Mexico's Caribbean coast is full of treasures, from spectacular white-sand beaches and offshore reefs to some of the Yucatán Peninsula's most beautiful Mayan ruins. Unsurprisingly, much of the region is also full of tourists, who come from around the world to bask in the sun and soak up the unique Mayan-Mexican culture. From Bahía Petempich in the north down to Punta Allen in the south, it has more than 23,000 hotel rooms, plus countless restaurants, shops, and other tourist amenities.
The entire area can essentially be divided into three types of terrain: developed coast, national reserve, and wild coast. The top stretch from Bahía Petempich to Tulum has the greatest concentration of sights and services, and includes some of the Yucatán's most memorable ruins and cenotes. The bottom stretch, from the southern border of Sian Ka'an to Xcalak (and inland to Chetumal), is where civilization thins out. Here in the "Costa Maya" you'll find the most alluring landscapes. Sandwiched between the two is the sprawling wilderness of the Reserva de la Biósfera Sian Ka'an: a pristine preserve that is both a shelter for myriad species of wildlife (including jaguars and manatees) and a window to a time before resort development changed this coast forever.
Discovering the Riviera Maya is easy. One road, the Carretera 307, cuts all the way through to the border of Belize and will take you everywhere you want to go. The well-paved conduit is a convenient way to cover long distances between sights, but on your journey there's little to see beyond road signs and the monumental resort entrances marking access roads. Although exploring the region is about the soft sway of palms along sparkling sands, it's also about the highway miles you'll cover to get there.