Located along the Yucatán Peninsula in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, the Riviera Maya—or Mayan Riviera—is one of Mexico’s top coastal resort districts, home to iconic cities like Playa Del Carmen, Akumal, and Puerto Morelos. 

The Mayan Riviera starts a few miles south of Cancún, spanning from Puerto Morelos down to Tulum. If you want to explore some of Mexico’s most pristine beaches, this is the place to go. 

To see all the wonders of the Riviera Maya, just travel along Federal Highway 307, which spans the entire 60-mile stretch and beyond. Most people start by arriving at Cancún International Airport and then making their way south toward Tulum. It can take several days to see these beaches in all their splendor, so consider booking a luxury home in Riviera Maya (about 30 miles from the airport) or a similarly central location. That way, you can explore the beaches at your own pace and really savor your time. 

While you’re making your way along the coast, there are five beaches along the Riviera Maya that shouldn’t be missed.

Beach in Puerto Morelos

Puerto Morelos

Location: Puerto Morelos 

Located about 15 miles south of Cancún, Puerto Morelos is a cozy beachside village with quaint resorts situated along immaculate white sand. 

Why It Made Our List: Many tourists flock to Puerto Morelos because it’s just a 20-minute drive from Cancún International Airport. Because it’s so compact, you can easily wander from the shore to the city center and enjoy a margarita or do some shopping. 

For those who love snorkeling, Puerto Morelos is home to a flourishing marine ecosystem with over 65 species including tropical fish and sea turtles. The ocean waves are generally calm and serene, so you can get up close and personal with the full array of tropical marine life. 

Puerto Morelos ranks among the best beaches on the Riviera Maya because of its chill, laid-back atmosphere. It’s not the best destination for partiers—in fact, almost everything is closed by 11 p.m. But for those seeking a relaxing, family-friendly, or romantic escape, Puerto Morelos is the place to go. 

How to Get There: Travel down Federal Highway 307 from Cancún International Airport. The distance is about 15 miles, and the drive should take you about 20 minutes in most cases. Just take the Puerto Morelos exit and head east. Alternately, you can use an airport transfer or shuttle to reach the village. 

Best Time to Go: If you’re looking for some quiet serenity, weekdays are best. The village and sand see the most activity between noon and 4 p.m., so avoid those hours if you’d like to beat the crowds.

The Secret Beach at Playa Del Carmen

The Secret Beach at Playa Del Carmen 

Location: Playa Del Carmen

Travel another 20 miles south from Puerto Morales, and you’ll find yourself in Playa Del Carmen, a top resort town on the Riviera Maya. It’s the unofficial center of the district. 

Why It Made Our List: Playa Del Carmen is consistently ranked one of the top destinations in Mexico, and the crowded beaches are a reflection of that popularity. On any given day, you may be one of hundreds of tourists stretching out on the sand. 

But there’s a secret beach that the locals prefer. It’s much more relaxed, much less crowded, and still an amazing sight to behold. It’s tucked between the multi-million-dollar Paradisus Hotel complex and Marazul development, so there’s an incredible air of luxury that surrounds you. 

Best of all, the secret beach is unique in that it’s located near a massive cenote, a massive limestone sinkhole that gives way to a natural pool of water. The cenote water bubbles up into the ocean along the shore, creating a small freshwater river about a meter deep. It’s like nature’s waterpark. 

Bring a picnic basket, splash in the ocean, and enjoy a unique serenity that’s not seen anywhere else on the Mayan Riviera. 

How to Get There: Start at the Cozumel Ferry Pier in Playa Del Carmen. Then start walking south along the sand. In less than an hour, you’ll arrive at your destination. You’ll know you’ve reached your destination when you see the Paradisus Hotel and the sand becomes rocky. If you’d prefer to take a taxi, select the Paradisus Hotel as your destination and walk north until you reach the shore, about one-fifth of a mile.

Best Time to Go: If you’re not fond of crowds, avoid Sunday afternoons. On weekdays, the locals start to gather around 5 p.m., so opt for early afternoon for the maximum peace and quiet.

Xpu-Ha Beach

Xpu-Ha Beach 

Location: Puerto Aventuras 

Venture 14 miles south of Playa Del Carmen and you’ll find yourself in Puerto Aventuras, a small community divided between quiet residential living and coastal tourism. There you’ll find Xpu-Ha (pronounced sphu-ha) Beach, another one of the best beaches on the Riviera Maya. 

Why It Made Our List: Awarded TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence, Xpu-Ha is a small beach that makes a huge impact with its unsullied white sand and clear, crystal-blue waters. The beauty alone makes it worth the visit, but it offers so much more than just great Instagram opportunities. 

The ocean is perfect for swimming, and the beach has an amazing party atmosphere thanks to the nearby Serenity Beach Club. You can grab drinks on the sand, dance to live music, or rent a fully equipped luxury tent complete with king-size bed and Netflix access. The food at the Beach Club is also to die for. 

The basic Beach Club services—including access to lounge chairs, towels, public restrooms, and other amenities—cost 500 pesos. Children under 12 pay 100 pesos. Tented camping costs vary between $75 and $500 per night depending on the type of room, the time of year, and the day of the week. 

You don’t have to pay the club fee to enjoy Xpu-Ha, but it’s worth it to get the full experience and convenience. 

How to Get There: Head down Highway 307 until you reach KM 265. Take the exit and park at the Serenity Beach Club. Parking is free, but the lot tends to get crowded by about 11 a.m.

Best Time to Go: The beach is only open between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., 7 days a week. The earlier you arrive, the more time you’ll have to enjoy the stunning scenery and the resort amenities.

Akumal Beach Turtle

Akumal Beach

Location: Akumal

When you finish your excursion at Xpu-Ha, return to the highway and head south another 10 miles. There you’ll find the quaint beach community and ecovillage of Akumal, Place of the Turtles. 

Why It Made Our List: Some people love Akumal for its swimmable lagoon. Others love it for its high-end resort atmosphere. We love it because it has something for everybody: snorkeling alongside sea turtles in calm ocean waters, dining and drinking at casual eateries along the sand, strolling alongside historic hotels and luxury boutiques. It’s like an amusement park for beach lovers. 

The entire stretch is only 3 miles long, so you can explore the community on a single day trip. Spend a couple of hours snorkeling in the turquoise waters of the Yalku Lagoon, enjoy a romantic dinner at the Lol Ha Restaurant and Beach Bar, and spend some money at the shoreline boutiques before returning to your vehicle to start the next leg of your Riviera Maya adventure. 

Note:Most entry points are free and publicly accessible, but certain parts of the beach have been purchased by hotels and may cost up to 100 pesos for entry. 

How to Get There: There are several Akumal exits along Highway 307. Your best bet is to park near the center of town. Look for the Akumal exit sign, venture off the freeway, and follow the signs pointing to Lol Ha Restaurant. 

Best Time to Go: To swim with the marine life or enjoy some snorkeling, early morning is best. Tour groups typically arrive around 9 a.m., after which the waters can get crowded. The sea turtle population has declined somewhat, so you’ll want to avoid the crowds in order to have the best chance of seeing these majestic creatures.

Playa Ruinas

Playa Ruinas

Location: Tulum 

Finally, we end our Riviera Maya adventure at the southernmost point, Playa Ruinas. Located in the historic city of Tulum just 17 miles south of Akumal, Playa Ruinas is perhaps the most unique and exciting stop on this list. 

Why It Made Our List: Once a key Mayan territory, Tulum is one of Mexico’s top destinations for history buffs. The beach, Playa Ruinas, is replete with well-preserved ruins dating as far back as the 13th century. The clifftop Castillo overlooks the vast ocean, and numerous other pyramids and ruins line the grassy pathways just above the sand. 

While the ruins are spectacular, you don’t have to spend your whole day admiring them. Head to the bottom of the cliff and join other beachgoers along the shoreline. The waters are calm, and you can even swim north to the nearby Boca Paila Peninsula. While Playa Ruinas doesn’t offer the types of resort accommodations found at other beaches, it’s a historic treasure that’s not to be missed. 

If you want to visit the ruins and access the quiet stretch of sand below the cliffs, you’ll need to pay an entry fee of 65 pesos. There is an additional fee for parking if you bring your own vehicle. 

How to Get There: Tulum is unofficially recognized as the southern tip of the Riviera Maya. To get to the beach via the ruins, drive along the highway until you see the “Tulum” sign, located about 2 miles south of the city center. It will take you right to the parking lot. You can also take a taxi or bus from the city.

Best Time to Go: To see the ruins, you’ll need to visit between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Most tour buses start to pour in around 10 a.m., so arrive right at opening time to enjoy the smallest crowds and the greatest relaxation. 

See the Riviera Maya in All its Splendor 

The great thing about touring the best beaches in the Riviera Maya is that the whole district is only about 60 miles in length. If you’re short on time, you can start in Cancun and see all five destinations in a single weekend. Visit each spot on the journey south, and then revisit your favorites as you return north. Alternately, you can hit Puerto Morelos, Xpu-Ha, and Playa Ruinas on the way down, and then explore Akumal and Playa Del Carmen on your way back up. 

When you take this tour, it’s sure to give you a whole new appreciation of the Mexican coast and the Yucatán Peninsula. There’s so much to see in Mexico beyond Cancún and Cabo San Lucas. Make your way down the Riviera Maya, and discover a side of Mexico that few Americans ever see.