Top Family Picks in the Riviera Maya

The Riviera Maya on Mexico’s Caribbean coast is a mecca for excellent-value family adventures. Here are a few heart-thudders for pocketbooks of every size.

Hidden Worlds: Take a Tour on a SkyCycle

Take a Mayan jungle tour on a SkyCycle that attaches to a zip line as you float above the trees, rappel into a cavern, snorkel in freshwater underground caves where stalactites hang like icicles or try the new adrenaline-fuelled Avatar zip line.

Hidden Worlds is a 35-minute drive south of Playa del Carmen and offers various adventure packages. The Ultimate Adventure for 3.5 hours costs $80 per adult and $60 per child.

Even Cheaper

You’ll find underground freshwater pools called cenotes throughout the Riviera Maya, great for swimming and snorkelling. Cenote Azul in Riviera Maya, 24 km south of Playa del Carmen, has wooden walkways and lots of fish for just $5 admission. You can also rent snorkel gear there.

Swim with Sea Turtles in Akumal

In the Mayan language, Akumal (37 km south of Playa del Carmen) means “place of the turtles.” And so it is—beautiful white-sand beaches, clear waters, coral reefs, a laid-back vibe and no lack of loggerhead turtles. Chasing after or touching sea turtles while you snorkel isn’t allowed, as they are protected and respected here.

The Centro Ecological Akumal runs programs to protect, conserve, research and manage sea turtles, and you can even adopt a sea turtle online. I snorkelled with the Akumal Dive Center, where adults pay $25 for a 75-minute swim in Akumal Bay that includes a boat, guide and snorkel equipment. Kids under age nine pay $15.

Even Cheaper

Akumal Bay Beach features palm trees where you can rest in the shade, and the northern end has good swimming and snorkelling for free if you have your own gear.

Sian Ka’an Community Tours: Tour a UNESCO Site

Tour the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, a UNESCO world heritage site, with this local Mayan tour group based in Tulum. The 1.3-million acre biosphere is home to 800 plant species and 350 bird species, and these enthusiastic guides seem to know them all. There are also more than 20 archaeological sites to check out, and you can swim in rivers, take boat rides, eat Mayan food and learn about the jungle. The cost depends on the tour, but starts at $45 per adult, $40 per child.

Even Cheaper

Tulum, about an hour’s drive south of Playa del Carmen, is one of the most-visited archaeological sites in the Yucatan Peninsula. You can park for about $2.50 and see the ruins for $4.15, and there’s even a little beach inside the archaeological zone.

Don’t Miss Out on the MuSEAum

The Cancun Underwater Museum is the world’s largest underwater museum, featuring 400 submerged life-size statues. Created by British-born artist Jason deCaires Taylor, the first sinking of these sculptures took place in November 2009. By the end of 2010, The Silent Evolution installation was complete, with the intention of demonstrating our collective enjoyment and obligation to preserving the environment.

Sea worms have drilled holes into the sculptures, which is all part of Taylor’s master plan—to make a work of art that is a living, breathing, habitat-saving reef. But the project doesn’t end this season. The underwater museum is planning to host special events that involve new artists and new works every year. Cancun dive tour operators are now offering excursions to see the artworks.

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