Things to Do in Riviera Maya & the Yucatan
Cancun is full of places to party, but the young and energetic late-night set knows the exclusive Mandala Night Club is the best place to sip strong drinks, dance to loud beats and mingle with a truly cosmopolitan crowd. Guests love the wide-open dance floor, glittery lights and impressive entryway. Fifty dollars gets partygoers through the door and keeps drinks in their hands, too, with access to an all-night open bar.
There are dozens of ways to see Cancun but one of the most entertaining is aboard the Captain Hook Pirate Ship. Spend an evening enjoying dinner served by salty sea men followed by dancing on the deck and an all-night open bar.
The cannon’s fire signals the departure of this famous ship. As the night progresses visitors can enjoy tales from the high sea, as well as a live enemy attack complete with swords and pistols. A ride aboard the Captain Hook Pirate Ship is the perfect way to experience life on the sea without the fear of being forced to walk the plank.
The ancient Mayans believed hidden cenotes were sacred portals to the underworld. Given the dark, eerie surroundings and stalactites dripping from above, it’s easy to see how these subterranean caves inspired the paranormal awe. At Cenote Chaak Tun outside Playa del Carmen, venture inside an enormous cave where early Mayans once roamed, and splash in the cool, almost secret waters that are hidden back in the forest. Unlike some of the larger cenotes on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Cenote Chaak Tun is still relatively unknown and has half the amount of crowds. Follow the beam of your powerful headlamp into the twisting cave, where the faint squeaks of bats on the ceiling add to the spooky soundtrack. Cool off in the refreshing waters that twist their way through the cave, and hear traditional Mayan tales of the legends, myths, and sacred beliefs towards this mysterious and powerful place.
The Island of Cozumel was first incorporated into the Mayan Empire around 0 AD, and was apparently a thinly populated backwater, primarily important as a ceremonial island for women from the mainland. Although 24 archaeological sites have been identified, most are small and as yet unexcavated. The San Gervasio Ruins, dating to around 300 AD, are by far the largest and best developed for tourism, but still won't impress tourists hoping for the grand pyramids of the Mayan Imperial Cities. Adjust your expectations, however, and the sacred gardens of Ixcel, the Goddess of Fertility and Rainbows, are a serene escape. Most of the low, stone structures cluster around a central plaza, which archaeologists suspect was enhanced with wood and adobe building. The main temple, however, was probably the large Ka'na Na building, located close to the cenotes, or natural wells. There are several other intriguing ruins scattered throughout the jungle, all awaiting your personal interpretation.
This beachfront park has seemingly endless options for activities on the Caribbean Sea. From swimming in the warm ocean and playing in the sand to splashing around the water park or floating in one of the many pools, there are a variety of ways to enjoy a day in and on the water.
Day passes offer access to the many facilities, including beachfront lounge chairs and hammocks, reef tours and snorkeling, and options for massage, photos and scuba diving. Get there early to grab a chair closest to the water. There are dozens of beach games and water toys, themed pools and slides and even an underwater Mayan city to explore.
When you get tired from all the splashing, there is a buffet and full bar to keep you going, as well as a Mexican cooking workshop and shopping center with handicrafts, clothes and jewelry to take home with you.
Beautiful, underwater sinkholes flooded with light, the cenotes of Riviera Maya, Mexico are a natural wonder and a sight to behold. Though there are many throughout the region, Casa Cenote is uniquely located in a mangrove forest close to the sea. It can be thought of as almost an underwater jungle with its algae-covered mangrove forest and soft sands.
As it is mostly open to the sky, it is less enclosed than neighboring cenotes and often has more aquatic life to see. The cenote connects one of the world’s largest underwater river systems to the ocean. Because of this, it is possible to see both fresh and saltwater fish. The unique combination of clear freshwater conditions and underwater caverns and formations make this an interesting spot for scuba divers and snorkelers. Streams of light penetrating the water from the surface add to the beauty and intrigue visible from both above and below.
More Things to Do in Riviera Maya & the Yucatan
While the tranquil waters, white beaches, and endless stucco strips of bars and shops that line Cozumel's touristy West Coast provide most vacationers with everything they need, the wild east may be calling to you. The rugged East Coast, facing the waves of the wide-open Caribbean, is much less accessible and developed, which is precisely its appeal. There are many of gorgeous deserted beaches lining the coastal road, but none like El Mirador. This is - emphatically - not a swimming beach. El Mirador lookout rocky point sculpted into an amazing seascape of natural bridges, blowholes, tide pools, and spires, with an astounding sapphire backdrop you'll never forget. Climb the tower for magnificent views.
Near the ancient town of Merida, you’ll find the massive but beautifully ruinous structure known as the Dzibilchaltun Ruins. Though somewhat of a tongue twister for traditional English speakers, the name means “place where there is writing on the stones,” but unfortunately, due to erosion, you’ll no longer find much writing on the stones here. Instead, the intrepid explorer is rewarded with over 8,400 architectural structures to discover, many of which have astronomical (as well as religious) significance. Explore the stunning interior of the Temple of the Seven Dolls, listen to stories of absolute power at the Open Chapel and learn about the rich ancient Mayan civilization that was inhabited all the way through to 1500 A.D. when the Spaniards arrived.
The El Rey Ruins (or Las Ruinas del Rey) are a spectacular archeological site in Cancun's Hotel Zone, with 47 structures estimated to have been inhabited by the Mayans as early as 900 AD. There are two primary platforms and temples believed to be the remains of religious ceremonial buildings and market areas.
El Rey was named for the ceremonial mask and skull found on the site to honor the Mayan Sun God and over the years further excavations have incited speculation over the ruins history. Although, the El Rey Ruins are not as large in size when compared to Chichen Itza, many visitors enjoy taking pictures of the hundreds of Iguanas that call the ruins home. The Iguanas are unafraid of humans as the park guides keep them well-fed with tortillas.
This new theme park grants visitors the opportunity to experience the many parts of Mexico while visiting Cozumel. It showcases the history, culture and art of the country through several indoor and outdoor exhibitions.
Visitors can weave through an outdoors timeline with miniature scale models of famous sites and check out the art museum featuring handmade Mexican artisanal crafts. There are showings of a film about Mexico’s history and sights in their video experience room, as well as traditional Mexican food and beverages at the snack bar. For a relaxing yet colorful experience, take a stroll through the tropical gardens.
Mexican music can be heard throughout the park and both new and old Mexican architecture can be seen all over, making for an experience that covers both traditional and contemporary Mexico.
Celestun, a fishing village located along the Yucatan coast, is home to a wildlife refuge within Celestun Biosphere Reserve. The lush landscape of the reserve is full of mangroves and covers over 146,000 acres, making it the ideal place for animals and especially birds to inhabit. The refuge is home to over 300 bird species, including the popular flamingo.
The best way to get to the Celestun Bisophere Reserve and see the wildlife refuge is via boat. You can hire a guide with one in the town of Celestun and then depart for the reserve. You'll travel along the Ria Celestun, from which it’s easy to spot wildlife, and boats can also stop at swimming spots for a refreshing dip.
While the center of Merida is all Spanish Colonial in architecture and layout, Paseo de Montejo is the product of a brief period when the French controlled Mexico and built a grand boulevard lined by mansions. Several upscale hotels, nightclubs, and hot restaurants are on this stretch, retaining their original interesting façades. It’s a pleasant street for walking, with wide shady sidewalks and interesting shops and galleries here and there. It ends at a roundabout with the city’s history laid out in stone on a relief in the center. Just before that are two places showing where we’ve come: a small tourist shopping mall on one side and a Super Wal-mart on the other.
If you stay on this boulevard heading north in a car, eventually it turns into a highway that goes 40 minutes to Progreso’s beach and cruise ship dock, on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a long, hot walk to get here from the center, however, so most visitors see Paseo de Montejo on a horse carriage.
Close your eyes and think of Cancun; now what exactly do you see? More than likely it’s white sand beaches in front of large resorts, where cobalt waters lap the shore and palm trees sway in the breeze. For as enticing as beaches and water might be, there’s an entirely different side of Cancun that offers just as much excitement; a place where you swim in turquoise waters set miles inside of the jungle, and literally race through the jungle canopy to feel the breeze in your hair.
At the famous Selvatica Eco-Park, an hour south of Cancun, visitors can infuse their beach vacation with a shot of jungle adrenaline. Clip into a harness and race through the trees on the 12-line zipline adventure, or test your nerves on a bungee swing while staring out over the forest. If you’d prefer that a motor generate the speed—rather than regular old gravity—crank the throttle of an ATV while splashing through dirt and mud.
Marvel at more than 100 famous faces (and bodies!) at Cancun's only wax museum. Wax figures from the world of entertainment (music, television, movies, sport and politics included) cover the 7,500-square-foot (700-square-meter) museum, providing visitors with some surreal photo opportunities. Each wax figure has been carefully and meticulously crafted, with everyone from Albert Einstein and Queen Elizabeth to David Beckham and Amy Winehouse on display. With a collection of well-known children's characters as well, the Cancun Wax Museum is especially popular with kids, and is therefore the ideal attraction for families. For maximum convenience and to avoid disappointment, it's best to book a Cancun Wax Museum admission ticket in advance.
Insider's Tip: A visit to the Cancun Wax Museum makes the ideal start or end to a day of shopping; the museum is located inside the La Isla Plaza shopping village in the Cancun Hotel Zone.
Things to do near Riviera Maya & the Yucatan
- Things to do in Playa del Carmen
- Things to do in Cozumel
- Things to do in Cancun
- Things to do in Merida
- Things to do in Progreso
- Things to do in Costa Maya
- Things to do in Valladolid
- Things to do in Chichen Itza
- Things to do in Tulum
- Things to do in Isla Holbox
- Things to do in Bacalar
- Things to do in The Cayes
- Things to do in Petén
- Things to do in Central Highlands
- Things to do in Western Highlands