It's worth hiring a car to explore further a field, but taxis are very reasonably priced.
Cancún International is the main regional airport, with direct flights to and from the UK. Alternatively, you could fly via Miami, which is only an hour away by plane. The taxi ride to Playa del Carmen takes around 45 minutes and will cost around $60; Tulum is about 90 minutes away and will cost around $100.
Country code for Mexico: 52; Playa del Carmen: 984; Cancún: 998.
Brush up on your Mayan history with A Forest of Kings by David Freidel, and have those temple inscriptions explained with Reading the Maya Glyphs by Michael D Coe.
Do go / Don't Go
The climate is normally excellent all year round. August and Christmas are very busy, so spring generally provides the best combination in terms of good weather and fewer crowds. Easter is a popular holiday all over Mexico, so book hotel rooms as early as possible if you're planning to go then. August to October is hurricane season in the Caribbean, so be aware that this is a potential hazard.
The chilli of choice in the Riviera Maya is the habanero, the one with the most intense spiciness - watch out for it as an eye-watering accompaniment in salsa form. The Caribbean shores bring in a daily catch, and a popular dish is ceviche - seafood marinated in lime or lemon juice. Other regional dishes include sopa de lima (lime soup with shredded chicken), huevos motuleños (eggs on a tortilla with beans, peas, ham, sausage and cheese) and poc chuc (chargrilled pork marinated in sour orange juice, with black beans and onions). Venison is often served wrapped in banana leaves, with a sauce made from squash seeds.
Hail them in the Playa del Carmen for shorter journeys, or ask your hotel to call one for you. Make sure you establish a price for your trip before you set off as few taxis have meters.
Wages are low in this part of the world and most workers survive on their tips; 10-15 per cent is the norm, although taxi drivers won't usually expect anything.
Mexican peso (the US dollar is also widely accepted).
Your regular beach-bound kit (swimwear, sunglasses, bucket and spade), and a beginner's guide to archaeology, in case all those ruins make you want to jump around like a jungle-clearing explorer.
The Mayan ruins throughout the region will satisfy all levels of archaeological fancy. Once you've checked out the cliff-perched Tulum, pre-Columbian Cobá awaits inland. Surrounded by two lagoons, the jungle site has several pyramids, including the tallest one in the Yucatán region. It is believed to have been the home of 40,000 Maya.
The Riviera Maya is in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. The region was nameless until 1902 when it adopted the moniker of early poet-patriot of the Mexican Republic, Andrés Quintana Roo.
For a bit of light retail entertainment, head to Playa del Carmen for the best, if decidedly tourist-aimed, selection of shops. Don't expect the Via Condotti, but pedestrianised Quinto Avenida (5th Avenue) has several internationally branded stores and small Mexican boutiques worth a poke around.
The view of the coast from the ruins at Tulum is exceptional. You won't be able to climb the great temple-pyramid of El Castillo at Chichen Itzá but, trust us, the view from the Temple of the Wind is just as impressive.
Take your snorkel down to Akumal Bay and search for rare turtles at this quiet and laid-back beach, south of Cancún.
2 February The Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas) festival is celebrated all over Mexico with candlelit celebrations. Late February Carnaval takes place in the week prior to Ash Wednesday, and has become a major event in Cancún and Cozumel. 5 May Cinco de Mayo marks a huge celebration to commemorate the Mexican victory in the Battle of Puebla. 16 September Mexicans celebrate being Mexican on Independence Day. 31 October-2 November The Day of the Dead festival celebrations combine pre-Columbian ancestor worship with elements of Halloween.