How far is the Riviera Maya from Cancun? All You Need to Know

If you are heading to the Riviera Maya the obvious question may come up: how far is the Riviera Maya from Cancun?

The answer is not so straightforward forward and in this post, we’ll find out why and how to get to the Riviera Maya from Cancun.

In fact, the closest airport to the Riviera Maya is Cancun international airport, and getting to your final vacation destination is really easy.

You even have many options to choose from but before getting to that, let’s clarify where is exactly the Riviera Maya and how far is from Cancun Airport.

Aerial View of the Bahia Principe on the Riviera Maya -How far is the Riviera Maya from Cancun?  From Bahia Principe it's about 75 minutes drive
Aerial View of the spectacular Bahia Principe Hotel on the Riviera Maya – READ MORE

So, how far is the Riviera Maya from Cancun?

There is no straight answer because as we will see in the next section, the Riviera Maya is a 130 km stretch of coast, so the specific distance from Cancun depends on where exactly you are going as a final destination.

What is the Riviera Maya and where is located?

To help you better plan your vacation, the first thing you need to understand is the difference between Cancun and the Riviera Maya.

The Riviera Maya is the area that begins 30 km south of Cancun and runs along the coast. It stretches from Puerto Morelos all the way to Sian Ka’an.

Sian Ka’an is a biosphere reserve and UNESCO World Heritage site located south of Tulum. It is made up of over 500,000 acres of land that include mangroves, jungle, and coast. 

The town in the heart of Sian Kaan is Boca Paila and we can safely say that it marks the end of the Riviera Maya. To get there you need to drive through the Tulum hotel zone and across 30 km of unpaved road.

The Riviera Maya includes the popular towns of Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum, and small pueblos.

In between these larger towns, there are many large all-inclusive resorts.

The Cancun International airport is where you will fly to get to the Riviera Maya. To reach the Riviera Maya you will exit the airport and head south.

Puerto Morelos is the closest town to the Cancun airport, it is only 16 miles away.

The next city you will come to in the Riviera Maya is Playa del Carmen, which is 35 miles from the Cancun Airport.

Further south is Tulum, which is 73 miles from the airport.

Lastly, you will come to Sian Ka’an which is 115 miles south of the Cancun airport. 

There are multiple transportation options to choose from when you travel to the Riviera Maya.

If you plan to explore multiple towns you can rent a car at Cancun Airport. If you plan to spend most of your vacation at your resort you can book a private shuttle. 

Otherwise, check out all the options you have to get from Cancun Airport to anywhere on the Riviera Maya

Is Cancun on the Riviera Maya?

No, Cancun is not on the Riviera Maya, but it’s on the Caribbean coast, 30 km north of Puerto Morelos, where the Riviera Maya begins.

Riviera Maya Beach
A beach on the Riviera Maya

Where is Cancun?

Cancun is one of the most popular beach vacation destinations in Mexico, a busy city that is divided into two sections, the hotel zone, and the downtown.

The hotel zone is built on what was a long stretch of sand dunes that come off the mainland. This thin stretch of land is surrounded by the Laguna Nichupté and the Caribbean Sea. The 14 miles of hotel zone are now home to large hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, and its famous white sandy beaches.

Downtown Cancun is located on the mainland, where the form of the 7 connects. Downtown Cancun is where locals live and is a busy city with lots of restaurants and businesses.

The Cancun Airport is located just south of downtown Cancun.

How long it takes to get from the international airport to your hotel on the Riviera Maya depends on where you are staying on the strip, but can be as short as a twenty-minute drive. 

How to get from Cancun Airport to the Riviera Maya

As soon as the airplane wheels touch down, you are ready to get your vacation started. No one wants to be wandering around the airport, trying to figure out how to get to their hotel.

If you are staying in the Riviera Maya, you will need to fly into the Cancun International Airport.

From there you have a few options to get to your hotel, which I am going to break down here below.

A pool in a Resort in Cancun
A Pool in a Resort in Cancun

Book A Private Shuttle

Booking a private shuttle is by far the fastest (and probably easiest) way to get to your hotel. You can book it online before you arrive and when you exit the airport doors a driver will be waiting for you.

They will help load your suitcases into an air-conditioned car and you will be on your way to your hotel. Prices for private shuttles to Puerto Morelos cost around $45 USD for 1 to 30 people.

The further you go south in the Riviera Maya, the shuttle cost will increase. For example, a shuttle from the Cancun airport to Tulum will cost around $120 for up to 3 people and take around one hour and a half. 

Private shuttles will drop you off at your hotel entrance. You do not need to worry about arriving at a bus station and getting a taxi or walking to your hotel.

If a private shuttle is within your budget, it will get you to your hotel and on the beach the fastest. 

Rent a Car 

You can rent a car at the Cancun airport and then drive to your hotel on the Riviera Maya. Renting a car is a great option for people who plan to move around and want to see different spots. 

There is one main highway that runs from north to south along the coast of Quintana Roo, the Carretera Federal (federal Highway) Exiting the Cancun airport you will head south until you get to your destination. Navigating in Quintana Roo is easy, and you can always use your phone’s GPS for directions.

If driving in Cancun and around is a bit of a concern for you, you can check out my detailed guide for some useful tips.

Car Rental
Rent a Car in Cancun

Renting a Car in Cancun Airport: Top Things to Know

✔️ Check out rates on Discover Cars to find the best deals

✔️ Book in advance to find the best rates

✔️ Get full coverage insurance with zero deductible for peace of mind, but read very well what the insurance covers and what it’s not included

✔️ take a video and pictures of the car when you pick it up

✔️ You need to have a passport, a valid driving license, and a credit card and usually older than 21 ys old with a driving license that is 6 months old minimum.

✔️ The car rental shuttle will pick you up at the airport and take you to the rental office to do the paperwork and give you the car.

✔️ When driving respect the local road rules and speed limits, wear your seatbelts, and don’t call or text while driving, don’t give the police a reason to stop you.

✔️ Never bribe the police. In case they stop you for any reason, let them know that you are willing to pay the fine and offer them to go together to the police station.

✔️ For any issue with the car, always call the emergency number the rental car gave you.

✔️ Keep some Mexican pesos with you for tips and snacks or in the case at the Gas station the credit card payment isn’t working.

Bahia Principe Riviera Maya - Drone Picture
Bahia Principe Riviera Maya – Photo © Isabella Biava

Take Public Transportation

You can take an ADO bus from the airport to the Riviera Maya. When you are exiting the airport terminal you will look for the ADO signs. You can buy your ticket inside or where the bus picks you up. During the day the bus leaves the airport every 30 minutes for Playa del Carmen.

If you are traveling to Puerto Morelos you will use this bus.

If you are traveling to Tulum you can take the bus to Playa del Carmen, then take another bus to Tulum or a shared taxi van.

There are buses going directly to Tulum but they are limited to two per day.

The shared taxi vans are called collectivos and their terminal is a few blocks from the bus station. There are buses a few times a day that leaves the airport and goes all the way to Tulum. 

Taking an ADO bus is great if you want to save money and are staying in Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum.

However, if you are staying in a resort that is in between the towns, you will still need to get a taxi from the bus station to your hotel as the ADO bus doesn’t make stops on request.

If you are in downtown Playa del Carmen or Tulum you can either walk or take a short taxi ride to your hotel from the bus station. 

Ado Bus from Playa del Carmen to airport
Photo © Danny Foster from Flickr

How to get from Cancun Downtown to the Riviera Maya

If you are in downtown Cancun and want to travel to a destination in the Riviera Maya you have a few options. 

Take a private shuttle  

cancun airport transportation service
Cancun Airport Transportation Service – BOOK HERE

If you are staying in a resort along the Riviera Maya that is between cities you might want to consider a private shuttle.

It’s the equivalent of a taxi but it charges you less money most of the time.

A private shuttle is usually the fastest way to travel between destinations because you are not making any stops or waiting on other passengers.

A private shuttle is the most convenient option for the following reasons

👉 It’s safe

👉 You have the entire vehicle all for yourself

👉 It’s insured

👉 The driver speaks English

👉 It provides a door-to-door service

👉 It’s a set rate for 1 to 3 people.

Take a Public Bus from Down Town Cancun to the Riviera Maya

You can catch an ADO bus to Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum.

The ADO bus station is in downtown Cancun and buses leave several times an hour. The buses are air-conditioned and comfortable.

If you are going to Tulum, you will make a stop in downtown Playa del Carmen to drop people off.

The cost is between $10-15 to go from downtown Cancun to Tulum, depending on the time of day you travel.

You can book your tickets in advance online. Once you reach the bus station where you are going, you can either walk to your hotel or grab a taxi. 

Also, you need to consider that if you are staying in the Hotel Zone in Cancun you will have to grab a taxi to reach the ADO bus station.

Take a Colectivo

If you want to travel like a local, you can take a colectivo. Colectivos are shared passenger vans that travel between downtown Cancun and the Riviera Maya.

There are two companies, Playa Express, and the regular colectivo. You can catch them near the ADO bus station.

One is right in front of the entrance and the other is right across the street (Avenida Tulum) in the Meg Supermarket parking lot.

If you are going to Tulum, you will need to get off in Playa del Carmen and get onto a different colectivo to go to Tulum.

Colectivos are cheap, they only cost a few dollars for each leg of the trip. The drivers go much faster than the buses, but many people find them uncomfortable.

People will squeeze into the seats, so you do not have as much room as you do on the ADO. 

I find it the least comfortable way to travel and sometimes even dangerous depending on who’s the driver. Some of them do go FAST!

Cancun Playa Delfines Beach
Cancun Playa Delfines

Cancun vs the Riviera Maya: which one is better?

So now that we have clarified how far is the Riviera Maya from Cancun you may be wondering which one is better for a vacation.

I will reply to that question in more detail in my post on Cancun vs Riviera Maya in detail because it’s not an easy answer.

In fact, you need to consider the following factors:

✔️ Cancun is one big city while the Riviera Maya is a bigger area where you can find multiple cities which are very different from each other and even isolated areas where you can find only all-inclusive hotels in the middle of nowhere.

✔️ One thing they have in common is the spectacular white sandy beaches and crystal clear water. It is impossible to say one is better than the other, but they are different from each other mainly by the vicinity to restaurants and other facilities that you may or may not want.

✔️ The Cancun hotel zone has a hotel option for everyone. You can find budget-friendly all-inclusive that are great for families or splurge on luxury hotels. All of these options are found in the hotel zone.

✔️ In the Riviera Maya, the large all-inclusive resorts are often located in between the towns. The stretch of coast between Puerto Morelos and Playa del Carme has several different resorts. If you choose one of these resorts you will need to take a taxi into town if you want to walk around, shop, or explore outside your resort.

✔️ If you choose to stay in one of the towns in the Riviera Maya, such as Puerto Morelos or Playa del Carmen, you will find a variety of smaller, boutique hotels or you can rent condos that are close to the beach which is something that many people consider a priority.

✔️ Tulum is a case on his own and I actually wrote a separate post about Cancun vs Tulum where you can check out the main differences. In fact, a better comparison would not be Cancun vs the Riviera Maya but Cancun vs Playa del Carmen, and Cancun vs Puerto Morelos.

Cancun beach panorama
Cancun beach

A brief history of Cancun and the Riviera Maya

The entire Yucatan Peninsula, which is home to Cancun and the Riviera Maya, has a rich history. Maya civilizations lived in this area, leaving behind countless ruins for tourists to visit.

What has become tourist spots were historically used by the Mayan people for religious ceremonies or trade purposes.

What we know today as Cancun has a relatively short history.

In the early 1970s the Mexican government wanted to create a tourist destination. They picked the deserted beaches of Cancun for their project.

At this time the entire coast was full of mangroves. The government’s plan was to develop the strip of beach that was surrounded by ocean and lagoon into a tourism area, build a downtown for locals to live, and construct the area’s first international airport.

In 1974 the first hotels in the Cancun hotel zone opened. 

So much has changed in the almost 50 years since the Cancun hotel zone opened. Tourism has expanded along the coast of the state of Quintana Roo south of Cancun.

Want to plan a great trip to Mexico and are trying to decide between Cancun and the Riviera Maya? Keep reading to learn the difference between the two. 

Puerto Morelos Aerial View

No matter where you decide to vacation, you will find beautiful beaches. The beaches in Cancun stretch for miles. All beaches are public property, even if the hotel has its beach chairs on it. Beaches in Cancun can get a little crowded and have more waves than in other areas in the state.

As you travel down the Riviera Maya you will find the beaches are not as wide as they are in Cancun. They are often less crowded and have a more laid-back vibe. 

It is impossible to say that one is better than the other. Cancun and the Riviera Maya offer different vacation experiences. 

How far is the Riviera Maya from Cancun? Frequently Asked Questions

Is it better to stay in Cancun or Riviera Maya?

It depends on what you mean by the Riviera Maya, and what you are looking for. Unfortunately, there is not a straightforward answer as there are many factors to consider.

I will explain more in a dedicated post about Cancun vs the Riviera Maya

How long is the ride from Cancun Airport to Riviera Maya?

It depends on where in the Riviera Maya you are heading to. The Riviera Maya stretches from Puerto Morelos all the way down to the biosphere of Sian Kaan (beautiful to explore).

Therefore the ride from Cancun Airport to the Riviera Maya can take from 35 minutes to 2 hours. And it also depends on how you get to your final destination.

Head over to this section of the post to learn about your transfer options.

Do you fly into Cancun to get to Riviera Maya?

Yes, the closest airport to the Riviera Maya is Cancun International Airport.

How much is a taxi from Riviera Maya to Cancun?

It depends on where you are leaving from in the Riviera Maya, Tulum it can cost around 2500 MXN whereas from Puerto Morelos can be as little as 700 MXN. However, I always suggest a private shuttle which usually has similar costs as taxis but they are more convenient.

What is the cheapest time to go to Riviera Maya?

The cheapest time of the year to travel to Cancun and the Riviera Maya is shoulder season, either May and June or October and November.

However, October and November are more at risk for rain while May and June are supposed to be better in terms of weather, but it’s not set in stone, as you can imagine. Also, keep in mind that October and November water temperatures are a little warmer than in May and June.

What currency should I take to Riviera Maya?

You can take US dollars or Euro, depending on where you are coming from, and exchange them in Pesos in a bank or a casa de Cambio. Never exchange money at the airport or pay in US$ or EURO in the shops. It’s never convenient.

Is Riviera Maya the same as Mayan Riviera?

Yes, Mayan Riviera is the English translation of the Riviera Maya.

How far is the Riviera Maya from Cancun? Final thoughts

I hope that with this post I was able to clarify how far the Riviera Maya can be from Cancun. As you can see there is not a straight answer as the Riviera Maya stretches south of Cancun for about 110 miles km. So all in all the answer to that question is The distance from Cancun to the Riviera Maya is from 30 miles to 110 miles.

About the Author

Hey there! This is Isabella, the owner, and writer of this site. I have been living in Cancun for the past 12 years and although I have been roaming around Mexico, Cancun’s spectacular turquoise waters and pristine beach draw me back to this popular Mexican beach destination. That is why I decided to start this blog, to show you all the beauty you can find in Cancun and share helpful travel tips to help you plan a fabulous vacation in Cancun!

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