Fishing the Riviera Maya: Cancún, Cozumel, & Playa del Carmen
Jul 13, 2020 | 12 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 12 minutes

So you chose the Mexican Caribbean as the next item on your angling bucket list. Good for you! With countless species and techniques to explore, fishing the Riviera Maya will put you smack in the middle of one of the most prolific angling destinations on the planet. Couple that with dream-like natural beauty and year-round pleasant weather, and you’ll see why this place is hailed as a bonafide angler’s paradise.

Fishing boats on the coast of the riviera Maya

Each year, thousands of hopeful anglers flock to the Riviera Maya to catch the fish of their life. Beginners, experts, fly fishers, and big game hunters, all of them come in search of the big one. Many leave the Yucatán with dreams fulfilled, and with tales to tell. What is it that makes this strip of land so special?

Two Faces: One Incredible Fishery

Perched on the lush Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, the Riviera Maya is a 150-mile stretch of coastline looking out into the mesmerizing, blue Caribbean. Spreading from Cancún in the north, to Punta Allen in the south, the Riviera is dotted with a mixture of tourist resorts, charming villages, and ancient citadels. Over the years, some of these places have become renowned for various types of fishing.

a day's catch: a variety of fish laid out in front on a fishing boat in Cancun, Mexico
Few places can produce a catch like this one.

Starting your coastal journey from the northeastern tip of the peninsula, you’ll see a number of bustling resort towns. Nestled between swaying palm trees and picturesque white beaches, these locales are bound to provide you with all the creature comforts you need. Out in the water, however, you’re going to need to fight for your prize. 

Contrasting the touristically developed north, the southern Riviera Maya is a quieter part of the coast. With ancient ruins jutting out silently from the jungle, this part of the coast seems a world away from the luxury resort towns of the north. And while the mainland might be a serene place, the waters are as lively and vibrant as it gets.

Overlooking it all is the wildly beautiful island of Cozumel. A perfect blend of old and new, the island is the ideal launching point for deep water expeditions. And while technically not part of the Riviera proper, Cozumel is a place every angler sees as a key part of the local fishing scene.

Before we dive into all the angling opportunities these locales offer, let’s have a quick run-down of the fishing regulations in Riviera Maya.

Fishing Regulations in Riviera Maya

Unless you’re fishing from land, you’ll need a fishing license in Riviera Maya.

If you want to fish with a local captain, you should know that most fishing charters in Riviera Maya cover the licensing for you, and simply include it in the overall price. However, you should still check with your captain to make sure that they’ve taken care of the licensing. Otherwise, you can easily get a permit online.

As far as cost goes, the license will set you back about US$8.40 for a day of fishing. A weekly license is $21, whereas the monthly and yearly permits are $31 and $42, respectively.

Fishing from land, on the other hand, doesn’t require a permit. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll need to fish at least 250 meters away from swimmers.

Each angler can only have one line in the water at a time. Of course, there aren’t any restrictions regarding the bait and tackle. If you’re bottom fishing, you can use up to four hooks on a single vertical line at a time.

Riviera Maya Bag Limits

Your daily bag limit is 10 fish per person, but there’s a catch. You can bag no more than five specimens of a single species, and only one sample of Marlin, Sailfish, and Swordfish per day, which counts as half of your daily limit.

anglers holding a Sailfish on a fishing boat
Sailfish are mostly a catch-and-release species in Mexico.

Similarly, you can keep two Dorado, Tarpon, Shad, or Roosterfish on a single day, amounting to half of the said 10-fish requirement. Basically, this means that one Marlin and two Dorados, or one Sailfish and one Swordfish, would count as your actual catch limit on any given day.

Of course, you can practice catch and release even after you reach your bag limit. Keep in mind that, regardless of these rules, many captains do practice a strict “catch and release” policy for all Billfish.

Riviera Maya Fishing Calendar

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the fishing spots Riviera Maya has to offer. The most notable fishing towns in the area include Cancún, Playa Del Carmen, Cozumel, and Tulum. As we explore each of these places, we’re going to give you a number of practical tips on what to catch and where, and more.

Fishing seasons calendar for Riviera Maya, Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen
Fishing seasons calendar for Riviera Maya, Cancún, Cozumel, and Playa del Carmen.

Fishing in Cancún: Party On

Obviously, a place like Cancún doesn’t need much of an introduction. This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of the Caribbean. Seriously, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas can seem like quiet vacation alternatives by comparison. But does Cancún have what it takes to make the best of the world’s anglers happy as well? 

anglers pulling a Sailfish onboard near Cancun, Mexico
We’ll let this picture answer that question.

Located at the northeastern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, Cancún gives entrance to a key migratory route for the world’s most exciting pelagic fish. If you thought the town was packed with action, wait until you get on the water.

Inshore Fishing

Inshore, there’s a host of lagoons and inlets you can explore. Places like Isla Mujeres and Isla Blanca are famous for their fly fishing opportunities. Depending on the season, you can catch anything from Bonefish and Permit to Snook and Tarpon. Land all of these on the same day, and you’ll achieve the coveted Inshore Grand Slam!

Reef Fishing

A little further out, the fishing takes on a whole other dimension. The Caribbean reef all-stars are all here for the taking. Mahi Mahi, Kingfish, Spanish Mackerel, and Wahoo are all present in good numbers. The best time to catch these bad boys is usually between May and August.

angler holding a barracuda

Offshore Fishing

And then there’s the true offshore fishing. Somewhere between 15 and 35 miles from the coast, you’ll find plenty of trolling and bottom fishing opportunities. If you like catching Billfish, you’ll have your hands full with the likes of Blue and White Marlin, as well as Sailfish. The Billfish season in Cancun usually starts mid-March, and runs through August. 

Shore Fishing

But perhaps you don’t want to spend a lot of money to fish for a fish you can’t keep. There are a bunch of productive fishing spots along the shores of Cancún. One place you should definitely check out is the hotel zone, and the Nichupte lagoon. These waters are teeming with fish pretty much throughout the year. During the winter, spots like Isla Bonita will give you a great chance of catching Tarpon and Snook. 

an aerial view of Nichupte Lagoon in Cancun, Mexico

A few miles to the south, Punta Nizuc is another productive fishing spot. You’ll have a good chance of catching Bonefish here. However, the area is a lot busier compared to Isla Bonita, so keep an eye out for any swimmers in the water.

Fishing in Playa del Carmen: The Golden Middle

This past decade marked the rapid transformation of Playa del Carmen from a sleepy fishing community to one of the top Mexican tourist destinations south of Cancún. The city is now a unique blend of ancient Mayan heritage and a bustling international residential population. The tropical paradise vibe is only an added bonus. 

You’ll be happy to learn that Playa has been geographically blessed with ripe angling conditions in two major ways. For one, the jungle island of Cozumel stands just 10 miles from the shores of Playa. The channel formed between the coast and the island creates what science refers to as a giant game fish superhighway (patent pending).

Second, the entire area is basically situated on the very edge of one large underwater valley. This means that, just a few hundred feet from the coast, the ocean floor suddenly and substantially plummets. For you, that spells offshore fishing as close to the coast as you’ve ever had it.

And we’ve only just started with the good news.

The Billfish

During spring and summer, Sailfish and Marlin regularly migrate through the underwater channel off of Playa. From March through July, fishing for Billfish really takes off, making a Billfish Grand Slam a real possibility. For you newbies out there, that means catching three different species of Billfish in a single day.

a bird's eye view of an angler and guide posing with a Sailfish they just caught

Although these are undoubtedly the best times to go after Billfish in Playa, keep in mind that most captains claim that there is a non-migratory, resident population of Sailfish in the area. According to the local guides, you can even spot a Blue Marlin on any day of the year.

The first week of May is considered the Grand Slam week around here. Early May is the very peak of the season, so if you don’t mind the crowds, this is the time to wet a line. Most charter boats require you release any Billfish you catch. However, there are several taxidermists in the area, should you decide you want a replica of your catch. 

The Reef Fish

If you’re more of a hedonist than a Billfish hunter, Playa has an assortment of smaller fish to offer as well. Mahi, Barracuda, and Wahoo swim just a few miles off the coast. There’s a healthy number of Snapper, Grouper, Jack Crevalle, and Kingfish around, too. The best part is, most of these fish are willing to hit your bait year-round. 

Cancun fishing: A smiling angler holding a big Dorado

Oh, but that’s not all. All of these fish have one thing in common: they taste amazing. There’s no better way to round up a good day of Playa fishing than to bring your catch to a local restaurant. Most restaurants in Playa will gladly serve your catch to you. 

The service runs for around eight bucks, along with a side dish of the best that the local cuisine has to offer. One thing you need to have in mind is that preparing and filleting fish right there on the charter boat is not allowed.

Types of Fishing in Playa Del Carmen

Although jigging is not a traditional technique in Mexico, you can still find good jigging opportunities in Playa. In recent years, a couple of jigging tournaments have started running, aimed at promoting this type of fishing. 

Seeing as jigging is only starting to gain popularity in the area, bringing your own gear would be a good idea. The best time to wet your jigs is between October and March. This is money time for big Amberjacks, as well as Kingfish, and even Blackfin Tuna.

Playa for the Fly Angler

As far as fly fishing and light tackle action go, Playa del Carmen isn’t exactly flat abundant. Beaches packed with swimmers and bustling coastline resorts limit opportunities for good fly angling. If you’re set on fly fishing however, your best bet is finding a charter willing to take you a bit further to the south. 

Finally, beach fishing is a possibility, although most recommend you err on the side of caution and take a 20-minute walk south of the hotel zone. This is where you’ll find a few more remote beaches. Most hotel owners will be quick to shoo you away as soon as the first beachgoers arrive.

Fishing in Cozumel: A Marine Treasure Trove

Located east of the shores of Playa del Carmen and staring back at the Yucatán Peninsula, Cozumel stands as Mexico’s largest Caribbean island. Nestled amidst the largest reef system in the Americas, this island is teeming with all manner of marine life.

a view of a submerged sea turtle and the beach of Cozumel in the background, Mexico
A fish and a turtle hanging out around Cozumel island.

Almost the entire annual income of Cozumel comes from tourism, primarily diving and charter fishing. The area is rich in coral formations, making it an ideal feeding ground for a large number of fish species.

Types of Fishing in Cozumel

Similar to Playa, there are no lengthy travel times to your fishing destination. Thanks to the unique geography of the area, you could be hooking Billfish within just half an hour of the dock!

As far as offshore fishing is concerned, the fish selection and the peak seasons mostly mirror Playa del Carmen. However, there are exciting and unique opportunities for those of you looking to spend a day wading in the flats.

Trolling is understandably super popular, with Sailfish and Marlin acting as the primary targets, usually followed by Wahoo, Tuna, and Mahi Mahi. Bottom fishing offers good numbers of Grouper, Snappers, Triggerfish, Amberjack, as well as various reef fish that populate the area.

a smiling angler holding a triggerfish on a fishing boat in riviera maya

Drifting at the reefs will get you close to Mutton and Yellowtail Snapper as well as Strawberry Grouper and Amberjack. The fighting abilities of these fish are only paralleled by their sublime taste.

Cozumel for the Fly Angler

Hard as it is to believe, that’s not the best of what Cozumel has to offer. Fly fishing in the island’s northern flats is one of the best experiences in all of the Caribbean. The three spacious lagoons are home to a yearly supply of Bonefish. 

If you time your visit correctly, you can also expect to find these shallow waters teeming with Permit and Tarpon. You know what that means, right? The coveted fly fishing Grand Slam. If that’s not enough, there will be Snapper, Triggerfish, and even baby Snook to try your skills against.

One thing you should definitely keep in mind when fishing in Cozumel are the local regulations. A good part of Cozumel is actually a protected National Park, and that includes the coral reefs surrounding the island. The government recently announced restrictions on recreational water activities to the south of Cozumel, so make sure you’re fishing in legal waters.

Fishing in Tulum: Riviera’s Hidden Gem

Moving down the coastline and away from Cozumel and Playa, the landscape shifts into an untamed, but more tranquil one. Tulum might be just 60 miles away from Playa Del Carmen, but in reality, this place is a whole other world. 

a view of the ancient ruins of Tulum, with the Mexican Caribbean in the background

The town is famous for its towering Mayan citadels, a series of 13th-century forts that gaze out into the open ocean. 

Tulum might be a quiet place compared to its northern neighbors, but you certainly wouldn’t know it by its waters. There’s an astounding variety of fish to see in these parts. The best part is, you’ll have no crowds or anglers to contend with, so you’ll pretty much have all this bounty for yourself.

It won’t take you long to see why fishing in Tulum is different from the rest of the Riviera Maya. The entire area is lined with pristine lagoons and unblemished reefs. Seriously, this is like one giant fantasy park for anglers.

Types of Fishing in Tulum

According to many local guides, the best way to experience this beauty up close is to go on a spearfishing trip. 

This way, you’ll not only get to see all the beautiful marine life around you, but you’ll also be going head-to-head with some of the Caribbean’s most exciting game fish. Not to mention that this is one of the most eco-friendly ways to catch fish.

angler walking on a beach, carrying a mahi mahi on his back

If you’d prefer to fish from a boat, there’s plenty of reef fish you can go for. Snapper, Grouper, Triggerfish, Hogfish – you name it, it’s here. There are plenty of bottom fishing guides in the area. Of course, trolling for big game pelagics is as good as in any part of the Riviera Maya.

Tulum for the Fly Angler

Still, if there’s one thing anglers love about this part of the coast, it’s got to be its fly fishing scene

Following the coastal flats and lagoons will allow you to experience inshore action that’s pretty much unrivaled in the Caribbean. And that’s saying a lot. The waters of Ascension Bay are home to an ungodly number of fish you can catch on the fly. 

Feisty Tarpon and Permit, elusive Bonefish, and giant, 40-pound Snook all swim in these waters. Nowhere else on the planet are you this close to achieving the fly angler’s Super Slam. 

a Bonefish

Can’t get enough of fly fishing? How about an offshore fly fishing trip? This is where you’ll be battling the likes of Marlin, Sailfish, and Wahoo, armed only with a fly fishing or light tackle rod. Now that’s bound to make for a story back home.

You know how we said that this part of the Riviera is quieter compared to the north? While this may be true, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to find your dose of creature comforts in these parts. The Ascension Bay coastline is dotted with beachfront fishing lodges offering everything you need after a full day of reeling.

A Fishing Hotspot for Every Angler

Most good fishing destinations “specialize” in one kind of angling. The great places excel in as many as two, sometimes even three. But when you find a place that offers pretty much every form of angling known to man, you know that you’re talking about one special place. Riviera Maya is one of those places.

Got questions about fishing the Riviera Maya?

Don’t know which rod to bring or where to fish for Tarpon in Riviera Maya? Feel free to ask! We’ve got a few local captains who will be glad to help you out.

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Comments (195)
  • Ray

    Feb 6, 2014

    I am planning to get my two boys (9 and 12) excited in fishing and our holiday in Playa is the best time. Could you advise on what type of fishing would be the best for this?
    I would like to try trolling for a big game but not that sure it would suit the boys.
    Cheers.

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      ryan

      Jul 24, 2016

      My husband will be coming to me mexico in beginning of December we be staying
      At el dorado royal spa resort by karisma were would the best place e for him to of shore fish and he would also want to fish from a boat can u recommended a captain
      Thank u

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      Cat

      Jul 25, 2016

      Hey! 🙂 Sounds like you’re planning a great trip. Here is a very popular charter close to your resort that we would highly recommend: https://fishingbooker.com/charters/view/350. They offer anything from half day to full day trips and can arrange trolling or bottom fishing, depending on what you would rather do.

      The beaches around your resort should have some nice shore fishing spots: the best thing to do is just ask the staff when you get there for some excellent local advice.

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    • Reply icon

      Big Z

      Aug 4, 2016

      I will be in Cancun at the Moon Palace in October. I am an avid angler and would love to catch a few of the salty beasts in the area. Any suggestions?

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      Cat

      Aug 4, 2016

      H Big Z 🙂

      I’d suggest you take a look at Galileo – this is one of our most popular boats in the area, and it’s highly rated by its customers (the captain is not only a professional angler, but also a trained chef!). Otherwise, take a look at Don Quino – Capt. Abraham really knows his stuff. Have an amazing trip!

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  • admin

    Feb 6, 2014

    Hi Ray,

    Thanks for your comment. Probably not good to start with big game as they might get hesitant to swim when they see what’s coming out of the water 🙂

    Our advice – take them shore fishing from the beach a few times before chartering a boat. You can probably get small snapper from the beach which should get them interested and accustomed to rods, reels, fish etc. If they’re still keen on fishing after a few sessions at the beach, then you can think about chartering a boat. Just make sure it has an enclosed air-conditioned cabin and toilet. Small children and panga boats don’t play well!

    When you’re ready to charter a boat check out the link below:
    https://fishingbooker.com/index.php/charters/search/mx?search_location=playa-del-carmen

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      Ray

      Feb 7, 2014

      Thanks for the info. Yeap, I haven’t thought it might be frightening for them. I’ll do shore fishing first. One last thing 🙂 How much in advance should I book the trip? I see that all of your charters have a free cancellation, is there any conditions except the date?

      Thanks

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  • Richard

    Feb 7, 2014

    Is shark fishing allowed in Mexico? I tried researching online, but it seems there have been lots of alterations to the rules regarding shark fishing lately and I couldn’t find any conclusive results…

    Thanks

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      Dino

      Feb 13, 2014

      Hi Richard,

      Sharks tend to reproduce slower than most species, making them much more susceptible to overfishing. This combined with the fact that their population is dwindling worldwide led to Mexico imposing a moratorium on shark fishing in the recent years. The ban primarily focuses on great whites, but all sharks and rays are released. Still, plenty of species left to choose from 🙂

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  • Steven

    Feb 11, 2014

    I always wanted to go fish for a Marlin or Sailfish. What are the chances for catching one in July in Cozumel? Will two day trip increase my chances and how much?

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      Dino

      Feb 13, 2014

      Hey Steven,

      You couldn’t pick a better time for billfishing in Cozumel if you wanted to: the peak season for Marlin and Sailfish is March to July! As far as booking a charter for two days, it would certainly increase your chances, although it’s far from impossible to catch a Marlin in a single day around here. The population count is pretty impressive.

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      Steven

      Feb 17, 2014

      Thanks for an advice, it sure sounds promising. Could you suggest a suitable charter? There will be just 3 of us, and we all are new to a deep sea fishing.

      Thanks

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      Shawn

      Jan 22, 2015

      I am headed to Cancun in the middle of February and will most likely have to do a shared trip. Not happy about that, but the budget is tight. Do you know what they will be catching and any charter recommendations?

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      Dino

      Jan 23, 2015

      Hi Shawn,

      Unfortunately, I don’t really know of many charters running shared fishing trips in Cancun, since most captains that we communicate with almost exclusively offer private charters. I think your best bet would be asking for captain and boat suggestions at your resort or trying your luck at the marina, although shared trips do tend to be pretty difficult to organize on a short notice. As far as fishing, February marks the early start of deep sea season in Cancun with Mackerel, Tuna, Wahoo and Barracuda already productive, while Billfish and Dorado are slowly beginning to migrate to the area. Let me know if you happen to land one 🙂

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  • Matt

    Feb 27, 2014

    I’m headed to Cozumel the second week in May. I’m going with a group of guys who are hard core fishers. Were looking for a recommendation for the best captain and best charter to book through for guys who take their fishing serious. Mostly looking to hook up with billfish, Dolphin, and Tuna.

    Thanks,

    Matt