The Riviera Maya is gaining popularity but many still do not know the term. If you talk about Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum ears will perk up and eyes will sparkle. The Riviera Maya is the coastal region that runs down the Yucatan Peninsula from Cancún to a town called Felipe Carrillo Puerto. Highway #307 is the one and only route to travel through which makes touring there easy and convenient.
Each of its three main tourist areas is navigated differently. Let us begin with Cancún. Cancún, meaning “lair of snakes”, is a metropolitan city with a main tourist area. The tourist area is separated from the “centro” and runs along the coast on Boulevard Kulkulkan. This is where you will find all of your hotels, all-inclusive resorts, restaurants, tour centers, bars and clubs. Because Cancún has been developing since the early 1970´s, it is jam packed and very busy. This is a good place for young people and people who enjoy celebrating life in a party atmosphere. It is the most Americanized area of the Riviera Maya.
Playa del Carmen is the next main tourist area you will find. It is situated about one hour south of Cancún on Carretera (highway) #307. The tourist area in Playa is more concentrated along the beach and is easily accessed with no car. The main walkway, similar to a boardwalk, is a street called Avenida Quinta or 5th Avenue which is the first parallel running street from the beach. This is where you will find bars, clubs, restaurants and many, many stores. There you will find hotels as well but if peace and quiet is what you want its best to find a hotel a little further from this main drag. Playa finds itself more European than Cancún. There are more local and international cuisine restaurants to satisfy all cravings. Playa has a more relaxed atmosphere than Cancún but also has plenty of entertainment. Playa del Carmen hosts very interesting festivals in November including the gastronomic event Taste of Playa in the park downtown by the beach, the Jazz festival on “Mamitas” beach, and the “Dia de Muertos” at Xcaret, the theme park.
About another hour further down the highway you will find a quickly growing fishing village called Tulum. Tulum, a well known center for yoga, is the focus of tourism growth since Cancun and Playa have reached their limits but still holds onto it quaint environment. Tulum is known as an “out of the way” spot for many reasons but one being there is no electricity on its coastal road. Most of the hotels in Tulum are palapas or cabañas (straw roofed cabins) on the beach. You will not find 5 star all-inclusive resorts there. The lack of electricity allows the stars to descend upon you at night, like being in a planetarium.
The reef being so close makes the beaches in Tulum famous worldwide for having calmer waters as well as reef snorkeling that is a quick swim away. Tulum´s atmosphere is more worldwide and attracts tourists and backpackers from all over the world. The Pueblo or Town of Tulum is just a few blocks so do not blink or you will miss it.
There you will find small hotels with air-conditioning (if you find you cannot survive without it), restaurants and bars. Tulum is also the home of the famous Tulum Ruins. These are very convenient for all of the Riviera Maya since they are situated the closest to these areas. Although Tulum is small, the beach road is a few kilometers from town which makes renting a car or bicycle convenient but as with all three main tourist centers taxis are easily accessible.
There are other smaller towns along the way such as Puerto Morelos, Puerto Aventuras, Akumal and Felipe Carrillo Puerto that are quickly growing and attracting attention. These places offer many of the same attractions as Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum but on a much smaller scale. Determining where to stay depends upon what your personal interests may be. Once you come to the area, you will often want to come back and each time you will be more acquainted with it and may even one day find yourself living here like many other expats.