FAMILY-FRIENDLY RIVIERA MAYA-WITHOUT THE CROWDS
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by Kristin Young | Updated On: September 10, 2020
The Riviera Maya is no secret, but if you look hard enough some peaceful solitude can still be found among the mega resorts dotting the coast.
Who wouldn’t be tempted by the vibrant blue waters and nearly perfect weather of the Yucatan peninsula – especially with the incredibly affordable flights that can often be found from the US? It’s a resort-dweller’s paradise, but if that’s not your scene, I promise you can still fall in love with this gorgeous part of Mexico. Well, at least for now!
RENT A CAR AND CABANA
The bays south of Akumal are where you will want to set up camp for your time at the ocean.
Rent a car and head on down the coast, through Playa del Carmen, until you almost reach Tulum. We rented a cozy cabana right on the water in Tankah Bay (other great nearby rentals here). This pristine stretch of beach, with a reef to protect the bay and keep the water calm, provides a secluded spot almost entirely to yourself. As a bonus, great snorkeling is just feet from your doorstep. Be on the lookout for the resident sea ray, too.
We’ve been lucky enough to see him every time we’ve been. The nearly private beach is an ideal spot for young kids to splash in the seae or build sandcastles under the shade of palm trees. You know the old Corona commercials with the waves gently lapping on the sand? Several of them were filmed on these bays.
Bring some water shoes though, as there’s a lot of coral poking up through the sand.
SWIM WITH THE TURTLES IN AKUMAL BAY
Take a short drive to Akumal, and you can get up close and personal with the sea turtles while swimming in the bay.
This is truly a “can’t miss” for anyone going to the Mayan Riviera. No tours or fees required. The turtles can be seen swimming all through the bay, and all you need to see them is some snorkel gear. There are plenty of people on the beach and out snorkeling, but it’s not overrun. Plus, the beach bar and restaurant provide the perfect place to to grab a few snacks and drinks between trips into the water.
SWIM IN A CENOTE
Another must while on the Riviera Maya is swimming in the cenotes.
Theses water-filled sink holes are amazing for snorkeling and swimming through caves and caverns. I’ve checked out Gran Cenote, just outside of Tulum and Dos Ojos, which is just off the main highway between Akumal and Tulum. The water is COLD, but that’s pretty refreshing after running around in the hot Mexican sun. The bat cave tour at Dos Ojos takes you swimming through tiny winding caverns so intricate that a guide must individually guide each person through. Eventually you’re dumped out into a huge cave swarming with bats. I’m not usually a guided tour person, but for this it was absolutely necessary. There are so many amazing cenotes near Cancun and Tulum, that you could spend days exploring them all.
Possibly not a great option for people who are claustrophobic or a bit afraid of the dark (or bats flying around you in the dark).
Ancient buildings hugging cliffs and overlooking vibrant blue water – it’s like you stepped into a postcard. The ruins are very busy with tourists, but for good reason. The views and the pristine water are just incredible. Don’t forget your bathing suit – you can take a swim here, and that backdrop gives you an amazing photo op!
The area south of the city of Tulum is where most of the small beach hotels are located. It’s absolutely worth a visit for a nice dinner on the beach or a yoga class. There’s a lot going on down there, so if you’re young, like a more lively atmosphere, or traveling alone, this may be more your kind of place than Tankah or Solomon bays.
CLIMB COBA RUINS
Inland, the lesser known ruins at Coba make the perfect midday stop before continuing on to the colonial town of Valladolid.
Exploring these ancient ruins in near-solitude gives the kids plenty of room to run and play without fear of losing them in the crowd. A big plus (for those in good shape and without a fear of heights) is that Nohoch Mul, the main structure at Coba, can still be climbed. From the top you can see for miles. It’s very steep with only a rope running up the middle to grab for balance, so maybe not something for the littlest kids. The lovely little restaurant just outside the ruins served up some killer mango salsa and beer – just the ticket after a few hours of climbing around in the heat.
The small colonial town of Valladolid provides the perfect home base for exploring inland on the Yucatan.
Wandering the colorful streets, playing in the central park and visiting nearby cenotes will fill a day or two and give you a taste of colonial Mexico. It can be a great place to pick up a few souvenirs or trinkets too. Always the bargain-hunter, I was able to score some amazing deals on things that would have cost us twice as much at the beach.
Give bargaining a shot; it helps to know at least a few words of Spanish!
Well, you couldn’t miss one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World, could you?
Chicén Itzá is just a 40-minute drive from Valladolid, but is usually SO crowded. The secret is to get there as soon as the ruins open, before the buses full of day-trippers. First thing in the morning everything is so quiet and peaceful – you’ll have the place nearly to yourself. Then you can make your exit just as the tourist throngs start to arrive.
There’s so much more to the Riviera Maya than mega resorts, all-you-can-eat buffets, and drunken college kids. With all the things to do in this beautiful and affordable location, it’s really worth a visit.