The 100-mile (160-km) stretch of coast along the Yucután Peninsula known as the Riviera Maya includes some of Mexico's most incredible ruins, idyllic Caribbean beaches, and awe-inspiring natural wonders. And this family escape to the Riviera is so packed with unforgettable adventures you'll be surprised you can do it all in eight days. From exploring underground caves to hiking up ancient Maya pyramids, you and your family will create memories to last a lifetime.

Highlights

  • Laze on the white-sand beaches of Playa del Carmen
  • Ride amid ancient Maya ruins on a bicycle tour
  • Visit indigenous communities and embark on nature hikes
  • Swim in limestone cenotes and explore underground rivers

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cancún, Transfer to Playa del Carmen Playa del Carmen
Day 2 Bicycle Tour of Cobá Ruins, Punta Laguna Wildlife Tour Playa del Carmen
Day 3 Free Day in Playa del Carmen Playa del Carmen
Day 4 Río Secreto Guided Tour Playa del Carmen
Day 5 Cenotes & Tulum Ruins Playa del Carmen
Day 6 Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve Boat Tour Playa del Carmen
Day 7 Free Day in Playa del Carmen Playa del Carmen
Day 8 Playa del Carmen to Cancún, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cancún, Transfer to Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen

Welcome to Mexico! You and your family will arrive in the coastal tourism hub of Cancún, located in Mexico's Yucután region. This southern peninsula is surrounded by gorgeous Caribbean waters and is famous for its powdery white-sand beaches, ancient Maya ruins, and otherworldly cenotes (limestone sinkholes). There's also a rich indigenous culture with exotic and delicious cuisine.

Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will be waiting to transfer you an hour south to the resort town of Playa del Carmen. After checking into your hotel, take the rest of the day to relax and soak up the sun on a nearby beach with a refreshing drink in hand.

Day 2: Bicycle Tour of Cobá Ruins, Punta Laguna Wildlife Tour

The Nohoch Mul pyramid in Cobá
Today, your family will hop in a car and travel a little ways inland to the small town of Cobá. It's a charming place home to cenotes and crocodile-filled lagoons but is most known for its ancient Maya archaeological site. The ruins here comprise what was once a grand city that dates back to around 300 BCE (but reached its heyday between 600-900 CE).
 
Accompanied by a local guide, you and your family will hop on bicycles to tour the site. You can opt for a chauffeured "bici-taxi" ride for kids too young or those with mobility issues. As you cycle between the trees and along the pathways, you'll marvel at the remaining structures of this former metropolis. Follow white roads built by the ancient Mayas that lead around the settlements to Nohoch Mul, the largest pyramid in the Yucatán. If you want, you can hike up the 120 stone steps of Nohoch Mul, and your effort will be rewarded with incredible views of the surrounding jungle.

After touring the Cobá ruins, you'll transfer north to Nuevo Durango, a small village known for its underground caves, ecotourism projects, and organic farms. This charming community has been little-touched by tourism, and thus the residents have retained their customs and culture. Here you'll enjoy a traditional meal with the family of Don Manuel, who operates a project for the conservation of endangered animals. As you learn about Don's work, you'll get to see a few of the region's endemic species. Kids will love the insectarium, which holds a variety of spiders, scorpions, and butterflies. 
 
The wildlife theme continues when you transfer to the adjacent Punta Laguna. This 12,350-acre nature reserve is known as "Otoch Ma'ax yetel Kooh," which in Mayan means "home of the spider monkey and the puma." It's an apt name, as the jungles around the lake are home to animals like spider monkeys, jaguars, and pumas. The reserve is a haven for these animals and has been under the management of local Maya families since 1950. Once here, your family will hop in a canoe for a ride around the lake. With a bit of luck, you'll spot several wildlife species, including the famous spider monkey.

Day 3: Free Day in Playa del Carmen

Spend time at the cenotes
You and your family will have the day free to explore Playa del Carmen, the crown jewel of Mexico's Riviera Maya. The tranquility of this coastal paradise belies its endless opportunities for fun and adventure. If beaches are your prime interest, there are many to choose from along the area's 75-mile (120-km) stretch of coast. For the most idyllic option, head south of Playa del Carmen to the soft white sands at Xpu-Ha. Closer to town, there are plenty of beach clubs where you can pull up a lounge chair and while away the hours with a tropical drink or three. 
 
If you and the family prefer active adventures, you can always snorkel at Puerto Morelos Reef National Park. Located just north of Playa del Carmen, this protected area is part of the western Atlantic Great Barrier Reef. Besides corals, it's home to hundreds of species of marine fauna, including tropical fish, turtles, octopuses, rays, starfish, and others. 
 
Or tour the famous cenotes. Thousands of these limestone sinkholes and underground water caves exist throughout the region. Right outside town, there's Cenote Cristalino, whereas just south of Playa del Carmen, you'll find Cenote Jardín Del Eden (both of which are good for swimming and snorkeling). An excellent option for children is the famous Cenote Azul, also located south of town. Here you can swim and snorkel and dive into the water from different platforms. There's also a picnic area which makes a great lunch spot if you want to bring your own food. 
 
Other options include venturing into the 185 acres of the protected jungle at Nativa Natural Park for a wildlife tour or taking in a performance of JOYÀ, the first Cirque du Soleil resident show in Mexico. It's good fun for the whole family.

Day 4: Río Secreto Guided Tour

Making your way through the underground waterways
Explore the "secret river"
Just like many above-ground cenotes make great swimming holes, there are also plenty of underground cenote caves and waterways worth exploring. One of the most incredible is Río Secreto. This natural wonder is one of the largest underground river systems in the world. The best part is it's located just a few minutes south of Playa del Carmen in the heart of the Riviera Maya.
 
On a 3.5-hour tour, you and your family will strap on helmets and head into the river to explore its wonderland of geological formations, massive caverns, hanging stalactites, and crystalline waterways. This is a guided tour, and as you make your way through the cave network, your guide will explain the history of Río Secreto and offer insight into its geology. 

Day 5: Cenotes & Tulum Ruins

Tour the waterfront ruins at Tulum
Today you've got a full schedule of exciting activities. First up is a 5-hour cenote tour in the community of Chemuyil. This small waterfront town is located just north of Tulum and abounds with white-sand beaches. There are also four incredible cenotes here, and on a tour, you'll not only visit these limestone pools but hike around virgin forests. 
 
Upon arrival in Chemuyil, a local guide will welcome you with fresh fruit. Then he'll lead you on a bicycle tour through town to visit three cenotes, all part of a system fed by the largest underground river in the world. The first is La Cuevita (The Little Cave), a hidden cave lagoon with crystalline waters home to a few bats. You'll then visit two open cenotes great for diving and swimming. Plus, you can hike around the nearby forests to spot some of the endemic birds of the Yucatán Peninsula, like parrots, motmots, and woodpeckers. 
 
In the afternoon, you'll visit the ancient Maya archeological site in the city of Tulum. These cliffside ruins fronting turquoise waters comprise the iconic image of the Yucután—the one you see in all the photos and postcards. The ruins at this UNESCO World Heritage Site were built on 39-foot (12-m) cliffs overlooking the sea. They once represented a walled fortress city (the word tulum is actually a Yucatán Mayan word meaning "wall") that doubled as a vital trading post. The city reached its height of power between the 13th and 15th centuries and even survived for a few decades after the Spanish occupation.
 
On a guided tour, your family will hike around the area and visit the many structures, including the most iconic of all: El Castillo. This 25-foot (7.5-m) stone fortress overlooks the sea and served as a lighthouse and temple. There are incredible views overlooking the Riviera Maya and Playa Ruinas (Ruins Beach) right below the site. After exploring the ruins, head down to Ruinas and enjoy some sand and surf to round out your visit.

Day 6: Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve Boat Tour

The Ancient Canal Experience in Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
Follow the route of the ancient Mayans
In the morning, you'll embark on a full-day tour of Sian Ka'an, a Biosphere Reserve and Unesco World Heritage Site. It's also the largest protected area in Mexico, covering over 2,000 sq miles (5,180 sq km). Within the site are pristine natural wonders that include tropical forests, palm savannas, wetlands, mangroves, lagoons, and an unspoiled coastline. The region's sheer beauty is represented in its name—in the Mayan language, Sian Ka'an means "origin of the sky."  
 
First up, you'll meet the other tour members at a community center in the park. Then you'll transfer to a dock where you'll hop in a boat for a ride down the reserve's waterways. The path you'll follow is a recreation of an ancient Maya trade route that ran from the Caribbean Sea through a lagoon system connected by canals. After some time paddling, you'll take a break for a swim. 
 
Then travel through mangrove forests to another lagoon. With luck, you'll be able to observe manatees and crocodiles in their natural habitat. The reserve is home to countless other exotic animals, including marine turtles, various species of monkeys, and jungle mammals like pumas and jaguars. The tour ends at the coast, and from there, you'll return to the dock and enjoy a traditional meal.

Day 7: Free Day in Playa del Carmen

Enjoy another free day in and around Playa del Carmen
Make the most of your penultimate day in Mexico with another free day in Playa del Carmen. You and the family can head back to the cenotes, take a road trip to ancient ruins, or spend the day sunbathing on the beach. You might want to take a stroll down the main thoroughfare of Fifth Avenue to shop for souvenirs. And when the sun goes down, enjoy dinner at one of the town's many fine restaurants to sample traditional Maya cuisine or international fare. 

Day 8: Playa del Carmen to Cancún, Depart

Goodbye, Mexico
Unfortunately, it's time to say adiós to Mexico. In the morning, a driver will pick you and your family up from the hotel and transfer you one hour north to the airport in Cancún. Here you'll catch your flight home. Safe travels!

Map

Map of Family Adventure in the Riviera Maya - 8 days
Map of Family Adventure in the Riviera Maya - 8 days