Riviera Maya Bucket List Part 1 – Discovering Small Pieces of Heaven!

Xpu-Ha - Condo Hotels Playa del CarmenThe Riviera Maya is a special place that is meant to be experienced and explored rather than just merely seen. The very thing that keeps so many people coming back year after year is the fact that it is a vacation that can always offer a different experience.

There are so many secret places and what I believe to be hidden wonders. If you have visited Playa del Carmen, Cancun or even Tulum you may think that is where it all ends. But in reality that is just where it starts.

In between these well-known landmarks you can find small pieces of heaven! What used to be secret little treasures are now becoming more talked about – but none the less are still must sees while on vacation anywhere in the Riviera Maya.

If you are calling Playa del Carmen your home base for the week and are looking to switch up the scenery a bit (which I highly recommend you do, for your own good!) there are a few of my favorite little wonders heading southward that I always recommend. You can even visit more than one place in one day – offering a more fulfilling experience.

Magical Cenotes

Start your day trip adventure with a stop at one of the Riviera Maya’s most beautiful cenotes which are about 15 minutes south from Playa del Carmen! This is a perfect activity to start in the morning on a really hot day! I always love cenotes on hot days because the water is a bit chillier than the ocean or pool water, and is an absolutely amazingly refreshing way to cool off!

A cenote is literally a natural fresh clear water pool which, on sunny days mirrors like crystal. It’s beautiful and quite an invigorating experience. Some cenotes even have underground cave entrances for those who love to dive and explore.

Two of my favorite nearby cenotes on this south route toward Tulum are Centoe Azul and Jardin of Eden. Both have great cliff jump off points if you like a little extra adventure. This is a great activity for a nice quick swim or to spend the entire day! Bring your towels, bathing suit and your smile! The entrance is about 50 pesos per person depending on the cenote.

If you have the time you may want to wander off to a brilliant new beach! The summer time hours give you plenty of beach time, so even if you arrive in the afternoon you still have plenty of time to enjoy!

The secret place everyone is talking about – Xpu-ha

Only right around the corner from the cenotes, on the other side of the highway you can find one of the most magical places I have encountered in the Riviera Maya – Xpu-ha! My goodness, what a wonderful place! I discovered Xpu-ha after having lived here already for almost 1.5 years! The first time I saw it I thought – “I can’t believe I have been missing out on this heaven all this time”. Well now I am very thankful that this paradisaical place is a regular part of my life!

Xpu-ha Beach is a paradise with soft white sand and crystal clear waters. It is also home to some of the most precious coral reefs! If you like to swim or snorkel this is a fantastic place to discover! You can also enjoy select water sports at a fraction of the cost of what you would spend in Playa! The entrance is 40 pesos per person but if you consume at the beach club, you will get a refund for your entrance upon leaving. The beach club is also highly recommendable with great food and cocktails!

The place of the Sea Turtles in Akumal

Akumal is another paradise not to be missed. It’s about 10 more minutes from the cenotes, still heading south! I have been to Akumal time and time again for relaxing days on the beach and to swim with the very large and exceptionally amazing Sea Turtles! You can bring your own snorkel gear or you can rent for a fee.

Swimming with the turtles can be done as a tour or you are free to go on your own! Aside from the sea turtles you can also swim amongst other well-known sea creatures such as stingrays and an array of colorful fish! It is truly an experience you will be glad you’ve discovered! Entrance to Akumal is absolutely free!

I recommend you try one of the most famous restaurants on the Riviera Maya called – La Buena Vida! It is such a charming restaurant with great food overlooking the beautiful Half Moon Bay of Akumal!

The serenity of Tulum

Tulum - Condo Hotels Playa del CarmenNow I bring you to a place where my heart forever lives – in Tulum! About a 45 minute drive away from Playa, Tulum is a place that makes you feel free as soon as you arrive! Its relaxed bohemian vibe puts even the most anxious at tranquility! Here the waves are bigger and the water bright and blue! If you love boogie boarding or riding the waves I highly suggest a day in Tulum!

There is a very pretty jungle road with a string of beach clubs and small hotels – each offering loungers and food and drink service! When I go I tend to always find myself at a place called “Om Tulum”! The stretch of beach is amazing and I always enjoy the service and the great food!

If you happen to be traveling with your dog – Tulum is one of the few places in the Riviera Maya that is animal friendly! You can end your day in Tulum by walking through the little town, shopping and having dinner at one of the many charming restaurants in the town center.

If you are planning a trip to the Riviera Maya use these helpful bucket list items to create your own agenda tailored to your interests. Keep follow us for more must-see beaches and little paradises!

Discovering the Yal-Ku Lagoon

Visiting Akumal has always been my favorite day-trip from Playa del Carmen. Whenever I meet a new visitor to Playa it is THE place I recommend they visit. The beach is pristine and the crystal clear water is filled with sea turtles who feed in the bay. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who hasn’t enjoyed snorkeling with those majestic creatures.

Just last week I discovered yet another treasure of Akumal – Yal-ku lagoon. I’d heard of it before and had created a picture in my mind of a sandy inlet like some of the other lagoons I’d seen along the Riviera Maya. Upon entering the lagoon via a jungle-clad path dotted with bronze sculptures, however, I realized that Yal-ku was indeed a very unique place, unlike anything I’d seen in the area.

Yal-kul lagoon Akumal

Yal-ku is located to the north of the main beach. Upon arriving in Akumal from the highway, follow the road to the end and turn left. After about five minutes, take another left at the sign for the lagoon which leads to the parking lot and registration area. Here, tickets are available for 150 Pesos per person, or about US$12. Snorkels, fins and life jackets are also available for hire, or you can bring your own.

If I had to describe the lagoon, I would say it is half-cenote, half-ocean. This description is fairly accurate, as Yal-ku is fed by both natural ground water and sea water which flows in from the Caribbean.

The lagoon is most famous for its snorkeling, and whilst you wont find any sea turtles here, you will see a lot of fish of all shapes and sizes. It was some of the best snorkeling I’ve done in the area, swimming around in the clear, protected lagoon and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.

Yal-kul lagoon snorkeling

The lagoon is rather large, and there are many islands and rocky coves to explore. Snorkeling around the large mangrove island was a unique experience as I’d never seen mangroves from under the water before; with fish hiding and feeding in its slimy roots.

I went with a group of ladies and we hired a thatched palapa for the day for 200 Pesos (about $18). You don’t have to do this, and there are lockers and some seating areas available to leave your belongings, but it was really nice to have our own shaded area complete with a large round table, chairs and even a hammock.

Palapa at Yal - Kul

It was just a few steps from the palapa to the entry of the lagoon, which made for a lovely relaxing day of snorkeling and chilling out. We brought our own drinks and snacks (alcohol is not allowed) and enjoyed views out over the lagoon which stretched towards the Caribbean.

Snorkeling at Yal-kul lagoon

We enjoyed ourselves so much we were one of the last groups to leave when the staff came around at closing time to rouse everyone out of the water for closing time.

So now when I’m recommending places to visit to first-time visitors to Playa del Carmen, I’ll have to include the Yal-ku lagoon in Akumal on my list of the top places to visit. A beautiful, natural environment which has been well preserved for all to enjoy. Especially the fish!

Tip: Yal-ku lagoon is located in the area of Akumal, about a 40 minute drive south of Playa del Carmen. It is best reached by car.

Top 10 Things To Do on the Riviera Maya

Playa del Carmen is located on a pristine stretch of coastline on the eastern Yucatan peninsular, known as the Riviera Maya. The Riviera Maya offers world class accommodation, unique natural wonders, beautiful beaches and historic treasures which make it a popular vacation destination for people from all over the world. We’ve compiled a list of the Top 10 Things To Do to assist you with you next visit.

1. Experience the Unique Vibe of Playa del Carmen

Riviera Maya Playa del Carmen

‘Playa’ as it is known by the regulars, is a cosmopolitan town on the Caribbean Sea, securing a special place in the hearts of all who visit. Sparkling waters, fantastic restaurants, lively night life and friendly people are just some of the possible reasons why this town is the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Riviera Maya.

2. Swim In a Cenote

Natural, geologically formed pools filled with cool clear fresh water are scattered all along the Riviera Maya. Known for their refreshing, healing qualities, swimming in a cenote is an absolute must for visitors. Our favorites are Cenote Azul, Cristallino and Dos Ojos (Two eyes).

3. Snorkel with Sea Turtles

Riviera Maya Akumal

The protected bay of Akumal is the feeding ground for a number of sea turtles. All year round, these majestic creatures feed on grasses growing from the sandy sea floor and don’t seem to mind inquisitive visitors watching them eat. Snorkel gear can be hired onsite.

4. Step Back in Time at Coba

Riviera Maya Coba

The ancient Mayan city of Coba makes a great day trip from Playa del Carmen. Take a guided tour and learn about ancient Mayan prophecies, hire bicycles to explore the vast grounds, then climb to the top of the main pyramid and imagine yourself as a powerful Mayan king surveying a great kingdom.

5. Chill out in Tulum

Riviear Maya tulum

The beaches of Tulum are famed for their underdeveloped shores and turquoise waters. Grab a good book, spread out a towel and soak up the laid back vibe.The Mayans who inhabited the city in ancient times certainly had good taste in real estate!

6. Dive the World’s Second Largest Barrier Reef

The waters off the Riviera Maya are home to one of the world’s most spectacular reef systems. Most dive companies are located in Playa del Carmen or the nearby island of Cozumel, and can arrange a tour to suit you.

7. Celebrate the Day of the Dead at Xcaret

Day of the Dead Playa Del Carmen

Xcaret is an ecological themed park offering excellent activities all year round, but its ‘Festival of Life and Death’ in early November is not to be missed if your visit coincides. Funerary exhibitions, ghoulish face painting, excellent theatrical performances and a variety of food stalls are just some of the highlights of the festival to mark the famed ‘Day of the Dead.’

8. Discover Untouched Natural Treasures at Sian Ka’an

South of Tulum, discover ‘Paradise on Earth’ at the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a protected area of untold natural and ecological beauty. Take a boat ride through the lagoon to discover manatees, dolphins and unique bird life, then feast on fresh lobster at a water front restaurant in the tiny town of Punta Allen.

9. Become a Beach Afficianado at Xpu-ha and Xcacel

playa del carmen beach club

Discover the lesser known beaches of Xcacel and Xpu- ha south of Playa del Carmen, then decide which is your favorite. Is it the natural, rugged beauty of Xcacel, or the laid back beach bars and aquamarine waters of Xpu-ha? You decide.

10. Slip into ‘Mexico time’ in  Puerto Morelos

Riviera Maya Puerto Morelos

A sleepy fishing village just north of Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos retains a relaxed atmosphere whilst offering great restaurants and one of the best English book stores on the Mayan Riviera. Pick out a great book then read it over fresh ceviche or seafood tacos and forget about having a ‘To Do’ list at all.

For more information on transport options and tours for the above activities, contact our concierge service.

Snorkeling with Turtles in Akumal

Snorkeling with turtles in Akumal was top of my list of things to do during my stay in Playa del Carmen. Akumal welcomes visitors all year round to swim with the sea turtles who come to feed on grasses in its protected bay, just a 40 minute drive south of Playa.

Akumal beach

Arriving at the entrance to the cove, I was blown away by the beauty of the still, glass-like water and blazing white sand dotted with swaying coconut palms.

I hired my snorkeling gear and life jacket at the small hut near the entrance and found myself a shady spot under one of the palm trees that lined the shore. Thankfully I had arrived early enough to beat the crowds and immediately took to the water in search of some shelled creatures.

playa del carmen activities

I didn’t expect to see one so soon. Just off the shore in the shallow depths of the bay, a huge sea turtle chomped slowly on the sea grass, not seeming to mind having company while he ate. I hovered above, careful not to disturb him (or her!), but being unable to pull my self away from the majestic creature.

playa del carmen activities

After eating for a while, he rose up to the surface to take a deep breath of air. Being so close to such an amazing creature in its natural habitat was such a treat that I lost track of time, and before long the waters were busy with other snorkelers. There were more turtles and sea life to meet, however, so I swam away from my first sighting to meet some other residents.

Soon I found myself gliding over an impressive reef system, chasing a school of shiny fish as they darted over the colorful coral. I was a little taken aback when I spotted a huge barracuda hovering in the reef, his black scales reflecting the light like mirrors. He was a little scary looking but seemed pretty relaxed and uninterested in me.

Soon, I made my way back to the shore, and took up residence under the palm trees, laying back to bathe in the speckled sunlight.

playa del carmen activities

By then, quite a few other people had arrived and were donning their snorkeling gear, wading into the water in the hope of seeing a turtle eat their lunch. I listened for the cries of excitement as they spotted their first turtle of the day, happy that they saw what they came for.

I know I did!

Akumal snorkelers

Excited snorkelers in Akumal bay

Akumal exceeded my expectations on every account, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting Playa del Carmen. Even if you don’t snorkel, the beach itself is truly magical. The peaceful, protected bay is a great place to spend the day, either in the crystal clear waters or in a hammock under one of the many coconut palms.

The main attraction is, of course, snorkeling with the turtles. They are truly a sight to behold and don’t seem to mind all the attention they receive from well-meaning tourists.Thankfully, Akumal is a protected ecological area, which means the turtles will have a safe place to feed for many years to come.

You can reach Akumal by car, van or organized tour. My tip: Visit on a week day if possible, and arrive early to beat the crowds!