Welcome to our full guide on the worst time to visit Riviera Maya. We know, we know…you’re dreaming of those spicy fish tacos, those sparkling Caribbean beaches, those scuba-filled days on the Isla Cozumel. But, before you get carried away, it’s important to decide the best season for your jaunt down south, so you can make the most out of that trip of a lifetime.
That’s where we come in. Here, we’ll go through all the pros and cons of traveling to this gorgeous corner of Quintana Roo state at different times of the year. We’ll outline the worst time to visit the Riviera Maya to reveal the best time, so you can make an informed decision on when to jet off.
Of course, it’s not quite as clear cut as you might think. Different months mean different things in this tropical corner of the world. There are times that are better suited for divers and snorkelers. There are moments that are primed for the partiers and the beach bathers. And there even times for those who make escaping the crowd their target numero uno.
May-October: The worst time to visit Riviera Maya for beaches
Don’t go thinking that the blinding-white sands that the shores of the Yucatan and Quintana Roo are known for are a given on that trip. They aren’t! The beaches here are much better at certain times of the year. That’s mainly down to one thing: The so-called seaweed season.
Yep, huge – and we really do mean HUGE – sargassum blooms in the western Caribbean can wreak havoc on the shorelines all the way from Belize to Cancun during the summer months. Sometimes you can hardly spot a speck of the cotton-colored sand beneath the washed-up clumps of ocean debris. It’s not good news for sunbathers, that’s for sure!
Sargassum appears as the currents shift in the Caribbean around the early summer. The worst months are generally June and July, but things can stay bad until well into September. That said, the seaweed is very unpredictable. Some days you could wake to mounds and mounds of the stuff rotting on the shore. The next it could be clear as a postcard.
The worst-affected beaches are the most southerly of the Riviera Maya – that’s Bahia Soliman down to Arco Maya – and the beaches in between Cancun and Punta Bete. The popular sands of Playacar and Xpu-Ha avoid much of the problem thanks to the swell shadow that’s cast by the Isla Cozumel. What’s more, resorts like Puerto Morelos now have extensive seaweed barriers in place, and hotels work hard to clear the beaches to keep them open for travelers.
July-October: The worst time to visit Riviera Maya for weather
Sargassum in the sea isn’t the only risk that the summer brings to the Riviera Maya. Nope, it’s also a time when the temperatures crank skywards and the rainfall goes with it. In fact, the official rainy season in this corner of Mexico begins in June. It sees average precipitation levels soar to over 80mm and then drop again before reaching an annual high of nearly 90mm in October. You’ll need an umbrella!
A lot of the increased rainfall is down to the hurricane season. Now, there are years when the Riviera Maya isn’t even touched by a storm. Then again, there are other years when three, four, five, 10 storm systems in a row can roll through, blowing the coconuts off the palm trees and drenching the sands.
If that happens then you almost certainly won’t be able to hit the beaches and there could be even more serious impacts to your holiday, like canceled flights and excursions, not to mention all the other risks that come with incoming typhoons!
And it’s not just the rain, either. The temperatures are also pretty scorching on the Riviera from May onwards – you’re looking at 80s and 90s most days. That makes it humid and, occasionally, downright unpleasant.
We think that the best way to look at the period between July and October is as a compromise. Yes, there are risks with weather. There are risks with seaweed blooms, too. However, you will find you pay lots less for flights, hotels, and trips, and there are fewer people around to balance it all out. It’s just one of the things you’ll need to consider when you come to book.
February-April: The worst time to visit Riviera Maya if you don’t like crowds!
Here is it: Spring break. This is the time of the year that the Riviera Maya’s next-door neighbor of Cancun goes off the hook. Coco Bongo parties all night long, Punta Cancun goes into overdrive, and more tequilas are poured than you can shake a seafood taco at. It’s a great time to be alive. Well…it’s a great time to be alive if you’re a college breaker from the USA!
For others, this part of the year in Mexico can be downright overwhelming. Granted, the Riviera Maya sees just a fraction of the crowds of Cancun. But they do come. Mostly, they come to popular hotspots like Tulum and Playa del Carmen. You’ll notice the bars and the clubs there get much busier and wilder, and the beaches pack with bodies.
We’d recommend you flat out ignore this season if you’re not into crowds. It’s the busiest time of the lot, apart from, maybe, the ultra-peak of Christmas and New Year (see below). Better options that still mean good weather come in late November and December, before the rush has really started. Shh! Don’t tell everyone!
December-January: The worst time to visit Riviera Maya if you’re on a budget
Prices will skyrocket in almost every resort on the Riviera Maya during the festive season and around New Year. That’s when the snowbirds of middle America and Europe jet across in search of their mid-winter hit of Vitamin D and Vitamin Sea, cranking up demand for the best hotels and cranking up the cost of flights and hotels with it.
The peak within the peak season is Christmas and then NYE, which both often see record highs in the cost of stays on the Riviera Maya. After those have finished, you’re likely to see sharp drop offs in the cost of a holiday, but remember it’s still the high season for weather, so things aren’t likely to dip too much!
In fact, the lowest rates of the year probably won’t swing around until the mid to late summer. As we’ve already seen, that’s arguably the worst time to visit Riviera Maya for beaches, both on account of the huge seaweed blooms and the soaring rainfall. It just depends on if getting wet and being unable to swim are risks you’re willing to take to get a little extra bang for your buck.
February-March: The worst time to visit the Riviera Maya for diving
Ask any seasoned diver and they’re likely to tell you that the Riviera Maya is a scuba mecca the whole year round. It’s hard to disagree, especially since most of the best reefs and coral gardens on the western shoreline of Cozumel (the diving mecca of the region itself) are well protected from the seaweed blooms and dominant ocean currents.
That said, there are certain seasons that offer a little more than others. There’s late summer, for example, which is the key whale shark diving time on the Isla Mujeres. Then there’s the period from November through to January, when bull shark diving (if you dare) takes place near Playa del Carmen. What’s more, the months from May onwards are top times to spot rare sea turtles in Akumal, which we’d say is one of the most amazing experiences on offer in these parts.
More generally, water temperatures go up a degree or two with the summer months and there’s good visibility to boot. That means February to March, short of being a bad time to dive in Riviera Maya, is just not quite as good as other times of the year. It’s something worth knowing if you came here dreaming of coral reefs and encounters with rainbowfish, eh?
The worst time to visit Riviera Maya – our conclusion
The truth is that there’s really no clear-cut worst time to visit Riviera Maya. It all really depends on what you want to do. It’s no secret that the vast majority of travelers come here to enjoy R&R on the beaches and swimming in the clear Caribbean Sea, and for that the classic high-season months of December to March are probably the best option overall.
However, what if you’re on a tight budget? In that case, you may well be better served by the dropping rates of flights and hotels in the late summer. However, you’ll need to bear in mind that those times come with a heightened risk of hurricanes from the Atlantic Hurricane Alley, along with potential seaweed blooms on the beaches right up and down the Riviera Maya.
On the other hand, divers might prefer the balmier waters of the summer months. They also bring chances to spot whale sharks and bull sharks and the famous turtles of Akumal, which aren’t really present during the traditional peaks of midwinter. It’s all swings and roundabouts.