One of the best things about visiting the Riviera Maya region of Mexico is all the amazing places you can explore nearby. Most resorts and hotels have tour desks that offer guided Riviera Maya excursions to the big attractions, but you shouldn’t be afraid to explore on your own. Going on your own can save you money and give you flexibility to stay as long as you want. Here are 5 great Riviera Maya excursions you can enjoy on your own.
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Options for Getting Around Riviera Maya
It’s easy to get around Riviera Maya on your own. The most convenient option is a taxi. Taxis are regulated and supposed to charge a set rate, but you should always confirm the price before you get in. The least expensive option is something called the collectivo. The collectivo is a local bus service that runs through the region. In the tourist areas, it’s usually an air conditioned white van. Ask at your hotel front desk and they can direct you on where and how to catch the collectivo. There are stations in Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. You can also catch a colectivo on the edge of the highway. You’ll need to pay in pesos and have exact change and you need to watch so you can ask them to stop when you get to the place you’re going. You’ll have to walk a bit. Collectivos do not pick up at the front doors of your hotel. If you need to get from Cancun airport to Playa Del Carmen or other spots in Quintana Roo, the ADO bus is also an option.
What to Bring on Riviera Maya Excursions
Make sure you bring a water bottle, sunscreen and a sun hat on Riviera Maya excursions. Depending on what your plans are, you may also want to bring a bathing suit and water shoes. I always bring a lightweight day pack to hold my stuff on day trips.
Playa Del Carmen
Visiting Playa Del Carmen is one of the easiest do-it yourself Riviera Maya excursions. You can easily catch a taxi or a collectivo to this coastal resort town. There are clubs, restaurants, souvenir shops, clothing stores and more. It’s fun just to walk around and explore. If you’re traveling after dark, it’s safer to use a taxi.
The Mayan ruins in Tulum are the easiest one to access without a guided tour and they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They are not the largest ruins, but they are the only ones located on the coast. Their cliff-side location makes for fantastic views and photo-ops. It’s under $5 USD to access the ruins when you’re not on a guided tour. Bring a swimsuit when you visit Tulum. There is a nice beach right inside the ruins. You’ll also want to visit Playa Paraiso, which has been ranked as one of the top beaches in Mexico. There are lots of great shops and restaurants in Tulum. For one of the best burritos of your life, check out Burrito Amor. Tacos for breakfast? We say, yes! Especially if it’s at Taqueria Honorio in Tulum.
Xel-ha – Riviera Maya Excursions
Xel-Há Park is a an all-inclusive outdoor water park that is about 9-km outside Tulum. Many resorts offer combination tours that include a visit to the Tulum ruins with a visit to Xel-Há. The usual complaint about these tours is that people wished they had more time at Xel-Há. If you do it yourself, you can go early and spend the entire day. There are snorkeling activities, a cave, zip lines, a river to tube on, cenotes, a water slide, restaurants, bars and more and it’s all included in one fee. You’ll want to go early and spend the full day there.
Cozumel – Riviera Maya Excursions
If you love snorkeling, you’ll want to visit Cozumel. It’s easy and inexpensive to catch the Ultramar Ferry from Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel. The ride takes about 20 minutes. Cozumel’s reefs are famed for their magnificent diving and snorkeling. Once you’re on the island, you can book a snorkeling tour. If you want some beach time, check out Paradise Beach. Swim with sharks and stingrays at Stingray Beach or visit the San Gervasio ruins to worship the goddess of fertility.
Isla Mujeres – Riviera Maya Excursions
It’s super fun to rent a golf cart and explore this sleepy island, that translates to mean “Island of Women.” The Ultramar Ferry offers regular ferry service from Cancun to Isla Mujeres. There are four ferry terminals in Cancun – three of which are in the hotel zone. The ferry ride takes about 30 minutes. You can rent golf carts near the dock and explore the whole island. The southern tip of the island is the highest point on the Yucatan Peninsula and the location of the Mayan Ruins of Ixchel. According to legend, it is the place where the Mayan Gods took care of the Caribbean Sea. You can relax at Playa Norte Beach, explore the shops in town and check out the sea wall murals. From June to September, you can book a tour to go snorkeling with whale sharks!
Related: Check out our detailed post to learn more about a Do-it-Yourself Isla Mujeres Tour.
Where to Stay in Riviera Maya
There are a lot of great resorts in Riviera Maya. One of our favorites, Sandos Playacar, is about a 20-minute walk from Playa Del Carmen. If you want to really splurge, consider a stay at the ultra luxurious, Le Blanc Spa Resort in nearby Cancun.
Related: Choosing the right all-inclusive resort for your family vacation is incredibly challenging. Check out our post Fab Five All Inclusive Family Resorts.