Bucket List Swims and Family-Friendly Tours
Come face to face with the biggest fish in the sea. Its wide-open mouth could easily swallow you whole, but don't worry, the whale shark isn't interested in snacking on snorkels, and is instead scooping up clouds of tiny sea creatures. This is just one of many thrilling animal encounters that await in the Riviera Maya.The same waters are one of the few places in the world where swimmers can witness sailfish slashing through schools of sardines. Milder but equally memorable adventure awaits on coastal reefs and seagrass beds patrolled by turtles. For those who prefer dry land, there are aviaries, butterfly gardens and wildlife parks that are home to the elusive jaguar and other denizens of the Yucatan jungles.
- Best for: Everyone, from budget to luxury travellers, spa enthusiasts, to soft and rugged adventureres
- Best season to visit: Year round
- Weather: Tropical, with winter temperatures in the mid70s, and summer highs reaching into the 90s. East trade winds cool beachside locations. May to December sees passing rain showers, while February to early May tends to be drier
Riviera Maya Information
Animal Interactions in Riviera Maya Overview
Bays and coastal cenotes along the eastern coast of the Yucatan peninsula are favorite locations for snorkeling with turtles and tropical fish. These sites can be reached by road from hotels all along the Riviera Maya and Cancun strip. Shoal waters to the north of Cancun attract seasonal gatherings of whales sharks and are the site of winter sailfish. Reaching these sites involves a boat ride of about an hour.
Animal Interactions in Riviera Maya Tips
Different animal encounters are best at certain times of the year. Whale shark gatherings peak between June and September. The sailfish run takes place from December to March. Turtles can be found on coral reefs and shallow seagrass throughout the year, but numbers swell during nesting season, which can be between mid-April and November, depending on the species.
Best Places for Animal Interactions in Riviera Maya
Swims with massive but gentle whale shark take place in waters near Holbox and Isla Mujeres. The wildlife park at Xcaret is home to hundreds of native species, including jaguars. Offshore of Contoy Island, snorkelers can witness fast-moving sailfish corralling and hunting silver clouds of sardines. The coral reefs of Akumal Bay provide a protected sanctuary that attracts six of the world's seven species of sea turtle.
What to Pack for Animal Interactions in Riviera Maya
A sun hat and light cover up for boat rides. A personal mask to ensure a good fit without leaks. A form-fitting water shirt and a streamlined swimsuit for low-drag movement. A waterproof camera or smartphone housing with a wrist lanyard for in-water security. A mesh bag or small nylon backpack to keep everything organized.
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Passport and/or Visa Requirements
Entry Requirements: All U.S. citizens are required to present a valid, undamaged passport. Visas are not required for stays less than 180 days. One blank page is required in your passport for the entry stamp.
Exit Requirements: All persons leaving the Riviera Maya, pay a Government Departure Tax of approximately USD $30, which should be included in your International 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 cdc.gov.
Culture and Customs
From ancient Mayan cities to strobe-lit dance clubs, and jungle-clad swimming holes to five-star beach resorts, the attractions of the Riviera Maya run the full gamut. Cancun is one of the western hemisphere's most celebrated vacation destinations, with dazzling beaches flanked by luxury resorts, clubs and upscale eateries. A half-hour to the south, the lively avenues and beach clubs of Playa del Carmen are a favorite with both backpackers and jet setters. Along a 50-mile stretch of the coast, roadside entrance gates lead through coastal greenery to exclusive golf and beach resorts, while farther on, the eclectic seaside village of Akumal remains old-school Caribbean. At the southern end of the resort corridor, the village of Tulum and its namesake beach are a favorite winter haunt of East Coast sophisticates, but savvy budget travelers can still find hostels and campgrounds that cater to the wanderers of the world. English, French, Dutch and German are often heard along the beaches, but areas to the left of Highway 307 are pure Mexico, where tacos or a helado treat can still be purchased from a street vendor for a few pesos, and life proceeds at a more relaxed and accommodating pace.
Electricity, Phone and Internet Access
Electricity in Mexico is 120 volts, 60 cycle, so no adapter will be needed for U.S. visitors. The country code for the Yucatan is 52. Check with your service provider for long distance plans. Internet service is available at many hotels, restaurants, bars and shops.
Most restaurants and bars in tourist locations use purified water. Outside of resorts, be cautious with ice in drinks or vegetables which may have been washed in tap water. Bottled water is available for purchase and is recommended for drinking and brushing teeth.
Language & Currency
Spanish is the official language of Mexico, although English is widely spoken. The local currency is the Mexican Peso (MXN). Due to new regulations, merchants and business can no longer exchange U.S. Dollars for Pesos. That must be done at a currency exchange office. U.S. credit cards are widely accepted. Check the current exchange rate here.
Mexico spans four different time zones. February 15, 2015, the state of Quintana Roo, which includes the Riviera Maya changed to Eastern Standard Time Zone (Zona Sureste). Riviera Maya does not observe Daylight Savings Time which puts it 5 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (-5 GMT),
Location, Size and Population
The Riviera Maya is one of the fastest growing areas in Mexico, located 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.
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.