Riviera Maya is one of the most touristic destinations in the Caribbean. And the main vacation spot for all those who travel to Mexico. It really is a paradise in the Caribbean and with many interesting places to visit, both historical and natural beauties.
The Riviera Maya is located on the Yucatan peninsula. And I hope you choose to tour the entire peninsula because otherwise you will miss incredible places. In this post I only talk about the best places to see in the Riviera Maya, do not miss the other articles on the Quintana Roo Peninsula. Do not lock yourself in the resort, you will miss the best!
15 ESSENTIAL PLACES TO SEE IN THE RIVIERA MAYA
1. Chichén Itzá, an essential place to see in Riviera Maya
The archaeological site of Chichén Itzá is an ancient Mayan city where you will find ruins, culture and history, surrounded by nature.
The main building of Chichén Itzá is the Kukulkan Pyramid, an emblematic construction with perfect symmetry that becomes a huge three-dimensional Mayan calendar.
The Kukulkan Pyramid is one of the wonders of the Mayan world and any time is a good time to visit it, but there are two days a year when it becomes a space even more charged with magic and energy. Every March 21 and September 22, only for a few hours a day, it is possible to see a serpent of light descending the steps of the temple.
Next to the pyramid is the Sacred Cenote. This impressive natural well, 60 meters in diameter and 15 meters deep, was the place chosen to make offerings to the gods.
The ball game courts had a great role due to the ritual importance they had for the society of the time.
The Chichén Itzá court is the largest with 120 meters in length and is one of the best preserved that can be seen in the Riviera Maya.
Another important place to visit is the Temple of the Warriors. A construction surrounded by columns built in the year 1200.
Other highlights are; the Tzompantli, a platform with reliefs of skulls in which the heads of the enemies were nailed. Or the astronomical observatory of Chichén Itza.
Chichen Itza is one of the 7 wonders of the modern world and is an essential visit to do in the Riviera Maya.
To visit Chichen Itzá I recommend that you hire a guided tour. Or an excursion that includes this stop. These excursions include a local guide who will tell you not only the history of this incredible place, but also tells you about Mayan traditions, rituals...
Tulum was one of the most important Mayan cities between the 13th and 14th centuries due to its strategic location that made it one of the key stops on trade routes.
The ruins of Tulum sit on the coastal strip of the Riviera Maya.
The archaeological zone is made up of more than 70 structures with an excellent state of conservation, most of them built between the 12th and 15th centuries.
El Castillo is one of the main places to see in Tulum, in addition to its oldest construction. Its function is believed to have been to guide sailors who approached the city at night to protect them from the sharp coral reefs that encircle the coast.
In the walled city of Tulum, the remains of some of the temples that paid homage to the Mayan deities are still preserved. Among the most outstanding options are the Temple of the Descending God and the Temple of the Frescoes.
Tulum has a beautiful environment that surrounds it. Cenotes, mangroves and a Caribbean coast at your feet.
Cobá is an ancient Mayan city built between the years 500 and 900. Cobá became one of the largest and most powerful cities in the Yucatán peninsula, but over time Chichén Itzá was gaining ground in terms of political, social and economic. Thus leaving Cobá in second place.
Submerged in abandonment, Cobá became a place full of ruins protected by the jungle. Its archaeological remains did not begin to be studied until the beginning of the 20th century.
The most important place to see in Cobá is Nohoch Mul, a stone pyramid with a height of 42 meters, formed by seven levels.
The climb to the pyramid is allowed and although it costs a little due to its uneven and worn steps, it is well worth it.
In the archaeological complex, 40 structures have been found, among which the church, the ball game court and the Oval Temple stand out.
4. Puerto Morelos
Puerto Morelos is an old fishing village that retains its charm. You will be able to see the old lighthouse and craft shops.
Here lies the Puerto Morelos National Reef Park under the turquoise waters.
It is part of the Great Mayan Reef, the second largest in the world. It is an incredible place for those who like snorkeling or diving. You will be able to see a large amount of coral of different colors and shapes, colored fish, sea turtles... Impressive!
If you are interested in booking a trip, simply go to the port and there are several places where you can book diving or snorkeling trips... there you will find it cheaper.
5. Frida Kahlo Museum
This museum was created to spread the legacy of the artist Frida Kahlo. On the tour of the museum you will be able to learn about the stories that marked Frida's life.
There are a total of 9 rooms with personal objects, audios, his main paintings...
If you are interested in visiting it, it is located in Playa del Carmen and the entrance costs 15 dollars. Open every day from 9am to 11pm.
6. Playa del Carmen
Although Playa del Carmen would not be considered a magical or very interesting place to visit in the Riviera Maya, since you are here spend an afternoon walking its streets full of shops and restaurants. It is a very touristy area. Here you can find very cool hotels outside of what we would call “all-inclusive resorts”. There are much smaller hotels, with all the comforts and for much less…
Xcaret is a huge “natural amusement park”. Here you will find underground rivers, traditional shows, exotic animals, natural spaces, Mayan ruins, restaurants, bars...
It is a very nice park to spend a full day with your partner, family... or even alone.
8. The Bacalar Lagoon, an incredible place to see in the Riviera Maya
The Bacalar Lagoon is known as the lagoon of the 7 colors and is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places to see in the Riviera Maya.
This lagoon is shallow, warm and transparent waters, perfect for swimming and enjoying an ideal bath.
It is surrounded by dense vegetation made up practically of mangroves. Something that adds attractiveness to the place.
One of the most outstanding places to see in the lagoon is the Cenote Negro, also known as the Cenote de la Bruja.
9. Ek Balám, an archaeological zone in the middle of the jungle
The archaeological zone of Ek Balám, has 12 square kilometers and 45 buildings. It is one of the archaeological sites of the Riviera Maya most forgotten by travelers and it is a shame, because it is a place full of history, very interesting.
Once he leaves the city, over the years the jungle has taken over this place, making it remain intact, hidden among the vegetation.
The city was discovered in the 1990s and it was then that excavation work began.
The first constructive evidence dates from the Middle Preclassic Period, between the years 600 and 450. However, the main buildings have been dated to the Mesoamerican Classic Period, during the long period that goes from the year 250 to 1200.
The most important building in Ek Balám is the Acropolis building. An imposing construction that is in perfect condition.
It is a very interesting excursion, less visited and highly recommended.
10. Cenote Suytún
In Mexico there are more than 3,000 cenotes and in the Riviera Maya there are many prices. Some of them are more popular, others hidden… These natural pools located in limestone caves are a real spectacle. The Suytun cenote is one of the most photographed in the Riviera Maya. It is located on the outskirts of Valladolid, and normally all the excursions that stop in Valladolid also stop there. It is a closed cenote where only a little light enters, at noon, between 12 and 2pm.
If you rent a car to visit this area, you can make a stop in it. Keep in mind that it is one of the most popular and depending on the season of the year, there will be a lot of people.
If you are interested in knowing some beautiful cenotes with fewer people, read the post; The most beautiful and secret cenotes of the Riviera Maya.
11. Secret River
The Secret River is the longest semi-flooded cave in the Yucatan Peninsula. It was discovered by chance when a man chasing an iguana lifted some stones and found an impressive network of caverns that was hidden below the surface.
There are cenotes, an underground river, a network of stalactite and stalagmite galleries and numerous tunnels. The total network is about 30km.
It is a natural wonder in Riviera Maya that you cannot miss. The best way to get to know this place is by booking an excursion. You can also go on your own by bus, in the bus that travels along Highway 307 or by renting a car.
12. Cozumel and El Cielo Beach
Cozumel is a very touristy island near Playa del Carmen. It is known worldwide for being an ideal destination for diving. There you can swim with many marine species, as well as being able to enjoy beautiful beaches. You can usually see sea turtles. Please, enjoy the environment without harming the fauna or flora. Do not take the turtles out of the water to take a picture...
In Cozumel there are many beaches and all of them are beautiful. One of the most striking is Playa El Cielo, in the south of the island, famous for the fact that starfish live there. Here I say the same thing again, please, don't touch the stars, don't take them out of the water to take a picture...
Despite the fact that Cozumel is very popular and touristy, it is a beautiful, pleasant day trip where you can enjoy beautiful landscapes.
It is possible to stay in Cozumel, however, you are left a bit isolated.
13. Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres is another of the islands that you can visit in the Riviera Maya. In Isla Mujeres apart from enjoying the beach, snorkeling and spending the day sunbathing, you can also visit some of the places on the island.
On the island is the Mudaca Hacienda, the Underwater Museum of Art, the Turtle Farm, the El Garrafón Marine Park and its beaches. If you feel like strolling around and buying a souvenir, don't miss Calle Hidalgo. Full of craft shops, restaurants...
14. Valladolid, a beautiful colonial city to visit in Yucatan
Valladolid is a beautiful colonial city founded in 1543. It has retained its charm and character over the years and is a lovely stop for a morning or afternoon. Its beautiful streets of colored houses with white details are one of the best things to see in Valladolid.
The city began its history with a Mayan settlement, which was later occupied by the Spanish. The city was "finished" by a major yellow fever epidemic and for this reason it was moved to its current location.
In Valladolid you cannot miss visiting the Municipal Market, the Church of San Servacio, the Museum of San Roque, the Calzada de los Frailes and the Cenote Zací, which is surprisingly located in the center of the city.
15. Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
The Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is a protected space half an hour from Tulum. There you can observe the biodiversity of the area: semi-virgin beaches, lagoons to go kayaking and trails among the vegetation. They organize themed tours to watch birds, learn about Mayan culture, fish or snorkel.
It is a great natural environment to spend the day, and enjoy this wonder.
POSTS OF RIVIERA MAYA AND CANCUN THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
PLAN YOUR TRIP STEP BY STEP
I hope you enjoy your trip to the Riviera Maya very much and that this article has been useful to you. You can continue reading many more related articles on the blog.
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A hug and see you soon!