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Gay Riviera Maya: the absolute travel guide for LGBTQ travelers

Stefan Arestis
Gay Riviera Maya: the absolute travel guide for LGBTQ travelers

We once thought of this place as our little secret. Never too crowded, never too raucous. Always pleasant and serene.

Luckily, even as more and more people discover it, Riviera Maya is still holding onto that soft charm that made us fall in love in the first place. 

The gay scene may be tamer than Cancun, but its presence is still felt, especially in Playa del Carmen. If you go at the right time of year you’ll find colorful gay parties, in particular, the Mayan Xcapade on Labor Day Weekend in early September!

Beyond the gay nightlife, the beaches of the Riviera Maya are simply divine – one of the many reasons why we were drawn here initially. The white sands, still blue waters, and gorgeous Caribbean weather are indescribably wonderful – you need to experience it to truly appreciate the magic of it. 

The Riviera Maya is also popular with history and nature enthusiasts. There are tons of ancient ruin sites and Mayan pyramids dotted throughout the region that are worth devoting an entire day to. Here is our detailed gay guide to the Riviera Maya to inspire your own trip here.

Mayan Xcapade is an amazing gay party in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico

Party in the Riviera Maya at Mayan Xcapade!

Don’t miss this luxurious, all-inclusive, all-LGBTQ experience, taking place on Labor Day Weekend in early September. Enjoy 3 days of lavish accommodation at the stunning TRS Yucatan hotel, complete with delicious cocktail drinks, gourmet food, and world-class entertainment. By day, you’ll lounge around the hotel, pampering yourself in a world class spa, chilling in the lavish pools and Jacuzzis. By night, join in on a massive gay party, full of EDM/dance music, performed by the likes of DJ Aron, DJ Ben Bakson and DJ Anne Louise. 

Find out more

Where is Riviera Maya?

The Riviera Maya can be found in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. Just 10 miles south of Cancun, it’s an alternative for those who crave beach life and warm Caribbean sun, without the hustle and bustle of a typical urban city. Surfers, swimmers, and divers prefer it to other Mexican cities, as the waters tend to be calmer here than in Cancun. 

To get here, fly into Cancun airport and catch a taxi or bus to Playa del Carmen. It’s roughly 30-40 minutes (more depending on traffic) and will cost you at least $40. You can, however, save money on transport if you stay at a hotel that offers a free shuttle service from the airport to your accommodation. For example, if you book your flights through the Mayan Xcapade then a free shuttle is provided between the airport and your hotel – both ways! From Playa del Carmen, you can find links to other spots across the state.

Once you’re settled in, check out towns like Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, and Tulum. The latter is especially noteworthy as it was once home to Mayan Kings who famously worshipped the sun. Today, visitors go to see the fascinating ruins, learn all about the history/culture of the Mayan people, and admire the stunning views of the Yucatán Peninsula…more on this below! For more inspo, be sure to check out our detailed guide to the best gay resorts in Cancun.

The Riviera Maya is a region of Mexico's coastline between Cancun and Tulum
The Riviera Maya is the perfect location for enjoying eye candy!

Is Riviera Maya safe for gay travelers?

Mexico is becoming more and more gay-friendly with each generation. People in the city and younger crowds are very open-minded and progressive and wouldn’t bat an eye when meeting a gay couple. However, there is still a deep-rooted emphasis on macho-pride and traditional gender roles – especially in the more rural parts of the country. Our local gay Mexican friend, Andres, told us that while his family was proud to have a gay son, his ex-partner wasn’t so lucky, and was barred from being with him! This goes to show how polarising viewpoints can be, depending on where you are in Mexico. Read more in our interview with Andres about gay life in Mexico.

With all that said, we found the Riviera Maya to be very gay friendly, especially for tourists. We had no issue expressing ourselves openly as a gay couple and didn’t receive so much as a raised eyebrow. Though, like anywhere in the world, be mindful of your surroundings before engaging in any PDA. If you spot any rowdy groups of obviously hetero men, it’s best to keep any signs of affection at bay.

In terms of a gay scene, the bulk of it can be found in Playa del Carmen, which has a few gay bars/clubs and hosts many gay parties, like the Arena Festival every January.

At Riviera Maya gay events and spaces you can be completely free to be gay
Feel free to smack a smooch on your fella in the gay spaces of Riviera Maya!

Top gay parties in Riviera Maya

It wouldn’t be a Nomadic Boys trip without seeking out some type of party! The region has several gay events/parties happening throughout the year that are every bit as wild as the kind you’d find in Berlin or Barcelona. Here are the best gay parties in the Riviera Maya to look out for.

Arena Festival Circuit Party (January)

The Arena Festival is an epic gay festival which takes place over New Year in Playa del Carmen

Instead of spending the New Year suffering through a dark, bleak winter, enjoy Mexico’s biggest and hottest gay party. The Arena Festival is spread across 6 days and 6 nights and is nothing but pure, epic fun. The best DJs and artists from around the world fly in to perform at the festival, which is attended by thousands. Lovers of house and EDM will feel right at home, partying on the gorgeous beaches, meeting new people, and vibing to the music.


Playa Pride (June)

Playa Pride is a fabulous celebration held in Playa del Carmen each year

Playa Pride is noisy, colorful, and extraordinarily wild. It takes place across the last week of June, taking hold of the city of Playa del Carmen and washing it in rainbow colors, streamers, and music. The best part about it is the beach parties. Not many Pride events have the sprawling white sands and sparkling blue waters to take advantage of, and Playa makes the most of it. And to cap it all off, Playa Pride culminates with an epic parade that meanders through the streets of Playa del Carmen, representing all the wonderful shades of the LGBTQ community.


Cancun Pride (June) 

While visiting the Riviera Maya in June you can also head to Cancun for the epic Cancun Pride

Ok, ok, we’re cheating… Cancun Pride isn’t strictly in the Riviera Maya, but it’s only a 90-minute drive away. So, if you are around when the festival is on, there’s nothing stopping you from popping over for a cheeky adventure. After all, Cancun Pride is nothing but sheer joy and celebration. It takes place every June and includes a dramatic parade, lots of club-themed nights, and tons of beach parties. In addition, Cancun Pride works throughout the year on fundraisers and projects, supporting and uplifting LGBTQ Mexicans. In recent years, they’ve targeted their work towards anti-discrimination laws and employee support in the workplace.


Mayan Xcapade (September)

Mayan Xcapade is our choice for the ultimate gay party weekend in Mexico's Riviera Maya

Taking place in September, you get to spend 3 nights in the glamorous TRS Yucatan Hotel – a Queer Destinations Certified Hotel – with over 1,000 gays! What could be better? It’s an all-inclusive, super gay experience full of relaxing days at the beach, afternoons swimming in the hotel’s infinity pools, and partying the night away to world-class DJs, including the headliners DJ Aron, DJ Ben Bakson and DJ Anne Louise. There are tons of activities, like water sports and social mixers, so you’ll be sure to make new friends…and maybe even a new lover? DEFINITELY one not to miss! 


Top destinations in Riviera Maya to uncover

From ancient ruins to exploring underwater caves, the Riviera Maya has an abundance of activities to get involved in as well as a rich Mayan cultural heritage. Here we set out some of the top destinations that we think every gay traveler to the Riviera Maya needs to check out:

Tulum Archaeological Site

The archaeological ruins of Tulum are a must-visit when in the Riviera Maya region

Perched along the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, facing the Caribbean Sea, are the famous Tulum ruins. Built as a fortress in 546 AD, Tulum was mostly unoccupied until the 16th century. It’s a place that has seen constant change, with each generation bringing new architectural styles and cultures. As a result, Tulum today is a historian’s goldmine! We recommend going along on a guided tour. It might cost you slightly more than just walking around by yourself but it’s the best way to learn about the historical significance of the site – and there are other fun activities included!


Diving in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef 

While in Playa del Carmen you can go diving on the second largest reef system in the world!

Ask any of our friends and they’ll say “the Nomadic Boys are the exact opposite of Ariel the little mermaid.” She wanted to live on land, and we’re desperate to live under the sea! Which is why we couldn’t resist the urge to go reef diving in Playa del Carmen. Especially considering the Riviera Maya has the second largest reef system in the world. It’s 600 miles of pure maritime magic, extending from the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula to the Bay Islands in Honduras. We only counted about 20 different species between us – but those with a savvier eye than us can find over 500 different species of fish. And we didn’t even mention all of the adorable sea turtles and dolphins!


Cenotes

Visiting the cenotes of the Riviera Maya is one experience you won't ever forget

Cenotes are natural swimming holes that ancient Mayans would have used as a water source. The word “cenote” literally translates to “sacred well”. They were considered so important in Mayan culture that some people even believed them to be a gateway through which one could talk to God. The most impressive ones to visit include Cenote Dos Ojos, Cenote Cristalino, and Cenote Azul. Also, if you get the chance, we highly recommend scuba diving and/or snorkeling in the cenotes, perhaps as a day trip from Playa del Carmen?


Isla Mujeres

A day trip to Isla Mujeres from the Riviera Maya is ideal for relaxation

From kayaking to diving, boat rides to lounging on the beach, very little beats a day trip to Isla Mujeres. Our highlight from this trip was ziplining over the Caribbean Sea. We were suspended 30 feet above the waters, the perfect height for drinking in views of the vast blue waters, white-sand beaches, and charming village down below. Once you’re done there, you need to head into the town itself and seek out a local restaurant. Everywhere we checked had lovely, warm and welcoming staff who served delicious local cuisine (more on this below). 


Playa del Carmen

The beachside city of Playa del Carmen is one of the highlights of Mexico's Riviera Maya region

We go back and forth between craving a beach day and indulging in a city break. So naturally, Playa del Carmen was an exceptional fit for us. You can spend your morning lounging on warm sands, basking in the Caribbean sun, and then spend the afternoon buzzing around the shops and restaurants – or perhaps tasting all the best local cuisine on a food tour. And when it comes to nightlife, anything goes. We hit up Playa 69, the best gay club in Playa del Carmen. Hot bar staff, fun dance music, and reasonably priced drinks…what more could we have wanted?!


Xcaret Park

Xcaret Park is an exciting and unique theme park in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico

If you’re traveling with family or as part of a pack, Xcaret Park is an all-round group pleaser. This is a really unique theme park, where you can snorkel through underground rivers, explore the Coral Reef Aquarium, and fall in love with your surroundings in the Butterfly Pavilion. You don’t even need to be the most active person or the biggest nature enthusiast to appreciate the magic that is Xcaret! The park also has tons of restaurants that serve delicious local cuisine as well as a breath-taking nightly performance showcasing Mayan and Mexican culture- it’s a true love letter to everything wonderful that is Mexico.


Coba Ruins

Head to the Coba Ruins in the Riviera Maya to learn more about Mayan culture and history

For centuries, the Coba Ruins existed undiscovered, due to them being hidden away in a jungle. It was opened to the public in the early 1970s as an archaeological site. Whilst only three structures are open to visitors, some estimate there are over 6,000 settlements out there still. Most people devote around 1-3 hours to visiting and exploring the Nohoch Mul structure, which is the main pyramid. Other highlights include the Conjunto Pinturas, which is considered the spiritual area, and the Macanxoc structures, located next to a magnificent lagoon. You can also learn more about the Mayan culture by joining a tour that includes time at the Coba Maya Ville.


Chichen Itza

The pyramid of Chichen Itza is a must-see while you're visiting the Riviera Maya in Mexico

Chichen Itza used to be one of the most important city-states in pre-Hispanic America. Today, it is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico. It is so impressive that in 2007, it was selected as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Most people come to see the fascinating Chichen Itza pyramid, which was built to honour the God Kukulcanand. Chicken Itza is around 2 hours’ drive from the Riviera Maya, which makes it a convenient day trip as part of a tour.


Food to try in Riviera Maya

Feeling a bit peckish? Maybe don’t read the next part – our stomachs started growling just writing it! But if you’re planning a trip to Riviera Maya, or you’re just in the mood to cook something new for dinner, this list might just spark new culinary inspiration.

Food is an important part of Mexican culture, as it is the centre point of gatherings between family and friends. Therefore, both locals and restaurant owners take great pride in having tourists tuck into their cuisine. Here are the best foods to try in the Riviera Maya.

Cochinita pibil 

It’s sweet, it’s earthy, it’s quintessentially Mexican. It is braised pork marinated in a mix of Seville oranges, achiote, charred garlic, and a host of other spices. Some even like to add sprinkles of cheese into the mix, to give it a creamy kick. Cochinita pibil was traditionally cooked on a “pib” aka an earth oven, though most places use a stone oven. This dish will fill you up for the evening, so we wouldn’t recommend any vigorous dancing or exercising immediately after eating…


Salbutes

Salbutes are corn tortillas fried with yummy toppings
Isaacmz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The ultimate guilty pleasure dish! Salbutes are fried tortillas, topped with pulled chicken, tomato, and avocado. They are a go-to party snack when eating out with friends. They’re crispy without being crumbly, salty without being sickly, and spicy without burning a hole in your tongue. Salbutes are such a popular snack that if you whip up a couple for a social gathering, they will be gone in minutes!


Ceviche

Ceviche is a raw fish dish that's 'cooked' in acidic juice that you can try in the Riviera Maya area of Mexico

We LOVE ceviche! It is a raw seafood dish, which “cooks” in citrus juice (usually lime) and spices. Since it's usually served raw, the fresher it is, the better. It is absolutely delicious, whether eaten as a starter, accompaniment or a main! Along with the lime juice and spices, a traditional Mexican ceviche also contains avocado, tomatoes, cucumber and cilantro. The most common seafood used in a Mexican ceviche is shrimp or scallops. Fish based ceviche is also popular and is usually made from halibut, red snapper, tuna, or sea bass.


Poc Chuc

This was, without a doubt, our favorite meal to have in the Riviera Maya. It's a simple enough recipe that we were even able to master it at home. A poc chuc is a pork dish that is marinated in citrus (usually very sour orange juice) then cooked on a grill. It’s served with rice, refried beans, avocado slices and a pickled onion, which gives it a flawless blend of smoky and sweet. Cooking enthusiasts recommend marinating the pork a day before you cook it to really max out the flavours. 


Pozole

Pozole is a yummy corn and pork soup that you can try at lots of places in the Riviera Maya

Pozole is a soup made from maize (dried corn kernels). Pork gets added to the mix and it's eventually served with shredded lettuce, peppers, garlic, onion, or lime slices. Mexicans tend to make pozole for New Year celebrations and Mexican Independence Day. The dish has a fascinating history, dating back to the Aztecs, who viewed maize as a sacred plant. Some research even proves that they cooked humans for their meat, usually criminals… Thankfully, this tradition quickly got stamped out and pork was used instead!


Sopa de lima

Lime soup may sound weird, but it's a surprisingly refreshing dish we tried in the Riviera Maya
Aome7937, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You guessed right – this is lime soup. At first, we were put off by the idea of a citrus flavoured soup. After all, we usually only have limes with our margaritas! However, this dish is oddly refreshing. It can be served as hot or as mild as you can handle and goes great with a beer or cocktail on the side. Plus, it usually gets served with tortilla chips – fabulous for a starter or midday snack. 


Tikin Xic

Tikin Xic is fish marinated in adobo de achiote and sour oranges, wrapped in banana leaves, and cooked beneath a wood fire. The marriage of smoky and sweet is classic Meso-American style. If you’re wondering what achiote is, it’s a paste made from seeds, spices, and garlic, with a distinct earthy taste to it. Restaurants usually serve this dish with black beans, Mexican white rice, tortilla shells, and slices of avocado.


Plan your trip to Riviera Maya

We've put together some handy hints and tips to help you plan your own trip to the Riviera Maya. Read on to find out everything the gay traveler should know before they go.

How to get there: The easiest way to get to the Riviera Maya is to fly into Cancun International Airport and then catch a taxi or bus to Playa del Carmen – the heart of the region. It takes at least 45 minutes to get to Playa del Carmen, depending on traffic, via bus or taxi. We personally prefer to pre-book a private airport transfer so we can avoid any hassles with navigating public transport or haggling with taxi drivers while juggling our luggage in the heat. With a private transfer, your driver will be waiting to whisk you away in air-conditioned comfort, straight to your hotel.


Visa requirements: Most European and North American citizens don't need a visa to visit Mexico on holiday for up to 180 days. Make sure you check your visa requirements before making arrangements to visit the Riviera Maya, and always ensure your passport has at least six month's validity from your arrival date.


Getting around: You can easily walk around in Playa del Carmen. For the other parts of the Riviera Maya, the best method of transport is via bus, taxi, or collectivo – those cutesy local white minivans you'll see everywhere! Transport is generally easy to organize and not too expensive, but here's some more detailed information on getting around the Riviera Maya.


Power Plugs: In Mexico, the standard power plug is Type A, which is the same as the US, Canada, China, and Japan. If you're traveling to the Riviera Maya from a country with different power outlets, remember to bring a travel adaptor with you to ensure you can charge your electronic devices!


Travel insurance: Even in safe destinations like the Riviera Maya, things can go pear-shaped when you're traveling, which is why travel insurance is a must! We always use World Nomads Travel Insurance on our trips and highly recommend them due to their affordable, comprehensive cover. It's easy to make a claim online when you need to and you can rest/travel easy knowing you're covered no matter what.


Vaccinations: All travelers to Mexico should make sure they're up to date with routine vaccinations like measles, mumps, and chickenpox, as well as Covid-19. Most travelers should also be vaccinated for hepatitis A and typhoid. Some travelers may also need vaccinations for hepatitis B, malaria, and rabies, depending on what you'll be doing/where you'll be going. Check the CDC website for the most up-to-date info for Mexico and also speak to your local doctor or travel nurse before making travel plans for the Riviera Maya.


Currency: The currency in the Riviera Maya is the same as the rest of Mexico; the Mexican Peso, which is shortened to MXN. The country uses the dollar symbol though, so don't get confused by prices for dinner being $200 as they mean 200 pesos! To give you an idea, $1 (USD) converts to around 19 pesos and €1 is worth about 21 pesos.


Tipping culture: Tipping is customary in Mexico (especially in tourist destinations like the Riviera Maya) since most workers earn a low wage so they rely on tips to make a living. In restaurants, we recommend tipping between 10-20% for good service. In hotels or resorts, tipping will ensure you get that extra special treatment! Check out this detailed guide to tipping in Mexico for more information.


Internet access: Most hotels, restaurants, bars and other establishments will have free WiFi in Mexico, which is better quality than you might assume. Otherwise, consider buying a local SIM card when you arrive, or even a portable WiFi device so you can connect multiple devices at faster speeds during your time in the Riviera Maya.


Online privacy: Mexico is very gay friendly, so you won't need to worry about using gay apps such as Grindr or Scruff while you're in the Riviera Maya. However, if you prefer to keep your online activities private, we recommend getting a VPN because it is an affordable and reliable way to securely browse the internet.


Accommodation: When organizing our accommodation in the Riviera Maya we love to use Booking.com. They have a wide range of properties at the lowest prices, and many offer free cancellation as well. This is perfect if you like to be spontaneous and rearrange your travel plans on the go! Their online customer support is available 24/7 and are very helpful.


Sightseeing and adventure: For finding fun tours and activities in the Riviera Maya, we head to GetYourGuide. They have so many options for all sorts of interests, from adrenaline-fuelled adventures to relaxed gourmet walking tours. They also have excellent online customer support that's available 24/7 and it's really easy to book your excursions online.


Safety tips for gay travel to Riviera Maya

Is the Riviera Maya safe for gay travelers? The short answer is YES, but it's always smart to take precautions when traveling. Make sure you follow these safety tips and you are unlikely to encounter any problems while traveling in the Riviera Maya.

  • Check official government advice before you go. We recommend doing this no matter where you're traveling to, as there might be things you need to be aware of. Here is the most recent travel advice for US citizens going to Mexico, but make sure you look up your own government website if you're coming from somewhere else.
  • Although homosexuality is legal in Mexico, avoid public displays of affection outside of the gay friendly areas. In the main touristy areas and big cities, you shouldn't encounter any problems, but in the more rural or remote areas of the country, locals may still be a bit hostile.
  • Just like anywhere in the world, be aware of your surroundings, especially in big cities. The busier a city, the more pickpockets you are likely to encounter. But if you pay attention to what's going on around you then you are much less likely to lose any belongings.
  • Drink moderatly and avoid using substances. Obviously, if you're coming to the Riviera Maya to partake in some of the wonderful gay parties then we're not saying to not have fun! But people who are obviously intoxicated are much easier targets and the last thing you want is to get so wasted that you get lost or worse. Enjoy yourself but still be sensible, ok guys?
  • Don't wear valuables in public. If you're outfitted in lots of bling you're also more of a target for thieves, so we suggest leaving your valuables at home, or in the safe at your hotel.
  • Invest in a good money belt. A great way to be able to carry cash and credit cards without worrying too much about thieves is by using a money belt that's hidden under your clothing. We still recommend not having too much money on you, just in case, but this at least makes theft far more difficult for those pesky pickpockets!
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Stefan Arestis

Stefan is the co-founder, editor, and author of the gay travel blog nomadicboys.com. As a travel nerd, he has explored more than 80 countries across 5 continents. What he loves the most about traveling is discovering the local gay scene, making new friends, and learning new cultures. His advice about LGBTQ travel has been featured in Gaycation Magazine, Gaycities, Gay Times, Pink News, and Attitude Magazine. He has also written about gay travel for other non-gay-specific publications including Lonely Planet, The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post. Stefan is also a qualified lawyer, having practiced as a commercial property litigator in London for over 10 years. He left his lawyer days behind to work full time on Nomadic Boys with his husband Sebastien. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

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