10 things that we loved on Riviera Maya – Quintana Roo, Mexico

You can love or hate Quintana Roo, but for sure it’s hard to be neutral with it. You can face the Sargassum problem, you can get enough of tourists, fake luxury resorts, the insane humidity, the never-ending jungle all around, or the mosquitos, but undoubtedly there are also many reasons to admire this territory of Mexico. Here comes our top 10 reasons why to visit Riviera Maya & Quintana Roo!

Playa Azul, Cancún

If you are in a need of a place that is far from the famous Hotel Area (Zona Hotelera), which seems to be a bit less set up for tourists, far from the luxurious resorts and charter flights passengers, go north! Not to mention that this is only area in Cancún, where you can face less sargassum, thanks to the fact that this territory lies in the shadow of Isla Mujeres, which functions as a natural fence to filter some part of the seaweed invasion.

BTO Tips:

Punta Cocos, Isla Holbox

It is a constant debate which island to visit, once you are in Quintana Roo. Cozumel, Isla Mujeres or Holbox? If you don’t have time for all three, let us suggest you a paradise spot, the Coco Beach on Holbox. Not saying that is completely empty of tourists, but if you arrive in the morning hours for sure you can choose the best palapa for yourself, get fresh coconuts and enjoy the turquoise blue crystal clear water only for yourself. During the day of course more and more people will arrive, but still bearable.

BTO Tips:

  • If you are looking for a good local restaurant nearby (approx 150 meter from the beach), go for Las Fridas de Punta Coco
  • Don’t walk there, it is too far from the center under the crazy burning sun! Plus the road conditions are not very pleasant (dust everywhere and the smell of uncollected rubbish)! You can rent bikes, golf cars or just catch a taxi, that will take you there for 150 Mexican Pesos.

La Barracuda Restaurant, Isla Holbox

Holbox is full of restaurants, all of them are very touristy, it’s not a surprise since they live out of visitors. Due to this fact you can find here sushi bars, vegan places, you can get a falafel, Argentine parilla, a hamburger or even a pizza. Actually to find an authentic Mexican taco place is harder than you would imagine. Since we are huge fans of the Mexican gastronomy, and we always follow the “eat like the locals” mantra – if possible, we couldn’t agree on any alternative and looked for an authentic place. We found La Barracuda Restaurant, which not only served the best quality out of Mexican dishes, but they also had amazingly fresh calamares (squid) served in garlic butter.

BTO Tip:

  • We cannot underline even more, but order the squid here, seriously, don’t miss it out! It is very rare to find fresh squid in Mexico, we – during 4 weeks – could not find anywhere else. Not to mention that it is prepared so tasty in this restaurant that we went back twice to enjoy it again!

Cenotes all around

A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock into meteorit craters that exposes groundwater. The regional term is specifically associated with the Yucatán Peninsula (especially in Quintana Roo & Yucatán states) of Mexico, where cenotes were commonly used for water supplies by the ancient Maya, and occasionally for sacrificial offerings. The term derives from a word used by the lowland Yucatec Maya—tsʼonot—to refer to any location with accessible groundwater. There are at least 6,000 cenotes in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico! The below pictures are from Cenote Xchance, that is already located in Yucatán state, but you will get the idea!

BTO Tips:

  • There are many cenotes all around, but there are very few – if any – for free. So be prepared to pay an entrance ticket as per European prices, that most commonly they only accept in cash.
  • Besides that it’s worth to know that there are no bars, no stores around the cenotes, so act like the locals, take your refreshments, drinks with you in a cooling box!

Gastronomy in & around Tulum

Mexican gastronomy is world-wide famous, and if you are into spicy and tasty food, you can’t go wrong here. Tulum, due to the fact that is visited monthly by thousands of tourists (in normal circumstances – not Covid times) is trying to please them with many options. We learned quickly that if you find a restaurant that you like, don’t go further, it might happen that you will find cafes, bars, heladerias, stores but not another single restaurant more in the neighbourhood. On the main beach, you will find crazy a lot of beach bars, where as well food is served, but they can be very pricy. The best is to go in center of Tulum for some of the local places, or just try some authentic street food!

BTO Tips:

  • Burrito Amor – the most European place (in terms of development, design & prices too!) that we found in 4 weeks all around Mexico. But the food is amazing. Really worth it. Don’t miss out on their Chilaquiles and Burritos!
  • Palma Central – the local food corner & market, where many food trucks parked and serving many kinds of fast food options from tacos to arepas, from sushi to pizza, from cocktails to beers, from local design clothing to handmade accessories.

Laguna de Kaan Luum, Tulum

This place is a hidden treasure on the Mayan Riviera. Easily accessible from Tulum, about 12 kilometres in the direction of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, a wooden sign painted with the name of the Lagoon appeared in front of us. We entered the jungle and came across a small parking lot where a booth was located to pay for the entrance fee, which covers the parking and a general admission to access the Laguna. The lagoon, which runs into a cenote, which is inside it, has a depth of 82 meters, where you can dive for an extra cost that they tell you at the entrance.

BTO Tips:

  • They say that you cannot buy any drinks inside. It’s not true, when we were there, you could have bought beers and soft drinks. But it’s worth to bring your own supplies with yourself, just in case.
  • There are limited places on the wooden decks, so later during the day it’s very unlikely to find a calmer spot for yourself and for your belongings.
  • You can rent kayak and paddle boards too.

Playa Akumal

After the complete failure of finding a beach without sargassum on the Mayan Riviera, we have decided to visit Playa Akumal and we were luckier here. The seaweed was still present, but you could still enjoy the Caribbean Sea. Unfortunately – as many of the cool places in Mexico – this place is in private hands and you need to pay entrance fee to get in and enjoy the beach.

BTO Tip:

  • If you like turtles, you can book a turtle watching tour here. But as the locals say, without any tour as well you have high chances to spot a turtle, especially when it’s their reproduction season.

Zamunda Garden View Apartments

We have spent two nights in Zamunda Garden View Apartments, and we were super satisfied with our cabana! The location was great, walking distance to a store, to the food-market & the center. It has parking, air-conditioning, super clean bathroom, and a super cozy pool in the middle of the jungle. This was the first accommodation that we booked in Mexico, and afterwards during one month we have seen better and worst options too, but in terms price & quality this place is really recommended!

BTO Tip:

Mayan archeological site, Tulum

Tulum is one of the most important archaeological zones in the state of Quintana Roo, since it is the only site that faces the Caribbean Sea. For the Mayans, this city was the main center of sea and land commerce in the area. This Mayan city was built on a cliff from which you can see the turquoise tones of the Caribbean Sea in all its shades. The site has more than 60 restored temples, El Castillo is the main building, which is the most photographed site in the Riviera Maya, due to its peculiar location on the cliff. The Mayan city is surrounded by walls, each one symbolising one of the elements: earth, water, air and fire. The reef in front of the coast forms the fourth wall and which made Tulum practically inaccessible.

BTO Tips:

  • Take your own bottle of cold water with you, you will need it. It can be crazy warm under the sun, without any shadow, and the visit is at least 1-2 hours long, even if you don’t take any tourist guide. We have taken a 1,5 liter bottle for two of us (and afterwards for each archaeological site visit), and we easily finished (every time).
  • Don’t take any tourist guide. If you lack information you can always google it, seriously. One thing is that you need to pay a lot for the tourist guides, as they are trying to sell you package tours, this and that, don’t buy them! Second is, remember that you are in Mexico, and the conception of time is a bit different, you need to wait and wait and keep waiting for your guide, for your group, listening for long, which is not funny in 40 degrees with close to 90% humidity under the burning sun. Keep in mind you can easily visit all archeological sites by yourself without any tourist guide!
  • The entrance ticket is 80 Mexican Pesos (July 2021 data). Don’t let yourself cheated with package tours for more than 1000 Mexican Pesos by fake tourist guides. We mean it, they can be too convincing!

Mayan archeological site, Cobá

The Mayan ruins at Cobá are unique in that only a few of its estimated 6,500 structures have been uncovered, but the ones that have been are graceful and impressive. On these quiet and peaceful grounds it’s hard to imagine that Cobá may have once had the largest population of all the ancient Mayan cities. This vast Mayan archeological site dates from 600-900 A.D. and there were an estimated 100,000 people living in its domain. It was the heart of a large metropolis composed of many cities within the eastern Yucatán peninsula.

BTO Tips:

  • The entrance ticket is 80 Mexican Pesos, but be aware that they don’t accept credit cards, neither any foreign currencies. The only place where you can exchange money opens at 9AM, so if you want to arrive for opening (8AM) it’s better to have enough Mexican Pesos with you.
  • You can rent here individual bikes, or book a bike taxi as well. We have done the whole path by feet, yes you need to walk a couple of kilometres, like at every archeological sites, since these places are representing the ruins of ancient, real & big cities. So if you have problem with walking, you can always use the bike or taxi options.

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