Riviera Maya & Playa Del Carmen


I think Mexico gets a bad rap from the general population. Yes, there is a lot of drug cartel-related violence throughout certain areas of the country (looking at the State Department’s travel warning can freak you out). But Mexico is very large, and saying that it is too dangerous to go to places like the Mayan Riviera because of violence that is occurring in Cuidad Juarez or Mexico City is a bad generalization. Last summer, We decided to book a trip to somewhere tropical. We were considering Aruba, Costa Rica, etc., but we decided on Mexico because it is a little closer, and very affordable. I had been to the beaches in Mexico on the Pacific Ocean side, but never the Yucatan Peninsula area (where Cancun is located). Where we stayed was about an hour south of Cancun.

The biggest thing that struck me about this part of Mexico was the beaches – they are completely different from the beaches on the other side, like in Cabo San Lucas, for example. The last time I was in Cabo, you couldn’t really even go in the water at the beach. The waves are extremely rough and the water isn’t as warm. The beaches on the Mayan Riviera are AMAZING – crystal clear, bathtub-temperature water, and soft white sand. This region seems much more tropical, in general. It also has a very rich history (and LOTS of mosquitoes).

The Mayan civilization occupied the Yucatan Peninsula, leaving behind the ruins that still stand there today. Now, the area is known for its tourism and beach resorts. We stayed at the Barcelo Maya Resort, which was just off the highway along the beach (like most of the other resorts). While inside the resort you are isolated, but you are obviously free to catch a taxi and leave to explore the surrounding areas. We ventured out to Playa Del Carmen a few times while we were there. Playa is a charming town – you can find your usual touristy things, like a Senor Frogs, American restaurant chains, etc., but it also has a lot of local elements as well.

The marina terminal in Playa

Brian making friends, playing soccer on the beach in Playa

There is a main avenue in Playa that is pedestrian-only with shops, restaurants, and hotels.

After exploring Playa Del Carmen, we decided to go to Parque Xel-Ha the next day. Xel-Ha is an ecotourism natural water park based around the natural inlet and lagoon where the ocean salt-water and the fresh water from underground sources is mixed. The park is a commercial tourist attraction, but they use the park to do a lot of preservation and protection of the native species and habitat. They have a number of water activities at the park including snorkeling, tubing, cliff jumping, swimming with dolphins, and caves/grottos. We decided to pay extra to swim with dolphins – something I have always wanted to do. The dolphins were very well-trained rescues, and we could not believe how strong they were! What beautiful and intuitive animals.

We also did some snorkeling, checked out the caves, floated on the tubes, and went cliff jumping! There was definitely a lot to do and a little bit for everyone. The park is a bit commercialized, but as long as they use it to do some good, I am okay with that.

The rest of the trip, we explored Tulum, lounged at the beautiful beaches, ate and relaxed (and enjoyed the all-inclusive drinks ;) ). We will definitely be back to the Mayan Riviera, hopefully sooner rather than later!

2 responses »

  1. The pictures are beautiful and vivid! I’ve been to Cancun and Mazatlan. While in Cancun, I visited a beachside resort for a possible wedding venue (not for me) and the ocean was rough on one side of the resort and soft on the other side. It was very intriguing. Thanks for sharing your travel experience!

    • Thanks so much! We absolutely LOVED the Mayan Riviera and can’t wait to get back. I had been to the Pacific side of Mexico (Baja – where Cabo San Lucas is) a number of times, but I was blown away with the Yucatan Peninsula side of Mexico – it’s SO much better! The water is perfect. It’s farther away from CA, but the prices there are so reasonable that it doesn’t matter!

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