While there are thousands of places to stay throughout the Riviera Maya, with an option for every travel style and budget, not all beaches here are created equal.
While the Riviera Maya is rightly known for having some of the most pristine white sandy beaches, from Cancun all the way down into Tulum there are many beaches that have limestone rocks along the shoreline, making it necessary to wear protective footwear when on the beach and in the shallow water. While it’s these rocky outcrops are also what makes snorkeling so amazing in some places (protection and habitat for the sea life), it’s also kind of a rotten surprise if you were expecting the powdery white sand beaches for which the region is famous.
So if you’re like me and want an absolutely pristine beach, here are three “can’t go wrong” options in Mexico’s Riviera Maya where you can happily gallivant at the ocean’s edge 24/7 in all your barefoot glory.
Puerto Aventuras: Located just south of Playa del Carmen, this is a great beach location. Look for accommodation options on the palm-fringed Fatima Bay beach, one of the three individual beaches that make up Puerto Aventuras and home to the best beach in this area.
The snorkeling from Fatima Bay beach is fantastic, you will see plenty of bright colored fish (and a sea turtle if you’re lucky). Puerto Aventuras is a gated community, which makes the area and two beautiful marinas here particularly safe.
Akumal: Akumal, located further south from Puerto Aventuras, actually consists of a series of five bays starting with North Akumal beach and heading south to Aventuras Akumal at the south end. Here offshore reefs protect the beaches, making for very calm waters. All the bays are great for swimming, watersports (especially snorkeling), and eating and drinking at the local restaurants and bars.
The Half Moon Bay beach also houses sea turtle nests between May and November (don’t disturb the raised mounds of sand here, as they are likely turtle nests), but this beach isn’t quite as good for swimming.
I am happy to learn about the properties here taking turtle conservation very seriously. A number of hotels and resorts in Akumal remove lights from the balconies and specially train their security guards to assist turtles nesting near the hotel.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere: If you’re looking for something a bit more authentic, natural and remote, Sian Ka’an is the place for you. I’ve blogged before about this area before and consider it to be hands down the best beach I’ve ever seen in my life. A bold statement I know!
It’s a bit more off the beaten path, a good 3 hours drive from the airport in Cancun to Sian Ka’an, but worth it if a pristine beach is what you’re after. Your best bet here is to rent one of the many villas, as they include staff who maintain the beachfront, among other things.
Playa X’cacel (Extra credit!): While there are no places to stay here, it’s an excellent day trip to experience an isolated magical beach.
Be sure to follow directions very carefully when driving here, as it’s not an obvious turn off (it’s near the Xel-Ha turnoff, there is a small sign to watch for). There is usually a guard who charges $2 per car to enter (apparently depending on his mood).
There is a massive movement to protect this beach from resort development. Both locals and international conservations organization are fiercely working to keep this area protected and free from development. A hard fought battle, stretching out over a decade, resulted in a major international resort brand getting shot down a few years ago, a big win for these conservation organizations
What other “can’t go wrong” Riviera Maya beaches would you add to the list?