21 Riveting Things to Do in Riviera Maya

Allison on the beach in Cozumel

The Riviera Maya is one of Mexico’s most enchanting stretches of coastline, drawing visitors of all kinds to this stunning beach-lined area of Quintana Roo.

Technically, the Riviera Maya is the section of coastline that extends from 10 miles south of Cancún in the charming town of Puerto Morelos all the way down to Carrillo Puerto, past Tulum.

However, for the purposes of this post, we’re also including Cancún since it’s so close by (and the major jumping-off point for all these things to do in Riviera Maya, due to its international airport).

I’m also including islands accessible from the Riviera Maya via ferry, such as Isla Mujeres and Cozumel.

Lastly, this post also includes day trips on the interior of the Yucatán Peninsula, so long as they are reachable from a destination on the Riviera Maya, like Playa del Carmen or Tulum.

Without further ado, here are the best things to do in the Riviera Maya, as contributed by my fellow travel bloggers!

Top Things to Do in the Riviera Maya

Visit the Mayan ruins of Tulum

Brilliant turquoise waters of Tulum's coastline with the ruins above the sea

Contributed by Stephanie Craig of History Fangirl

One of the most important historic sites in Mexico is located right on the Riviera Maya.

The Tulum Ruins are Mayan ruins, but they’re much closer to Riviera Maya hotspots than places like Chichen Itza.

Plus the setting of the ruins perched on a cliff above the Carribean means that they’re much prettier, too!

This is a can’t-miss for all kinds of travelers. Even if you’re just coming to Mexico for a fly-and-flop beach vacation, it’s worth leaving your resort for a few hours to take in this magnificent site.

You can choose to visit on a guided tour, and most will include hotel pickup. This makes it convenient to visit from nearly anywhere in the region. 

If you’re staying on Cozumel or in Playa del Carmen, you can grab a taxi in PDC and pre-arrange the driver to come back to pick you up at the end of your visit. 

If you do choose to visit independently, you can purchase a self-guided tour ahead of time so that you can learn all about the ruins as you tour the archeological park.

You will also want to purchase a skip-the-line ticket in this instance, as the line to get in can run quite long!

When you choose what to wear to the Tulum ruins, make sure you pick shoes that are comfortable and broken in. You will be doing a lot of walking!

Swim with whale sharks on Isla Mujeres

A giant whale shark swimming away in the deep blue sea

Contributed by Steph of A Diver’s Passport

Swimming with whale sharks is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the Riviera Maya is one of the best places in the world to do so.

From late May to September, these gentle giants, which are the largest fish in the oceans, frequent the area north of Isla Contoy.

To get there, you can join one of the daily boat tours that operate throughout the official whale shark season. Boats depart for the whale shark area from Cancun, Isla Mujeres, and Holbox.

Hereby, the boat ride from Isla Mujeres is the shortest one. While these are the best options, it is also possible to book a tour from Tulum, Cozumel, or Playa del Carmen.

It is the ideal thing to do in the Riviera Maya for adventure lovers as it is a marvelous experience to see these giants glide through the water.

And thanks to governmental regulations that regulate these encounters off the coast of the Yucatan, it is an ethical animal encounter. Therefore, you can enjoy it without concern for the morality of the activity.

During the whale shark tour, you have the opportunity to swim with the majestic creatures up to three times.

Hereby, the individual encounters vary in length according to the sharks’ speed. Nevertheless, the encounter remains an extraordinary and magical experience that you will never forget.

After the encounter, the boat heads to Playa Norte, where everyone on the boat can swim in the crystal-clear water while the boat crew prepares ceviche and guacamole, culminating in a perfect end to an unforgettable day.

Prices for whale shark tours departing Isla Mujeres start upwards of $125 USD and cost more if you depart from other areas of the Riviera Maya.

Visit the Mayan Museum in Cancún

Mayan museum in Cancun with sign for the entryway with a reflecting pool

Contributed by Lucy and Dan of Thoroughly Travel

Cancún may be a popular holiday destination for its sprawling beaches, luxury resorts and vibrant nightlife, but any visitor with an interest in history may be surprised to know that Cancún is also home to an important archaeological site.

Nestled in the middle of the hotel zone, Museo Maya de Cancún (Cancún’s Mayanhistory museum) contains some of Mexico’s most important Mayan ruins. 

The museum features exhibitions of artefacts that were discovered on the site, as well as interesting displays of Mayan settlements throughout the rest of Mexico.

The jungle paths leads you around a collection of preserved buildings from the San Miguelito community, who lived here about 800 years ago.

The largest pyramid is 8 metres (26 ft) tall, but most buildings were houses. Placards line the path and describe each ruin’s function in English and Spanish. 

A visit to Cancún’s Mayan Museum takes 1-2 hours and costs 85 pesos per person.

The site is easily accessible on foot if you’re staying in the hotel zone and it’s worth noting that no large bags are allowed inside. 

Those on a budget could take the bus from the hotel zone and downtown, which costs about 15 pesos.

Alternatively, the site can be reached by car (there’s a free parking lot on-site) or taxi.

Guided tours are also available to book and include transfers to and from your hotel and a guided walk.

Cool off with a day pass to a rooftop pool in Playa del Carmen

The rooftop pool club at the Palm in Playa del Carmen with pink hammocks and sunbeds

Contributed by Ashlea J. Russell of She Roams About

Everyone knows the Riviera Maya has beautiful beaches, but there’s another way to take a dip and cool off.

A rooftop pool is a great way to spend the day unwinding in comfort and one of Playa Del Carmen’s best kept secrets is the Roof Club at the Palm.

Tucked away atop The Palm Hotel on Calle 8 Nte, only a few steps from the bustling Quinta Avenida, this rooftop pool offers everything you need for a full day of relaxation. 

The Roof Club is strictly 14+ which makes it the ideal spot to sip a cocktail in the overwater hammock or lounge on the pool beds.

They also offer friendly poolside service, a bar and kitchen, sun loungers, and a view of the ocean.

Amazingly, the Roof Club is not a tourist hotspot but is popular with locals and travellers in the know which means the prices are really reasonable! 

Typical day pass entry is 400 pesos (around $20 USD) and includes 300 pesos credit to be used on food and drink, access to the main pool and dip pool, facilities for changing, pool towels, and loungers. 

For a clubbier vibe, check out Alessia Dayclub, the largest and chicest rooftop pool in town.

If your vibe is more boho and chill check out Be Roof which is low key and extra affordable.

Explore the Coba ruins by bike

The pathways around Coba ruins on a bike

Contributed by Brodi Cole of Our Offbeat Travels

Visiting the Coba ruins is one of the best things to do in Riviera Maya, Mexico. The Coba ruins are an ancient Mayan city located in the Yucatan Peninsula, making them a must-see for history fans and adventurous travelers alike.

With its proximity to popular resort towns like Tulum and Playa del Carmen, it’s easy to make a day trip out of visiting the Coba ruins.

The Coba ruins are open from 8 AM to 5 PM every day, with the last entrance at 4:30 PM. It’s best to arrive as early as possible in order to beat crowds and heat!

The ruins offer a unique experience that can’t be found anywhere else in the region. Visitors can explore temples scattered around the area by walking or biking on paths surrounded by lush jungle vegetation.

Getting to the Coba ruins from Tulum is relatively easy. You can take either a colectivo (shared van) or an ADO bus from Tulum to Coba. These usually cost $5 and $15 respectively.

From Playa del Carmen it takes about two hours by car or bus, while from Cancun it takes about three hours by car or bus.

Numerous tours visit Coba from throughout Riviera Maya as well.

Take a golf cart ride around Isla Mujeres

View of the water and beach at Punta Sur in Isla Mujeres in Mexico

Contributed by Ruby Escalona of A Journey We Love

Isla Mujeres is a quick day trip from Cancun, but the best way to get around the island is to ride around a golf cart.

It is best to reserve a golf cart in advance since most tourists staying on the island have the same idea!

If you don’t have a golf cart reservation and you are in one of the earlier ferries for the day, you can reserve a golf cart from the ferry employees.

They will give you a receipt that you can then show to the rental place, and you’re out and about with the golf cart within 15 minutes. 

Renting a golf cart means you have control of how long you want to stay in a certain area – be it the downtown/shopping district, the beaches, or the Ixchel temple ruins and Punta Sur, which is a highlight of the trip.

Punta Sur is the easternmost part of Isla Mujeres, where the first sunlight hits Mexico!

It is a great place to walk around and see natural wonders as well as small Mayan ruins.

From there, you can see the famous shell house that’s available to rent on Airbnb!

Spend the day having fun at Xcaret

View of Xcaret park with a photo of the sign and water and palm trees

Contributed by Michelle of Adventures Abound

Xcaret is a family of ecological and adventure theme parks in the Riviera Maya area. 

The Xcaret, Xenses, and Xel-ha parks are great for families who want to bring their kids.

Couples traveling to the Cancun and Riviera Maya area will also find these are a great option for an excursion, especially on a honeymoon in Mexico.

Adventurous travelers are not left behind however, as they will enjoy the thrills at Xplor, Xavage, and Xplor Fuego. 

The namesake park, Xcaret, is a classic excursion that makes a great day trip!

Visitors can snorkel, float through an extensive lazy river, and watch a show exhibiting the history of Mexico.

Tickets, which start at $110 for adults ($83 ages 5-11, free ages 4 and under) include access to the entire park for the day.

There is so much to do, it will be hard to pack it all in: relaxing by the pool or oceanside, exploring the butterfly house, aquarium, and aviary, pre-Hispanic cultural presentations, even a build your own taco bar.

The easiest way to get to Xcaret is to book the transportation option at the time of ticket purchase.

Transportation is provided from hotels in Cancun, Riviera Maya, and Playa del Carmen for an additional $30.

Night dive with crocodiles in Sian Ka’an Reserve.

Night diving with a baby crocodile in the water at Sian Kaan near the Riviera Maya

Contributed by Claire of Tales of a Backpacker

f you’re looking for a unique thing to do in the Riviera Maya, a night dive with crocodiles certainly fits the bill! 

A must for adventurous nature lovers, night diving with crocodiles in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is an incredible opportunity to observe saltwater crocodiles in their natural habitat, without cages, feeding, or disturbing them in any way.

The crocodiles vary in size, from small young ones to up to two meters long, which is relatively small in crocodile terms.

You can see them from below as they rest on the surface, or at eye level if you surface to see them a bit closer.  It is an exhilarating experience! 

Koox Diving run small group night-time tours to dive with crocodiles from Tulum, Playa del Carmen, or Puerto Aventuras from their respective meeting points, and transport you to the Sian Ka’an Reserve for your dive. 

You’ll need a PADI Open water certification or equivalent to dive, or they also have a snorkel option if you’re not qualified to dive.

The tours cost about $215 USD per person and include all your dive gear and torches, as well as transport and your guide. 

It might sound terrifying, but it is completely safe – although no doubt the adrenaline will be flowing as you dive in complete darkness! 

Visit the lesser-known ruins of Muyil

Contributed by Christen of Travel Wander Grow

If you are looking for an excursion on the Yucatán Peninsula that is relatively under the radar, you should consider the Muyil Ruins.

Muyil is one of the oldest Mayan settlements in the Yucatán, and was also one of the longest inhabited.

The site features impressive temples, such as El Castillo and the Muyil Pink Palace, pictured above.

I recommend that you book a tour in advance or that you book a tour with one of the onsite guides as it will help “bring the site to life” and show you what life was like here when the Mayans were a thriving civilization. 

In addition, behind the ruins you’ll find the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, which is full of lush jungle fauna and flora.

This Biosphere leads to the Muyil (Chunyaxché) Lagoon, where you can experience the Muyil river float in lagoons carved out nearly 2000 years ago. Overall, if you are a history and nature lover, this tour would be an ideal choice for you. 

You will need to drive to reach this site – it is about an hour from Tulum.

If you pre book a tour, this is likely included in your booking fee. If you prefer public transportation, the ADO bus and taxis can also both take you here. Otherwise, there is parking onsite if you prefer to drive.

The entrance fee is 45 pesos, and that price goes to about 600 pesos per person if you include the tour / entry to the river float. 

Swim with sea turtles in Akumal

People snorkeling in Akumal with turtles and families enjoying the clear waters

Contributed by Daniel of Layer Culture

Snorkeling or swimming with sea turtles is one of the best things to do in Riviera Maya if you are looking for a natural activity that can connect you with the sea life.

Many travelers including solo travelers and families visiting this region head down to Playa Tortuga in Akumal for the chance to snorkel with turtles in some of the region’s clearest waters.

On arrival at the beach, there are local organizations and cooperatives that provide you with all the information needed to be able to do this activity safely.

There are also some rules to respect and follow before you enter the water so you can understand more about turtle welfare.

The great thing about this activity is that you will also get the chance to see stingrays, sea urchins, corals, reefs as well as many other colorful sea creatures.

Most visitors looking for things to do in Akumal will visit this beach as part of a guided tour, which usually includes transport from Cancun, Tulum or Playa del Carmen and takes around 40 minutes.

You’ll also get equipment such as snorkeling and safety gear included, that way, you don’t have to think about transport to and from the beach or rent anything when you arrive.

The great thing about visiting Playa Tortugas in Akumal is that you get a chance to be closer to nature than other parts of the region!

Explore the restaurant scene in Tulum 

entry into the cafe called raw ove

Contributed by Daria of The Discovery Nut

Tulum is a popular destination in Mexico’s Riviera Maya famous for its white-sand beaches, amazing cenotes and stunning Mayan ruins along the Caribbean Sea.

This town is also home to a wonderful restaurant scene where you can find anything from traditional Mexican food like tacos and tamales to elaborate international dishes. 

Spend some time enjoying the amazing gastronomy in this destination. Downtown Tulum (or Tulum Centro) is home to many budget-friendly restaurants like Tacos El Bajón and Mi Burrito Amor, where you can try authentic tacos, burritos and other staples from Mexican cuisine. 

Downtown Tulum boasts the best street food in town. and you can enjoy delicious tacos for less than $5 USD. Here you can also find establishments like Antojitos a La Chiapaneca where you can sample regional Mexican food. 

If you are more in the mood for international dishes, you can grab some Middle Eastern food at Pasha or enjoy pad Thai at Curry Thai by Po or newly opened Tomizen that has flavorful ramen noodles and crispy spring rolls.

Aldea Zama is a new area of Tulum that also has some restaurants like Rossina where you can grab a hearty breakfast or brunch. Their menu has delicious club sandwiches, waffles, pancakes and a variety of smoothies.

Tulum Hotel Zone boasts some of the most fancy restaurants in Tulum like Rosa Negra, Arca, and Bal Nak which are perfect for a special occasion like a birthday celebration or dinner date. 

Mina is another popular restaurant in the Tulum Hotel Zone that offers a variety of seafood and elaborate cocktails like strawberry mojito and pisco sour.

Mina boasts superb views of the Caribbean and is a great place to have a meal with the view.

Whatever food you like, you can be sure that you will find it in Tulum! 

Visit Playa Mia Grand Beach Park on Cozumel

Dolphin, pirate ship, etc. in a pool on an overcast day with kids enjoying the water in Cozumel at a water park

Contributed by Saskia from Sas Crossing Countries

Cozumel is one of the highlights in the Riviera Maya, an island only a 30-minute ferry ride away from Playa Del Carmen.

When visiting Cozumel with kids, visit Playa Mia Grand Beach Park. From the pier in Cozumel, it’s only a 20 minute drive to this waterpark.

Tickets cost between $40 and $124, depending on the amount of add-ons. From kids’ pools filled with fun attractions to a floating park in the sea, there’s something for everyone here.

Included in the ticket price are the pools, snorkeling and kayaking in the sea and the floating park. The massage tub and water bicycles can also be enjoyed without paying extra.

Playa Mia offers add-ons like snorkeling tours, parasailing and lounge beds. And when it’s time for a meal, go the restaurant for a reasonably priced lunch.

When visiting this waterpark bring hats, sunglasses and (long-sleeved) UV filtered beachwear.

To protect the ocean’s environment, sunscreen isn’t allowed. We weren’t allowed to use our reef safe sunscreen, either. Make up is also forbidden, basically anything that can harm the reef is.

Secondly, kids under 8 aren’t allowed to snorkel and kids under 12 must always be supervised by an adult.

Lastly, transportation back to the pier from Playa Mia leaves every hour on the hour from noon to 6pm.

Spend a full day here to enjoy all Playa Mia Beach Park has to offer.

If you love road tripping with kids, check the family travel blog Sas Crossing Countries for family road trip itineraries from countries all over the world.

Take a day trip to Laguna Kaan Luum from Tulum

Pale shallow waters of Laguna kaan kum near tulum with jungle atmosphere around the lagoon

Contributed by Katie from KatieCafTravel.com 

Laguna Kaan Luum is a breathtakingly beautiful lagoon located just a short distance from Tulum in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico.

The lagoon is renowned for its crystal clear waters, which range in color from light turquoise in the perimeter to deep emerald green in the center, and its peaceful, unspoiled surroundings.

Visiting Laguna Kaan Luum from Tulum is an easy and enjoyable day trip that can be arranged through a variety of local tour companies, by taking a taxi, or by renting a car and making the journey independently. 

Once at the lagoon, visitors can spend their time swimming, scuba diving, paddle boarding, and lounging on the hammocks and swings that surround the perimeter of the lagoon. 

While you can buy the occasional cerveza, it’s important to note that there are no restaurants or food vendors located at Laguna Kaan Luum, so visitors should plan to bring their own food and drinks for the day. 

Packing a picnic is a great option many people, especially families, pack a lunch and come and spend the whole day lounging lagoon-side. 

The perimeter of Laguna Kaan Luum is relatively shallow at around 3 feet, perfect for non-swimmers, but the center of the lagoon is very deep and roped off for safety, prohibiting swimming.

While there is no swimming allowed in the center of the lagoon, certified scuba divers can explore the center of Laguna Kaan Luum, however, due to the lack of visibility and limited marine life in the deep area, there may not be a lot to see.

Take a cooking class in Tulum

Rivera Kitchen food tour sign with yellow cursive font

Contributed by Catrina of 24 Hours Layover

If you’re a foodie, a culture-junkie or an adventurous traveler who loves Mexican food (who doesn’t right?!) then going to a Mexican cooking class is one of the best activities to do in the Mayan Riviera!

Not only will this enable you to understand and appreciate the culture more, but it’s really fun, unique and educational too!

Get immersed in Mexican culinary history, learn traditional recipes along with the staple ingredients so you can bring a bit of Mexico home with you and impress your friends and family with your newly-acquired Mexican cooking skills!

The Rivera Kitchen Tulum share their own family recipes with you in their classes – which take place in the comfort of their home.

They’ll meet you at a convenient spot in Tulum and bring you to their home where you’ll help to prepare a 5 course meal.

Plus once you’ve finished cooking you’ll of course get to enjoy the delicious meal along with a beer and mezcal – perfecto!

Make sure to get some photos of the fun to post to social media, along with a great Tulum caption!

At $75 USD per person, this is a great activity that you are sure to enjoy!

Take a 4WD to Punta Allen and enjoy the Reserva de la Biosfera de Sian Ka’an

View of the crystal clear waters on the coast of the Sian Ka'an bioreserve and interior dense with lagoons and jungle

Contributed by Agnes from The Van Escape

Driving to Punta Allen and enjoying the Reserva de la Biosfera de Sian Ka’an is a perfect idea for a day trip from Tulum, but only if you like a bit of adventurous thrill.

This excursion is something for those with strong nerves, as driving through the jungle on a narrow dirt road covered with potholes is a real challenge.

To complete this 60 km route, you need not only a 4WD car but also an experienced off-road driver.

You’ll need at least 1.5 hours to complete the route, but it can take up to 2 hours if it rains. If it rains heavily, you could risk getting stuck in the mud, in which case you should return to Tulum!

However, the easiest and most comfortable way to get to Punta Allen is to take an organized tour from Tulum. You can choose a local tour from Maya-run Community Tours Sian Ka’an or Laguna Muyil in Tulum.

Why all this hassle? What is Punta Allen?

It’s a small village at the end of the narrow peninsula, isolated from the world, where only solar panels provide electricity, only accessible via the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, located south of Tulum, encompasses over half a million hectares of lowland jungle, mangroves, and savannas.

Sian Ka’an means “place where heaven was born” or “gift of heaven” in the Mayan language.

Because of its unique biological and historical diversity, it was added to the World Heritage List by UNESCO in 1987.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is picturesque, with diverse flora and fauna. You can spot spider monkeys, howler monkeys, tapirs, crocodiles, peccaries, and over 300 species of birds here.

On-site, you can take a boat tour through the reserve. The place is ideal for snorkeling and watching dolphins and turtles in the azure waters of the Caribbean Sea.

Be sure to pack a swimsuit, sun protection, and snorkeling kit. 

Take a day trip to Valladolid

Church of Valladolid with palm trees in the background

Contributed by Julien Casanova of Cultures Traveled

If you want to explore the history and culture of the Yucatan Peninsula, take a day trip to Valladolid from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum. 

Valladolid is a small town in the Yucatan that is known for its colonial architecture and traditional Yucatecan food.

Whether you prefer to explore an ancient ruin, cool off in a cenote, or simply eat, shop, and explore, you will find multiple things to do in Valladolid and the surrounding area.

Valladolid is located within a two-hour drive from the popular destinations of Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Cancun in the Riviera Maya.

If you prefer to take a bus, ADO regularly travels to Valladolid from all three destinations for a cost of about 150-200 pesos depending on your departure city. 

You’ll also find several tours leaving from Cancun that include visiting Chichen Itza, swimming in a cenote, and exploring the town of Valladolid.

Visiting Valladolid as a day trip is one of the best things to do in the Riviera Maya for families and couples that want to take a break from the beaches to explore the cultural heritage of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Go wind-surfing on Xpu-Ha Beach

Sandy beach at Xpu-Ha with people on the beach and lots of beach umbrellas

Contributed by Christine Rogador of Journey to Mexico

Xpu-ha Beach is a tranquil and beautiful stretch coastline near Playa del Carmen and Tulum in Riviera Maya, Mexico.

This pristine beach is famous for its clear turquoise waters, white sandy beaches and lush green jungle surroundings.

There are many ways to get to Xpu-Ha beach via Playa del Carmen that it would take 24-30 mins of time travel.

You can book a taxi, which may be a little expensive; expect to pay around 250-350 pesos ($13.50-$19 USD) one way.

If you are on a budget, you can also take a collectivo; it’s a shared taxi in Mexico that costs 30-40 pesos (about $2 USD). 

Xpu-Ha Beach is a popular destination for tourists seeking a relaxing beach getaway with the family. It offers a range of activities to suit all tastes, including some fun adrenaline activities!

One of the best things to do in Xpu-Ha Beach is windsurfing; the beach is an ideal spot for water sports providing a great challenge and an enjoyable experience.

The beach has a shallow but wide sandbar just a few hundred meters from the shore, making it the perfect spot for beginners to practice their skills. 

There are also several nearby reefs and other windsurfing spots for more challenging conditions.

Take a day trip to Chichen Itza

view of the large pyramid of chichen itza with people walking around the base of the pyramid

Contributed By David & Intan From The World Travel Guy

One of the best things to do in the Riviera Maya would have to be a day trip to Chichen Itza, the ancient ruins left over from one of the Mayan civilization’s most important cities.

Among other things, Chichen Itza has a giant pyramid that served as a temple from 600 AD to 1200 AD.

It’s easy to get to Chichen Itza from Cancun, Tulum, or elsewhere in Riviera Maya.

You can rent a car and drive yourself, take the ADO public bus, book a private tour, or join a group tour shared with other travelers.

Generally people go with a tour from Cancun, but any of these options work great.

Even though Chichen Itza is a very popular and busy tourist attraction, there’s a lot of wide open space surrounding the ruins, so it doesn’t feel as crowded as you might expect.

You can easily spend a half day seeing all of the pyramids, carvings, and other sights here, and everything is very photogenic.

This day trip is arguably one of the best activities in Riviera Maya for families, adventurous travelers, history buffs, and just about any other traveler!

It has very broad appeal because the sights are so spectacular.

Take a tour of Gran Cenote from Tulum

Contributed by Mal of Raw Mal Roams

If you’re looking for a unique and unforgettable experience in Riviera Maya, Gran Cenote near Tulum is the perfect place to visit.

With its incredibly clear water, Gran Cenote provides visitors with opportunities to swim, snorkel and dive among various pools of crystal blue waters filled with colourful fish and tinny turtles.

Thanks to its rich fauna, this cenote is super special and a perfect place to visit for all nature-loving travelers.

Apart from swimming in the fresh azure waters of the cenote, you can also explore cenote’s cave that features captivating stalactites and bats flying around inside its walls. 

Gran Cenote is located 5 km from the downtown Tulum and 7 km from the Zona Hotelera, and there are various ways to visit it.

If you’re staying in Tulum you can rent a car, or a bicycle or take a taxi there. Or if you prefer something more organised, various cenote tours from Tulum can take you on a fun day trip that combines a visit to a few best cenotes. 

The entrance ticket costs 500 pesos or $27, and it includes a snorkel and mask rental – a must to see the cenote waters which are teeming with life!

Scuba dive in Cenote Angelita

view from underneath the water while experiencing the underwater world in Cenote Angelita in the Riviera Maya

Contributed by Steph of A Nomad’s Passport

There are plenty of great cenote dives for recreational divers, but Cenote Angelita is unlike any other dive at the Riviera Maya.

It is unique thanks to the 3 meters (9.8 ft) thick hydrogen sulfide cloud that rests on the halocline and the debris mount that arches out of it like an island.

Therefore, diving in this cenote feels like flying over an eerie underwater river.

After flying over the white cloud, you can then dive through it until you reach the pitch-black area beneath it.

Most dive centers limit the maximum depth of the dive to 35 meters, so you will not be exploring this area for long.

As you ascent near the end of the dive, you can spot large stalactites including the Angel stalactite that gave this cenote its name, and swim through a small tunnel.

Given the depth of Cenote Angelita, this activity is only for experienced scuba divers with a depth certification.

Additionally, all divers have to be accompanied by a cave diving certified guide.

Cenote Angelita is located south of Angelita, and while you could drive there yourself, most dive centers will take you there.

As a result, Tulum is the best starting point if you want to avoid a long drive.

The costs for this dive depend on the dive center and how many dives you are booking with them.

If you are only planning one day of cenote diving and two dives, you can expect to spend $175 to $215 USD. The camera fee for this cenote is 500 MXN ($25 USD).

Take an adrenaline-pumping ATV and zipline tour

People enjoying an ATV ride through the mud while traveling in Riviera Maya

Contributed by Kerry Reed from Adrenaline Junkiez

One of the best things to do in Riviera Maya is to take an all-weather adrenaline-fuelled ATV, Zipline and Cenote Tour.

These day trips provide the best of everything as they couple a few exhilarating experiences with nature and relaxation.

One of the most popular areas to enjoy this experience is in Puerto Morelos. Not only do you surround yourself with the lush tropics of the Mexican rainforest, you also have the natural splendour of an open-air freshwater cenote. 

Whether you’re travelling with friends, your partner or your family, there is something for everyone on this tour.

If your children are 7 or over then they can ride the ziplines and tiptoe the rope bridges. Younger children could even be seated with you on the ATV ride through the jungle.

The cenote is suitable for all ages and there are three ways to get in; walk into the waters from the steps, jump from the top or zipline into the refreshing green waters. 

Tours booked in advance will include return travel to hotels within the Riviera Maya, however you can also get there by taxi or car and just pay the entrance fee.

The experience also includes a tequila tasting and a few free tacos to re-energise you after a fun-filled day.

Admire the old Mayan city of Ek Balam

The ancient Mayan city of Ek Balam with its pyramid that you can climb

Contributed by Anu Agarwal of Destination Checkoff

Ek Balam is an ancient Mayan city located in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and is known for its Mayan ruins, pyramids, and ancient stone buildings and structures.

Ek Balam is around 2 and half hour drive from Cancun making it ideal for a day trip. You can drive there yourself or take a tour from Cancun. 

Ek Balam’s main attraction is the Acropolis which stands over 100 feet tall and is the largest structure at Ek Balam. This is one of the pyramids that you can still climb on! 

Its steep staircase leads to the top, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding jungle.

The jungle surrounding Ek Balam is home to several species of birds, making it a popular spot for birdwatching.

Other notable structures are the west wing of the Acropolis, which served as a palace or administrative center, and the Oval Palace, which features detailed carvings depicting important events in Mayan history.

There are several local restaurants and food stands in Ek Balam that serve traditional Yucatan cuisine.

Ek Balam is a great attraction to visit for everyone including families and history fans. 

Overall, a visit to Ek Balam offers a fascinating glimpse into the ancient Mayan civilization and its impressive achievements in architecture, art, and culture.

Book a private (yes, private!) cenote for the day

A beautiful empty cenote with turquoise blue water and trailing plants that you can visit on your own as a private experience

Contributed by Sarah of Live, Dream, Discover

The Riviera Maya is full of mystical water-filled sinkholes called cenotes and visiting at least one is a must when in this region of Mexico.

But how about a day at a private cenote for just you and your friends and family?

Cenote Elvira provides that special experience just a short drive from Cancun at KM 20.8 on the La Ruta de Los Cenotes. 

Cenote Elvira is a semi-open cave cenote nestled in the lush Mayan Jungle!

Visitors can access the cool waters by stairs or by jumping through the large hole in the cave roof.

The land the cenote sits on has been beautifully outfitted with everything you need while preserving the natural vegetation and its inhabitants. 

Amenities include loungers, hammocks, picnic tables, restrooms, an outdoor shower and an open-air kitchen and bar.

Food and drink are not sold on-site but you can bring your own or add Elvira’s catering services.

The minimum daily rental rate is just $600 MXN ($300 USD) for up to 10 people which means you can have a day at a private cenote for as little as $30 USD per person.

If you have more than 10 people the cost is $30 USD for each additional person. 

We booked Cenote Elvira twice while we were living in Playa del Carmen and both days are highlights of our time in the gorgeous Mayan Riviera.

Explore the pristine cenotes of Cristalino and Azul

Contributed by Gabi of Under Flowery Sky

Four stunning cenotes keep each other company on the way between Playa del Carmen and the enchanting Tulum: Azul, Eden, Cristalino and Yax-kin.

It’s better to come in the morning as Cenote Azul might be busy and not accessible at other times of day.

In any case, the marvelous Cenote Cristalino should be accessible. Cenote Cristalino and Azul are both located on the main highway.

It’s easy to reach them and the cheapest way is by collectivo from Playa del Carmen or Tulum.

You can take this shared van from 2nd street in Playa del Carmen. Their schedule is roughly every 15 minutes, according to their capacity. 

Cenote Cristalino is relatively less crowded and cheaper, compared to other cenotes.

This cenote has good amenities, offering clean toilets and showers, locker rentals and life jackets. It’s also possible to rent sun loungers and have a relaxing day. 

The crystal clear waters at Cenote Cristalino cover several lovely pools.

Some areas of the cenote hold miniature caves. With the adjacent swing, it’s just so fun spending time here. 

Cenote Cristalino is not very large or deep (so it’s not suitable for going diving), but it’s quite picturesque and tranquil. 

The incredible allure of Cenote Azul belongs to its divine colours. It’s pretty large and perfect for jumping in!

The small fish entertain the visitors and you may even feel them nibble at your feet, like a free fish spa.

Cancun vs. Cozumel: 20 Pros & Cons to Help You Pick!

Allison on the beach in Cozumel

Both Cancun and Cozumel offer white-sand beaches, reefs for snorkelers and scuba divers, and year-round beautiful weather: but which is the best place for you?

If you’re trying to pick between Cancun vs. Cozumel, this guide will lay out the pros and cons to help you pick the better option for your upcoming Mexico trip.

The short answer is there is no perfect place: a great place for one person may be another person’s idea of hell!

I’ll tell you what my choice is at the end of this post, after you’ve seen all the reasons why one might choose Cancun over Cozumel and vice versa.

Cancun Pros

Pro #1: Cancun International Airport has more (and cheaper) direct flights

Rainbow Cancun sign in front of a beach called Delfines beach with white sand and brilliant blue waters
Cancun’s popularity makes it easy to get to — a huge pro in its favor!

Since Cancun is such a popular tourist destination, it makes sense that there is a huge variety of direct flights to Cancun’s international airport (so much, in fact, that CUN is one of the top 10 busiest airports in the world!)

If you’re traveling with limited vacation time, the convenience of a direct flight can’t be beat.

Plus, flights to Cancun tend to be cheaper compared to flights to Cozumel. That said, prices here can soar, especially during high-travel times like school holidays or the Day of the Dead.

Cancun also has a lot more international flights, including flights from elsewhere in Latin America and Europe, whereas the Cozumel airport tends to only have flights from Mexico and a few cities in the United States.

Pro #2: Cancun is a perfect base for all sorts of day trips

The well-preserved Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, forming a period, with agave or other plant life in the front of the frame, no people in the shot.
Cancun is perfectly positioned for easy day trips around the Yucatan region!

Since Cancun is in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula, it’s quite easy to use Cancun as the base for many day trips throughout the area.

Interested in history and culture? Hop on a tour leading you to Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza and Coba, two of the most famous historical landmarks of Mexico.

Prefer to explore some smaller islands near Cancun? You can explore Isla Mujeres or check out the fun things to do in Isla Holbox.

Want to see the famous cenotes of the Yucatan peninsula? The hardest choice will be narrowing down which of the many cenotes near Cancun deserve your time!

Want some quick recs for Cancun day trips? Here are some favorite tours and excursions at a glance!

 Chichen Itza & Cenote Day Trip from Cancun 

 Tulum & Coba Ruins Day Trip from Cancun 

 Tulum Ruins, Cenotes & Sea Turtle Day Trip from Cancun 

And that’s not even going into the myriad of adventure parks and water parks there are all along the Riviera Maya (which I’ll go into in the next section).

Basically, there are no shortage of fun side trips you can add to a Cancun vacation.

Pro #3: Cancun is closer to more family-friendly activities

The waterpark at Xcaret on a busy day with lots of families and people enjoying the sunny weather
Traveling with kids? When it comes to Cancun vs. Cozumel, Cancun has the upper hand here.

If you’re looking for your next family vacation, Cancun is probably the better choice.

There are a huge variety of amusement park and water park destinations that specifically cater to families, with plenty of fun things for all ages to enjoy.

Kids will love places like Xcaret, a water theme park near Playa del Carmen, where you can enjoy an underground river, artificial lagoon, a coral reef aquarium, and a beach area.

For a more thrilling experience better suited for older kids, there’s the Xel-Ha waterpark, where you can take a lighthouse-themed waterslide that’s nearly 100 feet high and try your hand at a 20-foot cliff jump!

Adventure-seeking families will enjoy more high-adrenaline destinations like the Xplor Adventure Park — it’s the most-visited zipline park in the world and has a ton of other fun adventure activities for all to have a good time on!

… And that’s just three of the many options for adventure parks and water parks in the Cancun and Riviera Maya area!

Looking into Cancun water parks and amusement parks? Here are our picks.

 Xplor Park (Ziplining, underground rivers, and amphibious vehicle excursions -- all included in your ticket)

 Xcaret Park (Manatees lagoons, coral reef aquariums, and entertainment -- all included in your ticket)

Xel-Ha (Snorkeling, waterslides, hammock islands, and all-inclusive food and drink -- all included in your ticket)

On the other hand, Cozumel is smaller and sleepier, with no parks that can quite match what the Riviera Maya has to offer.

There are a few kid-friendly places at Cozumel, but they’re more beach clubs than adventure parks.

Two options are Paradise Beach which has some fun inflatables and water trampoline set in shallow waters and Playa Mia Grand Beach Park with water slides and an inflatable park.

While kids can certainly enjoy some time at Cozumel at places like these beach clubs, there just isn’t the same concentration of choices when it comes to kid-friendly activities.

Pro #4: The Cancun and Riviera Maya area has more luxury and all inclusive resort choices

Cancun's hotel area with white sand beaches and large hotels and pools, viewed from an aerial angle
Want to stay at a resort and just unwind? Cancun’s your place.

The whole coastline of the Riviera Maya area is known for its luxury hotels and all inclusives that have a ridiculous number of amenities.

If you’re looking for that sort of vacation where you just sit back and enjoy the resort amenities, I’d opt for Cancun, not Cozumel.

All inclusives in Cancun and the Riviera Maya can be a little pricy, that’s to be sure, but they’re some of the best all inclusives you’ll find the world.

There are all inclusives in Cozumel (I stayed at one, at the Palace Cozumel), but they are far fewer in number so you have fewer choices.

Plus, these resorts are a lot smaller, so the amenities are not as impressive compared to what you’ll find in the Cancun and Riviera Maya region.

Pro #5: Cancun has livelier nightlife

Cocktails and drinks on a tray in a bar in Cancun with a waiter holding the tray
If you want to drink and party, Cancun is the spot! Cozumel is very sleepy by comparison.

This is a pro for some and a con for others (read: me, a grouchy neurodivergent who doesn’t drink and can’t stand loud noises).

But if you’re looking for a fun getaway with your friends where vibrant nightlife is a big part of the experience, Cancun is the only option here.

Cancun is also where you’ll find a lot of the dinner show style nights out, such as Coco Bongo, etc. that are popular options for bachelorettes and birthday celebrations.

However, these nightlife options can also be pricy even by American standards.

For example, Coco Bongo has entry costing around $80 USD per person for ladies’ nights on less-popular days, and $120 per person for Thursday through Sunday night options.

It does include drinks and snacks as well as a live performance, but it’s certainly an expense!

On the other hand, Cozumel has very little nightlife to speak of — it’s a sleepy little cruise port with many travelers hitting the hay early so they can wake up at 6 AM, bright-eyed and not hungover for their dives that day!

There are a handful of restaurants with live music and bars with DJs that make Cozumel have a hint of nightlife, but it’ll never compare to Cancun in that way.

For some that’s a good thing, for other that’s a bad thing.

Pro #6: Cancun and Riviera Maya have more beautiful beaches

Beautiful bright blue water, leading out to dark blue water, in Cancun with a person parasailing over the Cancun skyline
As much as I love Cozumel, I can be objective here: Cancun’s beaches are far more beautiful!

While Cozumel definitely has some beautiful beaches, particularly on its more untouched east side, Cancun and Riviera Maya definitely take the cake here when it comes to best beaches.

Cancun’s beaches are world-famous for their plush white sand and sparkling turquoise water, framed by palm trees and studded with all the beach bars, clubs, and amenities you could ever want.

Meanwhile, Cozumel mostly has rocky beaches on its west coast (where all the hotels are).

Its sandy beaches on the east coast are beautiful, but they often don’t have favorable swimming conditions due to strong currents.

Cancun Cons

Con #1: Downtown Cancun is louder and less safe

View of the city of Cancun and its hotel district at night
Cancun is very lively at night – and that can work to its detriment!

When it comes down to it, by the stats, Cancun not as safe as Cozumel. But that’s not to say it’s unsafe.

Let’s remember that we’re comparing apples to oranges here: Cancun is a metropolis of over a million people, whereas Cozumel is a small island with around 80,000 residents.

Plus, since Cancun has more of a party scene, the crowd skews younger, rowdier, and drunker.

This causes problems in both directions. Inebriated tourists often start fights and commit crimes themselves, but they’re also easier targets for crimes like mugging. 

Cancun has a higher homicide rate, with 540 homicides reported in 2020 vs. Cozumel’s 6 (adjusted for population, Cancun’s homicide rate is 0.00054% to Cozumel’s 0.000075%).

That said, the majority of violent crime in Cancun occurs between rival gang members, and it’s generally not something you would encounter as a tourist, especially if you avoid getting inebriated or getting involved in drugs. 

As a tourist, you’re far more likely to be the victim of crimes like petty theft than anything that threatens your physical safety. 

Con #2: It can be difficult to get around Cancun

Aerial view over the city of Cancun with a big traffic circle and lots of cars
Cancun is enormous and spread out, which can be frustrating as a tourist!

Cancun is a huge metropolis, and as such, getting around isn’t exactly a piece of cake.

The hotel zone is located in a different area than downtown, and traffic between the two areas can be heavy at times. 

This can be frustrating and even isolating if you end up feeling somewhat confined to the hotel zone, and this is one reason why many people end up sticking to their all-inclusive while in Cancun — getting out and about can just be a pain.

Additionally, public transportation in Cancun is tough to figure out, and taxis aren’t always available — and those that are aren’t always the most scrupulous, sometimes refusing fares they don’t think are worth their time or worse, overcharging or taking a circuitous route to rack up the fare. 

On the other hand, Cozumel is so small that it’s quite easy to navigate, even if you’re staying outside of the downtown area in the hotel area to the north or south of the main town. 

Taxis in Cozumel are everywhere and easy to handle, and they generally don’t mess around with overcharging their patrons and are more honest about fares.

Con #3: Cancun can be too party-focused and touristy, especially during spring break

Downtown Cancun area with Hard Rock cafe, Coco bongo, Hooters, and other touristy places
Cancun’s main drag… leaves a lot to be desired if you’re in search of authenticity and Mexican culture.

Cancun is pretty much synonymous with Spring Break — so you can imagine that the party atmosphere there can easily get pretty overwhelming pretty quickly. 

The excessive partying can create its own issues like noise, litter, and crime — not anyone’s idea of a good time.

While you can carve out your own little pocket of Cancun that avoids all the party revelry, you do have to avoid certain areas and even certain times of year (forget basically all of March and April). 

To avoid these problems, scout your hotel wisely, opting for something that is well-reviewed, quiet, and geared towards the kind of travel you’re aiming to have.

Cancun can also feel a little overly touristic as well, and it’s hard to find authenticity amongst its tourist traps and mass crowds, especially in peak season.

Cozumel is also quite touristic as it is a cruise port, but it’s pretty easy to get off the main drag of Cozumel’s downtown area and quickly feel like you’re actually in Mexico, not a Disneyfied idea of it.

Con #4: Cancun’s coral reefs have nothing on Cozumel.

Scuba diver going through a circle at the  underwater museum in Cancun
The MUSA is very cool, but Cozumel’s reefs >>> anything.

When it comes to enjoying the beautiful marine life and underwater world of Mexico’s Caribbean coast, Cancun doesn’t have as much to offer as Cozumel does.

The coral reefs in Cancun are not thriving quite as well as Cozumel’s, although the waters around Cancun are home to one of Mexico’s coolest museums, the Cancun Museum of Underwater Art (MUSA).

Book your tickets to MUSA via snorkeling tour here!

Cancun’s vastness and its overtourism problem (and beachgoers not using reef-safe sunscreen) have created led to pollution issues and increased coral bleaching that have harmed its house reefs. 

On the other hand, much of Cozumel’s reefs are in fantastic condition — they are truly some of the healthiest reefs I’ve seen, which is shocking considering how much traffic they get. 

Cozumel’s reefs are less accessible than Cancun’s, so they see fewer visitors, and those who do visit generally are more conscientious about preserving the reefs (typically since they came to Cozumel for its reefs in the first place!).

Plus, most of the reefs in Cozumel are part of a protected marine area, Cozumel Reefs National Park, which has strict standards for its upkeep — and divemasters and boat captains who work hard to keep the reefs thriving.

While there are a few places you can snorkel in Cancun, there are better options — a close nearby option would be Isla Mujeres, a mere 20-minute ferry ride away from Cancun. 

Cozumel Pros

Pro #1: Cozumel has some of the best scuba diving in Mexico.

My girlfriend spotted this octopus camouflaging in the daytime — pretty incredible, no?!

Cozumel is home to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. It stretches across three countries in Latin America: Mexico, Belize, and Honduras.

While Cozumel is often listed as one of the best destinations in the world for diving, I still underestimated this Mexican island, thinking it was too popular for its reef to be as healthy as it is… but I was pleasantly shocked.

I’ve actually never seen coral thriving quite like this anywhere in the world, even on my recent trip to French Polynesia, which is about as remote as it gets.

The Mesoamerican Reef system is the Caribbean’s sea’s crown jewel when it comes to diving and it’s absolutely worth visiting Cozumel just to experience the diving.

Take it from me: according to my dive computer, I spent 13 hours underwater on my last trip to Cozumel (an average of 1.3 hours per day over a 10 day trip!) — and that’s not even factoring in my snorkel days!

I saw countless species of tropical fish (including Cozumel’s endemic species found nowhere else in the world, the splendid toadfish).

In terms of larger life, I saw three types of sea turtles — including a massive and ancient loggerhead turtle that looked like an underwater dinosaur, nearly a dozen spotted eagle rays (as well as two other kind of stingrays), and lots of sleepy nurse sharks hanging out under the reef ledges.

I’ll be writing a lot more in-depth on Cozumel’s dives shortly, but there’s the quick version!

Pro #2: Cozumel is far more walkable and easy to navigate.

Cozumel’s center is easy to navigate, walkable, and very safe!

Cozumel isn’t exactly a tiny island — it takes about an hour by car to circumnavigate the island — but it’s still a lot more manageable than Cancun.

The downtown of Cozumel’s main town, San Miguel, is pretty compact. Staying in the city center, I found we were able to walk almost everywhere we wanted to go within about 20 minutes. 

The exception is if you go diving, you’ll generally need to take a taxi to a local marina, since the dive shops don’t do transfers (they aren’t allowed to). Still, this only was around 110 pesos per ride, or about $5 USD.

For our 10 days in Cozumel, we mostly walked and only needed a taxi to meet our dive operator.

We chose to rent a car for two days to get to explore a little more of the island, particularly the east coast beaches, but it’s not strictly necessary.

Pro #3: Cozumel has a calmer, safer downtown area.

Allison Green wearing a plant green and white print romper and white tennis shoes and a long black cardigan on an empty street with colorful mexican-style paper flags strung above her, it is dark out and there is no one on the streets in Cozumel.
Cozumel at night — sleepy, but peaceful!

The worst thing you can say about Cozumel’s downtown area is that it’s sleepy and a bit schlocky around the main tourist parts. But it’s definitely calm and safe!

Since Cozumel is mostly a dive-oriented destination, there’s not as much of a party scene. Look how dead the streets were around 10 PM on a weekend!

Divers need to abstain from drinking excessively — both for their health while diving and because they’ve got some gnarly-early wake-up calls!

As a result, you’ll find that Cozumel is a bit quieter at night. If you’re looking for a party, you can probably find it, but it’s not the main point of being there.

Pro #4: It’s easy to see the entire island of Cozumel in a day.

Allison in a colorful romper and dirty white sneakers sitting on a pink bench under rainbow letters that read 'Cozumel' on a sandy beach with blue water behind her on a bright, warm day.
Enjoying the lovely beach of Punta Morena on Cozumel’s east side.

Cozumel’s compact size makes it perfect for quick trips, as you can hit most of the highlights of the island in a single day (if you wake up early and power yourself up with a hearty chilaquiles breakfast, that is).

For a day tour of the island, here’s what I would recommend (note that you’d need to rent a car to tackle it all).

Start heading towards the east side of the island with a visit the expansive Mayan ruins at San Gervasio.

Then spend some time on the beautiful east side beaches of Cozumel, like the wild Playa Chen Rio or Playa Punta Morena

From there, make your way to Punta Sur Eco Park, where you can climb a lighthouse for epic views over the southern end of the island (both marshland and sea).

You can also see some small Mayan ruin remnants, keep an eye out for crocodiles, and explore the beautiful beach at the end of the reserve (note that the snorkeling here is pretty disappointing here, though).

After that, you can start circling back north along the island’s west coast, stopping at a beach club for a drink, bite to eat, and maybe a snorkel.

A few popular spots are Playa Palancar, Skyreef (a great snorkel spot — I saw an octopus during the day, a rare find!), and Tikila Beach Club (where I did a lot of shore diving, and I imagine that the snorkeling is rather good as well).

Pro #5: Cozumel has a great mix of resorts and guesthouses.

Boutique hotel room with sand-colored walls, beachy elements, small kitchenette and large mirror and bathroom area
Our brand new boutique hotel in the center of Cozumel was a real find!

While your options in Cancun are pretty much all-inclusives and luxury chains, Cozumel has a more varied range of hotels, resorts, and guesthouses.

Yup, there are a few all-inclusives on Cozumel, like the popular Palace Cozumel.

But there are also a lot of great guesthouses in the downtown area which give you a more authentic experience of Cozumel since you can explore the local food and culture scene more easily.

We stayed at a new boutique hotel, ILLA Cozumel, which was a fantastic choice for a long-term stay (we were there for 10 days, working remotely and diving when we could!).

There are also a good handful of hostels in Cozumel for budget travelers, and budget-friendly options where you can lodge short-term or long-term while you complete your SCUBA education (whether you’re just getting your open water or you’re going for the divemaster title!)

There are also dive resorts that specifically cater to divers, offering services like free tanks and inclusive packages that bundle together your meals, boat dives, and unlimited tanks for shore dives on the house reef.

Pro #6: Cozumel has a compact, delicious dining scene.

Allison and her partner eating seafood -- fried fish and lobster -- at a restaurant in Cozumel
Delicious fresh plates of fried fish (that we picked ourself!) and lobster, all for around $25 per person.

While undoubtedly, Cancun has a wider variety of dining options, the reality of it is that it is quite spread out and it can be difficult to know where to eat in Cancun — and then getting there is another part of the battle.

On the other hand, Cozumel is compact yet well-appointed for tourists, with a wide variety of options.

Skip the tourist traps and familiar names around the cruise terminal and ferry dock and you’ll find plenty of great options for where to eat in Cozumel.

Enjoy upscale dining in a jungle-like oasis with tasteful live music at Kondesa (so nice, we ate there twice), or dig in with locals at taquerias like El Pique and Taqueria El Mexicano, which dish out the real deal.

Cozumel Cons

Con #1: Cozumel can be harder to get to, with fewer flights and a sometimes rough ferry ride.

The yellow and blue UltraMar Cozumel ferry
The Cozumel ferry can be rough — trust me, I’ve puked on it on several occasions.

Cozumel has far fewer direct flights than Cancun — unless you’re flying from Texas, where there are plenty of direct flights that offer easy access to this lovely small island (lucky them!).

That means you’ll either have to book a flight with a layover, which isn’t always well-timed, or getting to Cozumel via a combination of taxi and/or public transportation. There’s no avoiding that ferry unless you fly!

Getting to Cozumel from Cancun Airport takes a minimum of two hours: about an hour to get to Playa del Carmen, and about an hour to buy your ferry tickets, take the ferry, and arrive in Cozumel.

Con #2: As an island, Cozumel is isolated from Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.

People sitting on the top deck of the UltraMar ferry nearing Playa del Carmen on a sunny day
Want to do a day trip from Cozumel? Factor in a ferry ride to and from the island!

This sounds obvious (and it is) but it does bear mentioning. Since it’s an island, Cozumel is tricky when it comes to day trips.

Playa del Carmen, another good gateway for Yucatan day trips, is just 30 minutes away, but it will require taking the ferry back and forth in a single day.

Depending on the weather, is not always a pleasant experience you want to repeat multiple times — the ferry has earned the nickname of ‘the Vomit Comet’ for a reason that I can personally attest to (multiple times…).

In short: if you plan to visit Cozumel, plan to stay on Cozumel. If you plan to visit Cancun, the entire Yucatan peninsula is at your fingertips!

Con #3: Cozumel’s beaches are not the most lounge-friendly.

Allison drinking at a beach club on the west side of Cozumel
Beach clubs at Cozumel can end up pricy, with $20+ per person spending expectations (and subpar drinks and food)!

If you’re looking for wide, white sandy beaches, Cozumel isn’t quite the perfect pick.

Yes, there are a handful of sandy beaches on the east, but conditions here can be rough on this side of the island, and it’s far from the hotels (you’ll definitely need a car or taxi to reach them).

There are some beach clubs in Cozumel that have nice beaches — my personal pick is Paradise Beach Club, but I also liked CocoTiki Beach Club up north — but they require either an entry fee or a minimum spend, and a day here can add up quickly.

Much of Cozumel’s west side is either rocky beaches or owned by resorts or beach clubs, so it’s hard to find any public beaches to enjoy.

Con #4: Some of Cozumel’s downtown is a bit tacky and cruise ship oriented.

A tacky purple octopus sculpture on the boardwalk in Cozumel at sunset
Not the best art in downtown Cozumel, I’ll admit!

There are some stretches of San Miguel de Cozumel that are, well, just plain tacky.

I can’t help but cringe every time I see the awkward sea sculptures along the beach boardwalk ruining an otherwise beautiful view.

That’s not the mention the two weird giant figures that ‘welcome’ you to Cozumel as day-trippers clutter up the pathway leading down the main pedestrian road of San Miguel to take photos with them, for some reason.

And that’s not to mention the Señor Frog of it all down by the cruise ship terminal!

That said — walk a few blocks away from the waterfront (literally, one or two blocks will do) and you’ll instantly breathe a sigh of relief as you escape the schlock and find a more authentic side of Cozumel.

There’s some great street art in Cozumel just as soon as you get off the main tourist drag, so keep your eyes peeled. It’s a very artsy area!

What’s My Pick Between Cancun or Cozumel?

Allison Green, a white woman in a bathing suit with a tattoo on her inner arm, smiling at the camera while climbing up a ladder from the ocean in Cozumel
For me personally, I would always choose Cozumel over Cancun!

While I do have a preference in the Cancun or Cozumel debate, it’s based on my own personal preferences and priorities, which are quite possibly different than yours!

As a diver, Cozumel is the best option for me, hands down.

The dive sites on Cozumel are unparalleled nearly anywhere else in Mexico except perhaps the Socorro Islands, which are only accessible by liveaboard — and only suitable for advanced divers.

For me, all inclusive resorts and nightlife aren’t really my jam, because 1) I’m sober and 2) my ADHD is too severe to enjoy relaxing on a beach chaise for longer than, well, approximately 15 minutes.

That said, for people who choose vacation spots based on their ability to unwind and relax, Cancun and all its all-inclusive resorts on the Riviera Maya are absolutely perfect for just that!

Neither Cancun or Cancun are objectively better, but I hope this guide will help you decide which is the better pick for your next trip… or hell, just visit them both!

A 1 Week Mexico Itinerary You Can Steal: 7 Perfect Days in Mexico

Ahh, Mexico. I’ve spent months of my life in this beautiful country, exploring several different states, and yet I still never feel like I’ve seen enough.

I can never keep myself from Mexico for long – its culture and natural beauty (and let’s not lie – its tacos) keep me coming back time and again.

There are an impossible number of ways to spend one week in Mexico, and of course, this is just one idea.

Other ways to spend a week in Mexico include traveling to Puerto Vallarta and its small neighboring surf town of Sayulita, relaxing in resorts in Baja California like Cabo Azul Resort in Los Cabos, sunbathing on the beaches in Huatulco, Mexico or exploring the famous Riviera Maya.

This Mexico itinerary covers a little bit of everything in three different states in Mexico, giving you city vibes, cultural appreciation, foodie heaven, and of course — some beach time!

Thank you to Kristen Youngs of the blog One Bag Nomad for authoring this piece. Check out her stellar 1 week in Mexico itinerary below!


Mexico is all too frequently checked off travelers’ “must visit” lists after spending a sun-filled weekend in Cancun for bachelorette parties, family vacations, and even romantic getaway. The entire country is often considered “seen and done” after hitting up its world-famous beaches (or stopping by on a cruise).

Of course, any savvy traveler knows a country is much more than just its tourist highlights, and that couldn’t be more true for Mexico — a country with more culture, diversity, and breathtaking scenery than most of its visitors will ever lay eyes on.

Mexico is perfectly well-rounded; it has an experience, city, or sight you’ll fall in love with, no matter what kind of traveler you are. Because of its sheer size, you could truthfully spend weeks or even months traveling around the country without feeling like you’ve truly “seen” it (if you’re lucky enough to work from your laptop, don’t be surprised if you find yourself considering staying in Mexico long-term).

Fortunately, with its solid network of buses and flights, you can still experience the beauty of Mexico, even if you don’t have a month’s worth of vacation days saved up.

This 1 week Mexico itinerary will take you from the city to the mountains to some of the most gorgeous beaches you’ll ever lay eyes on. Each day will give you a different taste of what Mexican culture is like, from one unique spot to the next. By the end, you’ll be raving about this country’s quaint mountain towns just as much as its white sandy beaches.

The Ultimate 1 Week Mexico Itinerary

Day 1: Arriving in Mexico City

Mexico City is a bustling hub for international tourists. With one of the biggest airports in the world, it sees countless people come through each year. While there are dozens of other airports you could arrive into, Mexico City will serve as both an easy entry point, as well as your first stop in this itinerary.

From the airport, you have several options for getting downtown. The metro is well connected and cheap, so if you’re watching your budget on this trip, it’s a great (albeit crowded) option. That being said, if you have a lot of luggage with you, it’s going to be a tight fit. Also, be aware that theft happens in all crowded cities around the world; Mexico City is no different, so keep an eye on your bags.

Alternatively, you can hire a taxi from any stand within the arrivals hall of the airport. You shouldn’t be quoted more than about $15 USD for the one-way journey. Considering the convenience of a door-to-door taxi, that $15 could be well worth it.

Either way, Mexico City’s international airport is only about 8 miles outside of the main part of town, so the trip shouldn’t take too long, depending on traffic.

Head to La Condesa, one of Mexico City’s most colorful and vibrant neighborhoods. Before you do anything, stop into a local churro shop and pair this sweet, deep fried snack with a traditional Mexican hot chocolate. El Moro is a popular spot for this mouthwatering combo — you’ll find both locals and tourists lining up. As long as you can find churros being made fresh and on the spot, though, you really can’t go wrong.

Arriving in Mexico City can be overwhelming because there’s just so much to see, do, and eat. Avoid the urge to jam pack your first day, though, and just spend a couple hours strolling through nearby Chapultepec Park, which feels like stepping into a green sanctuary after being surrounded by so much city.

Make sure to check out Chapultepec Castle while you’re there, which feels more like something you might find in Versailles, France, than in this vibrant Latin American country. The castle has a small entrance fee and is home to the National Museum of History, where you can get a great insight into Mexico’s past.

If you’re still feeling up for more adventure, spend the next couple hours wandering around Condesa, popping into the street markets, stalls, and vendors you see along the way. Or, if you’re a museum buff, stop into the National Anthropology Museum or the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacán — both world famous and easy places to spend an afternoon.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure to finish off your evening with some authentic Mexican tacos. You’ll have no trouble finding them in and around Condesa, but a solid option if you’re nearby is El Pescadito, which serves up a mean fish taco.

Day 2: Exploring the City

After getting your bearings, spend your second day in Mexico exploring the sights downtown. Before you hit the pavement, though, start your day with another Mexico City staple — chilaquiles — which are comparable nachos, but softer, and eaten with a fork for breakfast. You won’t need to search hard for these. In fact, I suggest simply stopping at the busiest food cart you find in the morning; they’re almost certain to serve good chilaquiles.

Afterwards, jump on the Metro and get off at the Zócalo stop. From there, spend some time wandering around the giant Plaza de la Constitución. Also check out the Museo de Templo Mayor, just a few minutes walk from there, where you’ll find ruins from an ancient Aztec temple — uncovered less than 50 years ago during planned construction work.

If you’re up for more museum time, you’ll have tons of options to choose from around the Zócalo; Mexico City is simply bursting with them. Alternatively, head a few minutes walk farther to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, where local shows and performing arts are held. Whether you see a performance or not, the building itself is stunning.

To wind down the day, grab another meal of authentic tacos from any of the well-reviewed restaurants around the Zócalo. You’ll pay a bit more here, but if you’re at all a foodie, you won’t be disappointed; this city thrives on its culinary scene.

Day 3: Head to Guanajuato

If this massive city of 20 million feels at all overwhelming, your next couple of days in this 1 week Mexico itinerary will certainly slow things down.

Guanajuato is a small, picturesque town sitting at the base of surrounding mountains. Shaped like a bowl, this city’s brightly colored buildings and houses climb up the surrounding hills, making nearly every view a memorable one.

You can get to nearby Del Bajio International Airport in Léon, Mexico via direct flight from Mexico City in about an hour. One way flights go for as low as $40 if you’re looking at the right time (here’s a great guide on finding cheap plane tickets if you aren’t able to uncover any good deals), making the trip cheap and quick.

Alternatively, you can take the 5-6 hour bus ride via coach from Mexico City directly to Guanajuato. Primera Plus is a clean coach line that operates like you would expect a national train line in Europe to function. It’s quick and efficient, and tickets are around $25 one-way. If you have the extra money to spare, however, the plane ride is easier and faster.

If you decide to fly into Guanajuato, you’ll need to take a taxi from the airport into town (about a 45-minute ride). You can pay for an official taxi up-front (in pesos or USD), before you even exit the airport arrivals area. Or, if you’re arriving via bus, you’ll be dropped off outside the city, but you can easily hail a cab from the terminal. The cost to your hotel should be no more than $2 USD.

Once you’re inside the town and settled in (don’t worry, hotel recommendations are coming later in this guide), you’ll want to grab some lunch and coffee from Santo Café, where you can sit on an outdoor archway overlooking a cobblestone pedestrian street. Order the fajitas and relax while the street performers serenade you from below.

Afterwards, spend the rest of your day wandering around this fairytale town. You’ll find lots of walking-only streets with cafes spilling out onto lush squares and sidewalks. The city literally twinkles at nightfall, and a cold beer and outdoor seating are the perfect way to wind down.

Day 4: Mummies or Mountains

You probably weren’t expecting to see mummies in this out-of-the-way Mexican town, but it’s something Guanajuato is well known for. Over 100 real mummies were discovered in a faux-cemetery nearby and have since become an international point of interest. In fact, some of Guanajuato’s mummies travel to exhibits all over the world.

The Museo de las Momias is located a bit outside the city, up a hill. The easiest ways to get there are by public bus or taxi, neither of which should cost more than $2-$3 USD. You can take either option from the center of town.

If you’re not into mummies, the mountains are right there for the taking. I suggest booking a tour for either a hike, mountain bike ride, or horseback ride, which you can easily do from the city. Beware, the sun is intense in Guanajuato, so if you’re opting for an outdoor adventure, lather on that sunscreen.

Day 5: Head to the Yucatan Peninsula

After you’ve explored Mexico’s biggest city, and then spent some time around the mountains, it’s time to head to the beach.

The Yucatan Peninsula is home to places like Cancún and Cozumel — hot spots for resort-goers. And while they each boast beautiful beaches, there are many, far more secluded shores to visit.

Your next destination on this 1 week Mexico itinerary is Isla Holbox, a small island with no cars, located about a 2-hour drive from Cancun. You’ll want to take a flight from Guanajuato’s airport (BJX) to Cancún, which will take about 2.5 hours nonstop and set you back as little as $30 for a one-way ticket.

Once you arrive in Cancún, it’s best to head straight to Holbox to make the most of your time there. The journey will take several hours, but I promise, it’s well worth it.

You have a few options for getting to Holbox if you don’t have your own car:

  • Take a taxi from the Cancún airport to Chiquila, where you can get the ferry to Holbox. This option will cost you the most, as taxis are notoriously expensive there.
  • Take a shared shuttle from Cancún airport to Chiquila. This option is a little cheaper; the company, Holbox Shuttle, offers the ride at $40 per person, with about a 2-3 hour travel time.
  • Take the ADO bus from Cancún center to Chiquila. This option is the cheapest (prices are around $15 one way), but it’ll take the longest. The bus journey itself is about 3.5 hours, but you first need to get from the airport to the ADO bus terminal.

If it’s within your budget, the second option is the best combination of affordability and speed. Once you’re dropped off at the Chiquila ferry, you can buy a ticket with either one of the two ferry companies there. Boats leave every half hour, take about 20-30 minutes to make the journey to Holbox Island, and cost around $8 one-way.

In total, from your arrival in Cancun to your arrival in Holbox, you’ll likely spend anywhere from 3 to 6 hours. With an early or midday flight from Guanajuato, that’ll give you the perfect amount of time to settle into your hotel, throw on some flip flops, and find a beach-side spot for some Mexican seafood and beer. Coquitos Beach Club and Restaurant, with palapas and loungers right in the sand, is where I suggest heading to catch the sunset.

Day 6: Beaches, Bikes, and Buggies

Holbox is small, so getting around isn’t tough. Your main modes of transportation will be: walking, biking, golf cart, or ‘taxi’ — a.k.a someone else driving a golf cart.

You know all the photos you see of people lounging in hammocks actually in the ocean? That happens at Hotel Villas Flamingos, and it’s just as glorious as it looks. Depending on how far away you are from Villas Flamingos, start your day by either taking an early stroll or golf cart ride over there.

The hammocks at Villas Flamingos fill up quickly, so it’s best to get there in the morning if you want to claim one for yourself.

Afterwards, take a short walk toward the main part of town (the island is so small, it’s easy to find).

On the way there, you’ll pass by bicycle rentals from shops and hostels. You can find rentals for as low as $1 per hour, and because there are no cars on the island, using a bike to get around is simple. Consider renting one for 2-3 hours and cycling to the nearby beaches. When you find an empty one, stop off and plant yourself in the sand for a while.

If it’s too hot to bike around, you can also rent your own golf cart; if you love the idea of having your own “buggy” all to yourself, you can rent one for a full 24 hours. Otherwise, just pick one up hourly from a shop in town. You’ll likely pay around $8 per hour (or less if renting for a half or full day).

While the beaches are spectacular, Holbox town itself is worth exploring, too. Walk, pedal, or cart yourself through the streets and check out all the famous artwork on the buildings. You’ll find vibrant, colorful street art all around the island — it’s well worth spending an hour or two discovering.

Day 7: Snorkel or Paddle Around Holbox

If you have the full day to spend on Holbox, there are lots of tours you can take from the island. One of the most popular is to go snorkeling with whale sharks, which are docile and harmless (albeit gigantic) fish.

Whale sharks are only spotted off Isla Holbox from May through September, and you can only find responsible whale shark tours in few parts of the world, so if you’re there at the right time, take the opportunity. Prices for these tours aren’t cheap (the tour operator, Holbox Whale Shark Tours, offers trips at $130 per person), but the experience is truly unbelievable.

If you’re sticking to a strict budget, a great alternative is renting kayaks for the day and exploring the island on your own. Or, if you’d like a little bit of structure, join a kayaking tour to Holbox’s mangroves, where you can see flamingos, crocodiles, and other wildlife. VIP Holbox offers the tour for $45 per person, whereas a solo kayak rental will run you about $7 per hour.

Where to Stay in Mexico

Every spot included in this Mexico itinerary has a wealth of accommodation options for absolutely any budget, especially if you’re coming from neighboring countries to the north or south. In terms of cost of living, Mexico generally falls below that of Central America, South America, and definitely the rest of North America.

For convenience’s sake, these hostel and hotel recommendations will be broken up into budget, mid-range, and luxury categories:

  • Budget = $10-$20 per person, per night
  • Mid-range = $50-$100 per room, per night
  • Luxury = $150+ per room, per night

Mexico City

Budget: La Condesa and Roma Norte are the perfect neighborhoods to base yourself during your Mexico City portion of this itinerary. Not only are the neighborhoods artsy and full of local cafes, they’re also easily accessible to most of Mexico City’s highlights. Hostel Home, located smack dab in the middle of Roma and Condesa, is clean, comfortable, and affordable. While many hostels in Mexico City are known as “party spots,” Hostel Home truly does feel like a home. The relaxed furniture, common areas, and staff all give the place more of a family feel than that of a hotel. Whether you’re looking for a budget option or not, this is a great one.

Mid-range: Nearby Hotel MX Roma has a vibe that’s a little hard to explain; think rustic, chic, and modular living. The rooms are colorful and clean, with each section of the living space being separated in its own little cube. Sleeping in the bed almost feels like you’re in one of Tokyo’s capsule hotels (although a much larger version). Outside of the rooms, the entire hotel has its own unique flair with portions of exposed brick and lots of woodwork. It’s certainly unique, and will absolutely make for a memorable Mexico City stay.

Luxury: If you have a significant amount of wiggle room in your budget and really want to go all out, La Valise in the Roma Norte neighborhood will be worthy of your cash. Even the lowest accommodation level here is astounding, but if you’re lucky enough to book one of their “Terraza” rooms, you’re in for a treat. Not only are these rooms more like loft apartments, you can literally open the walls to the terrace and slide the bed outside onto the balcony (it runs on tracks). You honestly might have a hard time pulling yourself away from this hotel to go out and explore, but for a luxurious stay, this is the spot.


Budget: Guanajuato is easily covered on foot (except for its many, steep stairs); the main part of town itself is pretty small. That means you won’t be too restricted when choosing the location of your hotel — they’ll all be fairly central. For a great budget option, book a couple nights at Casa Lupita Homestay. While their private rooms fall into the “mid-range” category, they do offer dorm beds at a lower cost. This is one of the nicest hostels you’ll find, where the accommodations are clean and modern, but still have a colorful touch reminiscent of Mexico. Casa Lupita is located just steps away from all the major attractions in Guanajuato, making it an easy home-base for your trip.

Mid-range: A great in-between option is Hotel de la Paz, situated down a small alley, right off the main square. The rooms are basic, but comfortable, are kept spotlessly clean, and even include breakfast (although you’ll have to walk a few blocks down to their neighboring hotel for it). The best part about this hotel is its rooftop area, where you can get a bird’s eye view of the town, with its brightly colored buildings crawling up the sides of all the surrounding mountains.

Luxury: Average costs in Guanajuato are much lower than Mexico City; your hotel options will generally give you more bang for your buck. Whereas a 4 or 5 star Mexico City hotel might cost $300 or more, the same quality hotel in Guanajuato will likely be half that. Hotel Boutique 1850 is a great example — you’ll feel like you’re getting complete luxury at a much lower cost than expected. Each of the 20 rooms in this hotel are all tastefully designed in different color schemes and styles. Some are bright and airy, while others have darker, wood tones for an extra classy feel. To top it off, there’s a bar on the roof where you can take in Guanajuato’s dazzling sunsets.

Isla Holbox

Budget: Holbox is like a budget traveler’s haven. It’s hard to imagine you could find such affordable accommodation on this little slice of paradise, but you’ll definitely have options. Hostel la Isla Holbox is the first place I’d suggest looking. Private rooms are more expensive, but their dorm beds are a good budget option (although a bit rustic). The good news is, the rooms are just a couple minutes walk to the beach, so if you’re not into the “rustic” vibe, that might overshadow it. If you’re looking to save even more money and really want to live the “island life” for a couple days, Hostel & Cabanas Ida y Vuelta offers hammocks with mosquito nets under palm shelters outside for about $7 per night. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you want to be one with nature, you’ll have the perfect chance there.

Mid-range: If you prefer a little more space and a little less nature, consider booking your stay at Hotel Villas El Jardin, which offers apartment-like accommodation for middle-of-the-road budgets. Each room is exceptionally clean and modern, with ensuite bathrooms, kitchenettes, comfortable living areas, and balconies. With the beach only a 2 minute walk away, you can’t really go wrong here. It’s comfortable, affordable, and convenient to the rest of the island.

Luxury: Just like there are more than enough budget options on Holbox, you’ll find just as many hotels catering to the luxury traveler. Ventanaiso Beachfront Hotel is a prime example. While this hotel isn’t flashy or overly luxurious in appearance, what really puts it over the top is it’s location — smack dab in the middle of a gorgeous, sandy beach. Ventanaiso offers high ceiling rooms with spacious balconies overlooking the ocean right outside. You can literally step from your room, straight onto the sand. Like in Guanajuato, the cost of luxury on Holbox gets you more than it would than in places like Mexico City. If you’re in the mood to go out with bang at the end of your 1 week trip around Mexico, this hotel wouldn’t be a bad place to do it.


Got only 7 days in Mexico? This one week Mexico itinerary will bring you to the throbbing capital of Mexico City, to the quaint mountains of Guanajuato, and the lovely beaches of Isla Holbox. Experience the best of Mexico in just 1 week - read for suggestions on how to best plan your Mexico trip with this awesome itinerary.

About the Author:

Kristen Youngs co-operates two online businesses while traveling the world full-time. Visit her website, One Bag Nomad, to learn how to travel as long as you want and build a successful online business, completely location-free. You can also find her on Pinterest.

The Most Magical Things to Do in Bacalar, Mexico

Everyone flocks to the Yucatán peninsula for its truly stunning beaches. But ever the contrarian, my favorite beach in Mexico is actually not a beach at all.

It’s a lake, and it’s the most beautiful lake I’ve ever seen in the world.

Yes, I’m talking about quiet little Lake Bacalar. Not quite as coastal as it looks, Bacalar Lagoon is located inland in the very southern edge of the Yucatán Peninsula, close to the border of Belize.

Once a largely unknown lake, Instagram and the Internet age have catapulted it onto the radar of many, including — oddly though perhaps not surprisingly — a huge hippie population.

I’m not mad about it, though — I ate some of the best pasta I’ve had outside of Italy there.

Bacalar is a small town located about 5 hours from Cancun, 4 hours from Playa del Carmen or 3 hours from the other popular Yucatán hippie mecca of Tulum, popular destinations along the Yucatan Peninsula.

Not as frenetic as Playa and more low-key than Tulum, Bacalar Lagoon is truly an (increasingly-less) hidden gem on the Yucatán peninsula.

Its beautiful sights and low prices make it especially popular with people who are backpacking the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico.

It’s a must-see if you’re heading overland south to Belize, as it’s quite close to Chetumal, where you can easily catch chicken buses to Belize City to start your Belize trip.

Check out my extensive guide on what you should do and see in Belize if you’re headed that way.

While there aren’t many things to do in Bacalar, it’s still a place you can easily while away the days.

I spent my afternoons sipping Negra Modelos in a hammock overlooking Lake Bacalar, which is aptly named The Lake of Seven Colors. Though I think they’re selling themselves a bit short there — I counted far more than that.

Things to Do in Bacalar Lagoon

Admittedly, Bacalar isn’t the most exciting town in Mexico, but it’s not without its charms. Most of my favorite things to do in Bacalar revolve around its beautiful lake, but there are also a few other reasons to visit this lovely town.

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Planning to visit Riviera Maya Mexico? Get off the beaten path in Mexico and visit Lake Bacalar, the lake of seven colors. Bacalar is 3 hours from Tulum and makes a perfect place to visit in Mexico if you want something different. Here are the best things to do in Bacalar!
Planning to visit Riviera Maya Mexico? Get off the beaten path in Mexico and visit Lake Bacalar, the lake of seven colors. Bacalar is 3 hours from Tulum and makes a perfect place to visit in Mexico if you want something different. Here are the best things to do in Bacalar!

Stand-up paddleboard at sunrise

There are two partner hostels in Bacalar, The Green Monkey and The Blue Monkey, both of which offer stand-up paddleboarding tours daily leaving just before sunrise. For 400 pesos (approximately $20), you’ll get a guided paddleboarding trip through Bacalar that lasts about 3 hours, including a guide and paddleboard rental.

(If you’re planning a budget Mexico trip, check out this roundup of some of the best hostels in Mexico)

You’ll visit the sandbars with their many white birds, the Black Cenote, and El Canal de los Piratos (the Pirates’ Channel), where you can jump from the remains of a ship into crystal clear waters! This was definitely my favorite thing to do in Bacalar Lagoon.

paddleboarding is one of the best things to do in Lake Bacalar
Jumping into the water a great thing to do in Lake Bacalar

Kayak to the Black Cenote (Cenote Negro)

The Black Cenote is just a short kayak ride away from the Blue Monkey. In a matter of feet, the water goes from a peaceful turquoise to an inky black, where a limestone cavern has collapsed into itself to a depth of 90 meters.

There’s a rope swing nearby where you can catapult yourself into the water if you’re brave! Spoiler: I was not, because I have the coordination of a drunk toddler and jumping off a rope seems like a recipe for me to test the generosity of my travel insurance.

Take a boat tour

If you’re not up for paddleboarding, you can take a boat tour that will take you to all the best spots on Lake Bacalar, including the Pirates’ Channel, the Black Cenote, Cenote Esmeralda, and Cenote Cocolitos, where you can see stromatolites — the oldest living organism on the planet.

They only can survive in highly salty bodies of water in a few places on earth, and Bacalar — living up to its designation of “Pueblo Magico”, magic village — just happens to be one of them. Pretty freaking awesome.

Check out boat tours here.

Enjoy the Zocalo and the Fort San Felipe

Zocalo is the word for “main square” which virtually every Mexican city or town has at its heart. Right near Bacalar’s Zocalo you can find a number of restaurants as well as the ruins of an old fort, Fort San Felipe, built in the 1700s after the town was sacked by pirates.  Now, it’s an open air museum.

When looking for a place to eat, don’t miss Antojitos Orizaba, where you can eat authentic Mexican-style quesadillas — hint the

Where to Stay in Lake Bacalar

Though Bacalar is a small town, there are plenty of places to stay depending on your budget.

Budget: I stayed at The Blue Monkey and had mixed feelings It’s got a good lakefront location and strong AC. However, the showers are cold water only and the wifi is absolutely horrible – I could barely log on most of the time. It’s a bit of a walk from town (25 minutes or a $1 taxi ride) but nothing outrageous.

Instead, I’d probably try one of the newer offerings in town; there are some boutique hostels that offer more comfort at good prices. Next time I’d pick The Yak Lake Hostel (rated 9.0 with over 900 reviews on Booking.com) for its in-town location, excellent design and reputation for cleanliness. They also offer paddleboarding and kayaking tours if that’s something you want to do when you’re in Bacalar.

Mid-range: If you want more privacy than a dorm affords, I’d recommend Casa Zazil (rated 9.3 with over 100 reviews on Booking.com), which is no frills but comfortable and private. Located in town, it’s a 10 minute walk from the lakefront. Kulu Tubohostel is an interesting concept and has good reviews though I’m not sure I could commit to sleeping in a tube!

Luxury: Bacalar is a pretty laidback beach town but there are a few affordable luxury options. Casa Bambu is the best option in town, with a 9.3 rating on Booking.com. Its lakefront location and private rooms look super dreamy and that hammock has views for days.

Overwater Bungalow: Yes, there are overwater bungalows in Mexico, including the beautiful Akalki Resort & Spa. The overwater bungalows here are beautiful but a bit on the rustic side, but the location on Lake Bacalar and the amenities offered can’t be beat. Eat at their own farm-to-table restaurant, indulge in a massage or facial, or enjoy a temazcal (Mayan sweat lodge experience) or yoga class.

Getting to Bacalar Lagoon

Getting to Bacalar is quite easy and painless with multiple daily ADO buses. With wifi, AC, comfortable reclining seats, and movies, ADO buses are simply the best way to travel in Mexico. You can book online at clickbus.com.mx and show it to the driver on your phone.

For around 110 pesos ($6 USD) for a 3-hour bus ride from Tulum to Bacalar, in my opinion, it’s well worth the extra money to take a first-class bus. Second-class buses exist but may take up to twice as long to get to your destination as they will stop off wherever any passenger wants to be let off.

There are also daily buses from Playa del Carmen if you’re skipping past Tulum, but you’ll have to add on about another 1.5 to 2 hours for this trip.

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Planning to visit Riviera Maya Mexico? Get off the beaten path in Mexico and visit Lake Bacalar, the lake of seven colors. Bacalar is 3 hours from Tulum and makes a perfect place to visit in Mexico if you want something different. Here are the best things to do in Bacalar!

9 Reasons You’ve Got to Live the Palace Life in Cozumel

I’ll admit it… I was an all-inclusive skeptic. I never understood the point of traveling all the way around the world to stay in a resort where you never have to leave.

Well, now I get it. Travel can be stressful and taxing – and most people, particularly Americans, don’t have the privilege like I do of traveling around the world most of the year.

If you only have a week or two’s worth of vacation time, maybe you don’t want to spend them hopping around from sweaty bus to sweaty bus, frantically trying to see as much as possible. Maybe you just want to relax and be treated like a queen. I’m here to validate you: Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

While I would still argue that staying in an all-inclusive isn’t “travel” in the truest sense, it’s definitely the most relaxing way to vacation I can think of. And if you just want to shut down, unwind, relax, and be treated like a queen, you can’t really go wrong with the Cozumel Palace.

Here are 9 reasons why you should consider Cozumel Palace for your next resort holiday.

And if you’re not sold on Cozumel, there are also plenty of other Palace hotels in the Riviera Maya and Cancun – like the Grand at Moon Palace – not to mention many other great all-inclusive resorts in the world!

1. There’s a hot tub in your bedroom

File that under sentences I never thought I’d write. Literally every single room in Cozumel Palace has their own private Jacuzzi tub! Pairs perfectly with the complimentary bottle of red wine awaiting you in your room… or just about any other beverage you can dream up.

2. The pool comes with a ridiculous view

How many times in your life can you swim in a pool with a direct view of the ocean? I spent all my days lounging in my pink inflatable donut (tragically not included!) in their infinity pool, gazing at the sea, ordering mojito after mojito from the swim up bar.

3. The food is off the chain delicious

Cozumel Palace has four restaurants serving four different cuisines: Pan-Asian, Mexican (naturally!), Italian, and American. Full disclosure: I never made it to any restaurant outside of the Asian and Mexican ones because they were just so insanely tasty. If you can’t tell from the lust oozing out of these photographs…

4. Beautiful diving and snorkeling is right outside your back door

If you can peel yourself from your sun chair for a few hours, you can snorkel right off the dock of Cozumel Palace with free snorkel rentals! Or if diving is more your speed, Cozumel’s one of the best places on earth to enjoy the underwater world. You can even do your diving certification at Cozumel Palace – they even have their own training pool! Or you can arrange diving excursions with local companies and they’ll pick you up right at Cozumel Palace’s private dock.

5. You’ve got a hammock overlooking the sea

One of my favorite things in life is a hammock with a good view. And there’s nothing quite like swinging in a hammock on your own balcony overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

6. The sunsets are off the hook

Most of the Yucatan peninsula faces east, so you’ll get beautiful sunrises but miss out on the sunsets. Not the best if you’re not an early bird. Not so in Cozumel! This island is far enough from the mainland that you get unobstructed views of glorious Caribbean sunsets. All the better when enjoyed from the oceanside pool (with a drink in hand, naturally!)

7. You can enjoy dinner with a view

Dine al fresco with the sea as your backdrop! Cozumel Palace arranges amazing romantic or group dinners at a private table right by the sea. For our last night, the thoughtful staff at Cozumel Palace treated Janet and me to an outstanding four-course dinner. We feasted on a mango and blue cheese salad, basil cream soup, lamb and beef filet with potatoes and spinach, and a dessert that was literally on fire!

8. All you can drink!

I don’t want to count up all the glasses of champagne I consumed, so I simply won’t, but let’s just say that the wine cellar at Cozumel Palace was probably quite a bit lighter after I was through with them and I don’t regret it one bit (my liver, maybe a little). And don’t get me started on how many mojitos I had too…

9. The desserts, oh the desserts…

A photo says a thousand words… so here’s 3,000. All of them nom.

Note: I received a three-night complimentary all-inclusive stay at Cozumel Palace in order to review it. All opinions expressed are my own – no BS, as always.

Gone Glamping: Serenity Luxury Tented Camp in Xpu-Ha

As much as I love the outdoors… god, do I love electricity. And wifi, and hot showers, and king-sized beds, and air-conditioning, and indoor plumbing. So when Serenity Luxury Tented Camp, Xperience Hotels’ newest property, invited Janet and me to visit their new eco camping lodge, I did a happy dance inside. I get to sleep in a tent in a jungle on a beach in Mexico’s Riviera Maya AND watch Netflix in a giant comfortable bed? I am so there.

And when I can take a bath outside in a private Jacuzzi tub under a sky filled with stars, that’s what I call winning.



Whoever designed the Serenity Luxury Tented Camp rooms seems to have invaded my subconscious – or maybe my private Pinterest boards – to create my dream house (side note: my dream house is a yurt). The room is designed in gorgeous earth tones with pops of rich red, with a king-sized bed front and center. Definitely a step up from your sleeping bag and inflatable mattress!

The rest of the room is simply furnished, as befits a tent, except for this cute vintage desk which was a lovely touch.

The bathroom was amazing – mostly because who can say that they’ve used a flush toilet INSIDE of a tent? The rain shower was also super luxe and perfect after days at Xpu-Ha beach. And if an outdoor bath is more your speed, they’ve got you covered!


One of the best parts of staying at Serenity Luxury Tented Camp was the delicious breakfast, which they will even bring right to your tent in the morning if you ask! Their fruit plates and egg dishes were so tasty and presented so beautifully: a perfect start to a beautiful beach day or day lounging by the pool.

Their tacos are similarly excellent, particular the arrachera (flank steak) and camarones (shrimp) tacos, with an outstandingly spicy homemade hot sauce. The only thing I can’t highly recommend are the pizzas, but hey, if you’re in Mexico and you order pizzas, you kind of deserve what you get!


Serenity Luxury Tented Camp is just that – a series of tents set up amongst the lush greenery of the jungle. It takes cues from Balinese design as well as its camping theme, with simple landscaping to match. Its pool is home to a Buddha head waterfall and is the perfect place to cool off!

There are also lovely places to sit and eat either around the campfire (where you can roast marshmallows at night, because duh, what’s camping without marshmallows!) or under the tent. I loved the colorful circle of pillows surrounding the campfire – perfect for sipping a Victoria or a made-to-order cocktail as you dry off in the sun.

Even better – it’s a two minute walk from Xpu-Ha Beach, which is one of the nicest in all of Mexico, and has its own private beach club, Serenity Beach Club! How cute are these red umbrellas?

Xpu-Ha beach is located halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, on the same strip of crystal clear waters and white sand. It’s a quick colectivo away from Akumal Beach, where you can snorkel with sea turtles in the Caribbean Sea!

There’s also a yoga room, a lounge with plenty of chairs, and all sorts of cute quirky decorative touches that make this place a photographer’s dream. I especially loved the Moroccan-influenced doors and this wall of brightly painted window shutters – such a unique touch.

Is this your type of camping?  Check out availability and pricing here.


Disclosure: I was provided with two nights of accommodation in order to review Serenity Luxury Tented Camp. All opinions shared are my own. This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may make a small commission if you use my link to book accommodations.

How does glamping in an enormous boho chic tent in the Riviera Maya sound? Find out my top pick for luxury camping in the Yucatan, Mexico!