BEST BEACHES IN YUCATAN AND QUINTANA ROO

Playa delfines cancun best beaches yucatan
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The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is one of the most iconic destinations in North America. In addition to the Mayan temples and ruins, above all the pyramid of Chichen Itza, the area is famous for its long sandy beaches and the wonderful Caribbean Sea of ​​the Riviera Maya.

To be precise, Yucatán refers to both the large peninsula and the state of the same name. It should be specified that the Yucatan peninsula includes 3 Mexican states: Quintana Roo to the east, Yucatan to the north, and Campeche to the west. The independent nation of Belize to the southeast is also part of the peninsula.

Yucatan is very vast, hundreds of square kilometres of forest cover the hinterland. Here the Mayan civilization built fortresses, temples, cities, and lived for 2,000 years. For example, it takes 4 hours by car to travel from Tulum, Quintana Roo, to the cultural capital of Yucatán, Mérida.


WHERE TO STAY IN YUCATÁN?

Also for this reason most tourists limit themselves to the east coast in the state of Quintana Roo. This state is home to popular beach destinations such as Cancun, Tulum and Playa del Carmen. From urban centres you can take daily tours to the rest of the Yucatán, primarily the excursion to the Mayan pyramid of Chichén Itzá.

If, however, you want to organize a complete trip across the peninsula, to include other Mayan ruins, the Pueblo Magicos and the cenotes inland, find all details in our Yucatan travel itinerary.

Playa del Carmen best beaches
Playa del Carmen, Yucatan


HOTELS – WHERE TO STAY IN CANCUN

Cancun is the tourist capital of Quintana Roo. It is a city tailor-made to attract international tourism, particularly from the neighbouring United States. A flight from Florida takes 3-4 hours to reach the Yucatan Peninsula. There are many luxury hotels and resorts, some all-inclusive, but also less expensive options, here are some examples.


HOTELS – WHERE TO STAY IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN

Playa del Carmen is a less party place than Cancun, but offers just as many services for visitors. It’s about an hour’s drive from the airport, and has a long beach with pedestrian areas, bars and restaurants a stone’s throw from the sea. Moving a few streets inland you’ll find accommodation with more moderate prices, including many apartments.


HOTELS – WHERE TO STAY IN TULUM

The third most known beach destination in Yucatan is Tulum. A luxury and chic destination, where resorts and hotels are decorated in the most varied styles. The new Tulum international airport has been active since 2024 to make the area more convenient to reach, given that it is almost two hours from Cancun. Prices on average here are higher than in Playa del Carmen.


WHITE SANDY BEACHES IN YUCATAN

Let’s start from the assumption that almost all beaches in Yucatan are quite beautiful, and most are free. Some have particularly white sand and truly turquoise sea water as you’d see on a postcard.
However, depending on your preferences, you may want to choose an area with free beaches, one with resorts, or one of the nearby islands.

You should consider seasons too, because it’s not uncommon to find residues of sargassum and algae accumulating on the shoreline. Sargassum season around Cancun typically runs from April to October, but the amount of seaweed can always vary depending on the weather and currents. Usually on the most touristy beaches the piles of sargassum are collected and removed in the morning.

The resort beaches are more well-kept and equipped, while the free beaches can be very crowded. Traveling in October, we found a lot of people on the beach, both tourists and residents. In general beaches are clean and there’s good respect for the environment. There are always bathrooms and showers at the entrance to the main beaches, free or usable for a few pesos.

chacmool beach cancun spiagge yucatan
The Caribbean Sea in Cancun, Quintana Roo


HOW TO REACH THE BEST BEACHES IN YUCATAN

As mentioned above, distances are considerable between locations. Unless you are staying put in a beachfront hotel or resort, you’ll have to travel a few kilometres to reach the various beaches. You can get around in the following ways:

  • by scheduled buses such as ADO, ETN or Primera Plus. The 1h15m journey from Cancun or from the airport to Playa del Carmen costs around €10;
  • with collectivos, the minibuses used by locals to get around in a cheap but less comfortable way;
  • by taxi or apps like Uber or Didi;
  • on foot or by bike: once you reach the city centre, move on foot or by bike. Especially Playa del Carmen has spacious sidewalks, while in Cancun you may need a bicycle.
  • with driver and private transport, bookable on site or online;
  • by rental car: although there are international and local companies from which to rent a car, you need to pay close attention to hidden taxes and deposits required, which are often too high. You may need an International Driving License for some rentals; we recommend looking for rentals locally to talk face-to-face about final rates, rather than paying a non-refundable deposit online with dubious companies.
  • with an organized tour, which can combine a visit to a Mayan ruin with a beach or cenote in the area, such as this tour to the Tulum ruins and two cenotes.


INTERNATIONAL DRIVING LICENSE AND INSURANCE

We recommend applying for an International Driving License online if you plan to drive a vehicle abroad. The International Drivers Association offers an online service with which you can request a digital+paper version of your driving license even if you are already travelling, accepted in over 150 countries.
More details on the official website.

Don’t forget to take out reliable travel insurance. We suggest two options to compare: Get a quote with Worldnomads here, and get up to 20% off with A Million Travels on Heymondo Travel Insurance here.


BEACHES IN YUCATAN PENINSULA

Let’s see the key areas where the best beaches in Yucatan and Quintana Roo are located.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:


BEACHES IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN

Playa del Carmen is the name of both the well-known city on the Riviera Maya and its main beach. It’s a 3-km-long beach overlooked by hotels, resorts, bars and restaurants. Perfect for sunbed and umbrella days, and nightlife in the evening, but it can easily get crowded. Ferries to Cozumel depart from here. This is also why the sea is beautiful but not perfect in Playa, which is why we suggest two other beaches in the area.

A little further north is Playa Punta Esmeralda, reachable in about 10 minutes by car. At Punta Esmeralda the water is very calm, and it’s also possible to visit the small Cenotito inland. This beach is free and popular with locals.


PLAYA XCALACOCO

Nearby Playa Xcalacoco is also a great option in Playa del Carmen. Here some artificial barriers make the sea flat and perfect for splashing in knee-deep water. Free access, bathrooms can be used for 5-10 pesos (0.50€ cents).

In general, Playa del Carmen is a walkable place that allows you to travel well on foot or by bicycle along the seafront promenade called Quinta Avenida. We also recommend it to families or those who prefer to avoid the main roads for daily travel. We stayed a week at the Sofia Boutique Condos and then at the Kaab At The Park, excellent condos with modern rooms and a rooftop pool, around €50 per night in low season in October.

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COZUMEL

San Miguel de Cozumel is one of the most famous islands of all Mexico. It’s located right across from Playa del Carmen, about 35 minutes by ferry. Around Cozumel thrives the second largest coral reef in the world, after the one in Queensland, Australia. Given its popularity, the price of the ferry is not cheap, the ticket costs around $30 return (ferry information for Cozumel here).

Cozumel is perfect for a day trip, but it is also possible to stay for a few days. The classic boat tours, which you can book on site or online for €40-60 depending on the season (info and tour prices in Cozumel here), take you to the most beautiful areas around the island.

Of all, the most spectacular beach is Playa El Cielo, where you can get off the boat and literally walk in the crystal clear water, complete with sea turtles and manta rays passing by. Together with nearby Playa Palancar and Playa El Cielito, where you can see starfish on the shallow seabed, the trip to Cozumel was amazing and worth the price of the ferry plus tour. This is the Playa El Cielo tour we took in Cozumel.

There are also other beaches in Cozumel we reached by scooter on the opposite side of the island, such as beautiful Playa Chen Rio or Playa Punta Morena, however the colour of the water can’t compare to the incredible Playa El Cielo.

  • Spiagge Yucatan El Cielo Playa Cozumel
  • el cielo cozumel star fish
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  • cozumel chen rio beach quintana roo


BEACHES IN TULUM

We head south and reach Tulum, a renowned location along the Riviera Maya.
This area is sometimes subject of debate, as some people love it unconditionally, while others find it inflated.

It’s clear that over the years Tulum has become predominantly a destination for Instagram-style photos, i.e. one of those places that everyone talks about and posts online, but which can disappoint those who consequently create high expectations.

Tulum is made up of a small town inland, and a narrow strip of resorts and restaurants along the Riviera Maya. Furthermore, the Parque Nacional Tulum which includes some Mayan ruins, overlooks the beautiful Caribbean Sea in a scenic manner. The Tulum “strip” offers well-kept hotels, photo spots where queues form for a selfie, and restaurants serving international cuisine.

In our opinion the beachfront area is too expensive, even more expensive than Cancun, and is aimed primarily at American and “resort tourists”. Without a doubt, the restaurants and hotels with sea views are very attractive, the beach is spotless and equipped with all comforts. But the idea of ​​paying €18 for 3 tacos didn’t convince us to stay that long…

The nice beaches with chairs and umbrellas are accessible for free if purchasing food in the resorts of the Zona Hotelera, with American prices. A little further up are Playa Paraiso and Playa Santa Fe beaches, not far from the Mayan ruins of Tulum, ideal for a swim in the Caribbean Sea under the warm Mexican sun.


PLAYA RUINAS

Finally, the most popular beach is Playa Ruinas, right under the Mayan ruins. As you can imagine the beach gets very crowded during the day, as the space is quite limited close to the high rocks immediately below the ruins.

We therefore feel like recommending Tulum to those who can afford it and want to spend a dream holiday in a resort, or a full day of total relax by the beach, but not to those on a limited budget during a trip to Mexico.

Alternatively, coming here for a few hours can be a good idea, especially by combining the visit to the Mayan ruins with a couple of hours at Playa Ruinas or Playa Paraiso (info tours in Tulum here). Best to visit early in the morning to avoid crowds around Parque Nacional Tulum. In order to sleep and eat at less high prices you need to move to the city centre, a handful of kilometres from the coast, and travel by taxi or bicycle.


PLAYA AKUMAL

Playa Akumal is located between the cities of Playa del Carmen and Tulum, about a 30-minute drive from both. Akumal Beach is known for being one of the best places to see sea turtles in Mexico.

Entrance is via a fee, you’ll have to choose between two types of tickets depending on whether you come here to see the turtles (and pay for access to the bio-marine area), or just to stay on the beach.

You’ll notice fenced areas in the water which can only be accessed with local guides, as they are inhabited by sea turtles. If you haven’t seen them in Cozumel, you can come to Playa Akumal and swim with turtles. Consider that the ticket in 2023 was 400 MXN (€22) for the guide and access to the reserve, plus the cost for the beach. Otherwise you can simply stay on the beautiful beach (120 MXN, 7€), you could swim near the fenced area and still hope to see the turtles.


SEA TURTLES RESERVE

Overall Playa Akumal is very pretty. The paid entrance guarantees the cleaning and maintenance of the bio-marine area for turtles. Without the presence of the reserve, the turtles were at risk, while today access is limited to a maximum number of visitors. The nets are used to protect the turtles from boats and humans, they do not live in captivity in Akumal.

Here you can also do many activities such as snorkeling and stand up paddle, there are bars and restaurants and the beach is supervised. This makes it a great destination for both adults and children to spend a full day at the beach on the Yucatán Peninsula.

If you need transportation to Akumal, consider this snorkeling with sea turtles tour, which includes transfers, equipment and entrance fees.

As happened to us, you’ll soon have to put your heart at rest when you are in the state of Quintana Roo. Prices here are inflated due to mass tourism, coming especially from the US. Tips of 15-18% are expected and will contribute to the high bill in the more touristy areas!

In our Mexico travel itinerary we also talk about how to find local restaurants and activities in order to spend less during your trip to North America.

  • akumal beach riviera maya
  • playa akumal riviera maya


BEACHES IN CANCUN

We now come to Cancun, the best-known city in Yucatan, no.1 destination for mass tourism in the region. This reputation initially kept us away from Cancun, which we fled as soon as we landed at the airport.

We preferred to spend more time exploring the surroundings of Playa del Carmen and the peninsula hinterland. But we couldn’t leave Yucatan without seeing Cancun, and in the end we were positively surprised by it.

Here too you need to come with the right expectations, meaning that you need to know that you’ll find beachfront hotels and skyscrapers, shopping malls, the Hard Rock Café and McDonald’s, nightclubs, and everything that makes a destination attractive to mass tourism, which makes Cancun the least Mexican city of all in Yucatan.

There are things to do for people of all ages in Cancun, though it’s predominantly known as a destination for young people looking to party and have fun in the clubs frequented by the most famous DJ’s and VIP’s in the world.

Having said that, we came on a day trip to see the best beaches, and they exceeded our expectations with their amazing colours and postcard views.

The first beach we stopped at was Playa Delfines. This is a very long public beach where you can lay out with your own beach towel or rent an umbrella for $5-10.
The view from the top is particularly beautiful. You can take a classic souvenir photo with the writing “Cancun” and the Caribbean Sea in the background.


PLAYA CHACMOOL

Continuing by car along the strip of land in front of the Cancun lagoon, we stopped at Playa Marlin, another sandy beach in front of the hotels in the Zona Hotelera.

But our favorite beach was undoubtedly Playa Chacmool. There we found the perfect mix of white sand, crystal clear water, few people, and no sargassum.

Depending on the seasons, it takes timing and luck to avoid the crowds (typical of the summer and Christmas periods, or the American Spring Break), and to find more or less sargassum near the beaches. Since it’s impossible to guarantee a perfect situation, we recommend being flexible and visiting different areas around Playa del Carmen and Cancun, to find the best destination during your trip to Mexico.

In fact, even in Cancun we moved easily with our car rented in Playa del Carmen, parking on site and using the bathrooms and showers on the beach. The beaches of Cancun are convenient if you stay in the exclusive hotels in the area. Otherwise you have to reach them by car or taxi/Uber.

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ISLA MUJERES

Off the coast of Cancun, here’s small Isla Mujeres.

The island is narrow and 7-km-long. There are hotels and resorts, some beautiful beaches and stretches of jungle with trails in the interior. Isla Mujeres can boast a unique location in Mexico, straddling the warm Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other.

Here too, as with Cancun, the peak months are extremely crowded. You might be lucky and find fewer people traveling in the low-medium season (May-October).

The best beach on Isla Mujeres is Playa Norte, on the north side of the island as the name suggests. Playa Norte can be easily reached in just 10 minutes on foot from the pier. Dream water and white sands await you in this idyllic location!

In the area there are numerous beach establishments that rent equipment for water activities such as snorkeling and diving, and obviously also deckchairs and umbrellas. Given the proximity to the busiest area of ​​Yucatán, expect to pay $15-20 per day for an umbrella at Playa Norte.

We also mention a less traveled beach in Isla Mujeres, namely Playa Centro, near the port area. Here the beach is more spacious but less spectacular than Playa Norte.

Ferries to Isla Mujeres depart every half hour from Puerto Juarez. The crossing takes 20 minutes and costs €13 (ferry info here). There are also several tours to Isla Mujeres from Cancun, which include catamaran transfer, activities, drinking and food.

isla mujeres quintana roo
Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres


LAS COLORADAS

We now move to the Gulf of Mexico, where some nice beaches further away from the tourist hotspots of Quintana Roo are. Las Coloradas beach is in fact located in the state of Yucatán in the north of the peninsula of the same name.

You can guess from the name the peculiarity of the place: the lagoon of Las Coloradas takes on sensational shades from pink to orange thanks to the high presence of salt and micro-organisms in its waters.

The sight is truly incredible. Looking on the inside you’ll find the changing hues of salt water, namely the lagoon of Las Coloradas, while on the seafront is large Las Coloradas beach, which with its turquoise waters creates wonderful contrasts.

Depending on the intensity of the sunlight, the lagoon takes on more or less bright colours. If you come under the very hot afternoon sun, don’t stay too long at the salt pans and take advantage of the nearby sea to cool off.

The only downside of Las Coloradas is its distance from the cities. In fact, it takes more than 3 hours to get there, both from Cancun and from the Riviera Maya. To shorten the journey, it’d be ideal to stay overnight in intermediate areas such as Valladolid, the closest town to Chichén Itzá.

If you’re not traveling independently, the best way to visit the remote lagoon of Las Coloradas is on a day tour from Cancun or Playa del Carmen. These tours typically include the Rio Lagartos nature reserve, where you can spot flamingos, crocodiles and other endemic animals.

las coloradas migliori spiagge yucatan
Amazing Las Coloradas


PLAYA SISAL

Again on the north side of Yucatán, is a little gem: Playa Sisal.
Playa Sisal is a quiet beach loved by local Mexicans. A perfect solution if you are looking to relax away from the hotels and tourists of Quintana Roo.

In fact, we are very far from the Riviera Maya, about an hour’s drive from the capital of the state of Yucatán, Mérida. Coming here for a day trip if you are in Cancun or Playa del Carmen is not doable, but we recommend it to those looking for a bit of sea-time if staying in Mérida for a couple of nights. Facing north, Playa Sisal offers both beautiful sunrises and sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico.

For some years now, Sisal has been awarded the title of Pueblo Magico, one of the few “magical” villages in Mexico that also overlooks the sea. A fact which, however, was not welcomed positively by locals. They fear the negative repercussions of mass tourism, which has already shaken the lives of Mexicans on the Riviera Maya.
Given Sisal’s remote location, we believe and hope that the area will remain untouched by large hotels and resorts for years to come.

In the coastal area north of Mérida there are several mangroves, parks and reserves to explore for those who prefer natural attractions, as well as numerous cenotes inland.

playa sisal merida
Playa Sisal, Mérida


HOLBOX

We return to the tip of Yucatán and close the list of the best beaches on the peninsula with Isla Holbox. Another of the most sought after destinations in Mexico by lovers of flora and fauna.

Holbox is a large island home to nature and marine reserves, closed to traffic, far from the parties of Cancun. Only a small part of Holbox is urbanized in the west, while the rest of the island remains wild. This is why Isla Holbox is known for being an alternative and more bohemian destination.

The main beach on the island is Playa Holbox. Here you’ll find laid back restaurants adorned with typical hammocks swinging above the crystal clear waters. Be sure to order something to drink if you want to use the hammocks (50 pesos, €2-3).

Among the things to do in Holbox, the chance of swimming with whale sharks is special. We recommend this activity if you have never tried it elsewhere (we did it in Cebu, Philippines!). The best season for whale shark migration to Holbox is summer, between the months of June and August. It’s also possible to take kayak tours through the mangroves, and see bioluminescent plankton at night. All these tours can be booked both on site and online, here is an example of a tour in Holbox.

Isla Holbox may be less busy as it takes a few hours to get there from the main cities. You must first reach the town of Chiquila, two hours from Cancun, and then take a 15-minute ferry to land in Holbox. If you have time during your trip to Mexico, we recommend staying in Holbox for a couple of nights to fully enjoy it.

holbox playa mexico
Isla Holbox


THINGS TO KNOW IN YUCATAN AND QUINTANA ROO

  • In this area of ​​Mexico everyone speaks basic English, of course a bit of Spanish can help you big time.
  • Cancun is the reference airport for Yucatan, and Tulum airport opened in 2024.
  • Use authorized buses (ADO) and agree on taxi prices to be safe. If you use collectivos minibuses, prepare coins and pesos in small denominations and ask for the price.
  • If you want to rent a car, it’s best to ask locally and talk face to face about the final price, before paying a non-refundable deposit online with dodgy companies.
  • You will notice a lot of police around, in armored pick-ups and heavily armed. The area is safe but it’s always better to avoid non-touristy neighbourhoods in the evening.
  • The sun and temperatures in Mexico are very hot, use sunscreen, a hat, and drink lots of water.


We end the article with this video-reel we made after our trip to Cozumel in Mexico. A unique experience!


ALSO READ:
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Following under some practical info about Yucatan and Mexico.


HOTELS – WHERE TO STAY IN YUCATAN


HOW TO GET AROUND

  • Regular buses such as ADO, ETN, Primera Plus;
  • Bus collectivos, the minibuses used by locals;
  • Taxi or Uber/DiDi;
  • Car rental: a car is fundamental if you want to travel the vast Yucatán peninsula independently. There are some car rentals at the airport in Cancun, others in the city. Be careful of hidden costs and required deposits. We booked on site for around €30 per day. If you want to book online, carefully evaluate the reviews before booking. See options for renting a car in Mexico here;
  • Organized tours: if you don’t rent a car, tours are essential for getting around and visiting the most famous destinations in Yucatán. We suggest this tour to Chichén Itzá and this excursion to Tulum and two cenotes.


WEATHER&SEASONS – WHEN TO GO TO YUCATAN, MEXICO?

To find the best weather in Yucatán, it is advisable to travel between November and March. Obviously this period coincides with the high season in and around Cancun, expect higher prices and larger crowds. In particular, the Christmas holidays and Spring Break are super popular with American tourists.

The shoulder season includes April-May and October, excellent months when the weather is usually good and prices are still low.

For the best value for money, the summer months from May to September are the least expensive. However, this period is extremely hot and humid, it can often rain (watch out for mosquitoes!). During the summer months the presence of sargassum and algae on the beaches is greater.

P.S.: Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean is officially between the months of June and November. Although Yucatan overlooks the Caribbean Sea, a hurricane rarely directly hits Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, but stay informed when traveling to Mexico.

For excursions, bring comfortable shoes, long but light clothes, hat, sunscreen and lots of water!


ONLINE IDP – INTERNATIONAL DRIVING PERMIT

We recommend getting an International Driving Permit online if you’re planning to drive a vehicle abroad. The International Drivers Association offers a reliable online service that allows to get a digital+physical licence even if you’re already travelling, valid and accepted in 150+ countries worldwide.
More info on the official website.


TRAVEL INSURANCE

Never leave home without a reliable travel insurance. Better safe than sorry.
Here are two options for you to compare.
Get a quote with World Nomads here, and get up to 20% off your travel insurance with Heymondo here.

World Nomads provides travel insurance for travelers in over 100 countries. As an affiliate, we receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. We do not represent World Nomads. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.


COMPARE PRICES, BOOK FLIGHTS + STAYS

Did you know? Besides hotels and stays, you can now compare and book your flights + stays in one place on Booking FlightsSearch and compare deals on destinations and flights here.

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