Why we don’t like Riviera Maya

We don’t like Riviera Maya because it is spoiled and overrated. Keep reading this article and find out what the reasons are why we say that. Even though our favourite destinations are not the most obvious, we had some expectations about Riviera Maya. We wanted to see that paradise beach we have seen many times on Instagram pictures. We planed our trip to Mexico, starting our route there and finishing in Cancún where we could enjoy some final relaxing days laying on the beach. Well, we did, but if you plan to go there you must know some basics upfront. 

It is overpriced  

This is a classic and nobody will freak out to hear that Riviera Maya is expensive. It is expensive, very expensive compared with other regions of Mexico with a lot to offer to visitors. Cancún, Tulum and Playa del Carmen for instance have excellent luxury hotels and resorts thought to entertain the tourist during all their vacations with prices very similar to those of the US and Europe. There are real towns for local people behind the shoreline where the resorts are. Yes. But locals are very used to dealing with tourists and they have adapted their businesses and their prices to it. Unfortunately, you will have more than once the guess of paying more than a local would have paid for the same exact thing or service. 

In Riviera Maya, you will pay for everything you do. Every lagoon, every cenote (natural pools out of crater holes) has an expensive entrance fee. Even worse, recently they have insanely increased the prices to get in certain lagoons and cenotes. The archaeological settlements are very expensive too. Travelling to cheaper states of Mexico you will discover impressive settlements, some of them very famous too, at more reasonable prices.  

The beaches are barely accessible since there are not enough public areas on the shore and you have to access from the hotels (being a client) or directly paying for the entrance to a private beach. This is not this way in the Pacífic coast or all along the Gulf of Mexico. Food and accommodations are also overrated. Since all the natural and cultural attractions are ready to welcome tourists, you will probably move where you are expected to. That increases the prices. Just a couple of examples: a beer in Tulum costs from 40$ to 70$ Mexican pesos. Coming back from a Cenote, we stopped in a random non-touristy village and we could sit down on a terrace paying 20$ for a Molelo Especial. Burritos can easily cost more than 100$ in some restaurants near the beach while it shouldn’t cost more than 30 or 40$ in many restaurants of the inner country. 

There is a lot of Sargazo

We calculate Sargazo (Spanish) or Sargassum (English) by tons. So you can imagine the amount of algae that arrives on the Riviera Maya coast. Sargassum is a genus of large brown seaweed that floats arriving to the shore. From March to October the Mexican Caribbean coast is very busy with this algae. Probably nobody will warn you about it and you might think it is not a big problem. Indeed, it is. You won’t find the idyllic image of a Caribbean coast that you expect on your arrival.

Moreover, almost nobody dares to step twenty meters till the water, knee deep in algae that started to decompose. Once you arrive at the water, it looks brown as far as the eye can see and the touch is dense because of the vegetation. The surreal image of empty luxurious terraces in front of these phenomenon is priceless, but to have a drink while some guys try hopelessly to clean a bit of the white sand is neither pleasant. The smell of the decomposing algae is strong and you probably wonder why you didn’t check that detail before. Fortunately, Mexico has thousands of kilometres of coast free of Sargassum but Riviera Maya is seriously affected by that during its season.

  • we don't like Riviera Maya
  • we don't like Riviera Maya

BTO Tip:

  • Take a look to this website to be updated about the presence of Sargazo on your nearby beaches.

It is really hot

Yes yes. You may think that you can lay in the sun in Ibiza in August without batting an eye. Probably you have survived more than one episode of tourist pink skin and now you believe you can overcome everything. Ok, the smallest of your problems will be the above 40 Celsius degrees temperatures. The most painful is the crazy humidity of the Caribbean coast that makes you lose all the water in your body in some minutes. 

BTO Tip:

  • Bring always water with you, drink a lot and thank the AC for helping as you would do to your best friend. 

There is a permanent plague of mosquitoes 

Mosquitoes are a serious problem in Riviera Maya. Take them seriously because they can bring some illnesses, so everytime they bite your skin you are buying a lottery ticket. Don’t panic, it is quite unlikely that you will get infected with anything but just in case try to keep them away.

BTO Tip:

  • Always bring a proper repellent for tropical areas and move if you are in the wrong place. How to know that? No worries, you will feel it!

You cannot trust no one 

Well, in an absolute sense you can and you will. Let’s see, in Mexico, same as in all the rest of the countries of the world, 95% of the population is good and trustworthy. Mexicans are polite and gentle in general but in touristy areas there are some persons and companies that try to take advantage of the naive tourists. A good trick is always to trust the rule of who approaches whom. If you approached someone for anything the probabilities of being cheated in any way are very low. The other way around is not that clear. Be careful, especially near the touristy attractions. There are many uniformed people who pretend being an officer of the attraction and they offer information but just want to sell overrated activities or tours.

It is difficult to park (for free)

All is set up in Riviera Maya. You should not move much but if you do you pay for it. Either you move from service A to B, and become a client of service B for a while and they gently allow you to park there or you park in a private parking lot. This is like this, especially close to the beach. If you follow some local tips, with luck you could park for free in some places but make sure you don’t step on any forbidden painted line on the floor or any sidewalk. Sometimes there won’t be any recognizable sign at all showing you cannot park. But remember, the priority for an average Mexican cop is to get your money. 

There are almost no free beaches

There are, but very few and not the best. To get to a proper nice beautiful and picturesque beach you will need to access via a beach club, a restaurant, a resort or paying the fee to a private beach. It is very sad, especially for locals, but it is very hard to find public entrances, even public roads to nice beaches. The parcels of beach territory are concessions to private investors who build their businesses there and create their accesses and their own private paths to the beach. 

For instance, in Tulum there is a road that follows a shoreline path full of bars and beach clubs but it is in a terrible condition since the administration is not taking care of the maintenance, there are no places to park at all and no public entrances to the beach. You need to get into any of those beach clubs and drink or eat there just to take a look at the ocean (or the sargassum). In Playa Azul, Cancún, we went for lunch and the service on the same beach was amazing. 10 minutes after lunch we got into the water and a guy ran after us to ask if we were clients of the restaurant. Even that part of the Ocean is private property of the restaurant’s owner? Insane. 

The road conditions are bad

Riviera Maya is not an excepcion in the terrible conditions of the roads in Mexico. Even they have some nice road connecting towns, at least compares with some other parts of the country, you can find some terrible roads even in the most touristy places. Some parts of Tulum and Playa del Carmen are asphalt free and they have a crazy amount of topes and craters. 

To read more about the road conditions, check our article about driving in Mexico.

The tourists are (secretly) disappointed snob people

Honestly, we have no clue about what happens in the luxury resorts since we are not that kind of client. But in the real world we have seen many very pink puzzled faces around. Yes, some tourists arrive chasing the picture of the photo they saw in a travel agency catalog. And they find something different, either a fake theme park for those who prefer to stick around their hotel or a lesson of real Mexico for those who dare to step forward. Fortunately guys, there is a lot of Mexico inside Mexico! It is an amazing country and very diverse. But Rivera Maya is not very representative of all the cultural and natural richness you can find in it.

It is a misleading territory

That’s the main problem with the Riviera Maya! You think it is going to be easier than it is on your own, and you find out that it is thought to restrict your freedom of movement to make you a more profitable customer. Of course, Riviera Maya is beautiful and can be very funny. It has marvellous natural and cultural wonders that, even though we underline in this article the negative points, you will be able to enjoy. Read here more about the things we honestly love in Riviera Maya. 

The towns grew too quick because of the tourism

This is a classic fenomenon of bad development. At some point, in the 20th Century, Riviera Maya discovered tourism. That meant easy money and a lot of jobs. Many immigrants arrived to Quintana Roo from other parts of the country and from abroad attracted by the tourism manna. Unfortunately, to work cleaning rooms in resorts or serving Tequila Sunrises in bars doesn’t make anybody out of the working class. The towns in Riviera Maya needed cheap apartments and houses for all those ones who came to work. Nevertheless, the weak Mexican administration could not provide nice enough public services and infrastructure for those real towns. 

  • we don't like Riviera Maya
  • we don't like Riviera Maya
  • we don't like Riviera Maya

The local society is clearly split in two

You will see nice cars and expensive clothes in Riviera Maya. Some of the owners are tourists and some others are new locals who decided one day to stick around the Caribs to live. Many others are upper-working class people who manage to pay their bills working in tourism. You can find there students working in a taco restaurant and expats managing resorts, but for sure you will identify two very separated classes within the hundred types of life stories you will spot on Riviera Maya. Just look around. 

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