Puerto Morelos is a quaint fishing village located 36km south of Cancun and 30km north of Playa del Carmen. Tranquility reigns with open skies, long stretches of beach and a small town atmosphere. It is a place to relax, soak up the sun, meet the locals and explore the surrounding natural wonders. There are some wonderful local family-run restaurants but no late night disco's to be found. It is the home of many artists who sell their work in stores and on the weekends at Tianguis Market. Motorised watersports are not permitted due to the National Marine Park Status, but there are non-motorised watersports, scuba diving and snorkelling the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (which is just 500m from the shore, the closest point along most of the coast of Quintana Roo), jungle tours, unchartered ruins, cenotes, horesriding, Crococun Zoo and the botanic gardens.
Playa del Carmen
Known as 'Playa' by the locals, Playa Del Carmen is 34km south of Puerto Morelos and 70km south of Cancun (50 min driving). It is the centre of the Mayan Riviera with a relaxed atmosphere, smaller boutique lodgings, a distinct European flavour and famous for it stylish beach clubs that offer food, beverages, spa treatments, aquatic sports, access to restrooms, showers and pools ... not just the usual public beach visit. Aside from a delightful beach experience there is definately some nightlife going on and plenty of restaurants and cuisine to choose from. Also a great place to get adventurous and discover the natural world is at the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, about an hour away, near Tulum. It is one of the biggest protected areas of Mexico, with great bird-watching, world-class snorkelling and a chance to get know the mangrove forests and maybe even spot a manatee, or if you are extremely lucky, you may spot a Jaguar for which the reserve is famous for still having a healthy population of. There are deep-sea fishing charters, cenotes and Xcaret Eco Park, a Mexican themed 'eco-archaeological park' located just south of the town in Xcare.
Akumal, the 'Land of Turtles' is one of the most peaceful towns in the Riviera Maya with a protected shallow bay, a secluded beach and nearby reef. It is located between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Peaceful does not mean there is nothing to do. Snorkel with turtles, visit Pablo Bush Romero Memorial Park (Pablo was the founder of Akumal back in 1958 primarily for use as a scuba diving base), visit the Ecological Centre which educates the public about conservation of the environment with a focus on Green and Loggerhead Sea Turtles, or visit nearby Yal-ku Lagoon, a narrow inlet through which fresh water travelling via underground rivers reaches the ocean. There is also sailing, fishing, scuba diving and cenote/cave diving. Cenote Santa Cruz is close by and surrounded by lush jungle with crytal clear waters to swim in. Cenote Aktun Chen is also close by with incredible caverns and lush jungle. Get the adrenaline pumping with a morning zipline adventure and then relaxe in the cool, crystal-clear waters of the cenote. The Mayan ruins at Coba are also close by.
Tulum is located at the southern end of the Riviera Maya, around 70km south of Playa del Carmen, and is one of the most visited and beautiful Mayan cities in Mexico. It offers the perfect combination of relaxation, tranquillity, seclusion and interesting history. Most tourists head to Tulum beach strip for accommodation, the beach, restaurants and shopping. It has a relaxed Bohemian feel to it. The Tulum Ruins archaeological site boasts a stunning location on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The most striking building is El Castillo (The Castle) with some wonderful fresco's inside. Also visit the Templo del Dios Descendente (Temple of the Descending God), the Templo de los Frescos (Temple of the Frescoes) and the beach, accessed by a stairway down the cliffs. Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is also located near Tulum and offers great bird-watching and world-class snorkelling.
Outdoor activities in the Riviera Maya centres around the beaches, reef and cenotes. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef extends along the Riviera Maya and is as close as 500m to the shore in Puerto Morelos. Snorkelling, sailing, fishing and various other motorised and non-motorised watersports and scuba diving are all options along the coast. A must-do for brave certified divers is diving with bull sharks, available between November until March. Horseriding, ATV tours and zipline adventures are great land-based options. The area is most famous for its underground rivers and cenotes which are a must-see. Cenotes are sinkholes in the native limestone that are filled with crystal-clear groundwater; some are large and deep, while others are small passages through a cave. Cenote Dos Ojos, located between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, is a flooded cave system created naturally over 6500 years ago. Snorkel at this magical dive site and relax in glittering turquoise water, or dive deeper to explore hidden wonders if you are a certified diver.
There are amazing ruins and archaeological sites throughout the Riviera Maya to explore. Many of them are central to towns along the coast, such as Tulum, while others are a little further afield. Around 44km from Tulum, in the middle of an impressive jungle, you'll find the archaeological site of Coba. Considered, together with Tikal (in Guatemala), one of the most important ceremonial centres of the golden age of the Mayan civilisation. The site is the nexus of the largest network of stone causeways of the ancient Mayan world.
The Infinity Experience
Gran Cenote, TulumShutterstock