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7 amazing spots in Mexico’s Riviera Maya that aren’t Tulum

July 27, 2022
8 min read
Punta Allen beach in Sian Ka‘an National Park
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Editor's Note

This is a recurring article updated with new information.

Thanks to cruise ship tourism, an excess of cookie-cutter, all-inclusive hotels and every North American chain restaurant known to humankind, some may argue that the most popular hot spots in Mexico's Riviera Maya are played out.

It’s not just Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Cozumel taking a hit from overtourism. The once boho-chic Tulum now suffers from the effects of growing just a little too fast.

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Additionally, the beach town, along with other popular Caribbean hot spots, often has a major seaweed problem, with brown sargassum constantly washing up on the beach.

But don’t panic just yet, though.

A woman lounges on an empty beach in Mexico. (Photo by swissmediavision/Getty Images)

Although practically none of the beach towns in Mexico’s Quintana Roo state remain "undiscovered," it’s still possible to get a little off the typical tourist circuit. Instead of (or in addition to) visiting Tulum, Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Cozumel, consider these alternative destinations.

You won’t be able to avoid tourists (or seaweed) altogether. However, these spots are generally more peaceful than some of the other main towns along the coast.

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Punta Allen

Punta Allen, Mexico. (Photo by Eduardo Fonseca Arraes/Getty Images)

A village in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, this is the perfect place to stay for tranquility and nature.

Besides beautiful beaches (though you may encounter the aforementioned seaweed), there’s plenty of jungle and lush mangroves that you can tour via kayak.

The Sian Ka’an has a number of lagoons, cenotes and canals which you can boat through. You can even combine a boat tour with a visit to the Muyil Mayan ruins, which are delightfully devoid of tourist hordes, especially compared to other Mayan ruins in the area.

Plus, the Punta Allen waters and reefs are ideal for snorkeling. For those wanting to stay safely ashore, there’s always bird-watching, as the area is home to many different species of parrots and toucans.

Note that infrastructure, plumbing and electricity may not be what you’re used to at home.

Getting there: Punta Allen is a three-hour drive from Cancun International Airport (CUN). Although ongoing improvements are making the area's roads more accessible, the end section may be rougher. A rental vehicle with four-wheel drive may make the journey easier.

Isla Holbox

The pristine waters of Holbox, Mexico. (Photo by Malorny/Getty Images)

This tiny car-free island is as low-key as it gets, as you can explore blissed-out beaches and the colorful main village via bicycle.

Besides epic ocean views, expect to encounter street art, a variety of tropical birds, artsy boutique hotels and charming, family-owned bed-and-breakfasts.

The name "Holbox" means "black hole" in Mayan and describes the island’s vibe well: It’s a serene spot for those wanting to truly unplug from a hectic, busy lifestyle. Although it attracts a similar boho-chic crowd as Tulum once did, most visitors are there to chill out rather than party.

Getting there: Take a bus from Cancun International Airport (CUN) to Chiquila, where you can hop on a 20-minute ferry to Holbox.

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres, Mexico. (Photo by Shutterstock)

Although this island is no secret, it’s only an hour from the Cancun airport, making it an ideal weekend getaway.

Isla Mujeres is also car-free, offering golf cart and scooter rentals to visitors. Driving around the entire island earlier in the morning will ensure you get to see some spectacular rocky sea views with virtually no one else around.

This island isn't as carefree and wild as Holbox, but you can find quiet spots of respite depending on the area of the island you visit. Those looking for privacy should spend some time in the south of the island. For a bit more of a scene, Playa Norte has several happening beach clubs.

Getting there: Take a taxi to the Puerto Juarez dock in central Cancun, where ferries leave every 30 minutes for Isla Mujeres.

Akumal

Underwater in Akumal, Mexico. (Photo by Shutterstock)

One of the oldest tourist beach towns in the area, Akumal has still managed to retain a bit of its charm.

Sandwiched between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Akumal Bay is a marine refuge, protecting a population of sea turtles that snorkelers and divers can spot within its waters.

Some areas are blocked off for private snorkeling tours. However, you can see some turtles, stingrays and tropical fish in the public waters, too. When you tire of snorkeling, visit the nearby cenotes and Aktun Chen Natural Park, known for its caves.

Getting there: Akumal is just over an hour's drive from Cancun International Airport (CUN).

Puerto Morelos

Puerto Morelos, Mexico. (Photo by Shutterstock)

Word has already gotten out about Puerto Morelos, where many Mexican locals have been vacationing for years.

With a cute, crooked lighthouse and an approachable village center, this long stretch of beach no longer remains a secret from tourists.

It's ideal for visitors looking to stay in affordable B&Bs or home rentals and spend their days on the sand. Many beach clubs offer free chair rental with a food or drink purchase.

An eclectic mix of chic bars, local taco haunts and seafood spots offer visitors many options when it comes to an evening out on the town after relaxing beach days.

Getting there: Driving to Puerto Morelos from Cancun International Airport (CUN) takes less than 30 minutes.

Bacalar

The gorgeous waters of Lake Bacalar in Mexico. (Photo by Marco Bottigelli/Getty Images)

This natural wonder is the only place on this list not located along the coast. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy turquoise-hued water.

Bacalar is a lake, often called the Lagoon of Seven Colors thanks to the clear blue-green shades of the water. This spot was once more popular with local visitors than foreigners. However, it's becoming more well known among international visitors as time goes on.

Kayak, stand-up paddleboard, swim or fish in the stunning water, which looks different from every angle and in every light.

Nearby excursions include the Oxtankah Mayan ruins, the Museum of Mayan Culture and the manatee sanctuary in the nearby town of Chetumal. If it’s saltwater you’re after, take a daytrip over to the beaches of Calderitas, a small fishing village.

Getting there: Bacalar is about a four-hour drive from Cancun International Airport (CUN).

Xcalak

Xcalak, Mexico. (Photo by Duarte Dellarole/Shutterstock)

Beachcombers and divers will love visiting this fishing town on the Mexico-Belize border, which offers some of the best diving in Mexico.

The area borders Xcalak National Reef Park, so expect to see some pretty impressive coral, loads of tropical fish and, if you’re lucky, manatees.

Non-divers can roam the stretches of sandy beach, and there are few lighthouses to visit. Although you won’t have many hotel options, you can always consider home rentals, which are slowly growing in popularity in Xcalak.

Getting there: One of the farthest spots on the list, Xcalak is almost a five-hour drive from Cancun International Airport (CUN).

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Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.