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Three Defining Foods of the Riviera Maya

Food is considered to be a universal language. It is what defines a certain region and provides an insight of its culture and tradition. The Riviera Maya is home to an abundance of rich produce, ranging from fresh seafood to a plethora of tropical fruit. And while it‘s true that the ingredients may be familiar, it is the preparation and the combination of these ingredients that define Riviera Maya food.

For the past 17 years that I have been hosting guests at La Sirena, the most common question that I have been asked is “What should I eat to have an authentic Mayan experience in Akumal?

In this article, we’re going to go through three definitive and locally recommended foods in the Riviera Maya. Dishes that were invented and kept alive by locals with a deeply rooted sense of connection with the land and their tradition. Options that simply scream authentic Mexican food experience. So unfortunately, margaritas technically aren’t classified as food, so we cannot include them here. But do stay tuned, we might discuss it in a later publication.

In any case, here is my personal take on the must try foods in the Riviera Maya that any guest should try to complete their experience:

Yes, ceviche can be eaten across different places around the world. And most tropical places close to the ocean have their own take. But this dish is universal among various cultures that trying it out may even be equivalent to tasting their culture in general. Personally, I love ceviche and the ocean, so I’m always looking to try the local style. And for every take on the ceviche, I compare it to what has become my standard — the shrimp and pulpo (octopus) ceviche that I eat multiple times per week here in Akumal.

Mexican Caribbean style ceviche is made by taking whatever seafood you are using and marinating it in fresh limes (approximately around 15-20 minutes) along with ripe tomatoes, sweet onion, and a touch of olive oil.

In our area, most locals prefer to eat ceviche with crackers called Sabritas which are similar to saltine crackers. Some also like to spice up their ceviche with habanero sauce. Do take note that they can be very spicy (picante). Mexican style ceviche is traditionally eaten at lunch, not dinner as that is when it’s most fresh.

Shrimp and octopus ceviche
Shrimp and Octopus Ceviche YUMMM!

Cochinita Pibil is a fabulous Yucatan stew-like pork dish that you wouldn’t want to miss out. The meat is marinated in a marinade primarily made of achiote paste which is made from a mixture of annatto seeds (aka achiote), garlic, optional chilies, bitter orange juice, garlic and other seasonings.

Cochinita Pibil is a fabulous Yucatan stew-like pork dish that you wouldn’t want to miss out. The meat is marinated in a marinade primarily made of achiote paste which is made from a mixture of annatto seeds (aka achiote), garlic, optional chilies, bitter orange juice, garlic and other seasonings.

Fast fact: the Mayan word ‘pibil’ means buried or cooked underground. So, if you want to try out an authentic Cochinita Pibil, you might want to identify if it was cooked in a pit.

The pork is generally pulled and served with pickled pink onions and grilled mild peppers on a white corn tortilla. Like most traditional Mexican food, rice and beans accompany the main dish. The dish also works well with other meats. I personally recommend trying out the Chicken Cochinita Pibil. It’s absolutely delicious.

Cochinita Pibil in tacos with marinated red onions

Tikin Xic

Somewhat similar to Pibil, Tikin Xic, meaning dry fish, is another Mayan traditional dish.  A firm white fish, is rubbed with achiote paste and wrapped in banana leaves before cooked in the ground or on a grill. Unlike Pibil, Tikin Xic has a milder taste since the mix is rubbed on the meat’s surface.

Red snapper Tikin Xix
A local Snapper cooked as Tikin Xic

Bonus: Tropical Fruits

I believe that no tropical coastal vacation is complete without trying out the local produce, and that definitely includes fruits. The Mayan Riviera has a huge variety of tropical fruits, much of it grown here. These include: various types of mangoes and avocados, rambutans, pineapples, bananas, oranges, limes, and coconut, to name a few. 

One of my favorites though has got to be the dragon fruit or pitaya as the locals call it. A very unusual plant, the dragon fruit is a cereus-type climbing cactus.  It’s very large white flowers open in the evening and if pollinated will develop into a round red fruit about the size of a softball. You can see some growing in the La Sirena gardens when you come to visit.

Sliced dragon fruit and mayan honey
Dragon Fruit in a Local Grocery Store

To eat it, the red flesh is peeled off, exposing the white flesh filled with small black seeds that look like poppy seeds.  Its taste is slightly sweet, some say a cross between a kiwi and a pear.  Sliced and drizzled with Mayan honey, it’s amazing.

Sliced dragon fruit and mayan honey

Soo there you have it. Three of my personal recommendations plus a little bonus to make your vacation truly personalized. There are more dishes and exotic edibles to discover here in our area. All you have to do is do what the locals do — eat!


For a more definite list of our local Akumal dishes, feel free to check out our own Akumal food guide. And have a look here for more of Akumal’s great food! But in order to get the full experience, we encourage you to come and visit Akumal Escapes. Give us a call to learn more about us and what you can expect when you choose us for your next getaway.

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