Riviera Maya beaches - Links to the best beaches on the coast
The Riviera Maya's serpentine coastline stretches from Cancun to Tulum through a series of dynamic points and sandy bays. Most of the bays are protected by an outer reef that reduces the surf and encourages sand to collect on the beaches. Snorkeling and kayaking are best in the bays. Akumal, Soliman and Tankah are examples of beaches with an outer reef break.
Akumal actually has two beaches. One to the north in Half Moon Bay, and the other is one of the best beaches around, the main beach at Akumal Bay in the center of town. Three other bays nearby to the south also have beaches and are referred to as part of Akumal. Those are Jade Bay, South Akumal and Aventuras Akumal.
Paamul is just north of Puerto Aventuras and has a sandy beach mixed with limestone iron shore and an outer reef break. There are some facilities including a dive shop and restaurant that service primarily those who live there in Recreational Vehicles (RVs). The restaurant has a swimming pool and serves very good regional food. The reef diving is also good.
Playa del Carmen has grown tremendously in recent years, partly due to its long stretch of sandy beach. At its northern end the beach is widest with resorts and beach clubs along the shore. At the Porto Real hotel a cement pier makes a wave break and the beach continues to the ferry dock. Beach width varies.
Playacar is Playa del Carmen's neighbor to the south, starting on the south side of the ferry dock to Cozumel. Depending on the season the beach is more or less narrow just south of Senor Frog's and then increases in width as it passes beach front villas, a couple small hotels and then a few all-inclusive resorts farther south.
Puerto Aventuras is a resort style marina community with a full array of services and a short but wide sandy beach. There's plenty of pure sand for sunbathing and a reef break not far off the beach to knock down the surf somewhat. A narrow cut on the north end of the beach is the inlet to the main part of the marina.
Puerto Morelos has a main beach in the center of town with smooth sand and restaurants nearby. The beach is power-raked daily to remove trash and excessive seaweed. North and south are more semi-private beaches in front of hotels, condos and private residences.
Sian Ka'an, Mayan for "where the sky is born", is a coastal biosphere reserve south of Tulum Ruins designed for sustainable usage by the public. The entrance is through a stone archway on the bumpy road to Boca Paila & Punta Allen. Expect few services here, but plenty of deserted beaches, then Punta Allen at land's end.
Soliman Bay is a wide bay that's well protected by an outer reef break. It has a picturesque crescent arc of narrow sand lined with palms and beach houses in a variety of styles; everything from upscale bungalows to extravagant hacienda style villas. Snorkeling and kayaking are common activities. The bay is quite large with prolific coral heads and a sheltering outer reef. Three restaurants are convenient to Soliman bay. Sahara Cafe on the north end, Chamico's on the south ends and Oscar y Lalo's at the highway entrance to Soliman bay.
Tankah Bay is just south of Soliman Bay and is similar with an out reef break to limit the amount of surf that rolls in. The beach is generally narrow but nice with plenty of room for sun worshipers. Casa Cenote restaurant and Manatee Cenote are prime attractions here for a quick dip, a bite to eat (lunch or dinner) and a cold one.
Tulum has some wide powdery beaches with no outer reef break and generally bigger surf. A multitude of palapa style beach bungalows line the coastal road that heads south from the Tulum Ruins. These vary in quality but most have good beaches in front for sunning and strolling the surf line. The road turns to sand past Zamas.
Xcacel has a wide expanse of sandy beach and no outer reef break to knock down the incoming waves. This is an ideal situation for several species of sea turtles and so Xcacel is particularly well known as a turtle nesting area. There are no services and as of this writing the beach is uninhabited. Xcacel is a popular beach with the local natives and gringos, despite the lack of services. The best protected snorkeling is on the north end and a path on the south end leads to a secluded cenote.
Topless and nudity
All beaches in Mexico are public property. North Americans and Mexicans are traditionally less comfortable about toplessness and nudity than Europeans and can be rather sensitive on the issue. However, with the influx of tourists form Europe there are some places for nude and top-free sun bathing.
There are four resorts that specifically market themselves as "nude" resorts, or tolerant of nudity resorts. Desires south of Cancun (it is also a "lifestyle" resort). Hidden Beach Resort in Kantenah (located next to the Eldorado Resort. Playa Sonrisa in Xcalak (a small, secluded B&B). And Cabanas Copal in Tulum. These places are well established and market to the clothing optional/au natural sector, therefore the staff is welcoming and the clothing-free lifestyle accepted.
There are also de facto topless areas in Tulum which are used predominately by Europeans and South Americans. With that, topless is fairly common on all of the Tulum beaches. In secluded coves around Punta Peidra (where Copal, Diamante etc., are) there may be some nude sunbathers as well; however, the beach south of Maya Tulum is one long stretch to Sian Kaan and the further south you go, the fewer people you will encounter.
Play it safe
Avoid nudity at any beach that has a "local" feel to it. There are plenty of quiet little beaches up and down the coast where local families still go to enjoy a Sunday at the beach. The locals with families do not particularly care for nudity, especially in front of their children. While these beaches are some of the better beaches on the coast, remember, cultural attitudes are different in Mexico and you are the visitor.