The solo female traveler’s guide to Riviera Maya
Mythical for its beauty and it’s great historical wealth, the Riviera Maya is a stretch of coastline bordering the Caribbean Sea. Located in the northeast of the Yucatan Peninsula, it encompasses the state of Yucatan as well as Quintana Roo.
Because the Riviera Maya is not only about beach resorts and eco-resorts, I have listed for you the best activities to do for an unforgettable stay. If you are a solo female traveler, be sure to put Riviera Maya on your bucket list.
Don’t worry, it’s not only about cultural visits or sports hikes—I wanted to leave room for relaxation and swimming!
With my favorite places, visiting the Riviera Maya has never been more enriching and relaxing! ‘The solo female travelers guide to Riviera Maya’ will help you discover the true gems of Yucatán.
Best time to go to Riviera Maya
As with most tropical locations, Riviera Maya experiences high temperatures throughout the year. There are dry and rainy seasons, but even in the rainier months, there are typically plenty of hot, sunny days, and any precipitation typically comes in heavy showers that pass rapidly.
The best time to go to Riviera Maya is between December and March, when the weather is at its calmest, which is the ideal time to travel.
- May has the highest average daily high temperature of 36 C and the lowest average daily low temperature of 23 C.
- December, with an average daily maximum temperature of 28 C and an average low temperature of 20 C, is the coldest month of the year.
Is Riviera Maya Safe for Solo Female Travelers?
There is no reason Riviera Maya should be regarded as unsafe for solitary female travelers as long as they visit tourist areas and use common sense when choosing which regions to visit.
Even though I just talked about current crimes that have occurred this year, this shouldn’t deter you from visiting. This might be one of the nicest sites you visit if you’re being sensible and employing common sense.
In and around Riviera Maya, there are a variety of different tourist attractions to view, such as the well-known Tulum Mayan Ruins, Xel-Ha, Dos Ojos and many more cenotes, the Frida Kahlo Museum, and much more.
Traveling alone gives you the freedom to do as you choose, at whatever time of day suits you, and it’s probable that there will be other solo travelers at the same locations, so you can meet friends along the way. Seeing things by yourself doesn’t have to be boring either.
Transportation Riviera Maya. How to get around?
There are many different ways to get around during your stay on the Riviera Maya. Whether you want to stay on the coast between Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum or explore the interior to visit Mayan ruins or remote villages, you can choose the most appropriate means of transportation for your situation.
The Yucatan Peninsula has a network of long-distance buses called Ado Bus.
You can find the bus schedule here, and collective vans (colectivos) if you wish to use public transportation. In this article, I will detail the advantages of renting a car in Cancun and the surrounding area over other modes of transportation available in the region.
Organize your Riviera Maya trip without time constraints
If you are traveling as a solo female traveler, choosing a car rental company will be the optimal choice. It will allow you to save time and get to places that are not very accessible by public transport.
Indeed, when you travel between the big cities in the region, buses have more or less important frequencies. There is a well-functioning network of car rental on the Riviera Maya. As for the smaller cities, sometimes only one bus per day can get you there if the city is served by the bus network. The colectivos, on the other hand, may have a higher frequency.
These colectivos are small vans that you can take and that work like a private bus network. These vans can stop you wherever you want on their predefined route. However, they often only leave when they are full, so you may have to wait quite a while for a departure if you are going to a less busy area or in the middle of the day.
If you want to be free with your schedule and not depend on the fixed times of public transportation, traveling with a rental car is an ideal choice.
You will be able to enjoy an exclusive experience without having to deal with the crowds present on public transportation if you rent a car in the Riviera Maya.You’ll only have each other, and you won’t have to deal with the whims of other passengers.
This will allow you to move easily with your luggage rather than having to carry it on public transportation.
Rent a car in Mexico via Discover Cars. Cancellation is free up to 48 hours before the rental start date, and insurance is included. Book your rental car here.
Riviera Maya attractions
Have fun in the Xcaret Park, best water park in the world
No matter if you are visiting the Riviera Maya with children or friends, or as a solo female traveler, I recommend that you spend at least one day at Xcaret Park!
It is not for nothing that it has won several times the award of Best Theme and Water Park in the World: it has 50 activities on 80 hectares between the jungle and the Caribbean Sea, underground rivers, hiking trails, beaches, slides, an 80-meter-high panoramic tower, and much more.
It’s impossible to do everything in one day, and of course, it’s impossible to get bored, no matter how old you are.
See the starfish in Cozumel
The Isla Cozumel Biosphere Reserve is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef and is considered one of the best diving destinations in the world because of its biodiversity!
Among the most beautiful places in Cozumel is El Cielo, a long sandbar surrounded by transparent water where you can see several starfish.
To protect this natural site, it is mandatory to access it with a guided tour, and it is forbidden to touch the starfish.
The excursion to El Cielo also includes snorkeling at Palancar Reef, drinks (with and without alcohol), access to a beach club, and lunch.
Relaxing at Xpu-Ha
Xpu Ha is one of the Riviera Maya’s most beautiful beaches, and it is much less crowded than the beaches of Cancun or Playa del Carmen. It is a beach of fine sand and clear water where you can snorkel, eat seafood, kayak, or lounge at a beach club.
Go in the morning when there is almost no one!
It is located south of Puerto Aventuras, 25 minutes from Playa del Carmen.
Discover Tulum by bike
Renting a bike is the best way to visit Tulum, and you will easily find a rental store on site.
You can bike between the Beach Strip, the beaches, the ruins of Tulum, and several cenotes.
The most easily accessible cenotes in Tulum by bike are Cenote Calavera and Grand Cenote, as well as Cenote Carwash and Cenote Zacil-Ha, which are next to each other.
Beware; the distances are greater than they seem, and it can be very hot, so go early in the morning.
Discover the lesser known beaches
The Riviera Maya is famous for its beautiful beaches, but it is true that it is increasingly difficult to find beaches that have not been invaded by tourists.
It’s normal; everyone wants his little piece of paradise with fine sand and clear water.
Fortunately, there are still some beautiful beaches in the Riviera Maya that are much quieter and still not very touristy, like Chemuyil and Xcacel, which are very close to Akumal.
These are pristine beaches with transparent water, but there is nothing on site, so remember to bring water, snacks, your towel, and an umbrella if possible because it is not always easy to find shade.
Taste the local cuisine on Riviera Maya
How would a trip to the Riviera Maya be without sampling some culinary specialties?
In addition to the exotic fresh fruits that are always interesting to discover (ex: guaya, guanabana, nanche, mamey, and the list goes on! ), each region of Mexico has its own traditional dishes, although they all share a common love for tacos.
You can easily find tacos, but I especially recommend trying the cochinita pibil tacos. This slow-roasted pork with achiote is a traditional Mayan dish from the Yucatan.
Other local specialties include poc chuc, salbutes, panuchos, and tikinxik fish.
Visit the Sian Ka’an Reserve
Sian Ka’an, “place where the sky begins” in Mayan, is one of the most beautiful places to see in the Riviera Maya!
It is a large protected area of 5182 km2 declared a Biosphere Reserve and Unesco World Heritage that hosts marshes, mangroves, sandy beaches, 300 species of geese, 100 species of animals, 1000 species of plants, and several archaeological sites.
Of course, it is impossible to visit everything, and you have to choose between two access points:
Punta Allen (1 day longer): explore the beach, salt water lakes, take a boat tour (and, with luck, see dolphins!)- You can book the Punta Allen tour here!
Muyil (half day): to explore the interior of the reserve, the jungle, the swamps, and the ruins of Muyil You can book the Muyil tour here!
If you prefer to go on your own, I recommend you choose Muyil because it is much easier to get to (20 minutes from Tulum). You can even get there by public transportation by taking an ADO bus to Chunyaxche.
Swimming with turtles in Akumal
This is one of the most enjoyable activities on the Riviera Maya!
Akumal is a village located near the Mesoamerican coral reef, which is home to a multitude of coral species and 500 species of fish.
There are three species of turtles in the waters of Akumal that come to feed in the bay.
You have two choices:
- Swim freely outside the protected area (without guaranteeing to see turtles).
- Swim with a guide in the turtle feeding area, following certain rules to avoid stressing them (don’t touch them, don’t get too close). Book the turtle swimming tour here!
Catamaran sailing on Isla Mujeres
With its incredibly clear water, Isla Mujeres is not only ideal for snorkeling and diving but also for enjoying this beautiful natural spectacle on a catamaran.
This is a short day cruise with pickup from your Cancun hotel, music, and unlimited drinks (with and without alcohol), perfect for relaxing and partying with friends.
The cruise takes you snorkeling in the reef (1 hour), with free time in Isla Mujeres, and includes lunch on the beach.
Discover Playa del Carmen street art
The center of Playa del Carmen is filled with colorful murals that are the work of local, national, and international artists.
There are many of them on the Quinta Avenida and on the adjacent streets.
Isla Contoy is a small paradise island with one of the Riviera Maya’s most beautiful beaches.Here the water is shallow and transparent, the sand is white, and there is never any sargassum!
It is a protected island with an access limit of 200 people per day. It is therefore mandatory to access it with a guided tour by taking a boat from Cancun.
The blue tones are absolutely exceptional, and the beach is heavenly—you would think you were on a movie set!
As the places go quickly, I suggest you not make your reservation at the last minute.
The tour includes pick-up at your hotel in the Riviera Maya, breakfast, transportation by boat with drinks, snorkeling, free time on Isla Contoy with lunch, and 1h30 of free time on Isla Mujeres on the way back to Cancun.
15 minutes south of Tulum, in a protected area at the entrance of the Sian Ka’an Reserve, is Kaan Luum.
It is a lake that presents a great blue and green contrast because of an important difference of water depth: the lake of 1m50 shelters a cenote of 85m of depth!
You can swim only in the shallower part, resting on the long pier or in a shaded area. It’s a good way to spend a few hours in the water without having to worry about sargassum!
I strongly recommend discovering the ruins of Coba, one of the oldest Mayan cities of the Riviera Maya.
Indeed, this pre-Columbian city is considered the eternal rival of Chichen Itza. At its peak, its greatness and power make it one of the most famous cities on the Riviera Maya.
Nestled in the heart of the jungle and more difficult to access, it is surrounded by an aura of mystery. There are only a few buildings cleared from the forest, including the incredible pyramid of Nohoch Mul. It is the region’s tallest pyramid, and the top dominates the lush vegetation.
If you choose a tour of the ruins, you will also have the opportunity to visit the village of Coba and the Punta Laguna Nature Reserve.
The Isla Mujeres is a small interlude of tranquility and beauty off the coast of Cancun (1 hour by boat from the docks). Discovered in 1517 by the navigator Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, the island was at the time dedicated to the Mayan goddess of the moon, love, and fertility, Ixchel.
She received offerings in feminine forms deposited by the believers on the beaches. For this reason, the Spanish conquistadors named it Isla Mujeres.
The island has many family-friendly activities, such as:
- Sea trips with fishermen’s cooperatives;
- Swimming on paradisiacal beaches with turquoise waters
- Attractive sports activities (diving, kayaking, canoeing, golf, zip-lining, windsurfing)
With its white sand beaches, Islas Mujeres is a great place to visit on the Riviera Maya for. However, this island does not require you to stay a whole week.
Many people think that traveling in Mexico is expensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. You can actually visit Isla Mujeres on a budget as a solo female traveler.
From June to September, you can also snorkel with whale sharks off the coast of Isla Mujeres.
Cenotes of Chac Mool and Tajma Ha
Most of the cenotes in the Yucatan are accessible if you pay an entrance fee and respect the place.
The Chac Mool cenote is ideal for beginners, but you must be certified to dive in complete safety.
In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful cenotes of the Riviera Maya, and it is possible to access it through two entrances: the official one and a more unofficial one called Hermanito or Little Brother. Rest assured, they both lead to the same space.
Know that Chac Mool also has two cavities: a large and very bright one and a smaller one filled with stalactites.
You will even have the opportunity to observe the phenomenon of halocline, the space where saltwater and fresh water coming from underground rivers touch each other without mixing because of their different densities.
- Entrance fee: variable (depending on the underwater excursions chosen).
- Access: 30 minutes from Playa del Carmen, 40 minutes from Tulum.
This magnificent cenote in Quintana Roo is located very close to its counterpart, cenote Chac Mool, and is easily accessible from Playa del Carmen.
Be careful; I recommend the underwater visit of this cenote only to advanced divers! You will need an open-water certification as well as some experience in the depths of about 15 meters.
As for Chac Mool, it will be possible to observe the halocline phenomenon as well as all the stalagmites, stalactites, and other impressive columns.
- Entrance fee: 150 pesos.
- Access: Playa del Carmen is 30 km from the main road.
How to visit the Riviera Maya without passing by Rio Secreto Halfway between a nature reserve and an amusement park, Rio Secreto is an underground river or semi-submerged cave to explore with a guide.
The site offers 3 circuits (only 10% are for tourists) with varying levels of difficulty. It is thus, with your feet in the water and equipped with a headlamp, an amphibious suit, and aquatic shoes, that you leave to discover this magic cave.
Moreover, the Rio Secreto park is carefully preserved and secured. The guides emphasize respect for the integrity of the place.
- Entrance fee: 1.855 pesos for the classic tour with equipment.
- Access: 15 minutes from Playa Del Carmen
Legend has it that the Mayan gods once pooled their powers to create a true paradise on the Riviera Maya.
Driven by the will to gather in the same place all that nature has to offer, they created the creek of Xel-Hà (“Where the water was born”). Proud of this creation, they decided to open the place to mortals.
To protect Xel-Ha, they also appointed three guardians to watch over the place: the iguana (guardian of the earth), the pelican (guardian of the air), and the parrot (guardian of the water).
Today, the Xel-Hà Ecopark is a natural reserve with a unique fauna and flora where it is possible to walk, swim, and also observe animals!
- Entrance fee: varies according to the chosen formula (consult the site).
- Access: 20 minutes from the archaeological site of Tulum
The Muyil ruins, located in the heart of the Sian Ka’an Reserve, are the remains of a 300 BC city. Historians agree that in its heyday, the city had many more temples than Tulum. It is said to have been connected to the temples of Tulum and ruled by the people of Coba at the time.
Also called Chunyaxché, the ancient city is located about twenty kilometers from Tulum and is built on an ancient Maya commercial road. Today, there are two archaeological sites in Muyil; the first one is open to tourists.
The location of the site is not insignificant, since it is built in a strategic position on an ancient Maya trade route. Today, Muyil is composed of two archaeological sites, A and B, and only the first one is developed and open to tourists.
It is possible to opt for an excursion to Muyil with a guide in order to discover the secrets of the Maya trade. Then you have the possibility of discovering the Sian Ka’an Reserve.
Puerto Morelos, a small seaside town, has managed to escape the hordes of tourists despite its privileged location between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. In Puerto Morelos, life is sweet and time lasts long.
Indeed, this leisure oasis offers the opportunity to visit nearby cenotes or dive to discover the world’s second largest coral reef.
From the most beautiful beaches, you can admire the coral reef offshore. Visiting the Mayan Riviera without snorkeling in Puerto Morelos would be a waste!
Nature lovers, you will be immediately seduced by this peaceful city, where you will be able to see beautiful monuments, animal sanctuaries, and eco-tourist parks.
What to do when it rains in Riviera Maya?
Are you visiting the Riviera Maya during the rainy season and it has begun to rain? That’s no reason to get stuck in a hotel.
Here are my suggestions for activities when it rains in the Riviera Maya:
Swim in a cenote! The best thing to do when it rains is to take refuge in one of the many underground cenotes in Riviera Maya, explore the caves, and swim in the cool water.
I’m thinking of Chaak Tun, Rio Secreto, Aktun Chen, and Taak Bi Ha, but there are also many others!
Where to stay in Riviera Maya?
For more useful information on finding accommodations, hotels and all-inclusive resorts in Riviera Maya, see my separate blog post.
There is always something to do, regardless of when you decide to visit the Riviera Maya. What you are looking for will determine if certain periods are better than others. Traveling alone as a woman to Mexico was very exciting to me even if I had to organize and plan my stay for several weeks.
Go to Riviera Maya during the offseason, which is often from September through November, if you want to avoid the crowds and essentially have the beaches to yourself. Since many people are preoccupied with holiday preparations in December, that month is also a smart choice.
But bear in mind that the nights can get rather chilly. The peak season, which runs from January through April, is typically fairly warm and muggy. May is a month that is somewhat in transition, with weather that differs greatly from day to day.
I spent more than a month on the Riviera Maya Maya. I have to admit that this place fits perfectly into the concept of a first time solo female travel destination.
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