5 Best Beaches of Cancun & the Mayan Riviera

Posted What to Do by Sarah Fazendin on December 18, 2014

I love eavesdropping on conversations at the Cancun airport. Without fail, I’ll overhear travelers swapping tales of their favorite beach. When I first heard these stories I was surprised. Aren’t all the beaches of the Mayan Riviera just as amazing as the next?

Well, not exactly.

While the area is rightly known for having some of the best beaches in the world, they can be very different from Cancun’s hotel zone to Playa del Carmen, and into the heart of the Mayan Riviera.

Wondering which one is right for you? Here are five great choices, each with their own distinct look and feel.

1) Playa Caracol


Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Peeking out above Cancun’s popular hotel zone, you’ll find nearly 14 miles of beach. Right in the center of it all lies the popular Playa Caracol. With clear, shallow water and a sandy bottom, this beach is popular among families with small children.

Because of the amazing beach and it’s convenient location, Playa Caracol can get crowded. Plan to head here early in the day, before the crowds arrive. Pack up before lunch and walk only a short distance to find plenty of casual dining, including a number of American-style burger restaurants.

Location: North of the main hotel zone

2) Playa Gaviota Azul


Photo Courtesy of Flickr

You’ve just entered the land of picture-perfect deep turquoise. On the north end of the main hotel zone, Playa Gaviota Azul is one of Cancun’s most popular beaches. Consider booking a cabana at Playa Cabana Beach Club, the only beach club open to the public on Playa Gaviota Azul, and enjoy complete beach service, swimming pools, and a sushi bar.

Location: North end of the main hotel zone

3) Puerto Morelos


Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Heading south of Cancun, the beaches become more diverse and wild. The small fishing village of Puerto Morelos is home to a massive reef located relatively close to shore where you’ll find a stunning array of sea life. Puerto Morelos is an ideal beach if you’re keen to spend your day viewing this magic underwater world followed by a relaxing lunch in this hidden treasure of a town.

In certain areas of the beach you’ll find limestone rocks along the shoreline, so it’s a good idea to wear protective footwear when on the beach and in the shallow water.

Or, you can choose the easy route. Hire one of the many local boats at the main pier in Puerto Morelos, and for a few dollars they’ll take you safely to the best snorkeling spot.

There are a number of great restaurants in Puerto Morelos, which has retained its laid-back charm as a working fishing village. Consider trying one of the smaller, more authentic restaurants. Loncheria Mimi is a clean, popular option for authentic Mexican food. El Tio, famous for their chicken soup and tamales, is another great choice, conveniently located right next to the main pier at the beach.

Location: 30 Minutes south of Cancun

4) Puerto Aventuras


Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Just south of Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras is set in a safe, gated community. The beach here is actually made up of three small individual bays. There’s very few limestone rocks and the water is calm, making it a great option for families.

There’s a main marina in the center of Puerto Aventuras where you’ll find plenty of dining options, from pizza, burgers, and ice cream to authentic street tacos. You can rent a boat here, buy fresh fish from the local fishermen, and even swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Discovery in town.

Location: 25 Minutes south of Playa del Carmen

5) Akumal


Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Offshore reefs protect the beaches here, making for very calm water, perfect for swimming and watersports. Akumal actually consists of five bays starting with North Akumal beach and heading down to Aventuras Akumal.

The Half Moon Bay beach is also a sea turtle nesting area between May and November (don’t disturb the raised mounds of sand here, as they’re likely turtle nests), but this beach isn’t quite as good for swimming. Thankfully, the hotels in this area take turtle conservation very seriously. A number of hotels and resorts remove lights from their balconies and have specially train their security guards to assist turtles nesting near the hotel.


Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Location: 40 Minutes south of Playa del Carmen

Of course there are many more wonderful beaches across the Riviera Maya, but these popular ones are a great place to start!

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For more beach tales and adventures check out Sarah's blog, A Week at the Beach.