Five Spectacular Sights to See in the Riviera Maya

We love beach vacations.

But why spend all your time at the beach when there is so much to see and do in the Riviera Maya? Below are four of our favorite, must-see sites in the Riviera Maya, plus one in Costa Maya, to explore during your stay.

National Reef Park in Puerto Morelos

Puerto Morelos is a small but fast-growing, fishing community located between Cancun and Playa del Carmen that also boasts the Mesoamerican Reef.

Perched just 500 meters offshore, the Mesoamerican Reef is home to numerous tropical fish, sea turtles, and corals. The reef shelters the local beach from rough surf and gives snorkelers an opportunity to view the underwater life in Puerto Morelos’ National Marine Park. Highlights include a wreck, untouched coral, and gorgeous sea life.

We recommend using one of the various snorkel tour operators to fully enjoy your experience. Though the reef may be close to shore, a boat ride to the best snorkel areas makes your visit to Puerto Morelos safer and more fun.

Coba Ruins

Discover the hidden world of the ancient Maya by exploring the Coba ruins.

Nestled amid verdant jungle and lush lagoons 44 kilometers northwest of Tulum, Coba is the nexus of the most extensive network of stone causeways in the Mesoamerican world. More than 50 sacbés or “white roads” were discovered in the last century but only 16 open to the public.

Unlike the ruins in Tulum and Chichen Itza, Coba is a constellation of sites connected to a large group of pyramids, known as the Nohoch Mul. At 42 meters or 138 feet, Ixmoja is the tallest pyramid in Coba and among the tallest temples in the Yucatan peninsula.

Walk, bike, or take a chauffeured tricycle along shaded roads to view the three main areas of Coba – Conjunto Pinturas (the spiritual area), the Macanox structures (close to the lagoon that bears its name) and the Nohoch Mul pyramid. Hieroglyphic, stone slabs at the ruins site document essential events of the Late Classical period.

After touring the Coba ruins, cool off by taking a refreshing dip at one of the three cenotes in the area. Grab a bite to eat at one of the many nearby restaurants, serving authentic Yucatecan food you can’t find anywhere else.

Xcaret

Xcaret, pronounced “eesh-carette,” is an outdoor nature and eco-park located near Playa del Carmen designed to help visitors see, experience, and understand more about the Riviera Maya, the Maya, and Mexico.

Described as “Disney World with a twist,” Xcaret is a full-day excursion that combines culture, the environment, and history. The site is believed to be an ancient port known as the “Polé,” at which the Maya purified their bodies and souls before traveling across the Caribbean to Cozumel where they worshipped Ixchel, the Goddess of Fertility. The remains of the ancient Maya civilization can still be seen within Xcaret’s more than 80 hectares of land and inspired the resulting eco-park.

A few of the activities you can look forward to during your visit to Xcaret include: quiet jungle trails, an underground river, caverns, diverse wildlife, Coral Reef Aquarium teeming with colorful fish, an Orchid Greenhouse (with over 80 species of orchids), a Regional Life breeding farm, Jaguar Island, and our favorite, the Butterfly farm. Each of these areas as designed to let visitors observe or interact with regional species and tropical environments.

Check out our entire list of Eco Parks in the Riviera Maya. Xplor is next door to Xcaret and can be combined into a multi-day package of fun.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere

A few minutes south of Tulum is the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

Designated in 1987 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sian Ka’an, which means “Origin of the Sky,” is one of the most sensitive eco-systems in the Riviera Maya. There are many ways to enjoy the rich biodiversity of the area, but here are three of our favorites.

Kayaking the canals of Sian Ka’an is an adventure on which you will encounter four, distinct ecosystems that are home to more than 300 species of birds, 100 different mammals, 1,200 plant species, and 52 different types of fish. With such incredible diversity, you never know what you might see while floating closer and quieter to the shores than a motorized boat will get you. Instagrammers will love the multitude of opportunities to take breathtaking nature photos.

Nature, even with the bugs, can be very romantic. Discover this for yourself by taking a sunset wine and cheese tour. A leisurely boat ride through the uniquely stunning landscape of Sian Ka’an will captivate you. End your tour sipping wine and nibbling cheese while watching the sunset over the beautiful wetlands.

Go deep into the reserve’s jungle to visit a Mayan chicle village. Experience the cultural tradition of making chewing gum and discover how today’s Maya live and work inside their ancestral home of Sian Ka’an.

San Felipe Fort in Bacalar

Technically, we’re cheating with the inclusion of the San Felipe Fort in Bacalar on our list because it’s located south of Tulum in a little-known, but no less breathtaking, area of Costa Maya.

San Felipe Fort is a historical monument in Bacalar built in 1729 by the Spanish to protect the pueblo from pirates. During the Caste War of Yucatán (1847-1901), the Fort was used by the Spanish as a defensive point against the Maya who fought to win back their village. The fort has since been restored, and a museum added so visitors can discover and learn the turbulent history of the area.

In addition to the fort’s impressive architecture, visitors can also see the Laguna de Bacalar, the passage of pirates. Known as the “Lake of the Seven Colors” by the ancient Maya, Laguna Bacalar looks like a turquoise ribbon winding through the jungle.

Travelers who visit the area in August can be part of a fishing tournament, which also includes windsurfing, canoeing, rowing, sailing, and bird watching. The lagoon is the focal point of any Bacalar vacation and contains a wealth of history and influence in the southern point of Quintana Roo.

Need a place to stay during your travels? Ask our reservations team about vacation rentals near the places mentioned in the article. Or contact Paulina, our concierge, to help you plan a day trip to one of the great sites featured. 

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