When you think of Playa Del Carmen, I’m sure you’re painting a picture of the iconic white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and luxurious beachfront resorts.
There’s no doubt that Playa Del Carmen holds all of this, but there are a ton of other things to do in Playa Del Carmen other than beaching, sunbathing, relaxing, and eating/drinking too much. So much more!
Playa Del Carmen is located on the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, a region that’s extremely rich in culture, history, and teeming with marine life. Unforgettable ruins, adrenaline-pumping activities, amazing gastronomy, and biodiversity that you have to see with your own two eyes are all a hop and a skip away.
There really is something for everyone in Playa Del Carmen. And not only are there lots of things to do in Playa Del Carmen proper, but the surrounding area of the Yucatan also provides plenty of opportunities for Playa Del Carmen-based excursions.
Explore ancient ruins, swim in a cenote, hop on a catamaran cruise, visit tropical islands, go zip lining— take your pick! The list of things to do in Playa Del Carmen are never-ending!
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WHERE IS PLAYA DEL CARMEN LOCATED?
Playa Del Carmen, Mexico is located in southeastern Mexico, on the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. This coastal city is situated right next to the Caribbean Sea and forms a part of Mexico’s easternmost state, Quintana Roo.
Located in the heart of the Riviera Maya coastal area, Playa del Carmen is almost exactly in between the popular cities of Cancun and Tulum (approximately 35 miles from each city).
South of Playa Del Carmen, you’ll find wonderful visit-worthy towns like Akumal and Tulum. To the east of Playa Del Carmen is Isla Cozumel, an island famous for its magnificent coral reefs and snorkeling/diving experiences. North of Playa Del Carmen sits the popular Mexican destination of Cancun as well as a beautiful island named Isla Mujeres.
Given its proximity to the Caribbean Sea and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (the second-longest coral reef system in the world), it’s no wonder travelers flock to this region of Mexico to get a taste of island living, warm waters, marine life, and sunny tropical paradise.
WHAT IS PLAYA DEL CARMEN KNOWN FOR?
So much! Travelers visit Playa Del Carmen for all sorts of reasons, but most commonly, they come for the gorgeous white sand beaches, warm turquoise blue waters, all-inclusive resorts, a more laid-back vacation compared to Cancun, and coral reefs teeming with life.
If you thought Playa Del Carmen was nothing but laying on the beach at some all-inclusive resort, you’re totally mistaken!
There are tons of things to do in Playa Del Carmen, including endless water sports, swimming in iconic cenotes nearby, visiting Mayan ruins, and feasting on delicious Mexican food.
There’s something in Playa Del Carmen to delight nearly every type of traveler!
BEST TIME TO VISIT PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO
In our opinion, the best time to go to Playa Del Carmen is in the shoulder months of April, May, November, and December.
We especially love going towards the end of November/first week of December right after Thanksgiving. During the timeframe of late November to December, hurricane season has passed and the humidity is way lower compared to other times of the year. We’ve been to the Cancun/PDC area four times during this timeframe and were always been met with near perfect weather!
For the best weather, plan to travel to Playa Del Carmen between December and April. Even though the crowds are heavier, you’ll experience near-perfect weather and can find some pretty cheap flights and room rates if you book at least 3 months in advance.
For the best discounts on flights/lodging, you’ll find them especially in late spring, summer and fall (May to October). Though prices are cheap, do note that the summers months here are extra-humid and swelteringly hot and that the fall months are prone to rainstorms. Though these are the hottest and most rainy months of the year, there is still plenty of sunshine.
WET SEASON: The wet season runs from May to October and tends to be actually hotter than the dry season. Hurricane season in Cancun/Playa Del Carmen spans June to November, with a higher likelihood of storms from August to October. Actual hurricanes are rare though, so it’s still a decent time to visit if you don’t mind periodic rain showers here and there throughout the day. (The area has seen only two hurricanes in the past 30 years.)
DRY SEASON: The dry season is from December to April. Travelers will find cooler, more pleasant temperatures.
Pro Tip: If you want to avoid major crowds, avoid traveling to Cancun and Playa Del Carmen during Spring Break, which typically takes place from mid-March to early April. (Alternatively, if you want to join in on the fun, mark your calendars!)
ESSENTIAL TIPS: PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO
- There’s been sort of a seaweed problem in the Cancun/Playa Del Carmen area. Want to make sure you’re going to be getting crystal clear waters? Check the latest seaweed conditions report before heading to the beaches in/nearby Playa Del Carmen. If you’re keen to avoid sargassum seaweed on your Mexico visit, make sure to stay in a hotel that has staff constantly monitoring the issue.
- The most popular times to visit Playa Del Carmen range from November to April (high season). If you’re looking for a quieter experience, plan your trip for May to October.
- Hurricane season runs from June through November. Most weather experts recommend purchasing travel insurance if you plan on visiting during hurricane season.
- Bring pesos with you just in case you need to pay with cash. Pick up pesos from an ATM when you arrive at Cancun/Playa Del Carmen. Not all places accept credit cards (small shopfronts, food vendors, etc.).
- When using a credit card, choose to pay in the local currency instead of your home currency. You’ll get a better exchange rate and will be paying less than the home currency option. (In my case, I would pay in $MXN instead of in $USD.)
- Unless otherwise noted, the tap water in Mexico is not safe to drink. Instead of spending your money on plastic water bottles, bring a reusable water bottle and a rechargeable Steri-Pen (the way more environmentally friendly option).
- After a certain time at night, liquor stores, wineries, and convenience stores (Oxxo, 7 Eleven, etc.) in Playa del Carmen, Tulum and the entire state of Quintana Roo will stop selling alcohol.
- On Sundays, stores are not permitted to sell alcohol after 5pm. Monday through Thursday have later hours, and the latest hours are on weekends. Buy anything you need before nighttime if you want drinks at your hotel/lodging.
- Playa Del Carmen is extremely tourist-friendly. If you can’t speak a lick of Spanish, you’ll be okay. Playa Del Carmen largely caters to English-speaking visitors, and you’ll find that English is spoken by most locals, hotel/restaurant staff, and tour guides.
- Playa Del Carmen is pretty safe, but always practice self-awareness and caution. Certain areas of Mexico have long held a reputation for being unsafe due to cartel violence, but resort areas and tourists are not targeted purposefully.
- I’ve walked through downtown Cancun, the Hotel Zone, Isla Mujeres, Playa Del Carmen, and Puerto Morelos, and never did I once feel threatened or unsafe. Just exercise increased caution as you would anywhere–avoid being flashy, don’t walk around alone at night, be wary of your surroundings, and you should be just fine.
- No matter what you’re budget is, you’ll find tons of accommodation options in Playa Del Carmen. Most budget accommodations and hostels are located in downtown Playa Del Carmen, while luxury and resort options are largely found in the more remote areas nearby such as Puerto Morelos.
- Taxis in Playa Del Carmen are costly, and buses are cheap. Taxis in Cancun/PDC follow a set price (Ex: ~$45 from Playa del Carmen to Cancun’s Hotel Zone; ~$26 from Cancun International Airport to the Hotel Zone). Many travelers opt for local bus transportation, which is reliable, frequent, and inexpensive (under $1/ride).
- Looking for transportation priced somewhere in the middle? A private transfer booked ahead will be your best bet. We typically opt for private transfer by USA Transfers whenever we are going from hotel to hotel (where it’s harder to find bus stops or taxis).
MAP OF THINGS TO DO IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO
20 BEST THINGS TO DO IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO
There is so much to do in Playa Del Carmen. Because of this, there are truly endless possibilities when planning out your travel itinerary. Here are some of the best activities you can enjoy in Playa Del Carmen.
1. WALK ALONG LA QUINTA AVENIDA
When in Playa, it’ll be really hard to miss La Quinta Avenida. Sure, it’s touristy, but no trip to Playa would be complete without at least one visit to La Quinta!
La Quinta Avenida is Playa del Carmen’s main street, running parallel to the coast and serving as a very entertaining pedestrian walkway. The avenue is lined with hundreds of shops, restaurants, hotels, hostels, bars. You’ll also find an assortment of street performers entertaining crowds any time of the day. There are plenty of souvenir shops selling handbags, artwork, trinkets, and more.
It’s free to walk along the street and enjoy the street performances, but be sure to bring some pesos with you in case you find the perfect souvenir or you decide to stop for a quick bite to eat.
Pro Tip: La Quinta Avenida is certainly a top attraction in Playa del Carmen, so keep in mind that during high season and on weekends, it gets very crowded. And because this street attracts a large number of tourists, prices at restaurants and bars will be higher compared to other areas of Playa Del Carmen. Don’t be afraid to take it slow and compare prices!
2. VISIT PARQUE LOS FUNDADORES
If you’re heading into Playa Del Carmen from the airport by bus, Fundadores Park (or “Founding Fathers Park”) may be the first place you actually see once you arrive. This park is just outside of the ADO Bus Station on 5th Avenue. It’s a very nice place to just sit, relax, and just watch the world go by.
At the beachfront, you’ll find the Portal Maya Statue, a very unique sculpture depicting two figures rising up to touch each other. This sculpture was designed by artist Arturo Taravez from Guanajuato, Mexico, and is meant to celebrate the Mayan calendar and the date of December 21st. 2012.
In the center of the park is a stage that serves as a performance venue during special events. Occasionally, you may come across public performances by local dancers. You may even catch the Danza de los Voladores (The Papantla Flyers) performing an acrobatic ritual to the god of fertility–the flyers represent rain falling to the ground to ask the god of fertility to bring rain to the lands.
In the corner, you’ll find the Nuestra Senora del Carmen Church.
Hungry for a snack? You’ll also find various street vendors selling candy, drinks, fresh fruit cups and other small delights!
3. SWIM IN A CENOTE
One thing that’s truly unique about Playa del Carmen is the town’s proximity and accessibility to the cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is famous for its thousands of cenotes, which are natural sinkhole pools formed from the collapse of surrounding limestone. Many of these pools are underground and feature geologic wonders such as underwater stalagmites, stalactites, and underwater caves.
Cenotes are also home to turquoise and emerald waters and various fish, making them awesome snorkeling and diving spots.
The entire stretch of the Riviera Maya coast is dotted with cenotes, totaling nearly 7,000 of them! It usually costs a small fee to enter, but the admission includes a life jacket rental and they sometimes have snorkel gear and flashlights for rent.
Many cenotes are easy to reach on your own by driving or cabbing there, like Dos Ojos and Gran Cenote. If you’re looking to go cenote-hopping, some of the best cenotes near Playa Del Carmen are located along the Ruta De Cenotes near the city of Puerto Morelos, about a 30-minute drive north of PDC.
If swimming in a cenote is on your bucket list (which it should be), but you don’t want to be bothered with renting a car or finding your own transportation there, check out a few of the full or half-day tours from Playa Del Carmen below. They’re all combo tours, which allow you to experience cenotes as well as participate in some other fun activities:
- Coba Ruins, Cho Ha Cenote, Tulum and Paradise Beach Day Trip – Visit Coba and Tulum, plus a swim in Cho Ha Cenote. This 10-hour tour includes hotel transport, beverages and a buffet lunch!
- Jungle Buggy Tour Including Cenote Swim – Steer a 4×4 buggy for about 18 miles during this thrilling drive. Make a stop at a ranch for a refreshing swim and snorkel at a cenote. Hotel transport included with this 3-hour tour.
- Riviera Maya Jungle Half-Day Tour: ATV, Ziplines, Cenote Swim, Rappel – combines off-roading, ziplining, rappelling, and snorkeling in a cenote. Gear and snacks are included in this 4-hour tour.
4. VISIT THE FRIDA KHALO MUSEUM
One of the most popular things to do in Playa del Carmen is to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum. That’s right, there’s no need to go to Mexico City to her famous Casa Azul museum because you can experience/celebrate her life and footprints on society right here in Playa del Carmen.
Inside you’ll find a series of exhibits dedicated to the life and history of Frida Kahlo. This interactive, digital journey recreates significant events in her life, namely the ones that helped shape her moving paintings.
The museum is conveniently located on La Quinta Avenida and there is an entrance fee for the general public.
5. TRY MAYAN FOOD AT LA PERLA PIXAN
According to multiple sources, La Perla Pixan & Mezcal Store is one of the only places off the tourist strip that serves up authentic Mexican food and mezcal with a great atmosphere. Naturally, we had to try it for ourselves!
This place did not disappoint–it was an unforgettable meal, to say the least! We ordered the mixed seafood plate as well as the melted cheese with grasshoppers. These were both amazing and super flavorful.
They also have really creative mezcal drinks. We were lucky enough to make happy hour, which meant buy-one-get-one free on the cocktails! We both ordered the Dona Lupe and it was such a treat–they were served in enclosed paper bags and came out smoking!
If you’re looking for other recommendations, another must-try is also the tlayuda. Feeling adventurous? Order any of the dishes featuring grasshoppers! They’re not at scary as they look (they really just taste like salty crispies).
There is also often live traditional music which really adds to the overall experience. Be sure to make a reservation so you can get seated in a preferred location in the restaurant!
6. RELAX AT LIDO BEACH CLUB
One way to beat the public beach crowds is to buy a day pass to a beach club! A day pass will usually get you access to a lounge chair or day bed and usually a credit to use towards food.
Lido Beach Club in Playa del Carmen is all about the food, music, and good vibes! This is one of the best options in terms of beach clubs, with its pumping music and hip palapa swing bar reminiscent of the old Playa Del Carmen days.
Lido offers really good food and drinks, which you can enjoy with your toes in the sand or up on the deck. There is no need to book reservations at Lido, unless it’s peak season in the mornings (they can get pretty busy with the breakfast crowd).
Other lively beach clubs worth checking out are Mamita’s Beach Club, Martina Beach Club, Kool Beach Club, and Coralina Daylight Club.
7. CORALINA DAYLIGHT CLUB
Drawing on inspiration from Las Vegas pool parties and Ibiza beach parties, Coralina touts itself as a day beach club designed as a luxurious refuge to the carefree soul. This day club is the go-to place for anyone wanting to party on the beach in Playa, though prices for cabanas and drinks can be steep.
The Coralina Daylight Club is located next to the Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen Resort and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Depending on the day of the week, there may be a cover charge. If you rent a cabana, the price you paid upfront will grant you food credit inside.
8. EAT AT EL FOGON
Undeniably the most well-known taqueria in Playa del Carmen, El Fogon needs no introduction. The location on Avenida Constituyentes is the place to go to get authentic and unforgettable Mexican food! It’s no surprise that every taxi driver and local resident recommends this place.
There really is no better place to get tacos that are this affordable and this flavor-packed! Make sure you get at least 4-6 because you’ll eat these little babies up in the blink of an eye. We love the al pastor and the horchata is also a must-try.
This place gets packed with lines of people choosing to get their food to-go to in order to avoid an even longer wait time.
Pro Tip: The line may get crazy, but don’t worry, it moves fast!
9. GO TEQUILA TASTING
How can you go to Mexico and not do some tequila tasting? Tequila in Mexico is considered an art form, so you’re sure to find a ton of artfully crafted tequila. If you’re traveling in a group, Tequila Academy is a great small-group option in Playa Del Carmen, offering private and professional tequila tastings.
If you’re staying at a resort, there might also be free tequila tasting there as well. Just ask the front desk/concierge to find out.
10. GET BREAKFAST AT LA CUEVA DEL CHANGO
La Cueva Del Chango is easily one of our favorite places to eat in Playa Del Carmen. Not only do they serve up quality regional dishes using super fresh ingredients, but getting to dine in their quaint jungle setting is also a real treat!
All their juices are made with fresh fruit and you really can’t go wrong with any of the breakfast dishes. From the lunch menu, we recommend ordering the dobladas (with shrimp and refried beans).
And because I’m a pastry lover, I love the fact that the waiters pass by the tables and offer carrot loaf cake or banana bread! Do note that if you say yes, this does cost extra.
11. SNORKELING /SCUBA DIVING
Playa Del Carmen is located very close to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest reef in the world. The Mesoamerican Reef System stretches more than 600 miles from Isla Contoy, at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, all the way down to Honduras! This region is home to dolphins, tropical fish, nurse sharks, eagle rays, eels, turtles, whale sharks, and much more.
With that comes the chance for some amazing snorkeling and scuba diving. If you’re looking to catch some underwater views, the underwater museum (MUSA), Puerto Morelos, Cozumel, and Gran Cenote are all awesome options.
Note: When snorkeling, remember to use a reef-safe sunscreen so you don’t damage the coral reef ecosystem. Maintain distance from sea turtles and other marine creatures and be very careful not to touch them or the coral, which can be really damaging to them and their home underwater.
12. BEACH AT XPU-HA BEACH
Located 20 miles south of Playa Del Carmen sits Xpu-Ha Beach. This spot is one of the nicest secret beaches along the Riviera Maya, featuring postcard-perfect turquoise waters. Really, the beach is beautiful with no rocks poking at the bottom of your feet at all.
With various beachside restaurants offering fresh fish tacos and ice-cold beer, it’s no wonder travelers can camp out here all day enjoying the sun and waves.
On calm days, Xpu-Ha Beach is an ideal spot for snorkeling, swimming, kayaking and fishing. The soft, fine sand also makes it a great place to enjoy land activities such as volleyball, soccer or even some beach yoga. All in all, this is a great spot to have a relaxing and fun day out of the city.
You’ll need to either rent a car, take a taxi, or take a colectivo bus to get there, but the journey is so worth it! From Playa Del Carmen, the taxi can cost anywhere from $15-25. There is a small entry fee to access the beach.
13. SWIM WITH SEA TURTLES AT AKUMAL
Just a short distance south of Playa del Carmen lies the quiet beach outpost of Akumal, one of the best places in the world to go swimming with sea turtles!
This sleepy beach village is home to shallow waters that sea turtles love to hang out at. Here, you will get the chance to swim among a variety of sea turtles. The best part? You can do it for free.
Simply call a cab or take a colectivo southbound from Playa del Carmen, walk to the beach, rent your own gear (snorkels, fins, and masks), and hop in the water. You can rent at places like The Akumal Dive Center.
Don’t want to be bothered with all the transportation and rental logistics? You can also get to Akumal as part of many many guided tours that offer snorkeling there:
- Tulum Ruins Cenote and Swimming with Turtles from Playa del Carmen
- Cenote and Swim with Turtles in Akumal
14. VISIT ISLA COZUMEL
Just a short 20-minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen sits the wondrous island of Cozumel. Isla Cozumel is best known for its unique coral formations, which can be experienced with your own eyes if you decide to go scuba diving or snorkeling. The underwater sights surrounding Cozumel are quite phenomenal, with coral formations taller than 30 meters (90 feet) in some parts.
Aside from scuba diving/snorkeling, there’s a lot of other stuff to do on Cozumel. You can rent a car and take an exhilarating drive around the island, stopping by the many restaurants and beach clubs that dot the route.
On your ride, be sure to stop by the Celarain lighthouse at Parque Punta Sur. If you have more time, visit Discover Mexico Park Cozumel and Stingray Beach.
There are currently two ferries operating from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel. Winjet runs on “even” days, while Ultramar runs on “odd” days. The ride takes about 45 minutes with the regular ferry, or 20 minutes on the new Ultramar luxury ferry.
For a truly memorable Cozumel vacation, why not add a fun tour to your Mexico itinerary? A great option is a private Cozumel Jeep excursion, which includes lunch, snorkeling, and plenty of great Instagrammable photo ops.
15. GO TO RIO SECRETO
Did you know the entire Yucatan Peninsula is flowing with hundreds of miles of underground rivers? Located just a few minutes outside the city, Rio Secreto is a complex of five caves that are filled with underground rivers and springs. The sights of Rio Secreto are like straight out of a movie!
The Mayans who inhabited this area of Mexico for centuries believed that these caves and passageways were entrances to the underworld. Today, many of them are open to the public as educational centers and eco-adventure parks.
During your visit to Rio Secreto, you’ll hop into a wetsuit and be guided through caves filled with unique rock formations. You’ll even be granted the unforgettable experience of swimming inside a pitch-black cave! If you’re into adventure, this is definitely one of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen.
With a Rio Secreto Plus admission ticket, you can visit the new ‘Dry Route’, which includes a visit to the Salón de la Paz for a fantastic sound and light show and a 25-minute guided walk on the interpretive nature trails. Bike through the forest and go rappelling, then continue to Rio Secreto’s natural underground rivers and impressive caves filled with unique rock formations. Fuel up with a buffet lunch and refreshing non-alcoholic beverages.
Looking for a full-day combo tour? Check out this Rio Secreto and Tulum Tour from Riviera Maya.
16. SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS
Sure, this one’s a bit farther from Playa, but this excursion is worth all the effort it takes to get there. Swimming with whale sharks is one of the absolute coolest and most memorable things to do in Mexico (on Isla Mujeres), and it’s well worth adding to your itinerary.
Between the summer months from June through September, whale sharks hang out and feed around the warm waters near Isla Mujeres. Well, lucky for you! You can book a tour to catch a glimpse of them living their best lives and actually snorkel with them!
And if you’re concerned about the dangers of swimming with “sharks”, don’t let their name scare you, whale sharks are completely harmless. Check out this all-inclusive tour:
- Whale Shark Encounter Full-Day All-Inclusive Tour – Glide alongside whale sharks and then soak up the sun on Isla Mujeres on this guided day trip. Snacks, lunch, beverages and hotel transport from Cancun and Playa del Carmen included.
17. SPEND A WHOLE DAY AT XCARET PARK
Just south of Playa del Carmen are a cluster of incredible eco-adventure parks that are unlike any other park you’ve been to before. The most famous and world-renowned is Xcaret Park.
Located just 15 minutes away from downtown Playa Del Carmen, this 250-acre eco-park by the Xcaret Group is one of the most popular things to do in the Riviera Maya of Mexico.
Xcaret Park boasts more than 40 attractions including underground rivers, an immersive aviary, a coral reef aquarium, aquatic activities, live cultural shows, and educational attractions focused on Mayan history.
This park is all about immersing yourself in the culture of the region (and having fun)–bringing together nature, gastronomy, archaeology, and tradition. With both water-based and land activities, it’s a perfect day of fun and immersive activity for travelers of all ages.
On our last visit, we really enjoyed doing the river swim, snorkeling, seeing the huge manta rays and sea turtles, and walking through the Mayan Village. Out of everything we did, the Mexico Espectacular show at the end of the night was by far the best experience. It is absolutely NOT to be missed (so, so epic)!
Xcaret Park offers lots of tours leaving from Cancun and Playa Del Carmen that provide transportation, so you won’t need to worry about renting a car to get here. A buffet lunch is provided with the Xcaret Plus package, so all you’ll need to bring is a lot of energy and maybe a change of clothes if you plan to do water activities.
Other popular parks within the Xcaret Group include Xplor and Xel-Ha.
18. GO TO XPLOR ADVENTURE PARK
Xplor Adventure Park is yet another eco-park by the Xcaret Group. This park is quite different than Xcaret in that it features ziplining, driving amphibious vehicles in the jungle, and paddling through underground rivers through stalactite caves.
If you’re looking to get some ATVing done on your Playa Del Carmen vacation, Xplor is a great option because the ATV ride is included in the all-inclusive park admission!
You can spend a whole day there taking part in these adventurous activities, then recharge and refuel with a lunch buffet and unlimited drinks. Alternatively, if you’d rather do all of this at night, they have Xplor Fuego Park, which is essentially the same park with the same activities offered, only you’re doing them among torch-lit paths and ziplining in the middle of the night sky!
As with Xcaret, there are lots of tours leaving from Cancun and Playa Del Carmen (operated by the Xcaret group themselves) that will provide transportation, so you won’t need to worry about renting a car to get here.
19. GO ZIPLINING
Ziplining is a very popular activity for travelers who are looking for a bit of adventure during their time in the Playa Del Carmen area. Xplor focuses on providing action and adventure to its visitors and features 13 thrilling ziplines. Another popular place to zipline is Selvatica, home to a 10 zipline course.
Looking for even more of an adrenaline rush in addition to zip lining? Check out these options, jam-packed with adventure:
- Extreme Adventure Eco Park: combines off-road ATVing, jungle ziplining, and cenote swimming all in one day.
- Xplor: adventure park featuring zip lines, amphibious vehicles, rafts, and natural underground rivers for you to explore. Includes a buffet meal. Get your 15% discount by booking online.
20. DAY TRIP TO CHICHEN ITZA
Chichen Itza is arguably the most famous and well-preserved Mayan archaeological site not only in the Yucatan Peninsula, but in the world. If you’re into history or ancient ruins, then Chichen Itza is a must-visit.
The ancient city dates back to the 5th century, though its most impressive structures were built later in the 9th through 12th centuries.
Chichen Itza is located about 2.5 hours away from Playa Del Carmen by car or 3.5 hours by bus and well worth the long travel time!
The site is pretty large with a lot to see, so allow several hours to explore the grounds. One of the advantages of traveling by bus is that you don’t have to worry about anything (driving, directions, traffic). The schedules are already established, you just hop on the bus and go!
In my opinion, it’s a much more enriching experience when someone is there to explain the historical significance of the structures you’re looking at, so I’d recommend opting in for a tour once you’re there.
There are also several tour operators that run day trips from Playa Del Carmen to Chichen Itza, along with various stops along the way to cenotes, additional ruins, or the magical town of Valladolid nearby (a town that emanates the ancient magic and culture of the Mayan inhabitants).
21. DAY TRIP TO TULUM
Located less than 1 hour south of Playa Del Carmen, Tulum offers a unique opportunity to take a break from the hustle and bustle of faster cities like PDC and Cancun. Here, you’ll find a very laidback atmosphere, a growing restaurant scene, amazing cenotes, Mayan ruins, and gorgeous beaches. Most people that visit Tulum don’t leave without catching a glimpse of the ruins.
What’s so unique about the Tulum ruins? Well, these ruins are located in the most picturesque location you could think of—overlooking a pristine beach and surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Caribbean sea. Seriously, this place is what tropical travelers dream of in their sleep.
A full-day Tulum tour makes for an unforgettable excursion from Playa Del Carmen and definitely one that should be at the top of your list. Since these day trips tend to be longer and you’ll probably want to take a dip in the sea, make sure to bring a swimsuit and a change of clothes!
Pro Tip: Cenote reminder! There are three major cenotes in the area that are so worth checking out while you’re down in this area – Gran Cenote (largest and busiest, filled with fish and turtles), Dos Ojos (two connecting cenotes: one a clear blue and the other a deep, dark cavern), and Yal Ku (lagoon with tons of tropical fish).
Other Tulum combo tours to check out:
- Tulum Ruins Cenote and Swimming with Turtles from Playa del Carmen
- Tulum Express Half-Day Tour from Playa del Carmen
22. HORSEBACK RIDING IN THE YUCATAN JUNGLE
Adventure through the Yucatan peninsula’s jungle on horseback with this awesome combo tour that combines horseback riding with a cenote swim.
You’re provided with snacks, towels, water, and all the necessary riding equipment. Round-trip transportation from Playa del Carmen or Cancun is included.
23. VISIT YAL-KU PARK
Discover one of the most beautiful natural wonders in the Riviera Maya, Yal-Kú Park. Located in Akumal and hidden amid the jungle is the pristine Yal-Kú inlet. At this beautiful and biodiverse spot, cenotes freshwater currents come together to merge with the Caribbean Sea, creating a unique home for many fish and other marine species.
Yal-Kú not only offers epic snorkeling opportunities, but also the opportunity to sunbathe, rest on swinging hammocks, and rent private palapas to enjoy with friends.
Yal-Kú also features a sculpture garden with unique art pieces sculpted in bronze and stone. There is also a restaurant on-site so you can grab a bite to eat after snorkeling at the Yal-Kú inlet.
Yal-Kú is open from 9am to 5pm and admission can be purchased here. Snorkeling gear rental (mask, life vests, fins), WiFi, showers, and dressing rooms are available.
Though not as crazy and wild as Cancun is, Playa Del Carmen still packs a punch when it comes to nightlife. It’s one of the most popular things to do in PDC, especially for the younger crowds.
If you’re looking to have a good time dancing and partying all night, then you’re in the right vacation spot. Most of the loud, bumping nightclubs such as Mandala and La Vaquita are on Calle 12 Nte.
For something more casual, hang out at the bars and restaurants on the town’s main drag (Quinta Avenida) or on the beach. No matter where you go, you’ll be treated to good beats and/or live music.
25. PARTY AT COCO BONGO
If you really want to do it big, head to Coco Bongo (the club featured in ‘The Mask’!). There’s no denying that Coco Bongo is the mainstay of Playa del Carmen’s throbbing nightlife scene.
At over $80 USD per ticket, a night at Coco Bongo doesn’t come cheap, but you’re sure to have a blast. Admission includes drinks, a spectacular show featuring rotating acts, and memories that’ll last you a lifetime! Read reviews and buy your admission tickets here.
They also have a special nightlife event called The Bongo Tour, where you’ll get to enjoy more than 6 hours of open bar at multiple popular venues! You can get tickets ahead of time or at one of the many Bongo Tour ticket vendors on Quinta Avenida.
26. EAT A MARQUESITA
A marquesita is a type of dessert native to the Yucatán Peninsula. As you walk around Playa Del Carmen, you’re sure to see a bunch of these marquesita carts.
These delightful treats are like a rolled-up crepe. The main difference is that the shell is crispy and wafer-like in consistency. Fill it with anything you like such as Nutella, condensed milk, strawberries, banana, Kinder Bueno, Oreo cookies, kiwi, queso de bola (Edam cheese), and more!
We got one that skewed on the sweeter side, with Nutella, strawberries, and banana. However, a popular choice is one with Nutella and queso de bola, which is shaved right into the crepe. This results in the perfect mix of sweet, salty, and crunchy!
27. TRY TROPICAL FLAVORS AT ALDO’S GELATO
If you’re looking for another type of post-dinner snack to soothe your sweet cravings, look no further than Aldo’s Gelato! Sure it’s gelato, but the best part is that they feature some super authentic Mexican flavors like mandarina, guayaba (guava), mango, maracuya (passion fruit), and tropical rose. If you’re looking to elevate your gelato experience, get one of the waffles or bubble cone creations!
On a hot day, Aldo’s Gelato really hits the spot. Their prices are reasonable, and portions are big. It’s a must-try in Playa Del Carmen!
There are several Aldo’s along 5th Avenue so you are never too far away from gelato.
Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list of all the things to do in Playa Del Carmen. Check out other exciting Playa Del Carmen excursions, tours, and activities here on Viator!
WHERE TO STAY IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO
Lodging accommodations in Playa Del Carmen are nearly endless, with tons of affordable hotel options as well as super luxurious ones. Of course, you could stay at one of the many “name-brand” hotels you’re familiar with, but if you want to try something new, consider these immaculate design hotels and boutique options below:
For a luxurious stay at budget travel prices: Meliora By Bunik
Meliora By Bunik is a hotel in Downtown Playa del Carmen, walk distance to Quinta Avenida near it all. The hotel boasts spacious, modern rooms and has an outdoor pool with lounging hammocks to enjoy, spa services, and concierge services available. WiFi in public areas is free.
For a moderately priced design hotel: Hotel La Semilla
This is where we stayed on our last trip to Playa; amazing ambiance, free breakfast, and attention to detail in the design of the entire property! The hotel itself is completely breathtaking, with a beautiful outdoor garden and dining area where we enjoyed our homemade breakfast each morning. I mean, look at it, it’s charming as heck and drop-dead gorgeous!
Hotel La Semilla B&B has a very tranquil, laid-back atmosphere. The organic and simple design reflects a sense of Mexican history, heritage, style and simplicity. The property is located in the middle of the trendiest part of town and surrounded by jungle. The best of both worlds.
For a moderately priced design hotel farther away from the crowds: Petit Lafitte Hotel
Petit Lafitte is our second pick when it comes to affordable yet stylish lodging in Playa Del Carmen. This is a tranquil beachfront hotel a 15-minute drive from Playa del Carmen city center. It’s a great choice if you want to be based in a more quiet and serene area of Playa Del Carmen. Aside from the beautiful tropical grounds, it offers air-conditioned rooms, 2 restaurants, and an outdoor pool. There are on-site massage services as well.
For a more luxurious stay: Excellence Riviera Cancun All-Inclusive
My absolute favorite adults-only all-inclusive resort! I’m a huge fan of the Excellence properties. And you can usually find pretty good deals if you book early enough (often 40%+ off room rates). I don’t do all-inclusive often, but when I do, you better believe I’m getting a good deal on price!
Excellence Resorts all feature peaceful beaches with fine, white sands, several outdoor pools, the most relaxing spa and hydrotherapy area you’ll ever find in this budget range, and ample spaces for relaxation. The all-inclusive rate covers food and beverages at 9+ international restaurants and 10+ bars.
You’ll get to stay in huge, modern rooms, all featuring big bathing tubs and furnished balconies–plus some have ocean views, private hammocks, swim-up access to pools, and private plunge pools.
On top of that, they have tons of scheduled activities throughout the day, so even if you do nothing else around Cancun, you’re sure to have a lot to do at the resort. Some examples include group aquatic Zumba, bike rides around the property, poker and casino night, Mexican fiesta buffets, workout classes, ‘free’ SUP and kayak usage, and nightly shows.
If you’re going to go all-inclusive, you gotta do it right! The sheer amount of bars, restaurants, and activities offered at their resorts make them worth every dollar spent.
TRANSPORTATION IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO
One of the first things you’ll need to figure out is how to get to Playa Del Carmen once you touch down.
There are a few ways to get to Playa del Carmen. Note that many larger hotels in Playa Del Carmen provide free transportation from the airport to town, so check with your hotel before planning alternative transportation.
If you’re vacationing in Playa Del Carmen, you’re most likely going to be flying into Cancun International Airport (CUN). From there, you can do the following:
- take private transportation booked in advance (great value for larger groups)
- taxi (most expensive)
- take the public ADO bus (cheapest)
- rent a car (most flexible option)
Many people opt to take private transportation, as this is the fastest, safest and most comfortable mode of transport. Yes, there is air-conditioning! In fact, this is personally my favorite way to get from the Cancun airport to anywhere in the Yucatan Peninsula!
With private transportation, you have a few options. You can either book a private vehicle, where you get the car or van to yourself, or you can book a private shuttle, where you’re sharing the ride with other travelers. Opting for the shuttle will reduce the cost of transportation.
These transportation companies will take you from the Cancun airport directly to your accommodation in Playa del Carmen. You can also use them to get from hotel to hotel too.
My favorite way to book private transportation is via Bookaway. You’ll find both shared and private transportation options. (You can also book ADO bus tickets here as well!)
Taxis are a very convenient option to get to where you need to go from the Cancun airport. Lots of taxis will wait outside the Cancun airport to bring you to PDC. They’re also prevalent when you’re within the city of Playa Del Carmen. Lastly, they can also pick you up at your hotel in Playa Del Carmen.
This is the fastest and most convenient option, but the priciest. For example, a ride from the airport to Playa Del Carmen will cost you anywhere from $50-70.
Pro Tip: Be sure to discuss the prices in advance of taking the ride so you don’t get overcharged! To avoid getting scammed, grab a cab from the airport taxi booth instead of taking the first one that hollers at you.
One of the most affordable transportation options to Playa from Cancun is taking the ADO Bus (Autobuses de Oriente). This option will save you loads compared to taking taxis everywhere.
As stated above, a taxi from Cancun to Playa can cost anywhere from $50 to $70 USD. Pretty expensive.
A bus ride from the Cancun Airport to Playa, on the other hand, takes a little over an hour and costs approximately $10 per person one-way. And from downtown Cancun to Playa by bus, the cost is even less at about $3 per person one-way.
Again, if you want to book your bus tickets in advance, you can do so on Bookaway!
Renting a vehicle may be the most convenient choice depending on how much exploring you plan to do on your own. You can rent a compact car for as little as $13 a day directly outside the Cancun airport terminal. We recommend booking your car here for the best prices and service.
The bottom line: The fastest, safest, and most comfortable transportation option is to take private transportation to Playa del Carmen. Check out Cancun Airport Transportation, which offers a variety of vehicle options perfect for solo travelers, couples, families, and large groups.
While the colectivo is not offered at the Cancun Airport, taking the colectivo to get around PDC is a great option.
If you want to rub elbows with the locals, opt to get around by colectivo. Many budget travelers opt for this option, which is reliable, frequent, and inexpensive to ride. Each ride will only set you back about 50 cents (less than $1 USD)!
Colectivos are shared transportation vans that will pick people up along their route and drop riders off at their desired destinations. Colectivos are cheaper and faster than the ADO bus, but are smaller and less air-conditioned than the bus.
Colectivos are also super cheap and convenient if you want to get from downtown Cancun to Playa Del Carmen. The fare only costs 45 pesos one way (less than $3 USD).
DO YOU NEED A CAR IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN?
The short answer is no, you do not need a car to enjoy your Playa Del Carmen vacation.
The only time you really might need to rent a car in Playa del Carmen is if you are planning a trip to somewhere outside of Playa, or if you are staying outside of the center. With that said, public transportation is pretty inexpensive and readily available.
Colectivo buses can take you all around the city, the ADO bus gets you around the Yucatan Peninsula, and taxis can get you everywhere else (for a heftier price). If you want to enjoy a few excursions outside of Playa Del Carmen, chances are there are tour operators that can get you there, transportation and hotel pickup included.
However, if you really want that flexibility of having a car to head out of the city on your own, I’d recommend renting a car for just the days you need it.
During the time you plan to explore Playa’s city limits, there is no need to rent one. Rent a car for the days you plan to explore elsewhere and return it for the days you don’t.
(Example scenario: Enjoy Playa Del Carmen for your first few days upon arrival, car-free. Then rent a car on your last remaining days to drive to Akumal to snorkel, drive to Coba to tour the ruins, drive to Tulum for an overnight stay or two. Return the car to the airport once you’re all checked out and ready to leave Mexico.)
One of the most convenient ways to rent a rental car is with City Car Rental. The average cost for a car rental from Cancun is $13 USD/day for an economy car (it’s more expensive if you rent from Playa Del Carmen), and your reservation includes car rental insurance. That’s so convenient in my mind because who wants to worry about international insurance coverage, anyway?
Driving in a foreign country can be overwhelming, but in Mexico, we find it not too difficult. Inside cities like Playa del Carmen and other larger cities the traffic can be a bit busy, but outside the cities, there are surprisingly few cars on the road.
In Mexico, they drive on the right side of the road and the steering wheel is on the left side of the car, just like it is in the USA and most parts of Europe.
ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST FOR PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO
Aside from the normal clothing and toiletries you’d pack for any regular trip, here are the things I’d recommend you not leave home without for your Playa Del Carmen trip:
- Lightweight Packable Day Bag | Inside my larger travel backpack, I always bring a lightweight, packable backpack to use for day-to-day exploration. The Fjallraven Kanken Mini is perfect for carrying a few snacks, a lightweight jacket, cameras, phones, a water bottle, and whatever else I need for the day.
- Packing Cubes | Start packing the smart way. The key to smart packing is going to be compartmentalization, aka your packing cubes. This set comes with a bunch of different sizes, so you can create a separate compartment for undies and socks, one for clothing, one for toiletries, and one for anything else you may want to organize. By using packing cubes, it’s so much easier to pull out only what you need, rather than dig through all of your luggage to find that one thing you’re looking for.
- Laundry Bag | Summer = lots of sweaty, smelly worn clothes. Don’t soil your entire bag by mixing worn clothes with your unworn clothes! Definitely bring a laundry bag to separate your clean clothes from your dirty clothes to maintain the utmost freshness.
- Clothing | Pack your usual tropical vacationing clothes, as well as a few layers for unexpected cooler temperatures. This includes tanks, shorts, swimsuits, and swim coverups!
- Light Rain Jacket | Traveling to tropical areas does not necessarily mean there won’t be rain or wind. Packing a light rain jacket will definitely come in handy in unpredictable tropical climates. This one for men and this one for women are some of the best jackets for any kind of travel. They’re ultralight, wind and water-repellent, and take up virtually no space so they’re easy to carry wherever you go.
- Adventure Sandals | Tevas and Chacos are my go-to brands for multipurpose summer sandals. If you’re planning on having an adventurous day or two, you should definitely consider getting adventure sandals — comfortable for long-distance walking, safe for submerging in water, and super durable.
- Walking Shoes | One pair of closed-toed shoes (walking shoes or running shoes) is always crucial for any trip. These ones that I’ve been traveling around with are super light and breathable. I can even walk 15+ miles in them before getting sore feet.
- Cooling Facial Mist | When you’re faced with mid-day humidity, it can be very hard to deal with. Keeping a small bottle of facial mist in your purse or backpack on a hot day will save your life. This mist takes all the cooling, soothing ingredients you can think of—aloe, cucumber, and green tea—and combines them into one refreshing spritzer for your face.
- Dry Shampoo | Bring some dry shampoo to use in between washes to instantly revitalize and freshen your semi-dirty hair.
- Leave-In Conditioner | I recommend bringing a leave-in conditioner to help nurture your hair after spending time in pools and the salty ocean. As someone with naturally frizzy hair, my hair tends to get tangled, coarse, and even more frizzy after it’s submerged in water. This leave-in conditioner is a cult favorite – just put it in your damp hair after your shower and comb it through.
- Face Sunscreen | We are absolutely obsessed with the magical Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen that goes on completely matte. That’s right, no white-cast, no greasy film!
- Sunscreen | Applying sunscreen to your body is absolutely necessary for tropical destinations. If you plan on snorkeling near the reefs, choose a coral reef-safe option as traditional sunscreen contains chemicals that damage and even kill the precious reefs. And honestly, it’s not enough to just buy any old bottle that has a “reef-friendly” label on it. It turns out many sunscreens claiming to be “reef-friendly” or “reef-safe” actually aren’t!
- Here are a few travel-sized biodegradable sunscreens you can easily buy on Amazon:
- After Sun Cooling Spray| Let’s be real– you’re probably going to be spending the majority of your vacation outdoors under the sun. Chances are, you’re going to get a nice tan, and maybe even a sunburn or two! Even if you don’t get sunburned, you should still treat your exposed skin to some much-needed hydration with an after-sun cooling spray or after-sun lotion.
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Oil Blotting Sheets | On a typical day in a hot and tropical place, your makeup will slide/sweat off your face in exactly three seconds after stepping outside. Rather than layering on more makeup, first, focus on tackling your shiny, sweaty glow. The solution? Use blotting sheets whenever your face starts getting sweaty.
- Cooling Face Mask | After a long day of exploring, nothing will feel better than propping your feet up and slapping on a cooling face mask for 10-20 minutes. Lay back and relax!
- Insect Repellent Lotion | Mosquitos love hot climates, so I would definitely recommend packing insect repellent with a high DEET percentage, no matter the season you’re traveling. Sawyer makes some really great bug repellent products, and they’re travel-friendly too!
- Permethrin Insect Repellent Spray for Clothing | This clothing insect repellent spray is a game-changer. If you’re going to be outdoors in areas where mosquitos are prevalent, I’d highly recommend preparing your clothes with this fabric spray!
- How does it work? This is a treatment spray for clothes that adheres only to fabrics, leaving no smell or residue on clothes and doesn’t harm human skin. Permethrin spray lasts for up to 6 machine washes, which is more than enough for most tropical trips. Real life story– I hiked Machu Picchu after treating my hiking clothes with this, and I only got a total of 2 mosquito bites after the 4-day trip, whereas some of my friends got 20+ bites. Worth it.
- Pro Tip: Buy and use before you leave for your trip. A few days before departure, spray all of your clothes, plus anything else made of fabric that you’d like treated.
- Insect Repelling Lightweight Pullover | Too lazy to treat your clothes with insect repellent? I know, it’s a process. The ExOfficio BugsAway pullover is the next best thing– it’s super lightweight too.
- Hat, Bandana, or Buff | Keep the sun off your skin with a fancy sunhat, bandana, or a Buff. All three can be used to shield your neck or forehead from the sun. As a bonus, bandanas and Buffs can be used as headbands to keep hair and sweat off of your face. Soak your bandana or Buff then put it on your head, face, or neck for a quick cool down.
- Cooling Towel | Perfect for working out, a day at the beach, or simply sitting there baking in the sun—you’ll feel Chill Pal‘s cooling effect as soon as you take it out of the package. To activate the cooling towel, just soak it in water and wring it out, then wear it as a bandana or use it as a towel. Another hot weather game-changing travel essential.
- Travel Towel | These are light and quick-drying, which is exactly what you need in hot, humid climates. Super useful if you plan on having beach days or staying in hostels. This one is a great option.
- Travel Clothesline | This is a small and portable clothesline that allows you to hang up your wet clothes almost anywhere. I’ve found that it’s really handy whenever I have wet bathing suits or towels that need to be air-dried. I love it for its multi-purpose functionality!
- Dry Bag | Another multi-purpose item on the list! Dry bags are completely necessary for keeping your dry belongings (clothes, electronics, money, etc)… dry. Don’t set foot on a kayak, boat or canoe without putting your stuff in a dry bag. Trust me, it’s better than ending up with a phone or camera submerged in water in the case where the boat tips or something. It’s also super handy for carrying around wet bathing suits and towels. Or even doubling as your laundry bag!
- Underwater Smartphone Housing | Don’t want to invest in an underwater camera? That’s fine, just stick your phone in the AxisGo’s underwater housing! It’s designed to protect your phone from the harshest weather conditions while offering the freedom to safely capture those special moments underwater.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing to all the great food spots… the last thing you want is to be stranded with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated in the warm weather with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!
- Snorkel Set | If you plan on snorkeling a lot, bring your own set to save on rental costs.
- Medicine | If you get motion sickness, consider bringing a motion sickness reliever like Dramamine for various watercraft adventures or even the ferry ride over to Isla Mujeres. If you need other meds, don’t forget your pain killers, antacids, etc.