If you’re dreaming of travelling to a beautiful far flung destination, you can’t get much more idyllic than Mexico’s Riviera Maya on the south-east Yucatan peninsula. It’s the stretch of Caribbean coastline that reaches out from just beneath the party resort of Cancun, down through Playa Del Carmen’s beach clubs to Tulum’s bohemian oasis. In between? There’s magical cenotes for swimming and snorkelling, peaceful beaches, vibey nightlife, Mayan ruins and a nature reserve where you can see crocs, dolphins, turtles and tropical birds, all in one spot.
And if the Riviera Maya is on your bucket list for a winter sun destination in 2023 or a spring/ summer getaway in 2024, you’re not alone. British Airways’ first-ever travel report found that Cancun has seen a 134% increase in BA searches compared to 2019, so it’s clear this beautiful part of the world is high on travellers’ post-pandemic bucket list. Scroll on, and you’ll see why.
When is the best time of year to go?
The Riviera Maya’s high season is between January to April when the weather is the most settled. It’s best for beautiful sunny days and cooler evenings, however it’s also the busiest and most expensive time to go.
From May to September you’ll experience more humidity, with hot days and brief rain showers, but it’s also a lot quieter and cheaper. I travelled in June and experienced one rainy and one cloudy day out of 10, with gorgeous sunshine the rest of the time. However, it’s worth noting that the white sandy beaches are likely backed-up with brown sargassum seaweed as the temperatures heat up between May and October, so bear that in mind if you’re seeking lots of beach days.
October is hurricane season so tends to be quietest. November and December follow hurricane season and are cooler, milder and less busy than peak season, so another good time to go.
Where are the best places to go?
Take your pick between tropical jungle, chilled-out beaches, Mayan ruins – such as the pyramid-like temple of Chichen Itza – and natural cenotes, like Grand, Dos Ojos and Ik Kil where you can swim and snorkel in naturally-occurring water caves and wells. To the north, you can tap into Cancun’s iconic night life with clubs like Señor Frog’s and Coco Bongo along the Hotel Zone strip, or indulge in some retail therapy at the malls. You can also day trip to nearby islands like Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox.
The quaint fishing village of Puerto Morelos to the south of Cancun feels undiscovered and offers a quiet tranquility as well as gorgeous beaches. Halfway down the riviera, Playa del Carmen boasts feel-good beach clubs like Lido as well as a nightlife to rival Cancun. It also offers easy access for day trips to the cenotes and Cozumel island, or a drive to Chichen Itza to the west.
To the south, Tulum’s ancient ruins above Playa Paraiso give way to a 7-mile beach road speckled with bohemian boutique hotels and relaxed ocean clubs. The general vibe is barefoot escapism, and with everything that’s been going on in the world, it makes sense that we all want to withdraw to a sanctuary that centres on healing, spirituality, nature and peacefulness. For the social-seekers, there’s a bustling community, too, which just like the ocean beyond, you can dip in and out of as you please.
For nature-lovers, the jewel in the crown of the Riviera Maya is the mesmerising Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve just beyond Tulum’s beaches to the south. It marries the crystal clear waters of the lagoon (with a natural crazy river that floats you past winding mangroves) and the salt water of the ocean. Plus it gives you a chance to spot crocodiles, turtles, dolphins, manatees and exotic birds from the safety of private or group guided boat tours. You can even snorkel with some seriously tropical-looking fish.
Where are the best places to stay?
Best for heavenly villas: Viceroy Riviera Maya
This is perhaps one of the most luxurious private villas we’ve ever stayed in. At the adults-only, five-star Viceroy Riviera Maya, you’ll find 41 such villas, each with their own private plunge pool and sun-soaked outdoor area (complete with hammock and outdoor shower, naturally). Inside, the rooms don’t skimp on space. Huge, cloud-soft four-poster beds sit below tall, traditional thatched roofs, while enormous, deep-soaking bath tubs were made for sinking into bubbles with a glass of wine from the complimentary minibar.
The location – to employ an overused, but in this case completely accurate, word – is utterly unbeatable. Nestled into the Riviera Maya rainforest, you truly feel as though you’re in the heart of the jungle and encased entirely by nature, yet with the pristine white sand, cosy cabanas and turquoise waters of the Caribbean sea just steps from your villa. Some of our most special moments were spent relaxing by our private pool, spicy margarita in hand, listening to the brightly-breasted birds flitting and chirping between the palm trees, occasionally interrupted by a leaping spider monkey.
Speaking of relaxing, a stay at Viceroy Riviera Maya isn’t complete without a trip to the expansive Wayak Spa with steam rooms, hot tub and outdoor treatment rooms. Expect Mayan rituals and natural ingredients sourced from the jungle, with treatments ranging from massages, facials and holistic therapies, including a traditional Temazcal (an ancient shamanic therapy inside a ‘sweat lodge’ led by a Maák Bacab, meaning ‘guardian of the universe’).
By the hotel’s huge infinity pool overlooking the beach, you’ll find the two-tier restaurant: the all-day Coral Restaurant & Bar where you can enjoy an authentic Mexican breakfast or delicious fresh seafood (don’t miss the smoked octopus tostadas); and La Marea, the upstairs area that is transformed into a romantic, intimate dinner space, serving local cuisine with a modern flare – if you can, splash out on the exquisite tasting menu, featuring the likes of soft shell crab tacos; melt-in-the-mouth suckling pig with pineapple; and just-caught catch of the day.
Prices from £680 per night.
British Airways Holidays offers 7 nights B&B in the Viceroy Riviera Maya from £3,255pp travelling in December 2023 from London Gatwick, with a luxury villa king room and 23kg luggage. For 10 nights, it’s £4,200pp.
Best for honeymoons: Chablé Maroma
If you’re looking for a deeply romantic escape on the Riviera Maya, look no further than the five-star Chablé Maroma, which feels like an undiscovered slice of paradise tucked away on a quiet, powder-soft white sand beach. Sister property of the equally renowned Chablé Yucatan and Casa Chablé just south of Tulum, Maroma has wellness at its core, so it’s no surprise that this where loved-up honeymooners come to truly unwind. The trio of must-try hydrotherapy pools are fringed by palm trees and the exceptional spa offers a huge range of treatments, including traditional Mayan therapies (although the Chablé stress relief massage, concentrating on the back, shoulders and neck using ‘nature’s pharmacy’ of arnica, sweet birch and magnesium, worked wonders for our tight, seized-up muscles.)
You’d be forgiven for spending a good chunk of time in your room at Chablé Maroma. The 70 casitas are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, thanks to renowned interior designer Paulina Morán, cleverly constructed from local wood and stone. The bathrooms are seriously impressive; huge wooden and stone rooms complete with indoor and outdoor showers, walk-in wardrobe and natural products. Each villa feels completely cocooned in nature, with swaying palms and tall, rustling trees surrounding your room and outdoor terrace (complete with your own private pool). It wasn’t uncommon during our stay to see curious coatis – small, adorable animals that look like a cross between a raccoon and a monkey – wandering past the floor-to-ceiling windows.
For us though, the jewel in Chablé Maroma’s already glittering crown is the incredible food – hats off to chefs Jorge Vallejo and Luis Quiroz for their masterful take on contemporary Mexi-Cali cuisine. Start your day with hampers of just-baked pastries and fresh coffee delivered to your casita, before heading to Kaban – the more casual of the hotel’s restaurants overlooking the enormous outdoor pool – for an traditional à la carte breakfast (don’t leave without trying the ‘Chablé’ poached eggs with morita chili sauce, panela cheese and a roasted cactus leaf mixed salad). The hotel’s main restaurant Bu’ul is the place to go for dinner, where an impressive six-course tasting menu is an unforgettable highlight.
Delicious light bites including tacos, tostadas and tiraditors are served on the beach, while Bu’ul’s rooftop Raw Bar is a must for fresh ceviche and 10/10 margaritas (with a spectacular view over the ocean). Don’t forget to ask about grill night, which we were lucky enough to arrive on, and were treated to the most succulent barbecued octopus that we still talk about. In fact, there’s plenty about Chablé Maroma that stays with you long after you’ve landed home.
Best boutique hotel: The Beach Tulum
If you’re looking for a Tulum hotel that looks like something straight out of your Instagram saved list, book in at impeccably styled The Beach Tulum (best to use the street address when hopping in a taxi). Bright blue outdoor pools wind around the hotel, lined by coconut palms and wooden swings hanging from tall, arching trees. The atmosphere here is, much like the rest of Tulum, laidback and welcoming, but at The Beach Tulum, there’s a feeling of beach chic luxury than you don’t often find in such a central location on Tulum’s main street (for starters, there’s a sizeable swimming pool here, a rarity for hotels in the area). All 28 rooms have beautiful ocean views and direct access to the postcard-perfect beach, and some have a large outdoor terrace with a private pool.
Back to the central location. Here, slap bang in the middle of the hotel zone, you’re within walking distance to heaps of bars, restaurants and boutique shops, but if you want to go further afield, it’s worth using one of the hotel’s bikes or renting an ATV to explore the nearby cenotes, ruins and downtown Tulum (the less touristy part of town with brilliant, authentic shops).
The hotel’s two restaurants, Fresco’s and Ziggy’s, serve delicious complementary breakfast (if you fancy room service breakfast, simply WhatsApp the team and they’ll arrange everything for you). Beachfront Ziggy’s is a great choice for lunch or dinner, where local produce and fresh ingredients make the traditional Mexican dishes sing (don’t miss the melt-in-the-mouth tuna tartar, a best-seller for a reason). There’s daily yoga classes, and the hotel can arrange pretty much any activity your heart desires, from scuba diving to a relaxing spa treatment.
Best for a private sanctuary: La Valise, Tulum
A night at La Valise, the 11-room boutique hotel, is about as dreamy as they come. Entering through the green oasis of palms and past the saltwater pool to reach the centre of the converted beach house feels like escaping to another world.
Picture beachfront suites where you can listen to the sea lapping in, or jungle bungalows with their own private dipping pools to cool off in the heat. The master suite even boasts a kingsize bed that you can roll out onto the balcony to snooze under the sunshine or stars. Calm pervades in this quiet eco retreat, where gauzy four poster beds add an airy cosiness, and freestanding showers in the centre of some of the rooms mean you can enjoy the view outside – even when you’re soaping your strands.
The natural materials – thatched palapa roofs, wooden frames, rattan furniture and linen bedding – add a raw luxurious. And as part of the Namron Group, guests can also enjoy access to sister property Encantada next door (more on that below), NEST, also on the beachfront a short walk down the road and jungle abode, Radhoo, with it’s palm-encircled swimming pool and Mexican fusion cuisine restaurant, Nu, just across the road.
Prices are between £465-£1930 per night
Best for families: Hyatt Ziva Riviera, Puerto Morelos
Hyatt Ziva Riviera is an upbeat, family-friendly, all inclusive home away from home. You feel taken care of from the moment you arrive, to the moment you leave. A 15 minute drive from the fishing village of Puerto Morelos and within easy access of all that the Yucutan peninsula has to offer, it’s a perfect place to base yourself for adventure. Equally, you need never leave, since the nine swimming pools, peaceful private beach, lively oceanside waterpark, numerous restaurants and dreamy Zen Spa offer everything you could want to stay put exactly where you are.
Having been totally renovated for summer 2021, all of the rooms are immaculately clean and decorated with a modern nod to Caribbean decor with hand-crafted furniture and spacious bathrooms. There’s an open, airy feel, made cosy with homely touches such as the warm wooden accents. Balconies look out over spectacular sea views, lush gardens or glistening pools.
Given the scale of the place, you have the ability to find a quiet spot to soak up the sun and read a book, or you can get involved in the action at the main pool with its aqua activities throughout the day and swim-up bar.
Down beside the ocean, things feel much more tranquil with palapa parasols and breezy palms offering shade if you want it and the warm sea inviting you in for a swim.
The Zen Spa is not to be missed. Choose from a menu of exotic spa treatments which can take place in the indoor or outdoor treatment rooms. Indulge in the hydrotherapy circuit (where you make your way though a sauna, steam room, cold plunge pool and jacuzzi) and then relax at the spas own private outdoor pool oasis, with jetted pool beds.
Finally, make the most of the food with asian fusion cuisine, modern French gastronomy, mediterranean flavours and a traditional Mexican feast available from the smorgasbord of restaurants. Or, there’s a buffet, al fresco dining, burger bars and pizza ovens to choose between.
Prices start from £251 per night.
Best for Insta exteriors: La Negrita, Tulum
This adults-only stay in Tulum’s town centre boasts an outdoor pool, tropical garden and a bright pink Hacienda exterior that’s perfect for Insta backgrounds. Each room is uniquely decorated with cosy, rustic interiors. As for what’s nearby, the hotel is surrounded by restaurants and a couple of supermarkets within walking distance. It’s a 3 minute drive from Cenote Crystal, a 9 minute drive from the Gran Cenote and a 15 minute drive from Las Palmas beach.
Prices start from £50 per night.
Best for some cheeky romance: Mi Amor, Tulum
Mi Amor is a fun-loving, free-spirited total vibe of a hotel. It’s name, which translates to “my love” might give you a taste of what you’re in for. The playful interiors incorporate a retro Acapulco pink colour scheme and a bar cart loaded with some pretty fruity books. You can also add the pleasure kit stashed in your bedside drawer to your bill if you’re feeling flirty. But, equally, the cute interiors would make for a fun girl’s trip. A wireless Bose speaker enables you to play your favourite tunes straight from your phone and some of the rooms have their own outdoor plunge pools.
The staff couldn’t be friendlier and local musicians are invited to play a feel-good soundtrack on some afternoons. Outdoor by the pool, take your place on one of the pink daybeds, or the hanging hammock seats. There’s even tables and chairs in the pool so you can enjoy lunch while dipping your feet. Beyond you can grab a cabana perched on the rocks above the sea where you can listen to the waves crash in.v
Prices start from £210 per night in the off season and £435 on average.
Best for a beach hideaway: Encantada, Tulum
A sanctuary from all the noise, Encantada has an upbeat air of tranquil intimacy. This magical boutique hotel comprises of just eight rooms – four stylish rustic tree houses with upper and lower suites – all named after nature and astrology: sol (sun), estrella (star), mar (sea), tierra (earth) etc. Whether you’re nestled high up amongst the trees, or on your beachfront deck with your toes in the sand, the eco retreat offers up breathtaking views of the ocean through the jungle palms.
Reclining in front of the waves, you can while away the day with one of the hotel’s signature cocktails, like Colorada, the tequila and syrup infusion, on Encantada’s secluded beach.
The breezy canopy beds create a romantic atmosphere, whilst the hammocks outside offer a peaceful place to shake off the day and relax. Like La Valise, Encantada’s cabanas have a luxe wild feel, enveloping you with natural architecture. There’s an on-site spa should you wish to unwind with a massage, and you can access the jungle pool and restaurant across the road at sister hotel, Radhoo and the beach at NEST.
Prices are between £315-£985 per night.
Best for eat, sleep, beach, repeat: Hyatt Zilara, Cancun
This all-inclusive, adults-only beachfront resort has everything you could possibly need to lap up the sunshine in the lap of luxury. Situated in the centre of the hotel strip, the location allows you to dip into a little retail therapy, or the famous nightlife. A ten minute walk to the south will get you to super malls full of designers and brands you can’t get in the UK (as well as familiar names). A short walk up the strip and you have your choice of some of the best clubs in Cancun. But, you wouldn’t know any of that existed outside as soon as you enter into Zilara’s sweeping Hacienda-style foyer. Out the other side of the hotel you’re greeted with a wide stretch of white sandy beach and an unbelievably turquoise ocean.
Even better you have front-row seats to the sea from all of the luxurious oceanfront suites, which come complete with a whirlpool tub to take in the view, or a hammock located on your balcony. There’s even a handful of swim-up suites with their own semi-private pool. The mix of traditional and modern interiors feel upscale but welcoming, with oak beams and soft bed linen.
The hotel’s main pool features a swim-up bar where you can top up your cocktails all day long and the infinity edge overlooks the beach below. Cabanas and loungers by the pool and beach offer a spot to kick back, relax and enjoy the sunshine. And for some serious escapism, there’s always the spa with 11 treatment rooms, a hydrotherapy circuit and a herbal steam room.
As for dining, the restaurants offer a gastronomic tour of world cuisines. You can load up on Asiana’s incredible sushi one night, and enjoy the gourmet Mexican cuisine at Maria Marie the next. Experience fresh seafood al fresco at the Punta Vista beachside restaurant or take your pick of the international buffet at Spice.
Prices start from £419 per night.
Best for a nature retreat: Ikal, Tulum
Located in Tulum’s national park, a 20-minute stroll from Tulum’s Mayan ruins and one mile from Playa Paraiso beach, this is an unplugged eco escape (although, there is WiFi). Connect with nature and sleep nestled in the earthy architecture of the jungle cabanas. Different options offer saltwater plunge pools, outdoor rainforest showers and private lookout towers. And, if you’re into immersive mindfulness, you can get involved in community gatherings, yoga, fire ceremonies, gratitude circles and beach volleyball.
Prices start from £130 per night.
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