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THE 21 BEST BEACHES IN THE RIVIERA MAYA NOW
The Riviera Maya in Mexico runs along the Caribbean coastline for 100 km. In this stretch of coastline lie the best beaches in the Riviera Maya. It goes from Cancun in the north, down past Tulum in the south. Recently Travel Weekly voted the Riviera Maya Mexico's #1 vacation destination. And Expedia’s Annual Report showed the top destination choice for Americans for 2021 is the Riviera Maya.
The popularity of the Riviera Maya is due to the vast number of activities, natural beauty, wildlife, and Mayan culture. But, the biggest draws are the spectacular white sand beaches, and the warm crystal-clear Caribbean ocean.
We have found the 21 best beaches in the Riviera Maya out of the dozens and dozens along the coast. By finding the best Caribbean beaches you get to spend more time, enjoying life at the beach.
WHY THE BEACHES ARE SO SPECTACULAR
One of the reasons there are so many of the best beaches in the Riviera Maya is their color. Formed from the erosion of rock and coral, it has created the gorgeous, soft, white sand. While the white sand creates spectacular tropical views it's kinder on your feet too. Although the weather here is hot, the white sand reflects more sunlight than darker colored sand. So, your bare feet don't burn as much! All the best beaches in the Mayan Riviera have powder white sand that reflects the sun at the ocean bottom. This gives the ocean a stunning light blue/green hue. As well, this increases the ability to see coral, tropical fish, and other marine life such as sea turtles.
The Mayan Riviera shore consists 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 best beaches in the Riviera Maya are so popular is the ocean temperature. The water temperature on this, the Caribbean side, is often 10F warmer than the Pacific side. Hence, swimming, snorkeling, diving, and water sports are fabulous all-year-round.
Second Largest Barrier Reef in the World
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Systemstretches over 1000 km from northern Yucatan. It goes all the way 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 contribute to the complex ecosystem.
A huge benefit of this reef is the incredible snorkeling and diving experiences. And it also provides protection for many of the beaches. This creates calm areas for swimming, bathing, and snorkeling. This is great for families and small children, even when the waves beyond the reef are rolling in.
All beaches in Mexico are public as mandated by the Mexican Government. Including all the best beaches in the Riviera Maya. 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. Even though the Mexican authorities are starting to crack down on this. For example, many resorts are along the coastline.
As a guest of the resort, you can access the beach through the resort property. But, unless you are a guest or pay an entrance fee, you might not be able to. But, there are so many beaches that there are still many options for everyone. The ones below are the best beaches in the Riviera Maya, and top beaches worldwide. All the beaches listed are accessible to the public, or for a small fee.
BEST BEACHES IN THE RIVIERA MAYA NORTH OF PLAYA DEL CARMEN
Cancun, the original tourist mecca of the Yucatan coastline is a well-established destination. Cancun beach stretches for 20 km. And has all the water activities that you could imagine. Including snorkeling, scuba diving, paddle boarding, fishing, and kayaking.
As well, there are lots of bars and restaurants located along the beach. So many that Cancun Beach is 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. It is the best beach in the Riviera Maya for surfing if the waves are good and you may sometimes see dolphins as well. The water here 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 will have to bring your own snacks and drinks along. The 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 which 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." But if you like to socialize this is one of the best beaches in the Riviera Maya.
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 is not as stunning as beaches near Akumal and Tulum, it's still a good spot for swimming. Also, several fishermen will take you out on their boats. Either to go fishing or 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. So it deserves to be on our 21 best beaches in the Riviera Maya. 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.
But access 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.
BEST BEACHES IN THE RIVIERA MAYA NEAR 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. But, 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. As well as secluded, there is a small cenote that empties into the ocean. This creates freshwater pools that are fun for the kids.
But, make sure that you pack drinks and food/snacks because there’s not much to buy otherwise. There is also limited shade 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, DJs, dancing, and beach beds then this is one of the best beaches in the Riviera Maya 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. Yet 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. As well as the ferry to Cozumel, there are beach clubs, restaurants, diving shops, and vendors offering many water activities. For instance, if you want to go snorkeling, diving, or fishing you can charter a boat.
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 neighborhood 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. Yet, anywhere outside of these areas is available to the public. Playacar is one of the best beaches in the Mayan Riviera 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. So plan on bringing food, drinks, and your beach bag.
When the weather is calm, Playacar is great for swimming or snorkeling. But, because it is south of the Island of Cozumel it isn't protected as much as the beaches further up the coast. So, expect larger waves and more turbulence on windier days.
BEST BEACHES IN THE RIVIERA MAYA NEAR AKUMAL
Head a little south of Playa Del Carmen and this is where you’ll start to find the very best beaches in the Riviera Maya. 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 of Canadians and Americans who live full or part-time here. Besides 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, there is an incredible number of tropical fish and marine life due to the coral. So, it is 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 a couple of restaurants and bars serving a variety of tacos, ceviche, and 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. This is definitely one of the best beaches in the Mayan Riviera. I consider this one of the top 3 of all the best beaches in the Riviera Maya. Firstly, it has a long beautiful white sand beach and azure-colored water. All set against a tropical jungle backdrop. Secondly, Xpu-Ha isn’t as crowded as many other beaches and is frequented more by locals than tourists. It also has enough amenities while maintaining its local, rustic 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.
Or 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. And, if you want a massage, or to do yoga on the beach you can. And you can rent paddleboards, kayaks, or go fishing, kitesurfing, or windsurfing.
As the water inside the reef is calm it's great for swimming, wading, and snorkeling. 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. Prices recently increased a little. If you take the first exit you pay 100 pesos per person for the day. At the second entrance, you pay 200 pesos per person. But when you go to the La Playa XpuHa restaurant they deduct this from your bill. Try it out, it is one of the very best beaches the Riviera Maya has to offer and most visitors don’t know about it. When I go to the beach in the Riviera Maya, this is one I often hang-out at. For more info on Xpu-Ha read the detailed article on it I recently wrote.
Akumal Bay Beach
Reviewed by over 13,000 people, Akumal Beach ranks #1 out of 948 outdoor activities in the Riviera Maya on TripAdvisor. It is one of the most famous, and best beaches in the Riviera Maya. And essential to visit. The beach itself consists of several different coves along the coastline. Including Half Moon Bay and Yal-Ku Lagoon to the north, Akumal Bay, and Aventuras Akumal 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 of scuba divers.
The name Akumal comes from the Mayan, meaning place of turtles. Each year over a thousand turtles arrive to lay their eggs in the sand and feed on the seagrasses. Adding to the allure is that it is home to three species of sea turtles: Green, Loggerhead & Hawksbill. Turtles in Mexico are a protected species and programs exist to protect their habitat. One example is Centro Ecologico Akumal.
While 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 snorkeling is incredible and you are almost guaranteed to swim with sea turtles.
While a popular place the beach is large and stretches south. So, 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 is more restaurants, shops, and convenience stores. And, you can choose from a variety of water sports. Such as scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing. As one of the very best beaches in the Riviera Maya, you should definitely include it on your list. And make sure you read the Insiders Guide to Akumal Snorkeling. This provides all the info you need to know about visiting Akumal Bay Beach.
Playa Xaac, North of Akumal Bay
Five minutes north of Akumal Bay beach is Playa Xaac. It is a great example of the many small coves and beach bays that line this coastline. Playa Xaac is in the Sirenis Community, on the residential side, away from the resort. So it’s only accessible for those staying in a vacation rental apartment in the community.
Playa Xaac is small compared to all the other best beaches in the Riviera Maya listed here. It also doesn’t have any restaurants, beach clubs, or any amenities whatsoever. But, that’s why it's included and why the local residents love it. It is very secluded. It’s your own private rustic beach without any development. Most times there are only a couple of people at the beach during the day. A few more in the early morning as they walk their dogs and watch the spectacular sun rising over the Caribbean.
But you will find tranquility and a small stretch of powder-white sand at the far end. Before that, there are oodles of rock pools to discover for your kids to play in. When the winds are calm, you will be the only one snorkeling and swimming after the tropical fish. It’s also a major turtle nesting beach. If you are looking for glitz and glamour this isn’t the beach for you. If you’re looking for natural beauty, this has it all. But only for those who can access it.
Aventuras Akumal, South Akumal Bay
South of Akumal Beach are three smaller coves. These feature 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. But it is a great stretch of sand and one of the reasons it’s one of the 21 best beaches in the Riviera Maya. Although there is no 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 gain access to the beach. And there are bathroom and shower facilities for restaurant customers as well. As there isn't public beach access it is much less crowded than many others. Also, the sargassum seaweed that can accumulate every few years, isn't as 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 is Xcacel Beach. It provides a very different vibe and a more natural beach experience. This is what Caribbean beaches were like before development and tourism. And it is kept as an eco beach and a sanctuary for turtles. As a result, you pay a small fee 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. It hails back to the time when the Riviera Maya was a remote and less accessible tourist destination. It is a rustic, natural pick for one of the 21 best beaches in the Mayan Riviera. The added surprise is Xcacelito Cenote, 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. But, there aren't restaurants or shops. So bring food, snacks, water, sunscreen, and snorkeling gear.
The northern part of the bay has the best snorkeling. When it's windy the water isn't as protected, especially on the southern side. As well there can be strong riptides in parts of the bay. As a result, make sure you read the posted signs on swimming parallel to the shore to escape a riptide.
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 this is a natural beach. So the seaweed can accumulate as it's 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 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, and a fabulous rustic beach club. Its located in the southern part of the bay and is one of the best beaches in the Riviera Maya. And one of my favorite spots to hang-out. Think laid back hang-out, of mostly locals. There are lots of hammocks hung between palms trees to chill out in. But, before you go confirm that it is open since it was closed due to the Covid pandemic. As of writing it hadn’t re-opened yet.
Then there is Sahara Café at the northern end of 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 making it one of the 21 best beaches in the Riviera Maya. 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 saltwater meets the cool freshwater. 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 snorkeling equipment from the dive center. Or a kayak, or charter a fishing boat. But, 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 as 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 snorkeling gear. If you are walking for part of the way through the Mayan jungle, or in the evening, bring insect repellent as well.
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 Euros.
At several beaches, they use a series of colored flags to show 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
BEST BEACHES IN THE RIVIERA MAYA NEAR TULUM
The most famous of Tulum's beaches is El Castillo. Overlooked by 12m high cliffs and the imposing ancient Mayan Ruins, it is a spectacular setting. Worthy of being one of the best beaches in the Riviera Maya for its iconic setting alone. Contrasting against the ancient castle sitting at the top of the cliffs is the turquoise Caribbean ocean and white sand beach. And it is listed as one of the top beaches in the world because of the setting. But, this is not a secluded spot. Yet if you go to the Tulum Ruins then it's 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 travelers on the hunt for perfection." It ranked Playa Paraiso #7 on its list of the top 50 beaches around the world. So it definitely ranks as one of our 21 best beaches in the Mayan Riviera.
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 snorkeling 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 remarkable marine life and is a great place for snorkeling and diving. There are two separate areas to the beach. One is reserved for guests of the Ziggy Beach Club. But 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 snorkeling, 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.
Another more economical option is to try Ziggy’s early in the morning for breakfast. You still get to experience one of the best beaches in the Riviera Maya but at an affordable cost.
BEST BEACHES IN THE RIVIERA MAYA SOUTH OF TULUM
Heading south out of Tulum 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. So, you need to come prepared. But if you want to explore, you’ll find the natural beauty and rustic charm spectacular.
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. Or, you can also camp. In short, if you are looking for a natural, tranquil, and extremely remote beach experience Boca Paila is it.
BEST BEACHES IN THE MAYAN RIVIERA FOR YOU
All the beaches discussed offer something special. All are deserving of being on our 21 best beaches in the Riviera Maya. But, 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? And, which have the best snorkeling and diving spots? Or, which offers the most family-friendly experience? Or which are the most secluded and tranquil beaches to visit?
To answer your questions, we have created a concise summary showing the best features for each beach. Once you know what you want, use this to find the best beaches for you. Using the maps in the link you can identify which of the best beaches in the Riviera Maya that you are going to visit.
THE 21 BEST BEACHES IN THE RIVIERA MAYA NOW - SUMMARY
The Riviera Maya has over 100 km of coastline and some of the best beaches in the world. We have identified 21 of the best beaches in the Riviera Maya for you. While on holiday you want to spend your time having fun. Not searching for where the best beaches are to visit. So we have done the hard work for you. By narrowing down your search, find the beaches that 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.