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The Caribbean Coast of Mexico is one of the most renowned beach destinations in the world, and certainly the most popular in the country. The coastline attracts thousands of visitors every month, who come to enjoy its pristine beaches and turquoise waters, as well as getting pampered in the most glamorous hotels. The coastline goes from Cancun to Tulum, and all the way south to Chetumal. It also includes the Islands of Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and Contoy. In this Guide to Caribbean Coast Mexico, we will explore all of the resort towns that make this side of Mexico so appealing. From the small fishing town of Puerto Morelos to the all-inclusive mecca of Cancun. Here we go!
Where to go on the Caribbean coast of Mexico
- Where to visit on the Caribbean coast of Mexico
- Things to do on the Caribbean coast of Mexico
The Riviera Maya is a region located in Southeast Mexico in the state of Quintana Roo stretching from Cancun down to Tulum.
The Riviera Maya became a popular tourist destination due to its interesting history and beautiful 75-mile coastline which features white sand beaches and turquoise waters.
The Riviera Maya, along with Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, was the homeland of the ancestors of the Mayan Civilisation (2000 B.C). In the year 750 B.C., the first complex Mayan societies began to develop, establishing ancestral cities and building grand pyramids. They also made agricultural, astronomical and mathematical breakthroughs that humanity uses even now.
After building an empire that lasted 18 centuries, the major Mayan cities were abandoned. This has raised a considerable number of conspiracy theories amongst historians about their mysterious disappearance.
The remains of the Mayan empire were later found in the 15th century during the Spanish Colonisation. These impressive discoveries include Chichén Itzá and the Tulum Ruins which still attract visitors from all over the world.
Where to visit on the Caribbean coast of Mexico
32 kilometres of soft white sand, lined by spectacular hotels, Cancun has always been considered the top destination for spring breakers and all-inclusive tourism. Due to the availability of large meeting rooms and spacious hotel bedrooms, it has also become a popular destination for business meetings and trips. The nightlife is also busy which undoubtedly makes the location more attractive. Being close to Cancun International Airport is also a bonus, as you can dip your feet into the turquoise Caribbean water 30 minutes after you land!
Cancun is a great choice for all-inclusive stays. Our Guide to Cancun has everything you need to about where to stay, restaurants and things to do. This city has it all: grand shopping centres, amazing restaurants and underwater museums, to resorts and hotels that fit every type of travel budget.
Once just a fishing village, Puerto Morelos hasn’t changed much considering the huge developments in the last decade. It’s a very laid back hippie destination, popular due to its nearby coral reef and great snorkelling tours offered by the local fishermen.
The local beach restaurants are also popular for their freshly made fish. Puerto Morelos is also renowned for it’s nearby “Ruta de los cenotes”, a country road lined by spectacular cenotes. These are natural sinkholes scattered all over the Yucatan peninsula and a symbol of this region.
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Mostly known as a party town, Playa del Carmen is the perfect destination for everyone. Its endless beach offers both quiet areas as well as beach bars with non-stop music. Accommodation ranges from high-end resorts, apartments, mid-range boutique hotels and hostels. Food lovers will find a variety of restaurants for all tastes, from international cuisine to local Mexican specialities, street food, and vegan options. Nightlife is also topnotch, with live music on the beach and rooftop bars.
Playa Del Carmen is situated in the middle of the Riviera Maya, right between Tulum and Cancun. It is very close to the most popular areas of interest in the region, and certainly a great choice for a Mexican holiday! Everything in Playa Del Carmen revolves around Quinta Avenida. This is the main street where there is a colourful and original array of shops selling souvenirs and trendy clothing, as well as restaurants serving delicious food. People gather here to take a stroll, soak it all up, and enjoy everything it has to offer.
South of Tulum you will find Playa del Carmen, a trendy beach town made for foodies and avid shoppers. 5th Avenue is a 2.5-mile pedestrian walkway that has some of the best restaurants, bars, and shops you’ll find.
As featured in our best Mexican beach guide, Akumal is a quiet beach resort that became popular for it’s turtles that will spontaneously swim with you.
It’s a suitable destination for those who love the tranquillity of beach life, far from the hustle and bustle of the party towns. A couple of beach hotels or luxurious villas offer dreamlike holidays in the heart of the Caribbean sea.
This is the trendiest destination of them all. Tulum has been attracting jet-setters, artists, and designers from all over the world, not only to enjoy a holiday but to settle and find inspiration. It was a small fishing village about 30 years ago, and is now one of the most expensive destinations in Mexico.
The bohemian vibes of the shabby-chic and expensive hotels on the beach, and the trendy restaurants, are the main attractions in Tulum. It also has a spectacular beach. On the mainland side, Tulum is surrounded by archaeological sites and cenotes. There is a lot to discover here, and many things to do.
Tulum is one of our favourite destinations and is perfect for those who seek an alternative to big chain hotels. Tulum’s laid-back vibe attracts visitors from all over the world seeking to experience the authenticity of a small coastal city. With Mayan Ruins, a boho-chic beachfront and artsy downtown, there’s plenty of Instagram-worthy backdrops to capture.
In our Guide to Tulum we share our recommendations for the best places to stay, eat and enjoy.
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Only a 30-minute ferry ride from Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a little Caribbean gem! It has a beautiful beach (Playa Norte) with pristine turquoise water and a marine park where you can snorkel and dive. In the summer you can join a tour to see the majestic whale sharks.
There, you can swim with them while they hunt for food in the Caribbean waters. You can also rent a golf cart and drive around the island, or just bask on the white sandy beach. Don’t miss the spectacular sunsets that you wouldn’t be able to see from the mainland coast. The island has a cute little town with a very laid-back vibe.
Cozumel is a bigger island located right in front of Playa del Carmen. It’s where the huge cruises come into, so part of the island around the port is quite touristy. Having said that, if you walk a few steps into town, off along the coast, you will find a very peaceful local Mexican town. Cozumel is also one of the world’s top diving destinations. It’s located right by the second largest barrier reef in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, also known as the Mayan Reef. It starts in Isla Contoy and continues all the way down to Honduras. If you are a diver, it’s something you don’t want to miss!
Cozumel is a small island located slightly off the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula near Cancun. Although it is possible to take direct flights to Cozumel from the US, most travellers reach the island by boat or ferry directly from Cancun.
Cozumel is paradise on earth for scuba divers. Its main town, San Miguel, is perfect for foodies and anyone looking crafty souvenirs to bring home. Its various white sand beaches make it a floating Cancun, but less crowded and more preserved.
Isla Contoy was previously an off-limits island. It was a protected marine park only accessible to biologists, researchers and occasional limited visitors. It has now been opened to the public, although very controlled, and made sure that the human presence doesn’t affect the delicate eco-system.
Things to do on the Caribbean coast of Mexico
Also known as the White City, Merida the capital city of Yucatán which is full of history and tradition. With colonial architecture, a mix of Arabic, Spanish and local influences, museums, and markets, the city is an open museum witness of its conflicting past. Take a free tour, a stroll in the market or walk into the museums. We also recommend watching the local folklore on Sunday in the main plaza. If summer, please mind the heat as it can be hotter than you can ever imagine!
Visit the Archaeological Site of Chichén Itzá
Chichén Itzá is one of the 7 wonders of the world and a great representation of the grandeur of the Mayan civilisation. It is therefore high up on the list of things to do in the Yucatán Peninsula. The majority of the tours that take you there include a knowledgeable, certified guide and a few other stops, such as a visit to a spectacular cenote and the colonial town of Valladolid. You can also rent a car and create a DIY itinerary. In this case we recommend you sleep nearby the site and try to get in the early morning before the crowd. At the entrance, you can easily hire a guide if you wish to know some of the interesting history behind this incredible ancient site.
Immerse Yourself in Nature Exploring the Biosphere of Calakmul
Right in the middle of the peninsular, in the state of Campeche, the biosphere of Calakmul is one of the largest protected areas in Mexico. In addition to the archaeological site, this area is home to incredible biodiversity including many bird species and jaguars.
The closest town of Xpujil is also surrounded by other minor archaeological sites, also interesting to explore, and local communities that offer tours around their villages to show you their beautiful products, from spectacular wooden objects to handmade jewellery, textiles and other handicrafts.
Bike Around Cozumel
Situated only a 30 minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen, Cozumel is considered the mecca for scuba divers but also an interesting place to visit for nature and outdoor lovers as well. Lots of snorkeling is also available and for the sports fans, you can bike around the island to enjoy its spectacular landscapes, especially when you reach the east coast.
Go Scuba Diving
Scuba diving is big thing here. Many operators offer great daily dive trips to see the rich marine life including sharks, turtles, manta rays and much more. From November to March, get up close and personal with majestic bull sharks as they arrive in Playa del Carmen for the breeding season. Cave diving in cenotes is another exciting must-do diving experience here, as well as checking out the MUSA, located next to Cancun, an underwater contemporary museum of art consisting of over 500 permanent life-size sculptures from English artist Jason deCaires Taylor.
That’s it for our Guide to Caribbean Coast Mexico! Have you visited any of these locations? We’d love to hear any travel tips or advice you may have on them. If you do end up going, don’t forget to tag us with #granluchito.
Check out our other blogs in the Caribbean Coast region: