The Riviera Maya, also called the Mayan Riviera, makes for one of the hands-down best Mexico cultural tours. As well as a trip filled with sun, sand, seas, and adventure! A long stretch of Caribbean coastline laden with golden and white-sand beaches, the Riviera Maya offers diving in cenotes – the stunning water-filled sinkholes of the Yucatan Peninsula – and opportunities to go snorkeling in the reefs and wrecks just off the shoreline. That’s alongside the option to explore the Si’an Kaan Biosphere Reserve and even visit the monkey sanctuary! But that’s not all:
You can play golf, enjoy some of the best restaurants in all of Mexico, order cocktails on the beach, even charter a yacht or try out some of the adventure sports the area has in spades: jet skiing, zip lining, sailing, jungle tours…
That’s in addition to the fact that you can find great locations for scuba diving up and down the Riviera Maya.
Where is the Riviera Maya?
Most Riviera Maya tours will see you start at the village of Tulum, pass through Puerto Morelos and Felipe Carillo Puerto eventually ending up in Playa del Carmen. The whole area used to be known as the Cancun-Tulum corridor but received a sexy re-branding back in 1999. It’s essentially a large swathe of the coastline of the state of Quintana Roo, which makes up part of the eastern section of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Riviera Maya diving and snorkeling
Perhaps the main reason visitors are drawn to the area, as well as one of the most popular activities among local people – just check out the number of Riviera Maya dive shops you can find! – are diving and snorkeling. There are a huge number of picturesque cenotes, offshore reefs, shipwrecks and a fascinating variety of marine wildlife to swim with and around. You can hunt around to find the best Riviera Maya scuba diving prices and will often get better value for money when renting any sort of diving equipment from the smaller shops in the local area.
The best diving in the Riviera Maya can probably be found in the local cenotes (see below). But you can also try out your snorkeling expertise. Why not try:
1) The reefs of Puerto Aventuras
The three reefs of Puerto Aventuras start from quite close to shore but eventually drop deeper than any diver can reach. Even the most experienced user of scuba gear visiting the Riviera Maya will find a challenge here and among the reefs over on Cozumel.
2) Dive with sharks and sea turtles
Scuba diving in the Riviera Maya in Mexico comes highly recommended at least partly because of the huge variety of marine wildlife which makes its home in the region.
It’s only a five-minute boat ride from Playa del Carmen to the November-March feeding grounds of the giant bull sharks. If you fancy swimming with the even larger whale sharks you can do this from May to September near the northern tip of the peninsula. These giant creatures visit every year in order to breed. Green and loggerhead turtles also lay their eggs on local beaches between the early summer and the start of fall or autumn, so if you’ve always fancied swimming alongside these endangered but magnificent animals, you can do so then.
3) Snorkel in cenotes
But some of the best Riviera Maya dive sites for snorkelers and scuba aficionados alike are the cenotes of the Yucatan. These are what really set the dive scene in this stretch of coast apart from the rest of the world. A trip which includes snorkeling in the Riviera Maya wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the local underwater cave systems. Casa Cenote, for example, is a great opportunity for keen snorkelers. Your Riviera Maya adventures don’t stop at the water’s edge either:
Other top locations and activities in Riviera Maya
For many visitors, the Mayan ruins which can be found in several spots on the Yucatan Peninsula are one of the major reasons for visiting. The Ruins of Tulum are particularly well-regarded. Formerly a city called Zamá, this archaeological site is well worth your time.
2) Visit Punta Laguna Nature Reserve
Punta Laguna is simply stunning. Whether you want to hire a kayak, zip line across and around the lagoon, abseil down into a local cenote or hike into the jungle – where you’ll find howler monkeys and spider monkeys in abundance – it’s a great day out for all the family.
3) Go to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
The Reserva de la Biosfera Sian Ka’an is the place to go if you love nature. The many Riviera Maya diving opportunities you can find will let you appreciate the wonders of life beneath the surface of the refreshing local waters, but it’s Sian Ka’an where you want to go if it’s a real taste of land-based Mexican wildlife that you’re interested in.
From a bouncy four-wheeled excursion to the option of some serious off-road hiking (it’s always best to take a guide if you’re planning on doing this though as there are no man-made paths), here you can see everything from tapirs to crocodiles to monkeys to manatees, four species of turtles, giant land crabs and more than 300 species of birds and 400 species of fish. Not one to be missed.
Riviera Maya cave diving in cenotes
The cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula are where the ancient Mayans went to commune with their gods. And on your first sight of one of these wondrous caves, you will see why. People from around the world flock to the Riviera Maya for cave diving, aching for the chance to explore these water-filled sinkholes. Because whatever bare description you can find on a page, nothing can compare to dipping beneath the turquoise or translucent waters of a cenote, surrounded by fish and sometimes even freshwater turtles, with shafts of light shining down from the roof above creating a mesmerizing display.
There are many caverns in the local area. Some of them are linked together into cave systems like the Sistema Dos Ojos, the third largest in the world. While there are plenty of cenotes which are worth your time even if you aren’t in the area for long, the most unmissable Riviera Maya caves include:
Out of all of the cenotes on the Riviera Maya, the “Grand Cenote” is perhaps the most famous. It’s easy to see why. With the most jaw-dropping lighting effects, beautiful water plants trailing into the water and deeper depths to challenge more experienced divers, it has something for everyone. That includes the option to view and swim alongside the fish, turtles and other marine wildlife which make this cave their home – even if you prefer to do so with snorkeling gear.
Known as the “dream dive” by the crew in at least one Riviera Maya cave diving shop, “the Pit” might have a slightly mundane name but the dive it offers is truly exceptional. Centre stage is given to a 100-foot high beam of light which penetrates almost all of the way down into the first part of this hourglass-shaped cavern’s 120-foot depth.
Near the surface, you can see stalactites and other interesting geological formations. The main cavern itself is truly gigantic, leaving you feeling like you are swimming in an almost endless space. Beneath the narrower section, you will find a deeper cavern which falls away some 300 feet below you. It can be pretty terrifying. But the stunning halocline layer where freshwater and saltwater meet and the other main sights are in the first cavern, so there’s rarely a desire to venture down that far.
The famous “Two Eyes” is known as one of the most exciting Riviera Maya caves to dive in. Not least because of the amazing transparent quality and warmth of the water, a gorgeous surface level perfect for snorkelers and the wondrous marine life and geology.
Being surrounded by the beautiful Dos Ojos Natural Park doesn’t hurt its viability as a place to spend a lovely relaxed afternoon either. The Batcave – a super heroically-named part of the cave system where a population of local bats roosts – also keeps the area quieter in terms of insect life, which makes for a welcome break from these little buzzing critters as well as from Mexico’s glorious sunshine.
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