Friends. Put the Riviera Maya on your travel list. You will not be disappointed.
As a fan of the lovely country of Mexico, I’d visited the Yucatán Peninsula before, but this time around, we got to take more advantage of the beauty it has to offer (aka, we didn’t just sit on the beach and drink piña coladas this time…heh).
My fam and I visited Playa del Carmen with a little stint in Tulum just last week, and though travel posts typically take me weeks to write, I couldn’t waste any time with this one. I wanted to share all the loveliness with you right away.
Oh hey, world travelers: this post was originally published in 2020 (yeah, before March) and has been updated for 2023.
Riviera Maya Mini Travel Guide: Our Fave Sites & Eats In Mexico
You may have seen my packing post detailing what I intended to wear on our vacay. This post will have a few snaps of what I actually wore (surprisingly close to the packing list, hooray!) along with some sites and eats that we absolutely loved. If you’re visiting the Riviera Maya soon or in the next few years, I can’t recommend these places enough, and I hope this serves as a mini guide to some favorites in the region.
Getting To Tulum
So, in true Laura form, I was a bad blogger — but a great vacationer — and didn’t snap pics of everything, but I now wish I had. I think we’re still gonna achieve a decent feel here for what we really loved from our trip. We stayed at a resort in Playa del Carmen where my dad and stepmom go every year (think gorgeous pools, colorful buildings, and yes, right on the beach where they bring you drinks as you lounge under a palapa).
There are many of these in the region, and I highly recommend avoiding the party-central Cancún area and staying near Playa del Carmen (resorts) or Tulum (cool, laid-back hostels and hotels). You’ll fly in and out of the Cancún airport, but many of the resorts help arrange transportation to and from for you. Playa del Carmen is about a 45-minute drive south of Cancún.
Things To Do In Tulum
We definitely got in plenty of relaxation time at the pools and beach near our resort, but the best thing we did (thanks to my brother’s recommendation) was rent a car and take a day trip to Tulum. We rented the car right from the resort, and opted for that instead of an “excursion,” so we had more flexibility. The driving culture in Mexico is a little more chaotic than the U.S., but Pinky lived in L.A., so he was fine. Haha. Honestly, that whole process went pretty smoothly; I’d recommend it for sure. We weren’t crowded into a shuttle or on someone else’s schedule. It was great.
1. Mayan Ruins In Tulum National Park
Our first stop on our day trip was the Tulum National Park to see ancient Mayan ruins. The parking at the turnoff was a bit chaotic, but we managed to park and met a nice man who was happy to take some cash to keep our car safe. I didn’t see any public parking, so this worked well for us. I speak Spanish and was able to chat with him about the fact that we only wanted to tour the ruins — but be prepared for an up-sell of everything from a guided tour to swimming with turtles. For realz. This is just how it is, but everyone is so friendly, so be clear about what you do and don’t want.
From there we walked down the way and passed a little open-air market with fun souvenirs — both handmade and tourist-shop style — clean bathrooms (yay!), snack counters and even a Starbucks. The entrance to the ruins was a bit more of a walk, so we were delighted to see countless iguanas (so cool) and red raccoons (who knew).
We didn’t spend ages exploring every inch of the ruins (I blame the 6-year-old), but it was so cool being there knowing how long ago the people of this area walked these same paths. It was incredible. They offer some guided tours at the entrance with your ticket purchase, but it’s nice to wander and read all the information ourselves (more my style, especially with a kiddo in tow).
2. Swimming At Cenote Azul
Cenote Azul was a highlight of the trip, for sure. Cenotes are natural sinkholes created where cave ceilings have collapsed. There are thousands in the Yucatán Peninsula. This location just happened to be about halfway between Tulum and Playa del Carmen, so it was the perfect stop on our way back to the resort. It cost a few dollars each to enter, and we could swim in three different pools: This large one pictured below was the busiest but warmest in the sun.
The one above was more shaded and cave-like and really cool! The Maya considered cenotes to be an entrance to their “underworld,” or “Xibalba,” where their gods live and their spirits reside after death. You can read more about these fascinating pools here. We’re not divers, but if you are, there’s a whole other side to exploring these beauties.
Cenote Azul was quite family-friendly and easy to access, with bathrooms for changing and showers to protect the waters for the fish and wildlife. If you do one thing in this area, visit at least one cenote.
Where To Eat In Tulum
Our day trip to Tulum was so lovely and worthwhile. The rest of the time we mostly spent lounging by the pool, walking on the beach or eating. Haha. One of the best restaurants in Playa is where we ended up one evening after this self-proclaimed foodie found a food blog about restaurants in this area. SCORE.
1. Lunch At Loyal Order Tulum
From Tulum National Park, we headed toward the hotel area of town to a lunch spot my brother recommended (Loyal Order Tulum). Park along the road here anywhere you can find this sign (below) outside the beach entrance to the restaurant.
Loyal Order Tulum is super-vibey with wooden tables and lounge chairs in the sand, and a simple bar and kitchen off to the right. The food was a unique blend of Turkish and Mediterranean. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. We ordered grilled octopus, beef kebabs, some kind of mini dumpling/empanada thing that was wildly good, and a giant pineapple filled with fresh fruit and topped with coconut cream. Dang, I wish this weren’t an all-day plane ride away from me.
2. La Perla Pixan Mezcaleria
La Perla Pixan Mezcaleria is an amazing find I stumbled upon on the Goats On The Road blog. So glad I did because we couldn’t have enjoyed a more delicious meal or friendlier service elsewhere. We ordered an array of items, but sadly forgot to get the crickets on the menu. Next time.
The tlayuda with chorizo and beef was my favorite. We also ordered a fish dish my stepmom adored, and honestly, everything was tops. Most items had rich, smoky and slightly spicy flavors that were just incredible. Google Maps will get you there, but just know that the sign out front is not super-clear. Ask if it’s the right place because it’s so worth it!
What I Wore In Riviera Maya
I couldn’t do a trip recap without getting into what I packed. Basically, you’ll want a great travel outfit (joggers, tee and comfy sneakers), a beach look or two, a cute matching set for dinners, and an easy tank dress for day trips.
1. Tulum Travel Outfit: Joggers, A Tee + Add A Hoodie
Athleta joggers and Vuori joggers are my very favorite, especially for travel. Either pair could’ve easily been dressed up with a cute tank and sandals for a dinner out. The Vuori performance joggers don’t stretch out even after wearing them all day, or even sleeping in them, so you don’t get off the plane looking all schlumpy. Love them. (Wearing an older Athleta pair here, but Vuori’s are now my faves for warmer temps!)
Most Versatile Sneakers award goes to the adidas Superstars. Seriously. They look great with everything and are seriously comfy.
Shop My Travel Outfit
2. Riviera Maya Beach Outfit: A High-Rise Bikini + Cute Cover-Up
I’m now a huge fan of high-waisted bikini bottoms. This particular pair has minimal seams, yet a double layer of fabric that really makes you feel secure, and it’s flattering. This bikini bottom is from Left on Friday, and I adore it. LSPACE also has some similar cute cuts, which I’ve linked below. Not to mention, a great cover-up is a must-have, and this long shirtdress style can be worn over shorts and a tank or tee as well.
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3. Last-Minute Addition: A Cute Long-Sleeve Tee
I threw in this long-sleeved tee (similar) last minute and am so glad I did. It’s cute with jean shorts (LOVE them). It was also great over the tank dress. It was a bit windy some of the days we were there, so I wound up wearing this over my swimsuit when we were lounging at the beach. I love, love adding a few patterns into my travel outfits — navy stripes are a no-brainer in my book. They added a little fun pop to my solid pieces.
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4. For Dinnertime: A Cute Matching Set
A matching set is perfect for travel because you can get so much wear out of it. I prefer it to traveling with jumpsuits. The sets allow you to have a super-cute, really put-together look when you wear the pieces together, but then you’re able to mix and match the top and pants with other items. Free People makes some of my favorite sets, but coordinating top and pants are a great way to do this too, and Gap and Old Navy often offer those.
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5. Best Outfit For Day Trips In Mexico: An Easy Tank Dress
A midi tank dress layered over my swimsuit was perfect for our day trip. It was comfy and easy, and I wound up wearing it a lot. This tank dress is sold out, but the one below from Michael Stars is a team fave, and the Vuori is SO soft and has a shelf bra. The Beyond Yoga dress is my favorite ever. It has a shelf bra and is shorter with a sexy slit…but still seriously easy to wear.
Sporty sandals like Chacos or Tevas were are so good for exploring, when you’ll be on and off beachy areas, hiking or walking, etc. I’m loving the more-stylish monochromatic updates to the sporty go-to sandals. And come on…a sparkly gold bag is just good anywhere you take it. Highly recommend.
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I hope this follow-up post has been helpful for your upcoming beach travels, especially if you’re planning to visit this area! Whew, it’s making me miss this place hardcore already. Have you visited Riviera Maya before? I’d love to hear your faves! And happy travels everyone!
Hey, friends. Hop on over to follow me on Instagram @laurajansenstyle to see more of what I’m up to in Portland, Oregon. If you want to shop my current pieces I’m loving and wearing, head over to My Closet!