Riviera Maya

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Riviera Maya

Nestled between the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula and the Caribbean Sea lies a seemingly endless white sand beach dotted with quaint villages and stunning resorts. The same reef system that lies off Cozumel runs parallel to this shore while the famous “cenotes” (caves and caverns) of this region are found in its jungle-thick interior. This 120-mile stretch of coastline offers a multitude of unique activities from exploring Maya ruins, drifting through cenotes and underground rivers, mountain biking and trekking through the jungle and dolphin encounters.

Riviera Maya Information

Diving in Riviera Maya

Xibalba, the Maya underworld, rules the dive scene of the Maya Riviera. This section of the Yucatan Peninsula that stretches from the non-stop urban playground of Cancun to the one-time beach escape for Maya royalty at Tulum, encompasses one of the world’s top places for cavern and cave diving. In the cenotes, as the freshwater springs that make up the most extensive underwater cave system in the world are called in Spanish, the water’s a cool 72°F year-round and as close to air-clear as water gets. For cave certified divers, this karstic corner of the planet is heaven. Place such Nahoch Nah Chich and Dos Ojos have both been mapped beyond 20,000 feet. But most divers are content to explore the shallow areas that would be classified as caverns. Here, sunbeams pierce through rents in the limestone ceiling and hit the water like light sabers. Then, as if they’re tickled at this new watery environment, they dance as the surface water moves. These caverns are alive with dancing sunbeams. Plus, its fun to just fin from cavern to cavern as if you’re genuinely flying through air among the stalagtites and stalagmites. Top sites for cavern exploration include such renowned places as Taj Mahal, Gran Cenote, Dos Ojos and Cenote Azul.

On the ocean side of the Riviera Maya you’ll find a great variety of diving. The big surprise here is off Cancun, where several of the wrecks attract up to 20 spotted eagle rays that hover over the superstructures, especially on days when the current is running. Around most wrecks and on the shallow reefs off Cancun you’ll encounter large schools of grunts and snapper, as well as plenty of green sea turtles. Recently an underwater sculpture park, with work by the artist Jason deCaires Taylor, was started between Cancun and Isla Mujeres, has made for a unique underwater experience on the surreal side, but not to be missed.

Off the party town of Playa Del Carmen is one of the best shark dives in the Caribbean. Here, bull sharks come in close in shallow water at a site called Tiburones (the Spanish word for shark). When not feeling your heart race around sharks, you’re almost guaranteed turtle encounters at any of the reefs of Playa Del Carmen. And be sure to look up as passing whale sharks could make almost any dive into an experience of a lifetime.

Since these sites feel the touch of the same current that washes past Cozumel, the water stays clear and clean year round, with visibility often exceeding 100-feet. Read more about Mexico here.

Passport and/or Visa Requirements

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: All U.S. citizens are required to present a passport, and do not need to obtain a visa. EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All persons leaving the Mexico, pay a Government Departure Tax of approximately USD $17, which may be included in your ticket.


Vaccinations are not required for entry into Mexico. Check with your doctor and the Centers for Disease Control on recommended vaccinations for travel at

Culture and Customs

Most people come to Mexico for a taste of the laid back attitude, the constant fiesta, and even to embrace the siesta part of the culture. Of course, the Yucatan is dominated by massive city ruins from the Maya, including the seaside ruin of Tulum, Coba, Chichen Itza, Coba and dozens of others. Many are still being excavated from the rainforest, others, such as Chichen Itza are massive complexes. Much of the modern day culture centers around food, mariachi music, and such festivals as Day of the Dead and Cinco De Mayo when the entire country erupts in revelry. Mexican culture reveres mothers within a strong family ethic and Latino men are well known for their machismo. The Catholic religion greatly influences life in Mexico. An important part of Yucatecan culture specifically is to show respect in all aspects of life. Otherwise, people along this coast like to let loose and party. In towns like Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, the nightlife is almost non-stop.

Electricity, Telephone and Internet Access

Electricity in Mexico is 120 volts, 60 cycle, so no adapter will be needed for US visitors. The country code for the Yucatan is 52 and direct dial service is fast and clear. Check with your service provider for long distance/roaming information and costs. Internet service is available at most hotels and internet cafes.

Water Quality

Bottled water is recommended throughout the country, even in some of the nicer hotels. Also, it is recommended to brush your teeth with bottled water.

Language & Currency

Spanish is the official language. The local currency is the Mexican Peso. Check the current exchange rate here.


Mexico spans three different time zones. The Riviera Maya is on central time, putting them in the same time zone as Chicago, or 6 hours behind Greenwich mean time. Two of Mexico's time zones observe daylight saving time during the summer months; during that time clocks are advanced by 1 hour.

History, Art, and Culture

Human history in the Yucatan can be traced back to the Stone Age, approximately 10,000 BC. The first semblance of a civilization came with the Olmecs, whose emergence in about 1500 BC, and origins, is shrouded in mystery. But, they did set the tone for the Maya civilization, which began its rise to prominence around 500 BC. The Maya adapted hieroglyphic writing and the calendar from the Olmecs and for the next 400-years built the cities and step pyramids that we find today. They also fine tuned the calendar to predict such things as solar eclipses and the movements of the stars and came up with the concept of the number zero. The rise of the warrior-minded Aztec and the conquering Spanish eroded the Maya culture into extinction. With the Spanish came a long period of pillaging, peasant revolts, various wars and caste conflicts and political turmoil. In the Yucatan, tourism began to dominate in the 1980s with the building of Cancun and the welcoming spirit of the people found its roots and has flourished since. Read more about the Mayan history here.

Location and Size

The Riviera Maya is a growing area in coastal mainland Mexico in the state of Quintana Roo. Situated north of Cancun, on the northeast coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, this area includes the areas north of Cancun City including Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Puerto Morelos, and Felipe Carrillo Puerto which is 40 kilometers to the south of Tulum. This region is approximately 86 miles long As this is such a large area, approximately 86 miles long


The Riviera Maya encompasses a large area with a population estimated around 150,000, with cities like Playa del Carmen with a population of 118,570 and Tulum with a population of 18,370.

Dive primer
  • Water Temp: 80°
  • Visibility: 120+' in cenotes
  • Wetsuit: 1mm to 3mm
Best time to travel
  • Year-round
Favorite dive sites
  • Ponderosa and Dos Ojos Cenotes
  • Xaak, Akumal
Topside attractions
  • Tulum Maya Ruins
  • Dolphin Discovery
  • Xcaret Eco Park
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