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.
You may have seen my packing post last week 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 hope this serves as a mini-guide to some favorites in the region.
Things To Do In Riviera Maya: Our Favorite Sites & Eats
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 hippie hostels and hotels). You will 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.
1. What To Do In Tulum
We definitely got in plenty of relaxation time at the pools and the 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.
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 turn-off 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 was nice to wander and read all the information ourselves (more my style, especially with a kiddo in tow).
Lunch At Loyal Order Tulum
From Tulum National Park, we headed towards the hotel area of town to a lunch spot my brother recommended. 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/Mediterranean. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. We ordered grilled octopus, beef kebabs, some kind of mini dumpling/empanada thing that was insanely 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.
Swimming At Cenote Azul
This 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 below that 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. This 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.
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.
2. Where To Eat
La Perla Pixan Mezcaleria
La Perla Pixan Mezcaleria was an amazing find I stumbled upon on the Goats On The Road blog. So glad I did because we could not 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!
3. What I Wore In Riviera Maya
Travel Outfit: Just Add A Hoodie
These joggers are my absolute favs. They’re perfect for travel. I just wrote a post on the winter version (lined) and I took the unlined version on this trip. I mostly wore them to and from Mexico, but I can’t tell you how comfortable they were on the flights. They could have easily been dressed up with a cute tank and wedge sandals for a dinner out. These don’t stretch out even after wearing them all day. Love them. (Size down in the unlined, TTS in the lined)
Riviera Maya Beach Outfit: High-Rise Bikini & Cute Kimono
I’m now a huge fan of the high-rise bikini bottom. This particular pair has minimal seams, yet a double layer of fabric that really makes you feel secure, and it’s flattering. This one is from Left on Friday, and I adore it. I’ve also linked to a super-cute, similar pair below in a fun yellow. A great kimono is a must-have, and can be worn over shorts and a tank or tee, as well.
Last-Minute Addition: This Long-Sleeve Tee
I threw this long-sleeved tee in last-minute and am so glad I did. It’s cute with jean shorts (LOVE them. They’re a new purchase, linked below.) It was great over the red tank dress, too. It was a bit windy some of the days we were there, so I wound up wearing this over my swimsuit too, 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.
The Fab Voloshin X The Mom Edit Matching Set
This set that is SO soft was a great outfit to have on the trip. It feels so put-together, but is also insanely comfy. I’m wearing an XS in the trapeze top and a M in the bottoms. Both are great pieces to mix with other items in your closet, too. I cannot tell you how gorgeous this fabric feels and both of the pieces are on sale, too!
Best Outfit For Day Trips In Mexico: A Great Tank Dress
A long tank dress layered over my swimsuit was perfect for our day trip. It was comfy, easy, and I wound up wearing it a lot. This tank dress is sold out, but the one below from Michael Stars looks amazing and comes in a similar red, plus some other great colors. The Chacos I wore are seriously good for exploring, when you’ll be on and off beachy areas, hiking or walking, etc., And I’m SO happy with the fun peachy color. And come on…a sparkly gold bag is just good anywhere you take it. Highly recommend.
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 favs! 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!