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Mexico’s scenic Riviera Maya, located on the Yucatan peninsula just south of Cancun, is the perfect winter destination for frozen northerners to soak up the Mexican Caribbean. While packed with plenty of large, all-inclusive resorts, the region is just as packed with beauty and adventure—rainforests, historical parks, cenotes, pristine beaches, bays, seaside entertainment and ancient ruins. It’s the perfectly beachy, three-day getaway.

Loggerhead Turtle in Akumal

Loggerhead Turtle in Akumal

DAY 1: Inland + Akumal

First, go slightly inland to see some ruins. The ones in Coba are in the middle of the jungle and feature a rugged but climbable pyramid (120 steps). Onceyou’re atop, you can view the jungle canopy and ruins for miles. The pyramid is estimated to have been built from 600-900 A.D., when Coba had a population of about 100,000.

With some history under your belt, head to the quietly spectacular beaches in Akumal, which has a protected bay area of transparent waters and white sand beaches. In the Mayan language, Akumal means “The Place of Turtles,” and it’s no exaggeration—the animals can be seen daily off the beaches. Visitors can also partake in snorkeling, kayaking, and other water sports.

For dinner, head to La Vida Buena, located on the beach and known for its seafood, Mayan chicken, and cocktails.

Riviera Maya’s nightlife is resort-centric, so why stray from the beachfront’s sweet breezes? Akumal Bay Beach & Wellness Resort is surrounded by white-sand beaches and natural beauty. It offers both a beachfront restaurant and a bar that stays open later.

Photo courtesy of Paradisus Palma Real Golf and Spa

Photo courtesy of Paradisus Palma Real Golf and Spa

Day 2: Playa Del Carmen

Spend the day in and near the Playa Del Carmen where the main activity is—of course—the beach. First, take a 40-minute ferry to the island of Cozumel and head to the uninhabited side of the island, filled with quiet, gorgeous beaches and beach bars.

For dinner, try Passion, (at the Paradisus Palma Golf and Spa Resort) the sophisticated restaurant of seven-starred Michelin chef Martín Berasategui. Get something decadent off the sampling menu, and enjoy the ambiance, with paintings of red roses, sculptures of red glass hearts, and an entrance dripping with flowers.

Alux Restaurant and Lounge is located inside a cave, complete with romantic colored lighting and stalactites. They serve “pre-Hispanic, Mexican international cuisine” but it’s also an eclectic setting for cocktails.

The beach bar at Wah Wah provides live music that you can listen to with your feet in the sand. It’s for true beach bums: Comfy beach chairs, palm trees and live music.

Tulum

Tulum

Day 3: Tulum and nearby

The Yucatan Peninsula has an estimated 7,000 cenotes (natural sinkholes; the word means “sacred wells”), which can be explored via wading, swimming, snorkeling and cave diving. Gran Cenote is a visitor favorite for its dramatic stalactites and stalagmites.

Ten minutes away are the famous ruins in Tulum, an ancient walled Mayan fortress city on the coast, offering impressive views of the region, and immaculate beaches for swimming—so bring a swimsuit. Until recently, this southern area was considered a sleepy outpost, and it’s less developed than the northern resorts, with a more relaxed pace.

Dine on Italian flavors at the popular beachfront restaurant Posada Margherita where visitors rave about the focaccia and homemade pasta.

For your last night, enjoy the quirky Batey—a mojito bar, in a converted VW.

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Tagged: Caribbean, Mexico

Gretchen Kalwinski

Gretchen Kalwinski

Gretchen is a Chicago-based arts, culture and travel writer, and writing coach. She’s working on her first novel, and tweets sporadically at @gretchel.
Gretchen Kalwinski

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5 thoughts on “3 perfect days in Mexico’s Riviera Maya”

  1. Nice post. Thanks for sharing. I was on trip to Cancun last month. Really an awesome place. One of my friend suggested me a local shuttle service provider nasttransfers and I enjoyed the places there . Keep posting.

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