Offshore Thrills, Reef Swims and Inland Adventures
Coral reefs are just the beginning. The waters of the Riviera Maya teem with sea life big and small and offer snorkeling adventures found few other places on earth. The world's largest fish congregate in clear Caribbean waters, and snorkelers have a rare opportunity to witness sailfish on the hunt, using rapier-like bills to slash through pods of bait. Sea turtles and tropical fish are the focus of more sedate encounters in tropical lagoons. Inland from the beach, hidden rivers flow beneath the jungle, giving snorkelers a unique chance to drift in underground passages filled with clear water and festooned with glitter stalactites.
- 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
Snorkeling in Riviera Maya Overview
Whale shark and sailfish encounters take place in open water in an area north of Cancun and Isla Mujeres and are reached by an hour's boat ride. Turtle encounters and reef snorkels begin with a short swim from the beach. Tour operators use buses or offroad vehicles to bring snorkelers to inland cenotes.
Snorkeling in Riviera Maya Tips
While many of the snorkeling activities offered in the Riviera Maya are true adventures, you don't have to be an expert free diver to participate. Sailfish encounters require the most water skills, as they take place in the open ocean during winter months when seas may be rougher. Whale shark swims happen in calm summer months, and the big fish move fairly slow. Cenote waters are calm and clear year-round, and to make swims to the reefs easier for turtle encounters, some operators provide battery-powered dive scooters.
Best Places for Snorkeling in Riviera Maya
Freshwater pools known as cenotes are filled with crystal-clear water, and some lead to underground rivers. Each year, huge whale sharks gather in Caribbean waters off Isla Mujeres. In winter, sailfish hunt swirling schools of bait in the same area. Near the ancient city of Tulum, a marine sanctuary provides unique opportunities for encounters with sea turtles.
What to Pack for Snorkeling in Riviera Maya
Keep personal items and snorkel gear organized in a nylon or mesh tote bag. Wear water shoes with firm soles or sports sandals to provide secure footing when moving about a boat or negotiating limestone paths on the way to a cenote. Bring a hat for sun protection on boats and a towel and change of clothes for jungle trips.
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.