Twelve Tips For Visiting the Mayan Riviera

Twelve Tips For Visiting the Mayan Riviera

1. Be Prepared for the Heat

sunWe’ve visited the Mayan Riviera the fall in winter when the weather is more temperate, but in July it is HOT.  We thought the heat would be no big deal–we’re Texans after all, and triple-digit temperatures in summer are the norm. But we also stay inside out air-conditioned homes and offices all day when we’re at home.

Our Mayan Riviera condo was air conditioned, but many shops and restaurants are not, and most activities involve the outdoors. After a couple of days, we learned the value of the afternoon siesta and planned around the midday heat.

2. Be Careful With Alcohol Consumption

alcoholThe U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning in July 2017 about tainted alcohol in Mexico (that now seems to have mysteriously disappeared), and according to this article, about 36% of the alcohol in Mexico “is sold or produced under unregulated circumstances and potentially dangerous.” At least one person has died, and there are multiple reports of others who have blacked out or sustained unexplained injuries after drinking.

Your best bet is to avoid alcohol that doesn’t come from an unopened container. We purchased liquor on our grocery stop and avoided mixed drinks when we were out. Outside of our condo, we stuck to canned beer and bottled water.

Besides the risk of tainted alcohol, you need to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated in the heat.

3. Get Reef -Friendly Sunscreen and a Rash Guard

The chemical-based sunscreen that we use at home damages the coral that is already on the brink of extinction. Not only is reef-friendly sunscreen the environmentally responsible thing to do, most snorkeling expeditions and eco-parks will require you to use it and will not allow you to use other kinds of sunscreen.

You can also add a Rash Guard to cut down on the amount of sunscreen you need to use and to help save you from the hot Mexican sun.

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4. Take A Hat

The sun is relentless and your scalp will burn, even if you have a full head of hair.  Not only will a hat protect your scalp, but also your face, and, if you get a big floppy sunhat like I did, your shoulders.

Even the kids were asking for hats by the time we made it through Chichen Itza.

5. Take Bug Spray

Just like home, the bugs come out at dusk. Take bug spray if you don’t want to be eaten alive.  Besides the annoyance of insect bites, mosquitoes can carry diseases including the Zika virus, which is very serious for expectant mothers.

And like sunscreen, some places will require eco-friendly sunscreen.

6. Expect to Pay American Prices

The peso may be weak against the dollar, but the prices along the Mayan riviera are in line with what you would pay in any major city in the U.S.

The Mexican eco-parks average about $100 per person per day–about what you’d pay for a day in a Disney park. Mixed drinks in restaurants were $5-$10 and canned Corona was about $3.

Other goods depended on where you purchased them. A bottle of Benadryl at the pharmacy on the square in Puerto Morelos was $10.  At the Chedraui supermarket off the highway, it was $3. Sunscreen and Aloe Vera were similarly marked up on the square.

Many of the groceries in the Chedraui supermarket were at or near U.S. prices. The only thing I found to be substantially cheaper was beer and liquor.  (Wine was about the same.)

7. Get Pesos

money

Many places along the Mayan Riviera accept U.S. dollars, but some smaller shops and restaurants will not. The exchange rates also vary from place-to-place if you use U.S. dollars.  To keep all options open, you will want some pesos.

I usually wait until I get to the airport and get local currency from an airport ATM, but that did not work in Cancun.  The only ATM I found in the Cancun airport gave only U.S. dollars, and we were like sitting ducks for the hawkers when we were hopelessly wandering in search of an ATM. I wished that we had just gone to Travelex for some pesos ahead of time instead of being empty-handed when we arrived.

Fortunately, we booked our airport transfer through USA Transfers and had arranged for a grocery stop on the way to our condo. We were able to get pesos from an ATM in the grocery store. You do not want to get pesos from a free-standing outdoor ATM in Mexico, as they are frequently hacked. We made a couple of trips back to the supermarket just so that we could get more pesos.

8. Toilets Are Different

toilet signMexican septic systems are not accustomed to the things we throw in the toilet–like toilet paper. In our condo and most other places we visited, you put your toilet paper in the trash can beside the toilet. Perhaps all-inclusives are different, but if you wander outside your resort you should be prepared for this.  It is probably my least favorite thing about Mexico, and we were very glad that our condo provided daily housekeeping service.

Also, some places will require you to pay a few pesos to use the restroom.  And many places do not have toilet paper. You may want to bring your own TP and hand sanitizer.

9. Don’t Drink The Water–Really

waterThis isn’t just a ploy to get you to drink more beer.  The water in Mexico is not purified as thoroughly and there are bacteria that foreigners are not accustomed to.  The good news is that purified bottled water is readily available. Our condo provided a cooler with five-gallon bottles, so we had plenty of water for ice, cooking, and drinking.

In addition to not drinking the water, you should avoid ice not made from purified water, don’t brush your teeth with the water, and take care with fruits and vegetables.  Fruits and veggies should be peeled, cooked, or washed with an anti-microbial agent like Microdyn before they are consumed. Here is a good article about preparing food in Mexico.

10. Avoiding Sea Grass

sea grassOne big disappointment for us was the amount of sea grass on the beach in front of our condo.  After all, we rented a beach-front condo with the intention of spending a lot of time chilling on the beach. Unfortunately, sea grass has become increasingly problematic in Mexico and the gulf-coast of the United States, and it’s the luck of the draw when it will be in any particular place.

I couldn’t find anywhere online that gave current reports on the state of the sea grass on a particular day, so I turned to TripAdvisor for reviews and pictures of nearby beaches. I was able to see that a nearby beach was pretty and clear, so we headed there for a much more pleasant beach experience.

11. Hawker Are Everywhere

This is certainly not unique to the Mayan Riviera, but it is annoying.  Everywhere you go, someone is trying to sell you something, and it’s a whole lot of the same thing, over and over.  Most will accept “no, gracias,” but some are pushy. My typical M.O. is to not engage and ignore when “no, thank you” doesn’t suffice.

At Chichen Itza, multiple dozens of vendors lined all of the pathways, all yelling “only one dollar.” Of course, nothing they were selling was only one dollar (and it shouldn’t have been), but that is their hook to get you looking and to start the bargaining process.

And, of course, negotiating is expected. My kids did not understand this and were embarrassed at my negotiations. (I guess they don’t realize that as a lawyer, negotiating is a huge part of my job!) You don’t want to low-ball (and it’s hard to say what is reasonable if you don’t know what the price should be), but the starting price should never be your ending price.

12. Mexico Is Spread Out

I should have realized this, being from Texas.  In both Texas and the Mayan Riviera you can drive for hours and feel like you haven’t made it anywhere.  If you’re planning to wander from your resort or condo, there will be significant travel time involved.

Nearly every excursion we went on involved a 45-minute or longer trip.  All of the major cities along the Riviera Maya are about 30 minutes apart. To get from Cancun to Playa del Carmen is about an hour drive.  From either city to Chichen Itza is about 2.5 hours.  From Cancun to Tulum is about 2 hours.

There are many amazing places to see along the Riviera Maya, and every place we visited was well worth the drive, but you need to plan for the amount of time it will take to get there.

Mayan Riviera Tips

Mayan Riviera Tips
I am a 40-something lawyer and mom of 3 teenage girls. I love exploring new places, and when I can't be on the road, I'm planning my next trip. Over the years, I've learned a lot about how to travel in a pack of five. Our trips range from budget-friendly road trips with the family, to more luxurious trips for work, either solo or with my husband, Kenny.

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