The beaches in the Riviera Maya and Cozumel—sugar-soft strands hugging turquoise seas—are some of the best in the Caribbean. It’s easy to create a perfect beach day by visiting the shore that suits your fancy.
Choose from adventure parks with twisting slides, strands where boats take you to the spectacular reefs for snorkeling and diving, or pristine beaches where turtles lay their eggs.
The Riviera Maya, on Mexico’s mainland, begins south of Cancun at Puerto Morelos and stretches along the coast of the Mexican Caribbean for about 85 miles to Punta Allen. Playa del Carmen, the Riviera Maya’s shopping and restaurant heart, is an easy hop by ferry from Cozumel.
Enjoy these 10 best beaches to visit in the Riviera Maya and Cozumel.
Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park, Cozumel
Cozumel is the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean. The surrounding sea nourishes the world’s second-largest reef system, the Great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which runs for 1,500 miles down the Caribbean to Central America.
Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park, Cozumel, is one of the best beaches to visit when exploring the Riviera Maya and Cozumel region. Your sun and sand excursion comes packed with sea adventures. The beach park lies within Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park—one of the best places for snorkeling in Cozumel—but the man-made attractions add a waterpark-like ambiance.
Swim with manatees, get nose-to-bottlenose with dolphins, and spot grunts, snappers, and other schools of rainbow-colored beauties by snorkeling, diving, or signing up for SeaTrek or snuba.
Those guided outings use helmets with oxygen pumps or oxygen tanks that float on rafts at the surface to enable non-divers to explore underwater.
Look for the sunken Christ of the Abyss statue, a Chankanaab landmark that Mexico is known for. Off the beach, you can wander through faux jungle-like paths to recreated Mayan sites.
As this is a popular site, consider reserving your add-on experiences ahead and arrive early to claim your chaise lounge. Make a day of it with lunch at one of the restaurants.
Playa Mia Grand Beach Park, Cozumel
A sandy stretch on Cozumel’s southern shore, Playa Mia Grand Beach Park comes with all the toys, making it one of the best beaches to visit in Cozumel. Pedal water trikes, paddle ocean kayaks, sail a Hobie Cat, bounce on trampolines at the floating water park, and zip down 200-foot-long twisting water slides.
Friendly staff encourage visitors of all ages to join water toss and volleyball games for an ultimate family beach vacation. And of course, swim and splash.
You can combine the Playa Mia Grand Beach Park outing with a two-stop drift boat snorkel tour to Colombia and Palancar reefs. Float above corals, sponges, and eels and swim with turtles, angelfish, and other colorful beauties.
Drift snorkeling from a boat lets you see more because you don’t need to swim back to the shore or deal with the often substantial Cozumel currents.
Playa Palancar, Cozumel
A ribbon of white sand on the southwest coast of Cozumel, Playa Palancar is a public beach and one of the best beaches in Cozumel.
Without snuba, waterslides, and dolphin encounters, Playa Palancar attracts fewer crowds than the more developed beach clubs. However, you won’t feel entirely rusticated since you can still enjoy some of the best things to do in Cozumel, such as parasailing, jet skiing, and snorkeling with local outfitters.
An activity booking, a drink from the bar, or a plate of food entitles you to a hammock or lounge chair. Playa Palancar is quieter than its bustling beach club cousins, but that can be just what you want.
Playa Paraiso, Tulum
Playa Paraiso, a public beach in Tulum, entices locals and day-trippers with wide, palm tree-lined sands and typically swimmable seas. For an ideal day in Tulum, pair this beach with an exploration of the nearby Tulum Archeological Site, one of the best Mayan ruins in the Riviera Maya.
A once-vital Maya seaport, Tulum’s heyday ranged from the 12th century to the early 16th century. Explore Tulum early before the heat of the day becomes intense. Then cool off by swimming at Playa Paraiso.
It’s wise to arrive at the beach early too, so you have the best chance of renting shade umbrellas, beach beds, and chaise lounges. The restaurant serves seafood tacos, shrimp tortillas, nachos, and other local fare.
El Cielo, Cozumel
Many snorkel tours cruising to Palancar and Colombia reefs also stop at Cozumel’s El Cielo, which means “heaven”. Reachable only by boat, El Cielo isn’t a beach as such, but a sandbar covered in waist-high water.
Sink your toes into the soft bottom, look at the sweep of turquoise sea and blue skies, and you could well experience a heavenly sense of boundlessness.
However, that’s not the reason for the name. Local lore has it that the moniker refers to the number of starfish dotting the sand like—you guessed it—heavenly stars.
Whatever the reason, El Cielo is a peaceful place, especially when few boats arrive. Stingrays like the sandbar too, gracefully flapping their wing-like fins as they float by your feet.
Xcacel Beach, Tulum
An off-the-beaten-path gem in Tulum, Xcacel Beach, pronounced “Ish-kah-cell” about two and a half miles south of Akumal, is a gorgeous undeveloped strand and a turtle sanctuary. Xcacel is one of the best beaches in Riviera Maya to visit if you’re a nature lover.
Hundreds of green sea turtles and loggerheads return to Xcacel every April through September to lay eggs. On a stroll, you can spot the raised mounds.
Don’t touch, dig, stand on or interfere with them in any way. The hatchlings dig out of their nests and make the perilous journey to the sea June through September.
The Xcacel-Xcacelito Sea Turtle Sanctuary supports its monitoring of the nests and turtles by charging an entrance fee. That ticket entitles you to splash at Xcacel Beache’s cenote. So shout “best beach day” and jump into the cool freshwaters of Cenote Xcacelito.
Playa Morelos, Puerto Morelos
Puerto Morelos’ scale reminds you of its roots as an old fishing village. Located between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, despite some development, retains much of its small-town charm.
A leaning lighthouse, courtesy of a 1967 hurricane, marks public beach Ventana al Mar, Playa Morelos’ central strand. A Blue Flag Beach, this is one of the best beaches in the Riviera Maya. To earn the international certification, a beach must meet 33 requirements, including ranking high for water quality, environmental management, and safety.
Typically, you can swim at Playa Morelos since the offshore reef protects the beach from rough surf. To snorkel and dive, you need a boat. Then lunch on fresh seafood at the town’s cafés and eateries.
Playa Maroma, Riviera Maya
Playa Maroma, a public Riviera Maya beach a couple of hours’ drive from Cozumel, is accessed through private facilities. Yes, that’s confusing, but it’s worth it.
Gain entry to the beach, a beauty with soft, white sands and sparkling turquoise seas through one of the local restaurants. For good food in a chic, but casual restaurant that opens to the beach, locals like Pavo Real, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Punta Sur Eco Beach Park, Cozumel
The largest ecological reserve in Cozumel, Punta Sur Eco Beach Park spans more than 247 acres. Because of its location on the island’s southern tip, and the park’s lack of man-made attractions, Punta Sur is a less-visited gem.
Established in 1999 to protect the region’s mangrove jungles, lagoons, reefs, and sandy shores, Punta Sur is also a refuge for turtles, fish, and alligators, as well as beach lovers, bird watchers, and city dwellers seeking escape.
The natural setting and historical attractions make Punta Sur Eco Beach Park one of the best beaches to visit in Cozumel. The best way to get here is to rent a car or book a guided adventure.
You’ll pass dense groves of sea grapes and stands of palms en route to the 19th-century lighthouse, where you climb 133 winding steps for a panoramic view.
Nearby, peruse a small museum, and view El Caracol, built by the Maya. According to legend, when strong winds rattled this shell structure, the whistling noise warned people of an impending hurricane.
For quiet moments on pristine sands, drive to the beaches furthest from Punta Sur’s entrance. Only snorkel or swim in areas guides deem safe as some beaches have strong currents.
Playa Punta Esmeralda, Playa del Carmen
Playa Punta Esmeralda, a public beach in Playa del Carmen, is about three miles from the town’s ferry dock and is popular with locals on Sundays and Mondays when some shops close. The ocean is relatively calm, but it’s wise to wear water shoes as there are some underwater rocky patches.
What’s unusual about the beach? The open cenote (you don’t have to drop down into a sinkhole) feeds an underground river that forms a lagoon-like wading area on the sand.
The beach has little shade, no bathrooms, no restaurants, and no chairs, which is part of its appeal. Plan to tote your own towels, beach chairs, blankets, and water.
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