The best beaches in Quintana Roo

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Tropical paradise takes on a new meaning in Quintana Roo. We’ll introduce you to the best beaches for leisure, partying, snorkeling, and more.

Isla Mujeres

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t realize that feeling overwhelmed could be an exciting thing until I began researching the best beaches in Quintana Roo. There are so many options, and depending on how long you’ll be spending in the area, time might not be on your side.  

So, whether you’re looking for the best non-touristy beaches in Mexico or want to party it up with the Caribbean as a backdrop, I’ll help you sort through your options.

The best hidden beaches in Quintana Roo

It’s no secret that tourists flock to Quintana Roo for their beach trips—before the pandemic, the Mexican state received over 8 million tourists per year.

So, if squeezing your beach towel between strangers sounds like a vacation nightmare, make a “beach” line to these destinations:

  • Akumal
  • Holbox
  • Tulum

These areas have some of the best quiet beaches near Cancun. Akumal is around a two-hour drive, and Tulum is an additional 30 minutes south. Holbox takes a bit more travel time since you’ll need to spend about 2.5 hours on the road before hopping on a 20-minute ferry.

Of these destinations, Tulum is an excellent option for a longer stay. And it just so happens that you can find some of the best hidden beaches near Tulum. Some must-sees include Paamul Beach, known mostly by locals, and Playa Paraíso, which is such a long beach that there’s no need to claim a spot among all the open space.

Arriving in Tulum is easy thanks to public and private transportation that offer services from many popular destinations in Quintana Roo. Below are some examples.

RouteDurationStarting price
Akumal – Tulum30 minutes$3
Playa del Carmen – Tulum1 hour$5
Bacalar – Tulum3 hours$20

When great beaches and beach towns collide 

If your idea of a beach vacation is enjoying the town as much as the beach itself, you’re in luck—Quintana Roo offers everything from adorable to bustling beach towns.

Let’s start with the obvious: Cancun. Aside from the fact that Cancun is a city, if you’re looking for around-the-clock activity, shopping opportunities, parties, and everything from taco stands to fine dining, it’s got you covered.

That said, Cancun makes a great base for exploring some of the other best beach towns in Quintana Roo. My personal recommendations are Playa del Carmen and San Miguel in Cozumel. Both towns sit right by the water and are within walking distance of their respective ferry ports.

Alternatively, you can head inland to Tulum’s town. This town is about three kilometers away from the beach and has a less touristy vibe than Playa and Cozumel.

Although it’s a bit of a stretch in terms of calling it a town, you can also visit Xcaret. This outdoor ecotourism theme park encompasses several beaches and has an imitation Mayan Village.

If you’re curious about getting to any of these beach towns from Cancun, the chart below will point you in the right direction.

RouteDurationStarting price
Cancun – Playa del Carmen1 hour$6
Cancun – Xcaret2 hours$12
Cancun – Cozumel2 hours, 20 minutes$39
Cancun – Tulum2.5 hours$11

Living the island life in Quintana Roo

Did you know that Quintana Roo has four islands, three of which you can stay on? They include:

  • Isla Mujeres
  • Cozumel
  • Holbox

If you’re wondering about the uninhabited island, that’s Isla Contoy. This island is a national park and only allows 200 visitors per day, so it’s an excellent choice for a day trip from Isla Mujeres or Cancun.

Isla Mujeres is a short ferry ride from Cancun. It’s famous for Playa Norte, where you’ll encounter some of the whitest sand and the bluest water you’ve ever seen. 

Cozumel is the largest of these islands and is an excellent place for snorkeling and diving. Some of the best beaches in Cozumel for snorkeling include Stingray Beach and Chankanaab Park.

Holbox is the most secluded of these three islands. So, if you don’t mind a little seaweed between your toes, you’ll have access to some of the richest array of wildlife on the beaches of Quintana Roo. 

You can take a ferry to any of these three islands. Below are some popular routes, keeping in mind that Chiquila is the port you’ll need to arrive at to catch the ferry to Holbox.

RouteDurationStarting price
Cancun – Isla Mujeres30 minutes$9
Cozumel – Playa del Carmen30 minutes$12
Playa del Carmen – Chiquila2.5 hours$20

Weighing the benefit of beach clubs

Spending the day at a beach club is a popular thing to do in Quintana Roo. By doing so, you’ll get to take advantage of many amenities such as beach chairs, umbrellas, restrooms, and beachside food and drink service. Below are some of the best beach clubs by destination.

Best beach club in Akumal: TAO

Best beach club in Bacalar: Bacalar Beach Club*

Best beach clubs in Playa del Carmen: Mamita’s Beach Club and Kool Beach Club

*Bacalar is a lakeside destination that’s known for having water with seven shades of blue.

Planning your trip around the seaweed

In recent years, a type of seaweed caused by the macroalgae sargassum graces its presence on Quintana Roo’s shore. Mounds of rotting seaweed are such a problem in the spring and summer months that it even caught National Geographic’s attention.  

Needless to say, the best beaches in Riviera Maya without seaweed are hard to come by if you’re traveling during sargassum season. So, it’s best to stay in resorts or visit popular public beaches where they rake up the seaweed.

Some of the best beaches for this include Playa Norte in Isla Mujeres, the Hotel Zone in Cancun, and the beaches in downtown Playa del Carmen. Locals say the seaweed problem subsides for the season when a tropical storm or hurricane passes through, which was spot-on from my experience.

Seaweed aside, visiting the beaches in Quintana Roo is worth the trip. Each area has unique qualities, making beach hopping a great way to spend your vacation. 

Posted September 29, 2021
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Laura Olds
Laura Olds of A Piece of Travel is a digital nomad who adds twice as many destinations to her bucket list with each one she checks off. She's a full-time writer and part-time street dog whisperer. In her free time, she enjoys running, yoga, and taste-testing her way through the world.
image of blog writer Laura