Pros: Easy to travel by rental car, taxi or bus. Fine beaches. Many speak English.
Cons: Except for the beauty of the beaches the area is flat with just scrub brush.
My wife, family and I have been fortunate enough to visit the Yucatan Coast a number of times staying in resorts, being off on our own traveling from place to place in a rented car, and also stopping in on port of call destinations via a cruise ship.
The eastern coast of Mexico's Yucatan holds beautiful beaches that are accessible via rt 307 that traverses the east coast from Cancun all the way south to Chetumal, Mexico at the border of Belize. Most of this area is part of Quintana Roo, a state in Mexico. The northern section of that strip is known as the Mexican Riviera. Playa del Carmen is the largest of towns before coming to Tulum the incredibly picturesque Mayan ruins overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.
South to Chetumal 307 moves inland a bit but still parallel with turn offs to preserves and the small village of Majahual that is going through some fast growing changes in the last five years. This area south of Tulum is known as Costa Maya. It's rich with Mayan archaeological sites. Many that haven't been fully uncovered yet. Many of these sites are now getting much more attention because of the cruise ships coming in at a relatively new port of call by the name of Costa Maya. Think of it as a sort of New York, New York, not in size or population but as how they related to each other. Costa Maya the port where the ships come in is part of Costa Maya the long coastal area south of Tulum.
The Yucatan is quite flat so driving gives few picturesque views while on the road. The Mexican government also likes straight lines. The two main roads I drove on Rt 180 to Chichen-itza and 307 down to the Belize border have many sections that are straight as an arrow. Those roads are smooth and well maintained. Side roads may not be.
We felt perfectly safe when driving but usual caution should be used and be sure to purchase insurance from a Mexican company. That was advice given to me. I never had any incidents to say this was good advice...but still.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is a favorite for me and my wife. It has the comforts of all inclusive resorts. We have stayed at two different complexes the Allegro Resort and The Viva Wyndham Maya with mixed results. One was wonderful and the other not quite as good. The real attraction for us however was the town of Playa del Carmen. Walking the streets, stopping at shops, haggling prices with open air vendors, eating in the restaurants and listening to Mariachi bands on the street while we tucked into a joint to have a couple of Mexican beers was the best. Even the beaches in this town, that has been growing in leaps and bounds, are still wonderful to visit. Ha, sitting on swings at a bar having Margaritas with the Caribbean Sea in the background is true relaxed living.
We also did a day trip to Xcaret that presented a cultural experience and today's Mexican traditions with much to do in a Disney like atmosphere of beautiful lagoons, underwater rivers, live animals and so much more. We loved it as a family experience. My wife and I alone might look for something more "Mexican real".
A ferry ride takes one to Cozumel that is noted as one of the best dive sites in the world. We have snorkeled there a couple of times and though it was good, the depth is a bit too far for perfect views and interaction with the different varieties of fish.
We did snorkel in Chankanaab National Park and spent a relaxing half day there. On average the snorkeling along the Mexican Yucatan Coast was fair, nothing outstanding like we have seen many other places.
The town is hopping with shops and restaurants but a bit too touristy for me. If you are one for visiting the worlds smallest Hard Rock Cafe then you may like the rest of the town that is filled with novelty items.
We did get to go inland to Chichen-Itza. I recommend an overnight and an early start at the site at opening to get a good sense of the place before the pre-noon crowds are bussed in from Cancun. Along the Yucatan coast is another of the finest I mentioned earlier, Tulum. We loved it and had our bathing suits to cool off at the beach below the temple. We also did Coba that was off 307 in the general area of Tulum. That was an adventure and though hot a day I loved. These are ruins that have a few cleared but so much is yet to be discovered. It was very cool and interesting to visit. Read more about it in my links below.
Though we didn't do any, many excursions are now set up by cruise ships going into Costa Maya.
Besides the ancient ruins there are many other excursions that move out from the port, Costa Maya.
Costa Maya the new cruise ship port of call is a man made sort of one day resort with restaurants, entertainment, shops, lounges a huge pool and more. Again much more detail to this port and the small village of Majahual just two miles away, is given in specific reviews. We loved the small town cozy and lazy feel of Majahual. My wife got a $10 1 hour massage on the beach and then a Mexican gentleman played the guitar and sand for my wife while we sat with cold beers looking at the Caribbean. Let me tell you the Mexican people we met are comfortable to be with. They were warm and friendly. Many people who deal with Americans in these coastal towns speak and understand English well. I'm sure those Americans who speak Spanish would be even more drawn to these people.
Playa del Carmen A definite place to visit on the Mayan Riviera
Discovering the Yucatan Peninsula Ancient Ruins, Culture, and Relaxation
CHICHEN-ITZA, the Grand Ancient Site of the Yucatan
Coba, the ancient city A site that is just being excavated.
Tulum, Mayan Temples on the Sea
Xcaret, an Amazing Park dedicated to Nature and Culture
Hotel MayaLand A wonderful, highly recommended, place to stay near Chichen-Itza This is not on the coast.
Allegro Resort, Playacar A halfway decent all-inclusive in Playa del Carmen. Just six miles from Xcaret.
The Viva Wyndham Maya A good choice!