5 surprising things about Riviera Maya

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Mexico’s famed Riviera Maya – a long stretch of land along Highway 307 in the state of Quintana Roo, on the Yucatán Peninsula – is much more than tourism in Cancun. It’s a perfect place for adventurers, families, history buffs, divers, ecologists, foodies, and luxury travelers.

 5 surprising things about Riviera Maya

Before Cancun became a destination for partiers, this area was a destination for those in the know, mainly divers and archaeologists. It was an important trade hub for the ancient Mayans, and when the Spanish arrived, it was mostly forgotten. This has contributed to the remarkably slow development of the area over the last few hundred years, although the last 20 years has seen a marked increase in tourism and corresponding means for locals to earn a living. You can still find small villages, impressive archaeological sites, and plenty of living history in Riviera Maya, along the Mexican Caribbean.

 5 surprising things about Riviera Maya

Here are 5 surprising things about Riviera Maya

 5 surprising things about Riviera Maya

1. Water, water, everywhere!

Of course! You’re on the second largest reef system in the world - but also in the area of the two largest underground rivers in the world. Saltwater or fresh? Visit those cenotes- deep pools where you can swim, snorkel, or dive the river waters, and snorkel or dive to your heart’s content on the sea, as well. 

You can dive in a cenote!  5 surprising things about Riviera Maya


2. The World’s First Underwater Museum

Of course, more water. Artist and diver Jason deCaires Taylor has created the world’s first underwater sculpture park here, the Museo Subaquático de Arte (MUSA). Over the years, I’ve seen amazing coral and plant growth on the art – Jason’s work engages with the possibilities of a sustainable future, portraying human intervention as both positive and affirmative. You can snorkel or dive – and discover art in a whole new medium

3. Relax – it’s not all party time

Get off the beaten path and out of the all-inclusive resorts by researching options for Riviera Maya vacation rentals. By renting a house, you can have more privacy, your own pool, beach, or yard, and plenty of space to play and run and swim on your own schedule. We always rent when we travel, because the space and luxury of being on our own is so important to us. And, as in any vacation, the less you pack your schedule, the more you relax. Let serendipity guide your days. Walk out your door to a private beach, kayak in the early mornings, meditate to the sounds of the crashing waves, or sit out and watch the stars at night.

Relaxing is part of the journey.  5 surprising things about Riviera Maya

4. Wildlife

Did you know this area is the world’s largest manatee habitat? Or the incredible diversity of birds, reptiles, marine life, and mammals here? 

Riviera Maya is the world's largest manatee habitat! From  5 surprising things about Riviera Maya

An area of the Riviera Maya, Sian Ka’an, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere reserve. Here, you can find a variety of habitats and some of those cenotes shown above. If you want to get out in nature and explore, this is the place to do so.

5. Culinary Adventures

Whether you dine out or shop the local markets and cook at home, you’re sure to discover new tastes and dishes. Mayan cuisine, the mainstays of which are corn, beans, and squash, goes back a long way – and includes plenty of chocolate! Be sure to stop at an Ah Cacao Chocolate Café for Mayan hot or iced chocolate – and some goodies to take home. For other meals (because chocolate IS a meal, we know this), there are many restaurants and cafes serving locally-sourced dishes and fresh caught seafood. Take a cooking class to learn more about local cuisine – and then make it at home!

cacao pods - we LOVE chocolate! From  5 surprising things about Riviera Maya


Have you been to Riviera Maya? What did you love most? What surprised you?