The Complete Guide to Cancun & Riviera Maya

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Welcome to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula! Also known as the Mexican Caribbean, this region separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea and is brimming with beautiful beaches, ancient ruins, and natural wonders.


Cancun is situated on the northeastern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and is packed with all-inclusive resorts, ranging from family resorts with water parks to intimate, adults-only resorts with swim-up suites. There’s so much more to Cancun than the rowdy spring break crowds (although they exist!) — visitors can enjoy stunning white beaches with plenty of water sports, guided tours of Mayan ruins and natural cenotes, and easy access to an abundance of shopping, nightlife, and restaurants.

Most resorts in Cancun are centered in two areas — in downtown Cancun, or in the “Hotel Zone,” facing either the beach or the Nichupté Lagoon. The Hotel Zone measures over 15 miles long, with bars and nightlife packed near the northern tip, and quieter resorts toward the south. A few all-inclusive resorts are located in Puerto Juarez, a tranquil beach town just two miles north of Cancun.

Playa Mujeres and Isla Mujeres are also part of the greater Cancun region. Playa Mujeres is roughly ten miles north of Cancun’s Hotel Zone and features many upscale, all-inclusive resorts. The beach town faces magical Isla Mujeres, a tiny island that’s only four miles long. Popular activities on this nature-filled island include snorkeling, kayaking, and zip-lining over lagoons and mangrove forests.

Despite its small and charming size, Isla Mujeres also offers lodging, including a handful of all-inclusive and adults-only resorts. Whether staying at a resort or just visiting for the day, the island can be reached in just 20 minutes by ferry.

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Riviera Maya

South of Cancun is the region known as the Riviera Maya. Riviera Maya runs along the coast from Puerto Morelos to Punta Herrero, and includes the popular resort destinations of Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, Akumal and Tulum. The island of Cozumel is just a short ferry ride from Playa del Carmen and is popular with divers and snorkelers.

There are so many choices for accommodations in Riviera Maya, from luxury resorts in Playa del Carmen to bohemian properties on the beach in Tulum. Visitors flock to this region for beautiful white-sand beaches, teal blue water, spas, and tours to Mayan ruins and cenotes (natural swimming holes).

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Puerto Morelos

Puerto Morelos sits halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen and is known for its relaxing beaches, offshore reef, and cenotes tours. Accommodations in this port town include independent hotels, boutique resorts, and larger, all-inclusive resorts.

Playa del Carmen

Most resorts in Playa del Carmen face the beautiful, white-sand beaches, with many located in the exclusive gated enclave of Playacar. There are some all-inclusive resorts in the downtown area as well. Popular attractions in this cosmopolitan beach town include the Fifth Avenue shopping district, ferry trips to Cozumel, and excursions to Xcaret, a nature park filled with grottoes, cenotes, and zip-lining.

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Cozumel’s all-inclusive resorts line the west coast of the island, which is popular for water sports. The island’s only city of San Miguel is located here; this is where the cruise ships dock and you’ll find a strip of shopping and restaurants. The island is safe to explore, so consider renting a car or arrange transportation with your resort’s concierge. The east coast of the island coined the “wild side” is breathtaking – and easy to get to by taking the inter-island highway that cuts right across the island.

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Puerto Aventuras

South of Playa del Carmen is Puerto Aventuras, a residential community, built around a full-service marina and packed with shops, restaurants, Mexican bakeries, condos, and several all-inclusive resorts. Fishing and golfing are popular here, and its location between Playa del Carmen and Tulum makes it easy to visit the region’s popular archeological sites and nature theme parks.


This peaceful, seaside town is located close to Tulum and is known for its fine white sand beaches, fantastic diving and snorkeling (Akumal is home to the second-largest barrier reef), and plenty of turtle sightings during nesting season. The hotel zone here offers boutique hotels as well as all-inclusive resorts with luxury amenities.


The Mayan archaeological site of Tulum is one of the most popular visits for anyone staying in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. There is a beachfront hotel zone just south of the archaeological site, and most guests stay here for a quiet and eco-friendly vacation filled with activities like yoga by the sea and exploring the area’s cenotes.

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