Every year, Riviera Maya excursions get boxed, packaged, branded, and sold by the bushel. If you're looking to take a bus tour from an all-inclusive resort, this isn't the article for you. If you want to discover the best things to do in Riviera Maya, how to beat the crowds in Riviera Maya, and the best alternatives to all the popular Riviera Maya trips, keep reading. It is still possible to find an authentic experience in the Yucatan; you just need to know where to look.
In an age where the new travel ethos is impact travel through authentic experiences and avoiding over tourism, Riviera Maya is an unusual choice for an impactful destination. Cancun day trips have almost become synonymous with everything that is wrong with travel today - crowded bus tours and cruise ships / all inclusive resorts isolating guests from the impactful experience while funneling a majority of their tourism dollars out of the local economy. This piece looks for ways to break that paradigm. You can see Chichen Itza without the crowds while keeping your travel dollars in Mexico or visit a cenote on the end of a dusty road that's the sole source of income for the family that owns it. Not only will you travel better, you will do good with your travel too.
OTHER MAYAN RUINS BESIDES CHICHEN ITZA. There are Mayan ruins all over the Yucatan. Two stand out as the alternatives to Chichen Itza: Ek Balam and Coba.
Ek Balam is about as far north from the city of Valladolid as Chichen Itza is west. It’s famous as the Palace of the Black Jaguar and a seat of a Mayan kingdom in its own right. The reasons to go to Ek Balam are that it’s a compact site, and you can still climb the main pyramid. There are also some excellent cenotes in the area, which we’ll get to in a little bit.
Coba is about the same distance from Cancun as Chichen Itza, but it’s on a back route into Tulum. It’s less than an hour outside of Tulum. It’s a sprawling complex, so there is lots to explore, and you might consider renting a bike or getting a pedicab to see it all. It features the large Nohoch Mul Pyramid that you can still climb as well as several ball courts and other temples.
Ek Balam and Coba are less trafficked with cool stuff in their own right. They are definitely worth a visit, but it’s hard to miss out on the magnificence that is Chichen Itza. I would take the time and spend the money to do a specialty tour of Chichen Itza without the crowds.