Last Updated on February 5, 2023 by Audrey Scott
Mexico has ruins, Mexico has beaches. But the only place in the country where you'll find them both? That's the Riviera Maya.
Our visit to Riviera Maya was short — only five days – but it was chock full, not only of beaches and ruins, but of tasty local cuisine, lush jungle, psychedelic jellyfish, and even some afternoon karaoke. When I think back, here are some of my favorite memories.
Favorite Memories from a Long Weekend in the Riviera Maya
1. Walking along the beach in late afternoon.
This is a simple one: water and long horizons have a calming, relaxing effect on me. Add to that the smell of saltwater and the humidity of the coast and you have my happy place cocktail. So the first thing we did when we arrived? Take a long walk along the beach.
2. Psychedelic jellyfish.
The specimen that washed up to our feet is known as a Portuguese man-o-war. Amazing to look at, but dangerous to touch.
3. Drinking champagne on deck under a full moon.
When we mentioned on our Facebook page having to fend off a cockroach on Valentine's Day, one of our fans encouraged us to take a “real vacation.” In this moment, champagne flute in hand, it felt as though we had fulfilled her wish.
4. Ogling the size of the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza.
Some things never change. The wealthier they are, the bigger they build. Same went for the Maya. Even cooler than the size of Chichen Itza's El Castillo is the fact that if you clap loud enough along its side, the sound will bounce off the pyramid stone and echo back to you like a bird call. Someone's clever.
5. Yucatecan lunch at a ruined hacienda.
I’ve already gushed about how excited I was to finally eat puerco pibil and to discover the genius of blended roasted squash seeds, so I won't bore you by telling it all again. If you have an opportunity to eat a local meal at an old hacienda where vines and trees grow in and around the ruins of old buildings, jump on it.
6. Jumping into a cenote.
Before this trip, I had no idea what a cenote was or why swimming in a collapsed sink hole might possibly be considered inviting. On this score, I'm uninformed no more. You might even say I’m a cenote convert. It’s remarkable how the water inside of one stays so clean and cool.
7. There’s more to Yucatecan food than tacos and enchiladas.
Traditional Mayan recipes take a modern twist at Yaxche Maya Cuisine in Playa del Carmen. This brought us in touch with dishes like turkey stuffed with minced meat and simmered in a burnt pepper sauce, conchinita pibil (young pig slow cooked in sour orange and achiote sauce), and cheese stuffed with ground pork and kol (Mayan white sauce). And Mexican wine? We found it surprisingly good. We favored the Chardonnay overall, but among the reds the Cabernet Sauvignon left us pleasantly surprised.
8. Back street Cozumel food tour with a human touch.
Most visitors to Cozumel never make it off the main street. But that’s where Cozumel Chef’s food tour takes a different approach. Emily Egge brings together not only a progression of local dishes, but she puts a local human face on this otherwise tourist town. Among the fun small plates we kicked off our afternoon with: breaded shrimp tacos served with fiery habenero hot sauce.
And that human touch? Our Cozumel day ended with the owner of a family run seafood restaurant singing with his daughter in his arm in the late afternoon.
9. Bicycle ride down the jungle road at Coba Mayan ruins.
In contrast to Chichen Itza where shade is at a premium, the Mayan ruins at Coba are located smack in the Yucatecan jungle. Rent a bicycle or hire someone to cycle you around the grounds. It's downright pleasant.
10. Climbing to the top of the pyramid at Coba.
Most Mayan ruin complexes forbid tourists to climb to the top. Of course, this is completely understandable if the goal is preservation. Having said that, it's pretty cool to be able to climb a Mayan pyramid to the top. Just don't look down until you made it all the way. Ignorance is vertigo's worst enemy.
11. The quintessential perfect white sand beach of Tulum.
When we consider an ideal beach scene, Tulum definitely competes for top honors. White sand, fabulously blue water, not overrun, no giant resorts or heavy development along the beach. Just beautiful.
Don't you wish you could sit back with a cocktail here and spend the rest of the day? I know I do.
12. Ceviche and grilled seafood orgy.
I suppose this photo pretty much says it all. If it's a fresh seafood fix you seek, check out Ana & Jose's beachside restaurant at Tulum. We kicked off with ceviche towers, moved onto octopus carpaccio, then ended with the seafood mother lode. I never thought I could really ever fill up on fresh fish and seafood, until that day.
13. Tulum ruins without the crowds.
When we announced on our Facebook page that we were visiting the Mayan ruins at Tulum, one of our fans warned us of the crowds. However, arrived in late afternoon and not only was the heat backing off, but the light was soft and the people were few.
14. Relaxing in the bubble spa.
Need I say more?
32 thoughts on “A Long Weekend on the Riviera Maya: 14 Memories”
Tulum looks absolutely delightful. I love the sound of ruins and beaches at the same time 🙂
@Dean: Both Tulum ruins and Tulum beach were fantastic in terms of beauty and feel. It’s hard to beat ruins and beaches all in the same place 🙂
It looks like an awesome place! I cannot believe the colors of the Jellyfish.
The picture of the jellyfish is absolutely stunning. I didn’t know they could be that brightly colored.
I hope the shot of the neon jellyfish was taken from a distance. Excellent colors!
Hi, just discovered your blog. Of course, I love blogs, being a blogger myself. And after a few years of not having much of a travel bug, I finally got my passport sorted recently and am really starting to feel the draw again to places near and far. Will be checking back here often to see the latest scoop.
Thank you for the absolutely gorgeous photos – I can really feel the soul and spirit coming through in each one. And what an amazing life you have created, with trips being paid for you to write about the beautiful locations. My specialty is creating our own reality in beautiful and magical ways, so this really gets me excited!! Cheers 🙂
You had be ready to go by reason #3!!Looks like a wonderful experience.
I loved the Riviera, and honestly we just stayed at our resort for the most part. With that said, I still feel like we were able to take in many of the sights and scenery. The beaches are AWESOME, the water is great for snorkeling which is what I love to do. We tried to hike outside our resort and attempted to find a cenote near the place we stayed. I think we took a wrong turn. We wound up at one where we had to pay more than I was willing to as I knew there was a cheaper one (or free one) near our area, I just couldn’t find it. That’s the only thing I regret about our time down there is not finding that cenote. They look very beautiful.
Ok seriously everything about this trip was perfection, but I can’t get past that jellyfish, it’s soooooo gorgeous!!!!
@Matt: The Riviera Maya region is pretty nice. Yeah, isn’t that jellyfish surreal? At first I thought it was plastic because it was so bright.
@John: I’ve seen jellyfish before, but none like this one! Happy to say that we saw it on the beach instead of in the water 🙂
@Lane: Actually, the jellyfish photo was taken with an iPhone – no zoom. But, it was washed up on the beach so it was harmless to us at that point.
@Leigh: That champagne and moonlight happened on night #1. After that, it didn’t matter what else we did 🙂
@Erika: Thanks so much for stopping by our blog and commenting. I’m glad to hear that you’ve got your passport in hand now and are ready to take on the world again. Good luck with your exploration and travels!
@Brad: So maybe you need to return in order to find that cenote 🙂
@Andi: We did luck out on this trip – everything worked out so well, from the color of the jellyfish to the great people in our group.
Reading the above, it would be easy to think you’d spent far longer there than just 5 days, you seemed to get in a lot stuff, but without being an maniac with an itinerary. Like Erika above this is first time I found your blog. I shall be also be back.
@Barnes: It was a pretty fully five days, but it was well planned so that we got to spend hours and hours at every activity. And, meal times were always long with lots of great conversation. Thanks for stopping by and hope you’ll return to our blog often!
@Christy: I know exactly the translucent jellyfish you’re talking about – yuck! Nature often has a way of making poisonous/dangerous creatures very colorful to give us a chance to avoid them. I keep thinking of how brightly colored many of the poisonous frogs are in the Amazon. I do have to say we were fortunate to see this guy on the sand instead of in the water.
That jellyfish is wild! At least when they’re psychedelic like that they’re easy to see and avoid (unlike those sinister transparent ones!).
Hi Audry and Dan,
Several years ago we spent two weeks in the Riviera Maya,without crowds,and it was absolutely wonderful.Jim ended up with a foot infection while at Coba and our Mayan guide took Iodine leaves from the jungle,spat in them and applied it to his foot. It allowed him relief to continue our trek and until he could see a doctor later in the evening.
We just were at the west coast of mexico, but after seeing those pictures we just HAVE to visit the east coast, soonish 🙂
all the best from switzerland
armin & bea
Oh It’s really nice there 🙂 The food also looks tasty and healthy 🙂
I taught school in Mexico for a year and loved every minute of it. I haven’t been back in quite a while, so it was great seeing your photos.
The pictures and blog presentation are remarkable. I like Emily Egge.
@Stephanie: One of the things that impressed me about our visit to Riviera Maya is that there is still a deep knowledge of traditional medicines and Mayan practices. I’m glad to hear that your guide was able to help your husband’s foot so he could make it through the day. Glad you had such a great visit as well!
@Armin: And we are now on the west coast of Mexico (Mazunte) so we’ve switched positions 🙂 The east coast is very different. It’s more developed than what we’ve seen on the western coast, but the quality of the beaches and ruins are hard to beat. Hope you get to visit soon!
@Amy: So glad our photos brought back good memories of your time teaching in Mexico. Must have been quite an adventure; I’m sure you have so many great stories from that year.
@Steven: Thanks! And yes, Emily is wonderful – we really enjoyed our day with her on Cozumel.
@Sabrina: We had no idea that there were Portugest man-o-wars in this part of Mexico as well. I don’t think it’s typical as I’m used to hearing about them in Australia and the Philippines. They can be deadly if you come across one and have a weak system (e.g., heart) – it’s more about how your body reacts to all the stings than the actual venom inside. Some people have been known to have heart attacks, unfortunately.
I’ve heard of Portuguese man-o-wars before, but I had no idea they were even at the Riviera Maya. Aren’t they deadly? I hqad no idea how intense their color would be either. Wow!
Audrey, love your post! We are headed to the Blue Diamond next month and would love to explore like you did. Do you recommend renting a car, or did you find it easy to get around without one? Thanks!
@Kristen: Great to hear that you’re headed to Blue Diamond next month! Our transport was provided to us as part of our tour, but I would suggest renting a car if I were going independently. This would give you more flexibility in visiting different sites and staying as long (or as little) as you’d like. And, I imagine that renting a car would be more cost effective than having to organize private transport from the resort. Hope you have a wonderful time!!
Thank you so much for the details of your fantastic Mayan Ruin and Relaxing vacation. I can’t wait to go myself. Thanks for sharing.
@Tracy: You’re welcome! Hope you have a wonderful time exploring Riviera Maya yourself in the near future!
A lovely read and some great photos, sounds like a wonderful place with alot there, will be on my list of places to visit. Thanks
@Dean: And this is only a small fraction of all there is to see in the Riviera Maya region! Glad this overview helped in thinking of your trip there. Enjoy!
Hi, Audrey and Daniel!
I’ve been enjoying the egyptian trip and posts: how wonderful to see it is possible to go safely – you are surprising and fearless (I remember Iran)!
But I’m planning a trip to the Riviera Maya and I remembered this post and I’m curious about one thing: have you visited more cenotes than the one in Xochempich? If it is so, which one you preferred?
And I’m also trying to find a turtle rescue center around Tulum, I’ve heard of Xcacel and I’ll try: I was touched by the turtle rescue post, gotta love these wonderful animals. Actually, it is hard no to be touched by your posts – I’m a silent reader, but always following your adventures.
Keep on with this wonderful site (and travels!), hugs for you.
@Emilia: Thanks so much for your kind comment about showing how to travel safely (and to break down stereotypes) and for following along on our travels through Egypt. Trust us, we are anything from fearless 🙂
As for your question about cenotes. We didn’t visit any cenotes besides Xochempich, but I do know that around Merida and throughout Yucatan there are many cenotes open to the public. I would just ask around when you get on the ground.
Please let us know if you are able to do anything with the turtle center of Xcacel. I’d love to know of other places in Mexico to recommend to people. We so loved our experience with the turtle liberation in Mazunte and hope you experience the same.
Thanks again for your support and being a loyal reader!
Audrey, just some words to thank you for the great advice on the Riviera Maya in this post: we came back from Tulum, where we stayed for some days, and we came absolutely in love with the region.
Tulum is delightful, in its gorgeous beach and more relaxed pace. We loved Chichen Itza (Coba was left for the next time, a pity), the cenotes and cochinita pibil (oh, my…). And the people is kind and welcoming. What else can we want?
Thanks and hugs!
We were in Riviera Maya for 6 days and stayed in Akumal- we loved staying there as its between all the great thing in Playa del Carmen and Sian Kaan!:)
@Emilia: Thanks for returning and letting us know how your trip went! Sounds like a really wonderful visit. And, I’m so happy that this post and our advice helped with your trip. Now you’re making me a bit homesick for Riviera Maya…and wanting conchinita pibil!
@Vishal: We didn’t visit Akumal, but it sounds like a great place to stay close to everything. Glad you had a good time!