretches for 20 km and provides all the water activities that you could imagine.These include snorkelling, scuba diving, paddle boarding, fishing, and kayaking.
As well, there are lots of bars and restaurants located along the beach. So much so that Cancun Beach has been compared to the Las Vegas strip because of all the entertainment, activities, and hotels. It's said that if you love Las Vegas you'll love Cancun Beach. Access to the beach, however, is very limited unless you are a resident of one of the hotels and all-inclusive resorts.
Playa Delfines is a wide public beach in Cancun. You can surf here if the waves are good and you may sometimes see dolphins too. The water here, however, is rougher and you have to be careful of heavy currents and riptides. So, it's not the best beach for kids and families. Yet unlike the hotel-zone beaches of Cancun, this beach is less crowded, but you'll have to bring your own snacks and drinks along. Shade is at a premium too, but there are well-maintained showers and washrooms.
Playa Norte (Isla Mujeres)
Isla Mujeres off the coast is a short ferry ride from Cancun. Playa Norte has clear water and beautiful white sand beaches. The water is usually calm and one of the best for swimming, especially for families with children.
There are lots of bars and restaurants but it can get very crowded, especially on weekends. TripAdvisor ranked Playa Norte #9 out of the top 25 beaches in the world. But, as one reviewer stated “Sand was amazing, but don't look for 'peace and quiet' here. Nope. This is a 'let's have beers and watch people' kind of beach."
Puerto Morelos is a quaint fishing village between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. It has a wide and long public beach with strolling musicians and vendors selling ceviche. Although the water isn’t as stunning as beaches near Akumal and Tulum, its still a good spot for swimming. In addition, there are several fishermen who will take you out on their boats either to go fishing or to go to the reef about 300 m away to snorkel or scuba dive.
Travel Channel viewers voted this one of the top ten beaches in the world. Maroma beach is two miles long and has gentle water, powder-soft sand, and a tropical backdrop. Located on 500 acres of beach and rain forest, it is a fabulous setting for swimming in an exclusive getaway.
Access, however, is only for those staying at one of the luxurious villas or boutique hotels. Unless that is, you have a reservation for lunch at a local restaurant! All buildings on the property are handmade, and development is limited to only 1/10 of the land. This helps to preserve the ecology and pristine nature of the area.
Beaches Around Playa Del Carmen
There are two miles of beach within the city limits of Playa Del Carmen. While there are several beaches here, they fall into three main beach zones: North Playa, Central Playa, and Playacar.
North Playa Beaches
This is the trendy beach area dominated by all-inclusive resorts. However, there are also a couple of public accesses to the beaches.
Playa Punta Esmeralda
The beach is at the Paradisus La Esmeralda All- Inclusive Resort. There is an access road north of the hotel where the public beach sits between resorts. This beach is a local hangout with many Mexican families, especially on the weekend. If you want to avoid the busiest times then come on a weekday before late afternoon. In addition to it being secluded, there is a small cenote that empties into the ocean, creating freshwater pools that are fun for the kids.
However, make sure that you pack drinks and food/snacks because there’s not much to buy otherwise. There is also limited shade here so a beach umbrella is a good idea, as well as towels, sunscreen, water, and beach toys. There are also no washroom facilities.
This is the trendy and hip beach popular for the fashionable Playa crowd, 3 blocks from 5th Avenue. If you are looking for trendy beach clubs, DJ's, dancing and beach beds then this is the place for you. For a price, you can rent beach chairs, umbrellas, beach beds, use the beachside pools, or the VIP lounge. There are also many water activities such as jet skis, parasailing, and catamaran boats for hire.
While you can eat from the beach club restaurants, you could also buy food and drinks on 28th street on the way to the beach. But the use of the washroom facilities at Mamitas will cost you 20 or so pesos for the day. That is if you aren’t using the chairs or beach beds of a beach club. Note that, during the daytime, the beach is full of tourists and locals, but in the evening it is much quieter.
Central Playa Beach
The separation between North Playa and Central Playa is the ferry pier from Av. Constituyentes. In contrast to the trendy feel of North Playa, Central Playa has a more traditional feel to it. Besides the ferry to Cozumel, there are beach clubs, restaurants, diving shops, and vendors offering many water activities. For instance, if you want to go snorkelling, diving, or fishing you'll be able to hire a boat to take an excursion.
Central Playa beach is a public beach interspersed with a collection of beach clubs. Popular beach clubs include Wah Wah’s, Zenzi, Blue Parrot and Lido. So, decide if you’re going to a beach club or not, and then plan accordingly.
Playacar is a residential neighbourhood and gated community. There is a section of the beach reserved for the all-inclusive resort and for the residential guests. You'll see these areas by the beach chairs in the sand. However, anywhere outside of these areas is available to the public. Playacar is popular because it isn't as crowded as the other beaches in Playa Del Carmen. Although, there are few restaurants. But there are a couple of convenience stores nearby if you do forget a necessity. Overall plan on bringing food, drinks, and your beach bag.
When the weather is calm, Playacar is great for swimming or snorkelling. However, because it is south of the Island of Cozumel it doesn't get the same protection as the other beaches further up the coast. So, expect larger waves and more turbulence on windier days.
Beaches Around Akumal, South of Playa Del Carmen
South of Playa Del Carmen you’ll find some of the best beaches anywhere. Here the coastline stretches down to Akumal and then to Tulum. Tired of the crowded beaches of Playa? Want to spend time in the calm waters created by a double barrier reef? Want to snorkel with turtles, stingrays and exotic fish? Want to find the most family-friendly beach? Then you’ll definitely want to explore this stretch of coastline.
Only 15 mins south of Playa Del Carmen and a little before you get to Puerto Aventuras is Paamul Beach. It has a curious history. Initially, the community started in the 1990s as a recreational vehicle park with hook-up facilities. Soon palapa roofs were built to shade the RV's and create outdoor space. Some of the palapa structures have since evolved into homes themselves. This is a community made up mostly of Canadians and Americans who live full or part-time here. In addition to the RV hook-ups, camping is available and there is now a hotel as well.
Footwear is recommended since the beach is part sand, part limestone. But it does mean that it is less crowded. Nonetheless, this beach will be high on many peoples list of the best beaches to visit. For example, the incredible amount of tropical fish and marine life due to the coral makes it great for scuba divers and snorkelers. Indeed, the close offshore reef is one of the best preserved and is easily explored as you swim in the crystal-clear Caribbean water.
As well, there are several restaurants and bars serving a variety of tacos and ceviche among other local delights. There is also a dive shop and other amenities dotted around and even a beachfront swimming pool open to the public.
Xpu-Ha is five minutes from Akumal Beach, south of Puerto Aventuras. I consider this the best of all the beaches along the coast. Firstly, it has a long beautiful white sand beach and azure coloured water, set against a tropical jungle backdrop. Secondly, Xpu-Ha isn’t as crowded as many other beaches and is populated more by locals than tourists. It also has enough amenities while maintaining its local charm. As it has a little bit of everything, Xpu-Ha appeals to most people. If you want seclusion then you can wander off and find a quiet nook.
Alternatively if you want to hang out at a local beach club (the ceviche is great BTW), or even lounge in your own shaded beach bed you can do that. Or, if you want a massage, or to do yoga on the beach you can. Added to that you can rent paddle boards, kayaks, or go fishing, kitesurfing, or windsurfing. Since the water inside the reef is calm it's great for swimming, wading, and snorkelling. Occasionally even a game of volleyball or beach soccer breaks out. Besides the small local beach clubs, there is a boutique hotel at one end of the beach but no other development. So, you feel you are in a tropical beach paradise, with a few comforts if you want them.
There are two entrances to the beach off Highway 307 and parking is available. While there is a $50 peso entrance fee per person, if you spend $250 pesos at one of the restaurants this is refunded. Try it out, it's one of the very best beaches the Riviera Maya has to offer and most visitors still don’t know about it.
Reviewed by 13,000 people, Akumal Beach ranks #1 out of 725 outdoor activities in the Riviera Maya on TripAdvisor. It is one of the most famous, if not the best, beach around and is essential to visit. The beach itself is made up of several different coves along the coastline. These include Half Moon Bay and Yal-Ku Lagoon to the north, Akumal Bay, and Aventuras Akumal (see below) to the south.
Set on the former site of a coconut plantation Akumal is a quaint Mexican beachfront town. It was first founded in 1958 by Pablo Bush Romero. Because of the exotic coral reef surrounding the bay, it was set up as a community for scuba divers.
The name, "Akumal" comes from the Mayan, meaning "place of turtles". Each year hundreds of turtles arrive to lay their eggs in the sand and feed on the seagrasses. Adding to the allure is that it's home to three species of sea turtles: Green, Loggerhead & Hawksbill. While turtles in Mexico are a protected species, environmental programs also exist to help support their habitat. One example is Centro Ecologico Akumal.
Whilst, the double barrier coral reef makes it a great place for turtles, it also gives rise to an amazing collection of tropical fish and other marine life. Moreover, it creates a great place for kids to swim and play. Above all, the snorkelling is incredible and you are almost guaranteed to swim with sea turtles.
While it's a popular place the beach is large and stretches south. Hence, it's easy to find a secluded spot under the shade of a coconut palm. Adding to the allure are the amenities. These include several restaurants and bars such as local favorite Lol-Ha. Lol-Ha is a beachfront restaurant and bar within a few yards of the ocean. It serves good food at very affordable prices. As well as restaurants there are also dive shops, local artisan crafts, and washroom facilities. Even before the beach entrance are more restaurants, shops and convenience stores. As well, you can choose from a variety of water sports including scuba diving, snorkelling, kayaking and fishing.
Akumal Aventuras, South Akumal Bay
South of Akumal Beach are three smaller coves featuring fabulous beachfront villas, silhouetted against the Caribbean sea. This is a great area to walk along or run in the early morning before the heat arrives, or to relax on the white sand and play in the ocean.
Akumal Aventuras is one of these bays. It has a more residential and lower key feel than Akumal Beach. Although there isn't any public access, you can enter the beach by going to the Beached Bikini Bar and Grill. By buying food and/or drinks at this family-friendly bar and grill you are allowed access to the beach. In addition to the bar and restaurant there are bathroom and shower facilities for restaurant customers as well. As there isn't public access the beach is much less crowded than many others. In addition, the sargassum seaweed that can accumulate periodically doesn't seem to be very prevalent here. So, bring towels and other beach necessities including a good book before relaxing on this quiet stretch of beach and having a cerveza and ceviche.
A few minutes south of Akumal Bay on Highway 307, Xcacel Beach provides a very different vibe and a more natural beach experience. This is what Caribbean beaches were like before development and tourism. Accordingly, it is maintained as an eco beach and a sanctuary for turtles. As a result, you pay a small fee that goes to the Turtle Sanctuary program when accessing the beach.
Xcacel is a fabulous white sand beach, framed by the Mayan jungle on the left and the Caribbean ocean on the right. It gives you a look back in time to when the Riviera Maya was a remote and less accessible tourist destination. The added surprise is Xcacelito Cenote which is hidden on the edge of the jungle and a perfect spot to cool off.
While amenities and facilities here are limited there are washrooms and shower facilities. However, there are no restaurants or shops, so bring food, snacks, water, sunscreen and snorkelling gear.
The northern part of the bay has the best snorkelling. When its windy the water isn't as protected, especially on the southern side, so be prepared. As well there can be strong riptides in parts of the bay. As a result, make sure you read the posted signs on how to swim parallel to the shore to escape a riptide if you do get caught in one.
As turtle nesting season is May – October you will see roped off areas of the beach protecting turtle nests. In May and June turtles arrive on the beach in the late evening to establish their nests. As the beach closes at 5pm you won’t disturb them. Once hatched hundreds of tiny turtles emerge and follow the moonlight into the ocean.
On Sunday's locals often arrive for a picnic at the beach, but this is not a crowded beach at any time. Also, note that as this is a natural beach, the seaweed that can accumulate during parts of the year is not moved off the beach.
A little more than halfway from Akumal to Tulum, Soliman Beach is off-the-beaten-track and a great place to visit if you want a secluded bay. While it has a few stylish homes that look out across the ocean, there are no large all-inclusive resorts. Though not as wide as the other beaches in this area, the sand is just as soft. Moreover, the bay is very protected by the reef making for calm water even in rough weather. As a result, this is a good destination for families, and it's also much quieter since it is a gated community.
Although there isn’t much development, there are a couple of restaurants in the bay. First, there's Chamico’s, a seafood shack at the southern part of the beach. Then there is Sahara Café at the northern end in the Hotel Jashita. Lastly, there is Oscar y Lalo’s a popular restaurant located on the Highway opposite the beach entrance.
Tankah Bay, a little closer to Tulum, offers a rare experience. With similarly good protection from the reef, the sand here is a little course, but there is a special surprise. Not only is the reef home to large schools of tropical fish and coral, but Manati cenote also adds a mangrove cenote full of underwater life. As the water between the cenote and the Caribbean ocean mixes, so do fresh and saltwater fish. By swimming through a natural tunnel, you can experience the change as the warmer salt water meets the cool fresh water. As a result, this is a great beach for scuba divers, snorkelers and swimmers to spend a day.
Adding to the features it offers, there are two restaurants located here, Casa Cenote and the Blue Sky Hotel. As well, you can rent snorkelling equipment from the dive center, rent a kayak, or charter a fishing boat. However, to explore the tide pools on the rocky intertidal shoreline bring along your water or beach shoes.
Interestingly, Tankah’s history stretches back to 150 BC when it began life as a port city before Tulum was created. In Mayan, Tankah means the town center, and this port supplied not only the local population but also various seafarers too. Later on, the city of Tulum was built as it provided more protection from potential attackers.
5 Beach Tips
- Use biodegradable sunscreen to help protect the marine life and ecosystem
- A few beaches don’t have any restaurants, and even if they do you may want to take along a cooler with food, water, snacks and drinks anyway. Most of the locals go to the beach with a cooler packed with food and drinks. The local Oxxo convenience stores sell inexpensive coolers and bags of ice.
- Pack a beach bag with sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, umbrella shade, towels, beach blanket, a book, beach toys, and snorkelling gear. If you are walking for part of the way through the Mayan jungle, or in the evening, include insect repellent too.
- Make sure to bring various denominations of Pesos with you. Especially small change for the washrooms. A few places may take US$, and no-one takes CAD$ or Euro$.
- At several beaches, they use a series of coloured flags to indicate the safety of the water conditions
- Green Flag Water conditions okay, safe to swim
- Yellow Flag Use caution
- Red Flag Use caution, dangerous
- Black Flag Don’t swim, too dangerous
Beaches Around Tulum
The most famous of Tulum's beaches is El Castillo. Being overlooked by 12m high cliffs and the imposing ancient Mayan Ruins of this former Mayan Port, it is a spectacular setting. Contrasting against the ancient castle sitting at the top of the cliffs is the turquoise Caribbean ocean and white sand beach. Rightly so it is regularly listed as one of the top beaches in the world because of the setting. However, this is not a secluded spot, but if you go to the Tulum Ruins then its well worth a visit. If you like beaches with swarms of people then skip the ruins and head straight here.
A five min drive or a 15 min walk away from El Castillo to the south is Playa Paraiso, another popular Tulum beach. Described in Forbes Magazine as "A quintessential beach destination for travellers on the hunt for perfection." It ranked Playa Paraiso #7 in its list of the top 50 beaches around the world.
Access to Playa Paraiso is free. Although it is only located 500 m away from the Mayan Ruins at Tulum, Playa Paraiso is less crowded than the beach at El Castillo. In contrast to El Castillo, there are several services here. These include restaurants, hammocks, beach loungers, and umbrellas to use for a fee. Also, there are showers at some of the beach clubs. There are water activities, and boat operators offering snorkelling excursions if you want to leave the shore.
Ziggy's is a popular Tulum beach 20 mins further south. Like other beaches in the area, it has a remarkable marine life and is a great place for snorkelling and diving. There are two separate areas to the beach. One is reserved only for the guests of the Ziggy Beach Club, while the other section is open to all visitors. Also, there are plenty of places to eat and drink, and many water sport activities available. These include snorkelling, paddle boarding, jet skiing, and sailing.
Most importantly, if you are looking to pamper yourself then Ziggy's Beach Club may be the place for you. It has luxurious beachfront amenities and a relaxing ambiance. For example, for $50 USD you can use loungers, showers, washrooms and beach club premises. Alternatively, a more economical option is to try Ziggy’s early in the morning for breakfast. You still get to experience the spectacular beach and ocean views but at a more affordable cost.
Beaches South of Tulum
Heading south out of Tulum after almost an hour you reach the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Beaches here are completely natural and undeveloped. While some are placid and protected bays, others are wild and rugged. Indeed, there are miles of tranquil beaches, with no-one and nothing else around. Therefore, you need to come prepared.
Boca Paila Beach
One such remote beach destination is Boca Paila beach. It is at the entrance of the national biosphere reserve. The biggest attraction is sport fishing and there is a fishing lodge you can stay in. Alternatively, you can also camp. In short, if you are looking for a natural, tranquil and extremely remote beach experience this is it.
BEST BEACH FOR YOUR INTERESTS AND NEEDS?
All the beaches discussed offer something special. However, out of the best beaches to visit in the Riviera Maya Mexico, which ones will best suit your personal interests and needs? Almost all offer superb soft white sand and the turquoise crystal-clear Caribbean ocean. Yet, which ones offer a party vibe and atmosphere and lots of restaurant options? Or which have luxurious beach clubs where you can get pampered? Similarly, which have the best snorkelling and diving spots? Alternatively, which offers the most family-friendly experience? Or which are the most secluded and tranquil beaches to visit?
To answer your questions, we’ve created a concise summary showing the best features for each beach across a number of categories. Once you know what you are interested in, use this to find the best beaches for you. Using the maps in the link you can easily identify which of the best beaches in the Riviera Maya that you are going to visit. If you would like to receive a convenient pdf of the table on the right, subscribe to our email list below.
The Riviera Maya has over 100 km of coastline and some of the best beaches in the world. While on holiday you want to spend your time having fun, rather than searching for the best beach to visit. In the Best Beaches in the Riviera Maya, Mexico we’ve done the hard work for you. By narrowing down your search, you find the beaches that best fit your interests and needs. Most importantly, you get to spend more time enjoying life at the beach.
Future BLOG articles will expand on parts of this article, but in the meantime if you have questions or want information on a specific activity don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, @oceanbreezeakumal, or call me at +1 250 538 8159.
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