Edited to add: The following article was written in advance of my trip to Riviera Maya. I had no idea how my trip would be tragically cut short, but trips getting ruined is a risk we all take, every time we leave home. That’s why we make packing lists and attempt to prepare… for the best AND the worst. This list is a great packing list for any area/park where you will be participating in active/eco adventure. There’s only one change I’d make to the list below… read on to see which items were the biggest lifesavers and what I’d pack differently.
Riviera Maya’s Xcaret parks have waterparks, cenotes, beaches and rivers, not to mention zip lines and off road vehicles. My trip is going to be an adventurous one, for sure.
So… What to pack for five days of hiking, swimming, and cliff jumping fun at Xcaret in Riviera Maya? I can’t wait to release my travel adventure-side.
They say that a great part of the pleasure you experience when you travel is the planning and anticipation. I’ll add in shopping. My Amazon account is in agreement. I have purchased, returned and repurchased a half dozen items, in anticipation of this trip to Xcaret in Riviera Maya.
Prior to my departure, I did a bit of research about the locations I would be visiting. These include multiple parks. Xelha, Xcaret, Xenses, Xichen, and more. We are going to be super active, in and out of the water and on the go.
edited to add: I only ended up visiting Xcaret, and Xelha before my trip was cut short. But I did get to test out my gear.
I have mixed feelings about physically adventurous trips like this. I’m excited to be active and outdoors and to do all this fun stuff. I’m less excited to be damp and potentially uncomfortable for hours on end. Let’s face it. I’m an adventure junkie on the inside, and a comfort loving, middle aged mom of four on the outside.
My big realization: Sometimes, it’s all about the gear. Heading into a Riviera Maya trip you need to pack and plan carefully!
A little over a year ago I went on a similar adventure in the Philippines. Two full days of outrigger boating, island hopping, hiking, cliff jumping, off roading, parasailing and more, with little time to change or reapply sunscreen. The men in our group had on rashguards with board shorts and water shoes. The women, including me, packed a whole bag. We had swimsuits (mostly bikinis), cover ups, flip flops, hiking shoes, socks, tees & shorts and multiple hats…
Guess what? It didn’t quite end in tears but it did end with sunburn, chafing rashes, a ton of laundry and a bad mood. Despite having loved the location. I hated myself for not being better, and more simply prepared to enjoy it. I opted out of some of the activities I really wanted to try simply because I lacked the right gear and I just didn’t feel up to another costume change.
This realization got me to thinking about the sorts of activities I enjoy, yet sometimes avoid. When I examine them more closely, a lot of that has to do with wardrobe/comfort issues. Life is too short to avoid doing fun stuff due to wardrobe malfunctions.
My upcoming trip to Riviera Maya has provided me with the perfect opportunity to shop and plan, and I am happy knowing that everything I buy for this trip will serve me well for some time to come.
Many of the items on this list are wardrobe related. I hope that my list and planning helps someone else to shed their own hesitation to participate in and enjoy similar activities, comfortably and confidently!
Purchase #1: A packable ponytail-friendly hat with plenty of shade for Riviera Maya
If you have long hair and you are somewhere hot and sunny, and you require a hat, you probably know the irritating choice that many hats require you to make. Shade your face, or put your hair up? Finally I own a hat that allows me to do BOTH at once. Plus it’s cute, totally packable and lightweight. I would buy this hat again, in additional colors.
Purchase #2: What to Waterpark in at Riviera Maya – Swim Capris
I had not even heard of or considered swim capris till a surfer pal clued me in.
I’m not a swim skirt kind of girl. While I appreciate the extra coverage of assorted high waisted/boy short styled swim bottoms for women, I don’t find them particularly comfortable. None of them are long enough to prevent chafing if I suddenly switch from swim to land mode and go for a damp hike.
Yes, I’ve tried board shorts but I’ve yet to find a pair that doesn’t bunch up eventually and I don’t like swimming with billowy fabric around me. That’s a personal quirk. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been startled by a “fish” that turned out to be my shorts or the drawstring to my shorts.
My new swim capris are a dream come true. They are super light, thin and comfy – silky almost, and quick to dry. There’s a built in mesh panty and they are UV protective with a high SPF so that means less sunscreen to apply to my legs.
But most of all they are insanely comfortable both in and out of the water – whatever activity I head to next. No changing, no chafing, no hesitation.
Edited to add: I absolutely loved all the swim capris I purchased and will be wearing them during all my active water sports in the future. They saved me.
Purchase #3: Every Riviera Maya Packing List Needs Lands End Long Rashguards
I have the same long torso problem with rashguards that I have with swimsuits. My extra long torso makes for a lot of rashguard belly shirts which is not the look I’m going for. I love that Lands End literally has me covered here. Not only do their rashguards fit fantastically, but they also flatter. They are cut to enhance a woman’s shape – curves exist in all the right places. These high quality rashguards also last and last and last. I’ve had a couple of them for several years, and I wear them regularly when I snorkel. They have survived sun, sea and chlorine pools no problem.
Even after wearing my primarily white striped Lands End rashguard out on the water for three days in a row, while on a camping and whale watching trip in Baja, it looks like new!
When I realized how great these rashguards look and feel with my swim capris, I reached out to Lands End and they sent me a couple new ones to test.
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@mylandsend is literally saving my skin @beachesresorts this week. My finger lingered over this rashguard when I ordered the matching polka dot swim bottoms a few weeks ago but I wasn’t sure what size to order. Today in the swag suite they had them – in a medium. I’ve lost a little weight recently and decided to go for it and am delighted to say it was a perfect fit. I’m so used to ordering larger sizes that I am so glad I waited and fate came together. My comfy swim bottoms have a perfect 💙mate and the hat is the perfect topper. Plus a blue drink. Because today is blue day 💙🌞💙🌞💙 #Beachesmoms #oceanblues #beachesturksandcaicos #Colorsofbeachescontest #Socialmediaonthesand #beachespartner #mylandsend #areyousickofmyselfiesyet
I loved them so much, I promptly ordered two more. I don’t think 6 rashguards is excessive at all! Especially since I wear these for more than just swimming. I can see myself sea kayaking, para sailing, beach walking, and doing a lot of other active outdoors in/out of the water type activities a lot more comfortably now.
Edited to add: Still in love with my Land’s End Rash Guards. Can’t have too many! They wear so incredibly well and all still look like new.
Purchase # 4: Water Shoes & Teva Sandals for Riviera Maya Packing Lists
I adore my Teva Sandals. They are supportive and grippy and great in and out of the water. When I was backpacking in Europe during the summer, these were my daily wear shoes. They are great with casual dresses, shorts, pants and I can walk all day in them without any foot pain. I honestly can’t believe how much I love a pair of sandals that I originally purchased (in hot pink and mint green on clearance at Nordstrom Rack) as a kayaking shoe. I daresay I love them even more than my trusty Birkenstocks. I’ve worn my originals so much that I splurged on a pair of solid black ones that will go with more outfits. I expect to have them for at least ten years. I don’t think these things ever wear out.
For some of my Riviera Maya activities, and also for tidepooling on the So Cal Coast, I prefer a closed toe shoe. This is a tricky purchase for me. There are a ton of great “barefoot” style water shoes available these days, that work great for most people. They don’t work so great for me. I need more arch support. I hunted high and low to find water shoes with arch support and kept coming up empty. Keen and Teva and other outdoorsy sandal brands offer sandals that have support but nothing that is truly enclosed and will keep out twigs and sharp rocks.
I tried and returned multiple water shoes from Amazon that promised to be supportive. Too big, too small, too flat… Finally I settled on a pair of Ryka watershoes. Like Goldilocks, I found this pair to be just right. If you are looking for water shoes that have some arch support, these are the best I have found! I loved them so much that I left a glowing review on Amazon. If you are the one other person who is desperately looking for a water shoe with arch support – I feel you!
Edited to add: The Rykas are the shoes I was wearing when I slipped and fell and broke my arm. Twice. I still think they are extremely comfy and probably well suited to beach scrambling here on the west coast. They are similar to any activewear sneaker/shoe with adequate grip for most textured paved and rocky surfaces. However the concrete pathways at the Riviera Maya parks are painted and smooth – extremely slippery when wet (and always wet). In retrospect the one change I’d make to the list would be to recommend an extra grippy barefoot style shoe for safety. Support is meaningless if you end up flat on your back!
Purchase # 5: Waterproof Phone/Gear Case(s)
You will want to take pictures. Lots of pictures. Small waterproof phone cases are allowed on almost all of the attractions. Selfie sticks and mounts are not. If you have a Go Pro, you might want to consider investing in one of these mouthguard styled “grill” go pro holders for a hands free first person video perspective. You just pop the holder in your mouth and bite down. A neck lanyard, also works. But you will be turned away with a stick style mount.
Since my phone is supposedly waterproof, I went with a floatie style phone holder with light waterproofing for security.
Edited to add: I like how protective this was for hiking and active sports. Like bubble wrap for my phone. I was too chicken to risk submerging the phone without extra protection, however. Sadly I was not able to use the phone when I put it in a larger waterproof case and for this reason I’d look into these dive-worthy phone cases for future waterpark/wet/ocean adventure.
I probably would have also been fine with a well fitted inexpensive plastic case. Be advised that while you can get the same plastic style cases in the parks, the expense is around $30, as opposed the the $7 you will pay on Amazon. Amazon also offers larger pad and tablet cases better suited to oversized phones. Test your cases before you go!
Purchase # 6: Reef Friendly Biodegradable Sunscreen is Mandatory for Riviera Maya
Riviera Maya asks guests to use sunscreens that are biodegradable and reef safe because the chemicals in our mass market sunscreen are literally killing the coral reefs. If that doesn’t make you think twice about your sunscreen spray, it should!
Non-nano mineral based sunscreens have been a part of my solar care ritual for years. Turns out, I have something in common with coral reefs. Chemical sunscreens kill me too. Seriously – my reaction and the resulting chemical burns I suffer from most “broad spectrum” sunscreens is enough to scare people into staying home.
Fortunately for me and the coral reefs there are a number of great mineral based, non chemical sunscreens out there. For this trip I am packing a combination of Badger brand kid’s sunscreen, Bare Republic Products and Pacifica Tinted mineral sunscreens, as well as MyChelle facial tinted mineral sunscreen. I plan to only use the reef safe certified Badger products when I’ll be in the water. Bonus: the natural oil based tangerine/vanilla scent is very light and pleasant.
Edited to add: I observed so many people using non reef safe sunscreens and bug repellants at the parks that it made me want to cry. There are reef safe options for purchase in the park but they are very expensive and no better than the products you can plan for and pack ahead. Just make sure to choose responsibly. Whether you mention to other park attendees that they are destroying the environment is up to you! Be safe! Don’t be that *$$hole that slathers on deet and chemical sunscreen before snorkeling though!
Purchase #7: A Dry Bag for Travel to Riviera Maya Water Parks
There are places to check your bags and lockers in the park, and carry stuff is discourage. But if, like me, you carry an epi pen at all times, and if you perhaps like to have a spare camera battery, extra sunscreen, some water and your Go Pro, it’s worth it to invest in a small dry bag that you can swim or float down a river with. I’m not talking a huge day bag, just a small waterproof pack with the essential emergency gear.
Note: zip lines are generally a no gear/bag zone so plan ahead to stash your bag or have a friend hold it while you soar.
Edited to add: Consider keeping a small first aid kit in your dry bag, and consider putting a small chemical ice/cold pack inside it. Far from the lockers and a long hike from the main entrance, it took almost an hour to get ice after falling and breaking my arm.
Heat stroke can also happen quickly, and it might take significant time to get to a medic. At the very least, a small cooling towel would be a good addition to the drybag.
Purchase # 8: Bug Repellants & Bug Bite Relief for use in Tropical Locations like Riviera Maya
This is a tricky one because we don’t want to pollute the water with chemical bug repellant. But we also do not want to get bug bites. I have stocked up with natural bug repellant sprays for the daytime, and wipes and spray with more potent chemical ingredients for after hours when the bugs tend to be the most bloodthirsty. Here’s the bug repellant tools in my travel bag when I head to any tropical location:
- Bug Spray with Picardin
- Cutter Dry Spray with (low concentration) DEET
- Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Based, Chemical Free Bug Repellant
I have two bonus DIY bug repelling tricks that I use when travelling, DIY bug repelling wipes, and bug repelling jewelry! I particularly like to have bug repellant wipes in my arsenal when I travel for fast applications.
Here’s my quick/cheap hack for DIY bug repellant:
- Purchase a couple of travel-sized wipes, open, and allow them to partially dry out. Alternatively fill a travel diaper wipes case with some dried flushable wipes or diaper wipes. Thinner is better for this use.
- Pour off some of your non-deet Eucalyptus oil based spray onto the wipes. You can add a few drops of liquid coconut oil and witch hazel to dilute if your wipes are very dry and really soaking it up but do not dilute too much! Aim for moist towelette, not soaked. There should not be liquid in the container.
- Viola! Travel bug wipes. Keep those wipes in your carry on. Do a quick swipe in the restroom after you land, and before you leave the airport. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been eaten alive in the van, en route to a resort, because my bug spray was inaccessible, packed deep in my luggage!
DIY bug repellant jewelry:
- Purchase wooden, lava and unsealed ceramic beads (anything porous)
- Wipe beads with your choice of bug repellant essential oils – taking care not to oversaturate and not to use any oils that might irritate your skin.
- Using stretchy elastic thread, string into bracelets or anklets. Alternatively, if using pendant style beads for a necklace, thread on leather cord.
- Store bracelets and pendants for travel inside a zip lock bag with a cotton ball that has been treated with a few more drops of essential oil.
Here is a tutorial of the bug repellant bracelets I made for my sons on a trip to Turks & Caicos.
One last thing that seems to help ward off biting insects – Oregano Oil. I take this twice a day when I travel and it’s also great for preventing digestive issues.
Can you tell I HATE bug bites?
Purchase # 9 A Med Kit with Assorted Gut and Pain Remedies
Mexico has a bad rap when it comes to stomach issues. I’ve gotten food poisoning in other countries, as well, however. Better safe than sorry when it comes to travel. I always carry the following whenever I leave the country:
For Gut Distress:
- Oregano Oil – Kills bad bacteria in the gut and may help repel biting insects
- Charcoal tablets – in the event that I get “glutened” or feel like I’ve eaten something bad, I will pop one of these. Charcoal is actually used in cases of poisoning and helps remove toxins from your system.
- Pepto Bismol chewables – good for general stomach upset/diarrhea
- Immodium – for more serious or prolonged diarrhea
- Rehydration powder – add to bottled water to stay hydrated
- Gaviscon – good for occasional reflux/upset stomach
- Vertigox oil – for motion sickness or any general “yucky” feeling
- Benadryl/Diphenhydramine (for allergies, sleeplessness or motion sickness)
- Sea Bands
- Aspirin (I take one aspirin before I fly)
- Arnica Gel
- Stopain Migraine relief mentholated gel
Purchase # 10 Travel Insurance for Trips to Cancun’s Riviera Maya
Things can and do go wrong when you are traveling. We hope and pray that nothing bad will happen, but in the event of lost luggage, cancelled flights, illness, injury or worse, you need travel insurance. It’s a small price to pay for a lot of comfort and security.
Edited to add: Travel insurance for life! My trip to Riviera Maya was cut short unexpectedly when I slipped and fell and (very badly) broke my wrist in two places on my first day. What followed was a miserable trip to the hospital, and emergency flight home. Thank goodness I had travel insurance to cover the medical bills and emergency plane trip.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to spend this extra money. It was probably the most important pre trip purchase I made. I purchased Travel Insurance through AIG.
For more great advice on where to stay in Riviera Maya, check out Luxury Latin America’s Guide to travel in Cancun and Riviera Maya,