Mexico's Caribbean coast: discover Cancun & the Riviera Maya

Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula draws people to its crystal clear waters, year-round sunny climate and beautiful beach resorts but it's not all about the glitz and glamour of the well-known party spots.

Aerial view of Cancun, Mexico
Aerial view of Cancun, Mexico © Safa in LA - Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Getting to Mexico's Caribbean coast: it's easier than you might expect to get to the glorious shores of Mexico's Caribbean coast especially when you book with First Choice*, which departs from airports across the UK.


Cancun is built for tourism, and being so close to America it's a favourite with American college students who descend upon the area in March and April each year for its bars, clubs and entertainment venues.

In contrast, the resorts along the 14 miles of coast to the south cater more to the high-end tourists who want to relax on the pristine beaches and avoid the party goers. Cancun's by far the most expensive though and everything here is pricey from a night out to arranged tours.

Swimming with whale sharks
Swimming with whale sharks - photo courtesy of

If you do fancy an evening on the tiles, don't miss Coco Bongo, which promises a tantalising mix of Cirque du Soleil and music, owned and influenced in part by actor Jim Carrey. There's another Coco Bongo in Playa del Carmen, too.

If it's wildlife you're after, aim to visit between May and September when the surrounding waters are frequented by whale sharks during their annual migration. A day trip is easy from Cancun and, although it isn't cheap, swimming with these placid creatures is an experience you'll never forget.

Underwater Museum sculpture, Mexican Caribbean
Underwater Museum sculpture, Mexican Caribbean - photo courtesy Museo Subacuático de Arte

The Mexican Caribbean coast is also an underwater Mecca that lures divers to its clear waters, and the Cancun Underwater Museum is an added attraction. For island lovers, Isla Mujeres is just a boat ride away and only accessible from this popular tourist destination.

The Riviera Maya

Further south along the Yucatan Peninsula is the Riviera Maya, a more natural region than Cancun with protected areas and eco-parks full of mangroves, lagoons and cenotes (sinkholes) for swimming and snorkelling.

Xel-Ha Inlet, Riveria Maya, Mexico
Xel-Ha Inlet, Riveria Maya, Mexico © Angelique800326 - Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

This area is also home to Xel-Ha, the largest natural aquarium in the world. An all inclusive day pass to Xel-Ha park includes snorkelling equipment, access to 20 activities, and a selection of food and drink options.

Playa del Carmen and Tulum are generally more popular with Europeans but even these destinations, although just one hour apart, have their own identities.

Playa del Carmen, Riveria Maya, Mexico
Playa del Carmen, Riveria Maya, Mexico © Elelicht - Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Playa del Carmen has everything you need including boutique shops and cafés. There's just as much nightlife as Cancun all within walking distance of your accommodation but instead of all inclusive prices you have the freedom to bar hop.

Although a lot smaller than Cancun, the beach is just as nice and there's always the stunning island of Cozumel just across the water off the Yucatan Peninsula.

Tulum has more of a travellers' feel and is less touristy with authentic restaurants and chilled out bars (including one with swings!). It's great for those on a budget, although you can still find the all inclusive hotels along the beach.

Mayan ruins near Tulum, Mexico
Mayan ruins near Tulum, Mexico - photo courtesy of Riviera Maya Tourist Board

The Mayan ruins of Tulum are easy to spot on the cliffs above the beach, while the ancient ruins of Coba are a short hop away, and you can reach the famous Chichen Itza from any of the destinations mentioned.

Away from the main strip and further south is a more laid back vibe with a hippy feel and yoga retreats for those wishing to escape the crowds.

Weather in Cancun

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Mexico is a year-round destination as it lies within the tropics although there's a risk of tropical storms in September and October. If you want to avoid the high humidity, December to April is the best time to go.

Find out more about the weather in Mexico and see when we think is the very best time to go.

Ready to discover Mexico's Caribbean coast? Don't miss the latest great value deals on holidays to Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum with First Choice.

First Choice: Low deposits & flexible payments on holidays in 2024/2025

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Lisa Eldridge

Lisa Eldridge

Article updated on Wednesday 2nd February 2022 in: Adventure Beach Caribbean Excursions

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