The Riviera Maya is famous for its crystal clear, turquoise waters, cenotes, wild parties, and luxurious all-inclusive resorts. Most tourists flock to Cancun or Playa´s huge resorts to enjoy cocktails on manicured beaches, feast on all-you-can-eat buffets, and to party till the wee hours of the morning at clubs and bars, arriving to ample, airconditioned hotel rooms with king-sized beds and minibars to recover. There is no doubt that an abundance of luxury, entertainment, and convenience is enticing for a vacation. But what about those travelers who seek the Riviera´s more natural abundance? What about those travelers who want to spend the day swimming, snorkeling, and diving, watching the sunset over the ocean while they grill freshly caught fish for dinner, and popping open a bottle of wine by a campfire while they gaze up at the stars and marvel at the moon´s reflection on the ocean?
Well, there is hope for those stargazers and more rustic travelers. In between and on the outskirts of the larger hotel and hostel-oriented cities of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum, there are a number of great campsites. Here are a few of my favorite places to camp in the Riviera Maya.
Isla Blanca is located just north of Cancun´s smaller hotel zone at Playa Mujeres and can be accessed via public transport from the center of town, although I recommend renting a car to get there much faster and to be able to explore the different beaches. Although it is called Isla, it is not an island but a long narrow stretch of land that is an extension of the northern most peninsula of Cancun. The beaches on Isla Blanca are nearly completely virgin, and consequently still full of wildlife. Popular activities include snorkeling, swimming, kitesurfing, and whale shark tours. There are cabins and camping spaces at the entrance to the region that cost around 40$ USD.
Xpu Ha is one of my favorite beaches in the Riviera Maya and is located just past the town of Puerto Aventuras, sharing some of its terrain with the hotel Royal Catalonia. There are two entrances to Xpu Ha; the entrance to closes to the hotel is cheaper and can be accessed by car or via collective van as the entrance is right off the main highway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. There are restaurants and designated camping spots with restrooms and showers behind the restaurants. I highly recommend spending a night or two at this amazingly beautiful beach with a coral reef eco system within swimming distance from the shore.
Soliman Bay is located in between the town of Akumal and Tulum. You can arrive to the entrance via van, however it is quite a long walk to the actual camp site and public beach, so a car is highly recommended. The bay itself is incredibly tranquil and shallow for nearly a kilometer out. It is located in a small community of private villas, however the camping itself is located on the outskirts of this small neighborhood. The campsite is very rudimentary, but really beautiful and peaceful.
Sian Kaán, the enormous biosphere reserve at the southern end of Tulum, is completely protected and is only beginning to develop tourism in the form of daily guided tours of the beaches and lagoons. From the town center of Tulum, it is possible to rent bikes and ride to the biosphere, but of course a car is recommended to really explore the vastness of this amazing place. A few kilometers into the park, there are different beaches. Feel free to pop a tent at any one of them, just don’t forget mosquito spray!
The Riviera Maya is definitely a luxury vacation spot, but luxury is in the eye of the beholder. Whether your idea of luxury is a five-star resort or a night of sleeping under the stars and watching the sun rise over the placid ocean from inside your tent, the Riviera will exceed your expectations.
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