49 Best Sights in The Riviera Maya, Mexico


Fodor's choice

The name is Mayan for "the cave with cenotes inside," and these amazing underground caverns—estimated to be about 5 million years old—are the area's largest. You walk through the underground passages, past stalactites and stalagmites, until you reach the cenote with its various shades of deep green. There's also an on-site canopy tour and one cenote where you can take a swim.  This top family attraction isn't as crowded or touristy as Xplor, Xel-Há, and Xcaret.

Aktunchen Park

Fodor's choice

The name is Mayan for "the cave with cenotes inside," and these amazing underground caverns—estimated to be about 5 million years old—are the area's largest. You walk through the underground passages, past stalactites and stalagmites, until you reach the cenote with its various shades of deep green. There's also an on-site canopy tour and one cenote where you can swim. This top family attraction isn't as crowded or touristy as Xplor, Xel-Há, and Xcaret.

Cobá Ruins

Fodor's choice

Mayan for "water stirred by the wind," Cobá flourished from AD 800 to 1100, with a population of as many as 55,000. Now it stands in solitude, and the jungle has overgrown many of its buildings—the silence is broken only by the occasional shriek of a spider monkey or the call of a bird. Most of the trails here are pleasantly shaded; processions of huge army ants cross the footpaths as the sun slips through openings between the tall hardwood trees, ferns, and giant palms. Cobá's ruins are spread out and best explored on a bike, which you can rent for MX$100 a day. Taxi-bike tours are available for MX$200 for an hour and 20 minutes or MX$300 for two hours. If you plan on walking instead, expect to cover 5 to 6 km (3 to 4 miles).

The main groupings of ruins are separated by several miles of dense vegetation. It's easy to get lost here, so stay on the main road, wear comfortable shoes, and bring insect repellent, sunscreen, and drinking water. Inside the site, there are no restrooms and only one small hut selling water (cash only). Don't be tempted by the narrow paths that lead into the jungle unless you have a qualified guide with you.

The first major cluster of structures, to your right as you enter the ruins, is the Cobá Group, whose pyramids are around a sunken patio. At the near end of the group, facing a large plaza, is the 79-foot-high temple, which was dedicated to the rain god, Chaac. Some Maya still place offerings and light candles here in hopes of improving their harvests. Around the rear, to the left, is a restored ball court, where a sacred game was once played to petition the gods for rain, fertility, and other blessings.

Farther along the main path to your left is the Chumuc Mul Group, little of which has been excavated. The principal pyramid here is covered with the remains of vibrantly painted stucco motifs (chumuc mul means "stucco pyramid"). A kilometer (½ mile) past this site is the Nohoch Mul Group (Large Hill Group), the highlight of which is the pyramid of the same name, the tallest at Cobá. It has 120 steps—equivalent to 12 stories—and shares a plaza with Temple 10. The Descending God (also seen at Tulum) is depicted on a facade of the temple atop Nohoch Mul.

Beyond the Nohoch Mul Group is the Castillo, with nine chambers that are reached by a stairway. To the south are the remains of a ball court, including the stone ring through which the ball was hurled. From the main route, follow the sign to Las Pinturas Group, named for the still-discernible polychrome friezes on the inner and outer walls of its large, patioed pyramid. An enormous stela here depicts a man standing with his feet on two prone captives. Take the minor path for 1 km (½ mile) to the Macanxoc Group, not far from the lake of the same name.

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Laguna de Bacalar

Fodor's choice

Some 42 km (26 miles) long but no more than 2 km (1 mile) wide, Laguna de Bacalar is the town’s focal point—renowned for both its vibrant green-and-blue waters and for the age-old limestone formations (stromatolites) that line its shores. Fed by underground cenotes, the mix of fresh water and salt water here creates ideal conditions for a refreshing swim. Most hotels along Laguna de Bacalar rent kayaks and paddleboats; however, there are no beaches or amenities other than those found in rental properties or hotels. English-speaking guide Victor Rosales ( 983/136–2827), who organizes custom excursions throughout the Costa Maya, offers a particularly fascinating tour of the lake's 3.5-billion-year-old stromatolites.

Museo de la Cultura Maya

Fodor's choice

Dedicated to the complex world of the Maya, this interactive museum is outstanding. Exhibits in Spanish and English trace Maya architecture, social classes, politics, and customs. The most impressive display is the three-story Sacred Ceiba Tree, a symbol used by the Maya to explain the relationship between the cosmos and Earth. The first floor represents the tree's roots and the Maya underworld, called Xibalba; the middle floor is the tree trunk, known as Middle World, home to humans and all their trappings; on the top floor, leaves and branches evoke the 13 heavens of the cosmic otherworld.

Rivera's Kitchen Tulum

Fodor's choice

Join a vibrant Mexican mama from the foodie-beloved region of Oaxaca for an excellent four-hour cooking adventure in her jungle kitchen, starting at either 10:30 am or 4 pm. Classes are kept small, with a maximum of 10 people. The four-plus courses you'll make vary by season, but they often include authentic mole and ceviche. Once you're done prepping, stirring, and learning about the cuisine, you'll sit down to enjoy the meal you've prepared. Transportation is provided from Villas Tulum.

Sian Ka'an

Fodor's choice

One of the last undeveloped stretches of coastline in North America, Sian Ka'an was declared a wildlife preserve in 1986 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. The 1.3-million-acre reserve accounts for 10% of the land in the state of Quintana Roo and covers 100 km (62 miles) of coastline. It's amazingly diverse, encompassing freshwater and coastal lagoons, mangrove swamps, keys, savannas, tropical forests, and a barrier reef. Hundreds of species of local and migratory birds, fish, animals, and plants share the land with fewer than 1,000 Maya residents.

The area was first settled by the Maya in the 5th century AD—the name Sian Ka'an translates to "where the sky is born." There are approximately 32 ruins (none excavated) linked by a unique canal system—one of the few of its kind in Mayan Mexico. There's a MX$50 entrance charge for the reserve, but to see much of anything, you should take a guided tour.

Many species of the once-flourishing wildlife have fallen into the endangered category, but the waters here still teem with roosterfish, bonefish, mojarra, snapper, shad, permit, sea bass, and crocodiles. Fishing the flats for wily bonefish is popular, and the peninsula's few lodges also run deep-sea fishing trips. Most fishing lodges along the way close for the rainy season in August and September, and accommodations are hard to come by.

The road ends at Punta Allen, a fishing village whose main catch is spiny lobster, which was becoming scarce until ecologists taught the local fishing cooperative how to build and lay special traps to conserve the species. There are several small, expensive guesthouses. If you haven't booked ahead, start out early in the morning so you can get back to civilization before dark.

Tulum Archaeological Site

Fodor's choice

Tulum has long been a symbol of independence and resistance. It was a key city in the League of Mayapán (AD 987–1194), a trade center, and a safe harbor for goods from rival Maya factions who considered it neutral territory. At its height, Tulum's wealthy merchants outranked Maya priests in authority and power for the first time. It was also one of the few Maya cities known to have been inhabited when the conquistadores arrived in 1518.

Although the Spaniards never conquered Tulum, they forbade Maya traders to sail the seas. Commerce among the Maya died, and they abandoned the site about 75 years after the conquest of the rest of Mexico. The area was, however, one of the last Maya outposts during their insurrection against Mexican rule in the Caste Wars, which began in 1847. Uprisings continued intermittently until 1935, when the Maya ceded Tulum to the Mexican government.

To avoid long lines, arrive before 11 am. Although you can see the ruins thoroughly in two hours, allow extra time for a swim or a stroll on the beach. Guides are available for hire (MX$800) at the entrance, but some of their information is more entertaining than historically accurate. (Disregard that stuff about virgin sacrifices.) Also, vendors outside the entrance sell Mexican crafts, so bring some pesos for souvenirs.

To the left of the entryway is the first significant structure: the two-story Templo de los Frescos, whose vaulted roof and corbel arch are examples of classic Maya architecture. Faint traces of blue-green frescoes outlined in black on the inner and outer walls depict the three worlds of the Maya and their major deities, as well as decorative stellar and serpentine patterns, rosettes, and ears of maize and other offerings to the gods. One scene portrays the rain god seated on a four-legged animal—probably a reference to the Spaniards on their horses. Unfortunately, the frescoes are difficult to see from the path to which you are restricted.

The largest and most photographed structure, the Castillo (Castle), looms at the edge of a 40-foot limestone cliff just past the Temple of the Frescoes. Atop it, at the end of a broad stairway, is a temple with stucco ornamentation on the outside and traces of fine frescoes inside the two chambers. (The stairway has been roped off, so the top temple is inaccessible.) The front wall of the Castillo has faint carvings of the Descending God and columns depicting the plumed serpent god, Kukulcán, who was introduced to the Maya by the Toltecs.

To the left of the Castillo, facing the sea, is the Templo del Dios Descendente—so called for the carving over the doorway of a winged god plummeting to Earth. In addition, a few small altars sit atop a hill at the north side of the cove, where there's a good view of the Castillo and the sea.

Carretera 307, Km 133, Tulum, 77750, Mexico
Sights Details
Rate Includes: MX$90 entrance; MX$160 parking; MX$50 shuttle from parking to ruins


Fodor's choice

Take a small collection of Maya ruins and build a mammoth theme park around them, and you have Xcaret, one of the Yucatán Peninsula’s most popular destinations. Among its most-visited attractions are the Paradise River raft tour that takes you on a winding, watery journey through the jungle; the Butterfly Garden, where thousands of butterflies float dreamily through a botanical garden while New Age music plays in the background; and an ocean-fed aquarium, where you can see local sea life drifting through coral heads and sea fans.

The park also has a wild-bird breeding aviary, nurseries for abandoned flamingo eggs and sea turtles, and a series of underwater caverns that you can explore by snorkeling or Snuba (a hybrid of snorkeling and scuba). A replica Maya village includes a colorful cemetery with catacomb-like caverns underneath; traditional music and dance ceremonies (including performances by the famed Voladores de Papantla, or Flying Birdmen of Papantla) are performed here at night. But the star performance is the evening "Xcaret Mexico Espectacular," which tells the history of Mexico through song and dance. The list of Xcaret's attractions goes on and on: you can visit a dolphinarium, a bee farm, a manatee lagoon, a bat cave, an orchid and bromeliad greenhouse, an edible-mushroom farm, and a small zoo. You can also climb a 240-foot tower that offers a spectacular view of the park.

The entrance fee covers only access to the grounds and the exhibits; some other activities and equipment—from sea treks and dolphin tours to lockers and swim gear—are extra. The Plus Pass includes park entrance, lockers, snorkel equipment, food, and drinks. You can buy tickets from any travel agency or major hotel along the coast. You can also book slightly discounted tickets through Xcaret's website.

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Fodor's choice

Part of the Xcaret nature-adventure park group, Xel-Há (pronounced shel-hah) is a natural aquarium made of coves, inlets, and lagoons cut from the limestone shoreline. The name means "where the water is born," and a natural spring here flows out to meet the salt water, creating a unique habitat for tropical marine life. There's enough to impress novice snorkelers, though there seem to be fewer fish each year, and the mixture of fresh and salt water can cloud visibility. Low wooden bridges over the lagoons allow for leisurely walks around the park, and there are spots to rest, swim, cliff-jump, zip line, or swing from ropes over the water.

Xel-Há gets overwhelmingly crowded, so come early. The grounds are well equipped with bathrooms and restaurants. At the entrance you'll receive specially prepared sunscreen that won't kill the fish; other sunscreens are prohibited. The entrance fee includes a meal, towel, locker, inner tubes, and snorkel equipment; other activities, like scuba diving, zip-lining, swimming with the dolphins, and spa treatments, are available at additional cost. Discounts are offered when you book online.

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Xpu-Ha Beach

Fodor's choice

Other than the occasional villa and resort, including Royal Catalonia Tulum smack-dab in the center, this stretch of white sand is fairly isolated. South of here are a few spots where you can grab a midday snack, like La Playa Beach Club. There are no hidden rocks in shallow areas, so many people come to swim or snorkel, especially when the winds are calm. The sugary sand is raked, making it a good place for an unobstructed stroll, too. Unlike many beaches, this one isn’t blocked by resort security. You can access it through La Playa or by having lunch at one of the nearby restaurants and beach clubs. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (fee); showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: partiers; snorkeling; swimming; walking.


Fodor's choice

This beach club and restaurant is one of the few open every day from morning (8:30 am) to late (1 am). Take a dip in the ocean and then catch some rays on one of the sun beds or chaise lounges. When the sun goes down, there is live music, shows, and salsa lessons on the beach. Amenities: food and drink; toilets. Best for: partiers; swimming.

Calle 10 at the beach, Playa del Carmen, 77710, Mexico
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Free with purchase of food or drink

Akumal Bay

Known for the sea turtles that swim in its waters, Akumal Bay is sheltered by an offshore reef—though, sadly only about 30% of it is alive. It's best to explore the waters with a certified guide available through dive shops in town. Do not wear sunscreen in the water as it can harm the reef, and, above all, do not touch the wildlife or coral. Be careful to stay clear of the red "fire reef," which stings on contact. When you drag yourself away from the snorkeling, there are plenty of palm trees for shade, as well as a variety of waterfront shops, restaurants, and cafés. If you continue on the main road, you'll reach Half Moon Bay and Laguna Yal-kú, also good snorkeling spots. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (fee); showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: snorkeling; swimming; walking.


Excavated in 2005, Chacchoben (pronounced chsa-cho-ben) is an ancient city that was a contemporary of Kohunlich and the most important trading partner with Guatemala north of the Bacalar Lagoon area. Several newly unearthed buildings are still in good condition. The lofty Templo Uno, the site's main temple, was dedicated to the Maya sun god, Itzamná, and once held a royal tomb. (When archaeologists found it, though, it had already been looted.) Most of the site was built around AD 200, in the Petén style of the Early-Classic Period, although the city could have been inhabited as early as 200 BC. It's thought that inhabitants made their living growing cotton and extracting chewing gum and copal resin from the trees.

Felipe Carrillo Puerto, 77200, Mexico
Sights Details
Rate Includes: MX$75


Excavated in 2005, Chacchoben (pronounced CHA-cho-ben) is an ancient city that was a contemporary of Kohunlich and the most important trading partner with Guatemala north of the Bacalar Lagoon area. Several newly unearthed buildings are still in good condition. The lofty Templo Uno, the site's main temple, was dedicated to the Maya sun god, Itzamná, and once held a royal tomb. (When archaeologists found it, though, it had already been looted.) Most of the site was built around AD 200, in the Petén style of the early classic period, although the city could have been inhabited as early as 200 BC. It's thought that inhabitants made their living growing cotton and extracting chewing gum and copal resin from the trees.

Chetumal Bay

Several grassy beach parks, including Punta Estrella and Dos Mulas, surround the bay. The latter is not recommended due to cleanliness issues. But Punta Estrella has parking, toilets, volleyball courts, and a small boat marina. The water here is calm, if cloudy, and there's plenty of shade from trees and little palapa-topped picnic tables. Popular with fishermen, the bay itself is shallow and the flats go on for miles. Amenities: food and drink; parking (no fee); toilets. Best for: walking.

Coralina Daylight Club

A favorite of party animals and the young and beautiful, Coralina offers nonstop music all day long with an open bar, fireworks, go-go dancers, and bikini contests also included in the rates. The pool parties here are legendary, as are the champagne wars. Amenities: food and drink; toilets. Best for: partiers.

Calle 26 and The Beach, Playa del Carmen, 77710, Mexico
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Women from MX$1,500; Men from MX$2,000, Closed Mon.

Croco Cun Zoo

The biologists running the Croco Cun Zoo, an animal farm just north of Puerto Morelos, have collected specimens of many of the reptiles and some of the mammals indigenous to the area. They offer immensely informative tours—you may even get to handle a baby crocodile or feed a monkey. Be sure to wave hello to the 500-pound crocodile secure in his deep pit.


The alliance between sister cities Dzibanché and Kinichná was thought to have made them the most powerful cities in southern Quintana Roo during the Maya Classic Period (AD 100–1000). The fertile farmlands surrounding the ruins are still used today as they were hundreds of years ago, and the winding drive deep into the fields makes you feel as if you're coming upon something undiscovered. Archaeologists have been making progress in excavating more and more ruins, albeit slowly.

At Dzibanché (which translates as "place where they write on wood" and is pronounced zee-ban-chay), several carved wooden lintels have been found. The most perfectly preserved example is in a supporting arch at the Plaza de Xibalba.

Also at the plaza is the Templo del Búho (Temple of the Owl), atop which a recessed tomb was discovered—only the second of its kind in Mexico (the first was at Palenque in Chiapas). In the tomb were magnificent clay vessels painted with white owls, messengers of the underworld gods.

More buildings and three plazas have been restored as excavation continues. Several other plazas are surrounded by temples, palaces, and pyramids, all in the Petén style. The carved stone steps at Edificio 13 and Edificio 2 (Buildings 13 and 2) still bear traces of stone masks. A copy of the famed lintel of Templo IV (Temple IV), with eight glyphs dating from AD 618, is housed in the Museo de la Cultura Maya in Chetumal. (The original was replaced in 2003 because of deterioration.) Four more tombs were discovered at Templo I (Temple I).

Carretera 186 (Chetumal–Escárcega), Chetumal, Mexico
Sights Details
Rate Includes: MX$75

Ecopark Kantun Chi

This Maya-owned and -operated eco-park has cenotes and a few beautiful underground caverns that are great for snorkeling and diving, as well as some small Maya ruins. It offers you a choice of three different experiences. The place is low-key—a nice break from the crowds. Bring natural mosquito repellent.

Fatima Bay

Although the marina is the focus here, Puerto Aventuras's beaches are naturally stunning and seldom crowded. The main one, Fatima Bay, stretches nearly 3 km (2 miles) south between Chac Hal Al condominiums and the Grand Peninsula residence. Its shallow, calm waters are kid-friendly, especially inside the breakwater. Farther out the temperature drops, making for a refreshing swim. To the north is a smaller bay, known as Chan Yu Yum, used by guests of the Catalonia Resort; better beaches lie just south of Puerto Aventuras in the community of Xpu-Há. Amenities: food and drink. Best for: snorkeling; swimming.

Fuerte de San Felipe Bacalar

This 17th-century stone fort was built by the Spaniards using stones from the nearby Maya pyramids. It was originally constructed as a haven against pirates and marauding bandits, then was transformed into a Maya stronghold during the Caste Wars. Today, the monolithic structure, which overlooks the enormous Laguna de Bacalar, houses government offices and a museum with exhibits on local history (ask for someone to bring a key if museum doors are locked).

Av. 3, Centro, Bacalar, 77981, Mexico
Sights Details
Rate Includes: MX$55, Closed Mon.

Half Moon Bay

The crescent bay on the north end of Akumal has shallow water and almost no current, making it a safe swimming spot for children; the snorkeling is also good here (you might even see the occasional sea turtle). Beach chairs and hammocks line the narrow, rocky shore at La Buena Vida restaurant, which has a pool, restrooms, and limited street parking for patrons. The area near Casa Zama is protected by an outer reef; however, the entry point is rocky, so bring water shoes. Bring an umbrella, too—Half Moon Bay is known for its white sand and clear waters, but the lack of trees means you'll have trouble finding shade. Amenities: food and drink; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; swimming.

Indigo Beach

Cure your morning hangover with the breakfast buffet (M$150) at this beach club beside El Taj Condo Hotel. The restaurant serves fresh fusion cuisine that blends Italian, Asian, and Mexican dishes. Lounge chairs and beach beds are abundant, and there are changing rooms, outdoor showers, and oversized towels for your convenience. A section of beach is used as a launching point by small fishing boats, but the view is still lovely and there is plenty of space to relax. As you enter the water, you'll feel about 20-feet of coral stone before the bottom transitions to smooth sand. The morning yoga and tai chi classes are a great way to start the day. Amenities: food and drink; showers; toilets. Best for: walking.

Calle 14, Playa del Carmen, 77710, Mexico
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Free with food or drink purchase, Daily 8–5:30

Jardín Botánico Dr. Alfredo Barrera Marín

This 150-acre botanical garden is the largest in Mexico. Named for a local botanist, it exhibits the peninsula's plants and flowers, which are labeled in English, Spanish, and Latin. The park features a 130-foot suspension bridge, three observation towers, and a library equipped with reading hammocks. There's also a tree nursery, a remarkable orchid and epiphyte garden, an authentic Maya house, and an archaeological site. A nature walk goes directly through the mangroves for some great birding; more than 220 species have been identified here (be sure to bring bug spray, though). Spider monkeys can usually be spotted in the afternoons, and a tree-house lookout offers a spectacular view—but the climb isn't for those afraid of heights.


After you've seen its sister city, Dzibanché, make your way back to the fork in the road, and head to Kinichná ("House of the Sun," pronounced kin-itch-na). At the fork, you'll see the restored Complejo Lamai (Lamai Complex), the administrative buildings of Dzibanché. Kinichná consists of a two-level pyramidal mound split into Acropolis B and Acropolis C, apparently dedicated to the sun god. Two mounds at the foot of the pyramid suggest that the temple was a ceremonial site. Here a giant Olmec-style jade figure was found. At its summit, Kinichná affords one of the finest views of any archaeological site in the area.

Carretera 186 Chetumal–Escárcega, Chetumal, Mexico
Sights Details
Rate Includes: MX$75


Kohunlich (pronounced Ko-hoon-lich) is renowned for the giant stucco masks on its principal pyramid, the Edificio de los Mascarones (Mask Building). It also has one of Quintana Roo's oldest ball courts and the remains of a great drainage system at the Plaza de las Estelas (Plaza of the Stelae). Masks that are about 6 feet tall are set vertically into the wide staircases at the main pyramid, called Edificio de las Estelas (Building of the Stelae). First thought to represent the Maya sun god, they're now considered to be composites of Kohunlich's rulers and important warriors. Another giant mask was discovered in 2001 in the building's upper staircase.

Kohunlich was built and occupied during the Classic Period by various Maya groups. This explains the eclectic architecture, which includes the Petén and Río Bec styles. Although there are 14 buildings to visit, it's thought that there are at least 500 mounds on the site waiting to be excavated. Digs have turned up 29 individual and multiple burial sites inside a residence building called Templo de Los Veintisiete Escalones (Temple of the Twenty-Seven Steps). This site doesn't have a great deal of tourist traffic, so it's surrounded by thriving flora and fauna.

Off Carretera 186 (Chetumal–Escárcega), Chetumal, 77981, Mexico
Sights Details
Rate Includes: MX$90

La Playa Xpu-Ha Beach Club

Located at Playa Xpu-Ha, this beach club is open year-round from 10 am to 6:30 pm. Guests of nearby villas are often lured here by the plethora of amenities—including showers, lockers, hammocks, umbrellas, chaise lounges, and a rental shop that has snorkeling gear, WaveRunners, boogie boards, and kayaks. In full beach club tradition, there's a restaurant and a bar with swings instead of stools. You can burn off your lunch with a game of volleyball, or opt for hair braids and henna tattoos. Amenities: food and drink; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: partiers; swimming; walking.

Carretera 307, Km 265, Xpu-Há, 77790, Mexico
Sights Details
Rate Includes: MX$200 entry which is applied to food and drinks consumption

Mamita's Beach

This stretch of beach north of the ferry dock, from Constituyentes to Calle 38, is known to locals as Mamita's, although it also encompasses the Coralina beach club and the Hilton and Mahekal hotels. Independent of the main beach's drop-off (and the sandbags that are sometimes visible there), it's a lovely straight stretch of flat sand and clear water, which you'll share with lots of other visitors. The trade-off is that WaveRunners, which are largely absent from the main beach, are very present here. It's a good spot for fun in the sun, not seclusion. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; toilets; water sports. Best for: partiers; swimming.

Playa del Carmen, 77710, Mexico

Mamita's Beach Club

Accessible by way of Calle 28, this is Playa's hottest spot to catch some rays. You can rent an umbrella and two chairs (the smallest beachfront package) for MX$600; MX$3,500 will get you a plush, shady couch in the sand (and a refund of up to MX$3,000 if you purchase that much in drinks). Expect to pay around MX$165 for a cocktail and MX$60 for a beer. Guests can relax in the VIP area while a DJ spins trance and techno beside the freshwater pool. Facilities include three restaurants, four bars, two swimming pools, and a second-floor champagne bar. Amenities: food and drink; toilets; water sports. Best for: partiers.