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The Riviera Maya: Mexico's Most Convenient Luxury Travel Getaway

This Caribbean beach region is safe, beautiful, and easy to love

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Mexico's Riviera Maya (sometimes called the Mayan Riviera) has quickly become a favorite vacation destination for North Americans. The Riviera Maya appeals to a range of visitors, among them luxury travelers. These are the top ways in which the Riviera Maya delights luxury travelers.

The Riviera Maya Is So Simple to Get To

Mexico's Riviera Maya is a long, beautiful beach.
The photo-ready Riviera Maya. ©www.rivieramaya.com

The Riviera Maya is a 100-mile-long beach set on Mexico's fishtail-shaped southern tip. This part of Mexico juts into the Caribbean, making it quite close to North America.

The Riviera Maya adjoins the longer-established, more urban destination of Cancun. Riviera Maya resorts start cropping up just 20 minutes from Cancun International Airport and extend to within an hour south on a fast, direct road. (The Riviera Maya's smaller, greener resorts are set toward the end of the stretch, around Tulum.)

Flights to Cancun can be quite inexpensive, depending on the time of year. Summer and, surprisingly, the month between American Thanksgiving and Christmas are considered off-peak.

The Riviera Maya Is Safe & Friendly, with Great Service

Riviera Maya hotels have great service.
The "welcome amenity" at Viceroy Riviera Maya hotel. ©Karen Tina Harrison

The Riviera Maya's lifeblood is tourism, and most of its residents are connected with the hospitality industry in some way. As they say in the movies, "Nobody wants any trouble around here."

Riviera Maya visitors are valued and respected, and hospitality treatment approaches five-star hotel service. Hotels go out of their way to pamper guests. Riviera Maya restaurant meals are ultra-fresh and lovingly prepared, and hotel spa treatments are deservedly renowned.

The Riviera Maya Is Clean & Green

Iguana in Mexico's Riviera Maya.
Riviera Maya bursts with wildlife, like this iguana at Zoetry Paraiso Bonita. ©Karen Tina Harrison.

Although the Riviera Maya is set in Mexico's most prosperous state, Quintana Roo, it feels sleepy. On one side of the main road is the beach, with hotels every half-mile or so. On the other is jungle.

The Riviera Maya's residents and officials understand that their region is a golden goose: visitors prize its low-key, low-rise, quiet air, and will stop coming if the Riviera Maya develops into an endless, tinselly commercial strip.

The Riviera Maya's Luxury Hotels Are Plentiful & Varied

Grand Velas five-star hotel in Riviera Maya, Mexico.
© Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

The Riviera Maya is not a one-size-fits-all destination. Here, visitors can find all sorts of accommodations, from vast all-inclusive hotels to quiet properties of the boutique hotel variety.

Many of the Riviera Maya's hotels are not luxury hotels. But we don't concern ourselves with those here at Luxury Travel. These are the kinds of luxury hotels you will find on the Riviera Maya:

All-inclusive luxury hotels are plentiful on the Riviera Maya:

A la carte luxury hotels exist as well:

  • Large a la carte luxury hotels such as Fairmont Mayakoba, catering to families
  • Medium-sized a la carte luxury hotels such as Maroma Resort, with airy modern villas
  • Boutique-sized, adults-only luxury hotels such as Viceroy Riviera Maya, with 41 cottages, either on the ocean or tucked in the jungle
  • An exclusive cluster of villas that was once a duchess' estate, Esencia

The Riviera Maya Has a 100-Mile-Long, Picture-Postcard Beach

Riviera Maya beach in Mexico.
Life's a beach. ©www.rivieramaya.com

That palm tree-shaded, azure-water beach of fantasy and beer commercials? That's the Riviera Maya's beach, the core of the region's success. Almost all the Riviera Maya's hotels are set right on the beach. (Exceptions: hotels in planned developments like Mayakoba, where the beach may be a quick golf cart or bike ride away: and hotels within the beachfront town of Playa del Carmen)

The Riviera Maya's coral barrier reef is the world's longest after Australia's Great Barrier Reef. This reef runs hundreds of miles down the Caribbean coast all the way down past the Mexican border, into Belize, down to Honduras. The reef is set a few minutes' boat trip off the beach, and is a trophy adventure site for snorkelers and scuba divers,

The Riviera Maya's beach:

  • Sweeps down the coastline in an unbroken expanse of glittering, powdery sand
  • Is lined by palm trees rustling in the tradewind breeze

And that Mexican Caribbean water!

  • It caresses swimmers with not-too-salty waters with year-round temps around 82º F
  • The agua is an unbelievable hue: the velvety turquoise of a Tiffany box
  • Thanks to the barrier reef breaking the waves, the surf is gentle and eminently swimmable

Visitors can count on myriad waterborne Caribbean adventures:

  • Snorkeling and scuba-diving on the reef
  • Surfing and boogie-boarding
  • Windsurfing
  • Kiteboarding (surfing with a kite; rather, the kite is surfing with you)
  • Paddle boarding (the latest craze; picture surfing standing upright with a pole)
  • Kayaking
  • Jet-skiing
  • Boating and sailing
  • Deep-sea fishing (for trophy fish, or catch-and-release)
  • Snorkeling and diving the Riviera Maya's spooky cenote aquatic caves
  • …and more aquatic thrills

The Riviera Maya Has Lots of Things to Do Beyond the Beach

Riviera Maya visitors can skorkel or scuba-dive in cenote caves at Hidden Worlds.
Cenote cave-diving at Hidden Worlds. ©www.rivieramaya.com

Most Riviera Maya hotel guests stay at their resorts, which are designed to furnish complete vacations. But hotel guests who venture beyond their resort gates will find a range of interesting local activities. These include:

  • Snorkeling and diving in the Riviera Maya's water-filled cenote caves
  • For families, Xel Ha and Xcaret, combo water park, theme park, and entertainment venues
  • Inland eco-adventures like birdwatching, spider-sighting, jungle trekking
  • A visit to stroll, shop, eat, and drink in a Riviera Maya village such as the nightlife hub of Playa del Carmen or Puerto Morelos
  • Taking a ferry from Playa del Carmen to nearby Cozumel Island
  • A trip to Si'an Ka'an park, Mexico's first Biosphere Reserve and a pristine ecosystem that is a UNESCO World Heritage site

The Riviera Maya Is a Treasure Trove of Mayan History & Culture

Mayan shaman at Viceroy Riviera Maya hotel in Mexico.
A Mayan Shaman blesses guests of Viceroy Riviera Maya. ©Karen Tina Harrison

Today's Riviera Maya was an important part of the Mayan empire, famed for its

  • mysterious stepped pyramids; mathematical and astronomical sophistication
  • its doom-predicting Mayan calendar (though 12/12/12 was a bust)
  • its severe religious practices. (But don't be alarmed if you hear the phrase Mayan Sacrifice in the Riviera Maya. It refers to a flaming cocktail)

But the Mayans are most celebrated for their spectacular constructions. Riviera Maya visitors can undertake tours of local Mayan temples such as Coba and the closer Tulum. (Chichen Itza is a long and arduous day trip away, and visitors are no longer permitted to climb the central pyramid's famed ceremonial staircase.)

Mayan culture surrounds visitors to the Riviera Maya…if they pay attention. Many Riviera Maya residents (and hotel employees) are full-blooded descendants of the Mayans, and still speak their ancient native language. (Hello is Bixabel, BEE-shah-bell.)

The Riviera Maya Is a Foodie's Delight

Riviera Maya restaurant dish in Mexico.
Modern Mexican menu at Le Chique at Azul Sensatori hotel. ©Karen Tina Harrison

The food in the Riviera Maya has a winning recipe. Its ingredients:

  • Local fish and shellfish just-caught in the Caribbean's clean waters
  • Intensely flavored local produce and spices
  • An innate Mayan feeling for food
  • Treasured Yucatan recipes, considered by many Mexico's best regional cuisine
  • Hearty Mayan dishes like cochinita pibil, or pork cooked in banana leaves
  • A way with Mexico's signature cocktail, the Margarita; a Mayan margarita flaunts a dash of the Yucatan's anise and honey-flavored Xtabentun liqueur

The Riviera Maya's visitor-first attitude ensures first-rate cooking and service at hotels. Visitors can count on superior dining at whatever Riviera Maya luxury hotel they choose.

  • Hotel dining is so good, guests travel to other hotels for their signature restaurants. One such: Le Chique, a magic show where the chef is the magician, in Azul Sensatori by Karisma hotel

The Riviera Maya Is a Golfer's Paradise

Golf on the Riviera Maya in Mexico.
Playacar Golf Club: sea, sky, sand, swing. ©www.rivieramaya.com

The Riviera Maya has become known for its lushly green and challenging championship golf courses, where resident iguanas silently appraise players' swings. Among them:

  • El Camaleon Mayakoba, 18 holes, par 72, Greg Norman-designed, with jungle, mangrove, and ocean surroundings; annual home of the Mayakoba Golf Classic, an official PGA Tour event
  • Playacar Spa & Golf Club, 18 holes, par 72, Robert von Hagge, with Mayan archeological sites and a rep for being demanding
  • Puerto Aventuras Resort Course, par 36, Thomas Leman, an insider's secret

The Riviera Maya Is Alive with Cultural Festivals Year-Round

Day of the Dead is a major Mexican holiday.
Mexico's Day of the Dead, November 1. ©www.visitmexico.com

These days, Riviera Maya visitors plan their vacations not just around the weather but around the region's annual festivals. Some of the best:

Find Out More About the Riviera Maya & Start Planning a Trip

A Mayan temple, Muyil, on Mexico's Riviera Maya.
Muyil Mayan Temple. ©www.rivieramaya.com

Your Guide's choices for Riviera Maya hotels:

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