Where to Stay in the Riviera Maya: Best Areas

Where to stay in the Riviera Maya

Finding the best areas where to stay in Riviera Maya can be a little overwhelming. Because while many people conflate Riviera Maya with Cancun, that popular Spring Break destination covers only a fraction of the Riviera Maya. 

Counting Cancun, there are several areas of note that stretch the 88 miles of coastline that constitutes the Riviera Maya. That’s a lot of beachfront to cover, and a lot of potential places to stay in Riviera Maya

Chances are that you won’t cover all or even most of it in a single trip, but that also means you have some variety when picking where to stay. Whether you’re traveling with your family or as part of a bachelor party, you can find a destination that’s perfect for your needs. 

Where to Stay in the Riviera Maya: Best Areas

1. Cancun

You might know Cancun best as the home of raucous high school and college Spring Break parties; but hopefully, that isn’t the only thing you know about it. 

Cancun’s construction in the 1970s was intended to draw tourism to the Mexican Riviera. It succeeded, but today’s Cancun is a lot more than just a tourist trap. It’s essentially the beating heart of the region and one of the cheapest beach tourism cities in the Americas. 

Its proximity to the Caribbean has made it a popular waypoint for cruise ships as well, but you might be surprised at the diversity of experiences you’ll find in and around Cancun.

If you’re traveling to Cancun and intend to stay in or around the city, your best option might actually be an all-inclusive package. Food, drink, and lodgings, in general, are relatively inexpensive within Cancun, but some of the best deals can be had by signing up for a cruise or a tour package. 

Of course, that really depends on what you want to do. If you’d rather steer away from the economical but heavily guided experience of an all-inclusive resort, there are still plenty of options. 

Zona Hotelera is the tourist district in an already tourist-heavy city, and you can find practically anything you need there 24 hours a day. 

Like in any city, you can expect to pay more for everything in the tourist district, and you won’t find the level of authenticity in other parts of town. But for tourists looking to party, the convenience is hard to beat. 

Shopping and nightlife downtown ranks among the best in the city, and it’s conveniently located towards nearby ruins and other destinations outside of Cancun proper.

For those with less of a budget to work with, there are fortunately a couple of great choices that don’t require you to set up camp in one of the overpriced luxury areas. It also offers the benefit of offering a more authentic look into the city’s inner workings. 

Downtown is commonly referred to by the locals as “El Centro”, and its proximity to beaches makes it one of the more convenient places to stay in Riviera Maya, and Cancun specifically. Even if you neglect El Centro in favor of a resort, you owe yourself a visit. 

Mercado 28 is a standout – a busy and chaotic market that offers everything from handmade souvenirs to local food made right in front of your eyes. These qualities also mean that staying here is a cheaper choice overall. Everything from clothing to groceries to fresh food will be cheaper downtown.

If you don’t mind venturing a little further out, you’ll find a lot to love in Puerto Juarez. It’s quieter and more sedate than neighboring neighborhoods, but it’s less than two miles from the city center. 

That means that the big attractions are never too far away, but you’re less off the path of the most abundant tourists. If you like a little more peace and tranquility, Puerto Juarez offers a sensible solution. 

Many of the hotels and hostels here even offer direct beach access – although the waters aren’t quite as pristine as those that border most of the major resorts.

Finding something in these neighborhoods generally won’t be that difficult either. 

Cancun’s reputation as a Spring Break Mecca has also created a cottage industry for youth hostels. 

Finding dirt cheap hostels is rarely a difficult endeavor, and there’s generally a whole lot of variety in terms of pricing options as well. 

That includes the selections of motels and hotels. You might want to book your lodgings in advance if you’re coming during the busy season, but there’s no lack of opportunities for the savvy traveler.

As you might expect from a city catered to the needs of tourists, public transportation is comprehensive and varied. Both rideshare services and traditional taxis blanket the city in abundance. 

The former tend to offer more affordable rates, though that can vary depending on the time of the day and the day of the week. Bicycles and scooters are still options, but they’re not for the weak-hearted. 

Traffic in Cancun can be crazy, and that means that pedestrians and cyclists should prepare to be careful. Fortunately, a decent public transit system is available via a bus system. 

You should have easy access if you find yourself in one of the major tourist districts, but it can be a little less reliable once you start venturing off the beaten path.

In either case, you’ll want to get a rental car or find a tour group if you want to venture outside of Cancun proper. 

While public transit and other common forms of transportation can get you to shopping, restaurants, and attractions, Cancun is also close to some of the most interesting Mayan ruins in the region. 

Additionally, some of the best snorkeling in Mexico can be found in or near Cancun’s city limits. 

While you’ll see some of the bigger names listed elsewhere on our best list of places to stay in Riviera Maya, we especially recommend El Meca. It’s a beautiful and well-preserved ruin that’s significantly less crowded than a lot of the larger attractions. 

When you choose to visit Riviera Maya could have a major impact on when you decide to stay in Cancun. While the climate here isn’t that different from the rest of the coast throughout the year, the ambiance of Cancun is greatly affected by the seasonal tides of tourists. 

Peak season falls from December to April. Flights and hotels tend to still be affordable, but the crowds are large and you might need to book a hotel in advance. 

Prices drop as humidity rises throughout the summer months – and while temperatures drop through the fall, this is also the season that brings tropical storms.

2. Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is a mere 8 miles from Cancun, but you won’t get there unless you have a plane or a boat. 

Like Cancun, this island was created with the needs of playful vacationers in mind – although it manages to capture an ambiance more laid-back and tropical than the more urban Cancun can offer. 

Isla Mujeres is something of a mirage – insulated from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. And that makes it the perfect choice for vacationers who just want to kick up their feet and relax on the beach without any concerns for the outside world.

Of course, those who need constant activities should limit their time here to just a day trip. Its position in the Caribbean sea means that Isla Mujeres is home to some of the most beautiful beaches around, but the entire island spans a length of five miles and a width of a third of a mile. 

Fortunately, that means the restaurants, bars, and attractions are all centralized downtown. The settlement here is small but friendly, functional, and focused on providing the best care to visitors. 

That said, those looking to keep things quiet should stay away from Playa Norte. It’s the best beach on the island, but it’s also crowded at practically all times. The small size of the island means that you don’t have to be “downtown” to be where all the action is. 

Unfortunately, that relatively small size means that it can be a little harder to find a place to stay. Be sure to book a place in advance if possible. 

Resorts are still the predominant accommodations in this area, but you’ll also find some hotels, hostels, and even Airbnbs if you’re studious.

The best part of Isla Mujeres is how close it is to the Mesoamerican Great Barrier Reef. That makes this the premier place to stay in Riviera Maya if you’re looking to do some snorkeling or scuba diving

Of course, you’ll want to be especially sure to stay away from Isla Mujeres during storm season, but the other rules of visiting Cancun mostly apply here. 

There are limited options as far as transportation is concerned, but the small size of the island ensures this is never too big of an issue. 

Taxi and rideshare services are available, but both locals and tourists often use golf carts. While rentals are a relatively expensive choice for getting around, they’re also easily the most effective form of transportation.

Isla Mujeres can be reached by ferry from Puerto Juarez. Ferries tend to run at half-hour intervals throughout the busy season, but you’ll want to make sure to check the schedule before just setting off on your trip. 

Isla Mujeres can serve as the perfect place to just chill, but it might be a little too chill for those demanding something more adventurous.

3. Puerto Morelos

Puerto Morelos is one of the most overlooked places to stay in Riviera Maya, but that anonymity is also at the heart of its appeal. 

Since it’s located roughly equidistant between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, it’s conveniently located towards some of the region’s most important attractions. 

But since it’s not as well known, you have to worry less about crowded and overpriced hotels or crowds of tourists clogging up all the local shops and restaurants. 

Out of all of the destinations on our list, Puerto Morelos does arguably the best job of blending real life on the Mexican shore with the amenities that travelers expect.

That’s because Puerto Morelos is still a fishing village at its heart. The restaurants, shopping, and nightlife are varied enough, but Puerto Morelos isn’t exactly the cosmopolitan hub of the Riviera Maya. 

There’s plenty of local treasures to be found here, but don’t expect cultural vibes as lively as those in Cancun. 

Fortunately, the biggest reason to visit Puerto Morelos is the beaches. Since it’s a little more off the beaten trail, you can expect the beaches to be far less busy than some of the more popular places to stay in Riviera Maya. 

That doesn’t mean they’re neglected. The beaches themselves are tended to every day, and the natural sights are some of the most spectacular around

The Great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is only a quarter of a mile away, and the ferry from Puerto Morelos is the best way to reach Isla Mujeres.  But as far as snorkeling is concerned, Puerto Morelos can even give Isla Mujeres a run for its money.

But the coolest landmarks out here are natural formations known as cenotes. These magnificent natural pits of water were once used as sacrificial sites for the Mayans – but today they’re phenomena that can be enjoyed by anyone without fear. 

Whether you need to rent a car or take a tour, you’ll want to make time for the Ruta de Los Cenotes: a road that offers access to most of the major cenotes in the area. 

Puerto Morelos has a whole lot to offer, and it manages it at an affordable price. You can find both food and lodgings at significantly lower prices in Puerto Morelos than what you’d find in Cancun. 

Just keep in mind that a tour group or a rental car will be necessary unless you plan to spend your whole trip in Puerto Morelos. 

If you do decide to stick around, transportation is available in the form of ubiquitous Ubers, Lyfts, and taxis as well as an inexpensive and surprisingly effective public transit system.

4. Playa Del Carmen

It would be easy to mistake Playa Del Carmen for a sleepy Mediterranean resort town. 

The way it’s ably managed to retain the ambiance of a quiet fishing village – and a pedestrian-friendly downtown – while still providing the infrastructure that tourists need has made it a common destination for expatriates from throughout Europe and Latin America. 

If you’re looking for the most multicultural and refined of places to stay in Riviera Maya, Playa Del Carmen makes a pretty convincing argument.

If you want to be where the action’s at, Fifth Avenue is the best place to position yourself. It’s the undisputed main strip of the small downtown area, and it’s becoming increasingly crowded with boutiques, high-class restaurants, and top-shelf amenities like yoga studios and spas. 

This is a trendy town with sometimes trendy costs, but there’s enough diversity here to offer lodgings for just about everyone. Whether you’re coming to Playa Del Carmen for your honeymoon or as part of a backpacking trip, there’s going to be something available for you. 

Naturally, hotels and hostels start to grow more affordable as you move away from Fifth Avenue. There are also a number of resorts nearby and within Playa Del Carmen proper.

There aren’t any real public transit options in the city. Fortunately, transportation won’t usually be a big deal if you stay in Playa Del Carmen, as everything of note tends to be heavily concentrated near the downtown, and the downtown is understandably located right by the beach. 

As the only deepwater port in the area, the waters around Playa Del Carmen tend to be bustling. These beaches are great for swimming, but they’re an especially popular choice for watersports like fishing, parasailing, and snorkeling. Expect to see a lot of boats on the water.

And if you’re looking for beaches that are less bustling, you’ll find plenty of options. There are actually quite a few beaches in and around Playa Del Carmen, and there’s something suited to just about anyone. 

Punta Esmerelda can take a little bit of effort to get to, but you’ll be rewarded with a secluded and calm beach that’s perfect for a quiet day out with your partner or the whole family. 

Playacar offers a similarly chill environment, though it’s much more convenient to the city center. This beach area, next to the downtown, hosts some of the most impressive resorts of the Riviera Maya.

Far hipper is the beach of Playa Mamitas. It’s the home to two of the hippest beach clubs in town, but it’s also free to just bring your own chairs and chill out at this popular beachfront.

5. Cozumel

Playa del Carmen serves as the gateway to Isla Mujeres, but it’s also the best way to reach the more remote island of Cozumel. 

Located 12 miles off of the coast, it’s the closest – and most comfortable – thing you’ll find to a remote paradise off of Mexico’s Caribbean coast. 

It’s also busy. A big part of that comes down to the fact that Cozumel has some of the busiest cruise ship traffic in the world – but there are plenty of reasons to visit even if you aren’t on a Caribbean cruise.

Cozumel is many times the size of Isla Mujeres, and that space is put to good use. While Cozumel’s resorts aren’t as abundant as those on the mainline, there’s still a decent amount of them – and they offer top-to-bottom service for a fully inclusive experience on your visit to the island. 

But whether you decide to go the all-inclusive route or handle the trip yourself, you’ll find plenty to do after the sun goes down. People come to Cozumel to party, and the island is happy to indulge. 

Seafood dominates on the island, but you’ll find a healthy combination of local favorites and internationally recognized chains like the Hard Rock Cafe. Whatever you’re in the mood for, the best and most popular restaurants in town tend to be situated near the city’s main port.

But the larger size of Cozumel means that you may also need to be more thoughtful about where on the island you decide to stay. 

All-inclusive resorts and chain hotels are still the most popular choice in Cozumel, but they tend to be less wild and rambunctious than the Spring Break crowds in the mainland of the Yucatan Peninsula. 

Both adults-only and family-friendly resorts are available for affordable prices

The scuba diving and snorkeling out here is some of the best in the region, but you can’t reach all of the best beaches on foot. Renting a jeep may be one of the most sensible choices for dedicated beach hoppers. 

There’s plenty of local flavor here as well. An abandoned shrine to Goddess Ixchel can be reached by car or jeep, and there’s a rich community of local artists in Cozumel. 

It’s worth your time to explore town just so you can catch sight of all the murals created by the Pangea Seed Foundation.

Read also: Where to stay in Cancun, where to stay in Playa del Carmen, where to stay in Tulum, where to stay in Mexico City, where to stay in Puerto Vallarta

6. Akumal

If there was one word that best described the village of Akumal, it would be serenity. Because while many of the more popular places to stay in Riviera Maya have managed to maintain the ambiance of a sleepy seaside village, none manage to achieve it as authentically as Akumal. 

You can reach the town of Akumal by journeying just a little further south from Playa del Carmen. But what really makes this stretch of land so special is the fact that it’s positioned along a well-protected bay – offering some of the most placid and peaceful beaches in the entire stretch of coastline. 

That makes it a great place for families or those just getting their feet wet with water sports.

Akumal is positioned at a near perfect convergence of geographical conditions, and that’s drawn the attention of countless people from abroad. There’s a large presence of Americans in Akumal, so it’s a comfortable place for English-speakers to settle in for an extended stay. 

There are three bays here, and they serve as the town’s primary three hubs. Akumal Bay is going to be the most promising choice when looking for somewhere to stay as it’s home to the highest density of hotels, restaurants, and bars in the area. 

It’s also the most popular beach since it offers the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the area. 

Half Moon Bay isn’t quite as spectacular but tends to be less crowded. It’s also home to quite a few condos that tend to be more affordably priced. It’s one of the more promising choices if you’re seeking out an Airbnb or looking for a more long-term rental. 

Laguna Yalku is a protected region that also offers snorkeling and diving.

Preservation is a big priority in Akumal, and there’s even an Ecological Center dedicated to teaching visitors about the complex ecosystems in and around Akumal. Just keep in mind that you’ll need a car if you want to see anything outside of the town proper. 

The closest landmarks are at least a 20 minute drive away. But you don’t have to venture out too far to see unique sights. Sea turtles visit Akumal with regularity, and there are a number of excursions that allow you to get up close and personal with these one-of-a-kind creatures.

7. Tulum

Tulum is home to one of the most well-preserved ancient cities in Mesoamerica, but that’s not what it’s most known for. 

Instead, Tulum has developed into one of the most modern cities along the coast – presenting an ambiance that’s all about wellness and driven by the latest trends in environmentally friendly, spiritually sound, and self-affirming philosophy. 

This is a place to go to heal holistically, but it’s also the hub of a growing international cultural scene. Y

ou can come to Tulum to be seen, or you can spend all of your time exploring the majestic ruins and gorgeous beaches. The choice is entirely yours.

The best time to visit Tulum is a little earlier than many other places in the region. The span from October to December allows you to miss hurricane season but still get to the area at a time where it’s warm but not insufferably hot. 

Those looking to just see and be seen don’t need to worry too much. Try to get a hotel as close to the heart of town as possible. Almost everything is walkable, and that includes the trails that run straight through town and down to the main beaches. 

But if you need to go out a little further, taxis are readily available. The town is also largely accessible by bike.

One thing to keep in mind is that credit and debit cards still aren’t universally accepted here. Bringing some cash money for the restaurants and retail shops is a smart move. Fortunately, both American dollars and pesos are accepted. 

There are tons of boutique shops, but this is a town that’s also dominated by various wellness services. 

If you don’t take the time for some guided meditation or beachfront yoga, you’re missing out on a lot of what this town has to offer. 

For the more adventurous sort, there are plenty of day trip options here. From the ruins of ancient to Tulum to the collection of nearby cenotes to the Sian Ka’an Reserve, there are a lot of beautiful destinations that are a few hours away or less.

8. Puerto Aventuras – Xpu-Ha

The name Puerto Aventuras translates to Adventure Harbor. And while that may make it sound like a Disneyland attraction, there are plenty of reasons to visit. Out of the major places where to stay in Riviera Maya, Puerto Aventuras is the furthest south. 

That means it tends to be less overrun with tourists, but it’s still only an hour or so from Cancun International Airport. That makes it a sensible choice for those looking to get away from the crowds or as the last leg in a trip all the way down the coast. 

In fact, Puerto Aventuras is a planned community, and its population leans heavily towards American and European expatriates. That means that those from abroad might feel more at home here, but it also means that there’s less of an authentic sense of culture here. 

Hotels and condos are both reliable choices for places to stay, though you may have to search a little deeper if you want a hostel. 

The carefully curated sense of small time living here can come with a high price tag. Things are neat and orderly designated in Puerto Aventuras, and the transplant locals leverage zoning regulations to ensure a sense of continuity within the town.

The main attraction here is Xpu-Ha: a calm and gorgeous beach that’s also the central location around which many of the resorts gravitate. 

Upscale amenities are the standard here, so you can expect to find some top-of-the-line golf courses and a serious boating culture. 

But there’s plenty to explore if you decide you’re seeking out something more natural as well. You’ll find everything from jungle excursions to coral diving. That said, things are a little slower in Puerto Aventuras. 

It’s a great place to live, but the naturally sedate atmosphere of this planned community – and its relative remoteness when compared to Cancun – makes it a less appealing place to visit for an extended period of time.

Latin America is filled with stretches of natural majesty that have been rightly called a tourist’s paradise, but few deserve the title as much as Riviera Maya. 

Positioned right along the Yucatan Peninsula, Riviera Maya is a meeting place of culture, history, and natural majesty. 

Its position alongside one of the most beautiful stretches of the Caribbean coast has also helped transform it into one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico. 

These eight cities each have their own unique personality, and they can provide you with practically any experience you could imagine.

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