Since the 1990s, Playa del Carmen has been climbing up the list of the most popular places to stay on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Only a short journey from world-famous Cancun, Playa del Carmen is a slightly smaller beach town providing a similar but alternative option.
The stunning beaches, vast variety of amenities such as shopping malls, restaurants and bars have attracted every type of person.
Holidaymakers and families can make the most of the luxury hotels and refreshing pools. Digital nomads can enjoy cheap rent and the lively social scene that Playa del Carmen has to offer.
With long stretches of white sand, you can easily spend the day trying out the various beaches and splashing around in the Caribbean sea. Then when you get hungry, Playa has about every kind of cuisine you can think of to satisfy your hunger.
Playa del Carmen is also a great choice if you’re looking for a resort-style, beach holiday. However, those looking for an authentic Mexican experience may want to avoid it. The city has become extremely touristy and influenced by western culture over the past few years.
Top 3 tours around Playa del Carmen
Don’t have time to read the whole article? Here is a selection of our favourite tours in Playa del Carmen:
Even though there’s plenty to do around Playa del Carmen, it is a beach town at the end of the day. This means it’s perfectly okay if you just want to spend all your time soaking up the sun on the beach.
The beach right in front of 5th Avenue is a nice place to spend the day, but it does get very busy!
We’d recommend venturing a little further to experience the best of Playa del Carmen’s beaches. We will introduce you to Akumal and Xpu Ha beach later in top thing to do #6 and #7, but here are two more stunning white sandy beaches around Playa del Carmen:
Punta Esmeralda can be found to the North of Playa and is typically more of a local beach. It boasts azul shallow waters and even has a cenote located right on the beach.
Playacar is another one to add to your list. It’s located within the gated community area of Playacar, meaning the best way to reach it is by foot from the ferry pier. Trust us the walk is worth it!
Another way to spend the day is in one of Playa’s beach clubs. A popular choice is Mamita’s beach club. If you’re looking for peace and tranquillity it’s probably not the place to go. But if you’re after a bit of good music, food and dancing then give it a go.
#2 Hop between the cenotes near Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen’s location makes it a great place to visit lots of cenotes. If you don’t already know, cenotes are essentially a sinkhole that results from the collapse of the bedrock exposing groundwater. And they’re beautiful!
Playa has a wide selection of cave cenotes and open-air ones, giving you a variety of options to visit, but here are our top 3:
Cenote Azul is one of the closest cenotes to Playa del Carmen, located only 20 minutes away.
It’s an open-air cenote that’s perfect to spend the day relaxing around and swimming in its crystal-clear waters.
Pop your head underwater and you’ll be able to explore a world of stalagmites that have become home to the cenote’s resident fish.
If you’re looking to pump some adrenaline into your day then there’s an area popular for cliff jumping. Even if you’re too scared to jump yourself, it’s fun cheering on the other daredevils.
Entrance to Cenote Azul is 120 MXN ($6).
Cenote El Jardin
Located not too far from Cenote Azul, making it possible to visit both, Azul and El Jardin in one day.
Jardin del Eden Cenotes will remind you of the Garden of Eden. Thriving with life, both inside and outside of the water. The refreshing pool is surrounded by a jungle of lush green plants, creating an intimate, closed-off feeling in the cenote.
At the centre of the cenote you’ll find rocks that have been submerged a foot or so, making them the perfect place to soak up the sun and relax.
Once you’re finished with relaxing, Cenote El Jardin also has a 12-foot cliff jump to get the heart racing.
For the scuba divers amongst us, the cenotes extensive cave network is certainly a diver’s gem.
Entrance to Cenote El Jardin costs 100 MXN ($5) per person.
Cenote Dos Ojos
Continuing with the cenote diving, if you’re a diver then head to Cenote Dos Ojos! You’ll get to explore an underwater world that’s missed by everyone else floating on top of the water.
The cenote has a vast cave system that is just waiting to be explored. It covers over 80km, with some zones going down to 120 meters.
General entry fee to this cenote is 350 MXN ($17). If you do want to scuba dive, there are lots of companies available with the entrance fee already included.
Can’t get enough of visiting the cenotes? The three cenotes we shared above are our top picks, but there are many more.
The beaches in Playa del Carmen are great, but the colour of the water in Cozumel is unbeatable!
A trip to Cozumel also allows you to escape the hustle and bustle of Playa del Carmen for a while. Instead getting to experience the wonders of laidback island life.
We’d recommend staying the night in Cozumel to really get to explore the island though. However, if a day is all you can spare, then the boat trip is a must!
Boat trip in Cozumel
Cozumel has the second largest reef system in the world, just after the Great Barrier Reef. On the tour you’ll get to explore this natural marvel, as well as seeing hundreds of starfish and if you’re lucky, some manta rays.
You can book a VIP Glass Bottom Boat Trip online for 630 MXN ($30) or alternatively haggle for a good price at the pier when you arrive on Cozumel.
If you’d prefer to stay on dry land for the day, then you can head to one of Cozumel’s beaches and spend the day soaking up the sun.
Punta Sur Eco Beach is one of the best on the island. Set within Punta Sur ecological park, you can get the chance to see sea turtles, exotic birds and crocodiles in the lagoons. There is an entrance fee of $16 though, but it’s worth it!
Getting to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen is easy, there are ferries leaving Playa del Carmen every hour. We’ve written an extensive guide on How to get from Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel with all the information you’ll need.
#4 Explore Playa’s magical underwater world scuba diving
No matter what month you’re in Playa del Carmen, there’s no bad time to go diving. Water temperatures stay between 25 and 28ºC all year round and visibility remains remarkable.
Besides Playa del Carmen’s location, by the gorgeous Caribbean ocean, the fact that it’s close to the 600 mile long Mesoamerican Reef makes it an even more ideal spot for diving.
Alongside the reef you’ll find an array of sea life including sharks, turtles, eagle rays and a countless number of fish. What better place to gain your PADI qualification or just go on some fun dives?
Bluelife is a highly recommended dive company based in Playa. They offer full diving courses and bull shark diving (read our next point) as well as cenote dives. A diving trip to Playa del Carmen’s reef, with 2 dives already, start from $89, but make sure to also check out their other packages.
TIP: Check out this compact Playa del Carmen guide to show you the best areas to stay, restaurants you don’t want to miss and many more tips for your visit to Playa del Carmen!
#5 Go diving with the bull sharks
The idea of diving with sharks may seem crazy to most people, but diving with the bull sharks in Playa del Carmen is one of the most popular things to do.
The bull sharks can be found in the shallows off the coast of Playa del Carmen, only a 5-minute boat ride away. They aren’t there all year round though, only between the months of November and March.
Getting to observe these magnificent creatures from only a few meters away is sure to become one of the highlights of your trip to Mexico.
A lot of you may be wondering whether it’s safe. Of course there’s an element of risk when diving with sharks, but it’s very rare for sharks to attack divers. We are not saying it never happens, but chances are small. Besides that, you’ll be diving with pregnant female sharks who are more docile. It’s always best to go with a reputable company like Bluelife mentioned above.
Another thing to note is that you’ll only be able to do this experience if you’re already a certified diver.
#6 Swim with turtles at Akumal beach
If you don’t scuba dive, that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all the fun and wildlife. Instead you can head to Akumal beach to swim with sea turtles.
Akumal beach is a bay located 35 minutes south of Playa del Carmen. The bay is protected by a reef, creating the perfect calm environment to snorkel in.
One of the main reasons why it’s such a popular snorkelling spot is due to the abundant number of turtles that swim around the bay. You’ll find 3 types of turtles here; Hawksbill, Loggerhead and Green.
The incredible visibility of the water will allow you to get great views of the turtles as they glide past you or pop their head above water for a breath.
If you have your own snorkelling gear you can save yourself some money and embark on the adventure by yourself. Another option is to hire an experienced guide who will take you to the best spots, teach you about the turtles and provide you with snorkelling equipment.
How to get to Akumal?
Getting to Akumal is also a relatively easy task. You can choose to drive there yourself if you have a car, or hop on a Colectivo heading towards Tulum. Just make sure to tell the driver to stop at Akumal. This should only cost you 35 MXN ($1.80).
Top tip: the seabed is made up of fine sand that as the day goes on gets churned up. For the best visibility, it’s best to go early in the morning.
Also a little out of town, but well worth the 30-minute journey is Xpu Ha beach. If you’ve been looking for that picture-perfect beach, then you’ll find it there.
The snow-white sand is sandwiched between vibrant palm trees on one side and calm turquoise waters on the other.
Find a sunbed, grab an ice-cold drink and you’re set for the day.
There is a small entrance fee of 50 MXN ($2.50) to enter the beach.
#8 Visit Chichen Itza, one of the new 7 Wonders of the World
Want to tick off one of the new 7 Wonders of the World? Well you can!
Chichen Itza receives over 2.5 million visitors every year, each one eager to explore the Mayan complex dating back to 600 AD. There’s a total of 26 Mayan ruins, with El Castillo taking centre stage as the main pyramid of the complex.
Chichen Itza is about 2.5 hour drive from Playa del Carmen which makes it perfect to visit as a day trip. To get the most out of your day, you can also visit the colonial town Valladolid and end the afternoon with a refreshing swim in a nearby cenote.
The easiest way to visit the Chichen Itza from Playa del Carmen would be to join this tour. For only $28. You will get to experience a super fun 12-hour day that includes:
visit to Valladolid
swim at a secret cenote
During the day you’ll also get to enjoy a free buffet lunch, and you’ll be accompanied by a knowledgeable guide who can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Mayan history.
Where’s the best place to visit Chichen Itza from?
If you’re planning on visiting multiple destinations along the east coast of Mexico, then you’ll get more choices of where to visit Chichen Itza from.
Here are the distances and prices of the best tours from 3 of the main destinations along the Riviera Maya:
(Chichen Itza entrance fee of $30 is not included in tour price)
Pro-tip: If you’re doing the visit independently, take the time to explore some of the nearby cenotes. Cenote Ik-kil is a 8-minute drive from Chichen Itza, and is a stunning underground pool of water surrounded by hanging vines and vegetation.
#9 Spend the day exploring one of the 50 activities at Xcaret Park
Situated just 6km from Playa, Xcaret is one of the largest theme parks in Mexico. It covers over 250 acres and houses around 40 attractions. That’s a lot to cover in a day, so a lot of people opt for a multi-pass to keep coming back for more fun.
What can you do at Xcaret park?
Xcaret lets you get a taste of Mexico all in one go through its number of attractions. You can visit Mayan towns, churches, explore archaeological sites, see a traditional Mexican cemetery and even taste some Mexican wine. And that’s only a few things available.
One of the most popular activities is swimming in one of the three underground rivers. You can explore the maze of caves and tunnels, only lit by natural light from air vents. You’ll see coral formations fossilised millions of years ago!
Nature lovers can spend their time either at the butterfly farm, aviary or coral reef aquarium.
As you can see, there’s plenty to do at Xcaret and something for everyone. This is why the park attracts over 1 million visitors each year.
There are a number of packages starting at $100 that can be purchased online via the Xcaret site.
Coba ruins are some of the biggest in Yucatan, covering over 80km².
These ruins aren’t as busy as some of the others in Mexico, making them even more enjoyable to visit. Set amongst the jungle, you can explore the large network of stone streets which connect the pyramids and structures within the site.
A big draw of Coba used to be that you were able to climb the pyramids, something you can’t do at others such as Chichen Itza. Standing at the top of one of these pyramids really gives you the feeling of what life was like back in Mayan times.
Covid-update: Unfortunately due to COVID, climbing the pyramids is currently suspended.
How to visit Coba Ruins
Coba is a 1 hour 45 minute drive from Playa del Carmen. The best way to get there would be by renting a car or finding a tour leaving from Playa del Carmen.
If you’re also visiting Tulum, maybe save your trip to Coba from there. It’s only 1 hour from Tulum.
Entrance into Coba costs just 75 MXN ($3.70).
If you’re looking to fit a lot of exploring into one day, then you can book a tour that will take you to Tulum, Coba and a cenote. The tour starts at $41 per person, but includes all the transportation for the day, lunch and a professional guide!
#11 Discover the labyrinth of caves at Rio Secreto
Ever wanted to see what it’s like to be an explorer? A visit to Rio Secreto will get you pretty close to that!
It’s essentially a labyrinth of underground caves filled with stunningly turquoise waters.
Once equipped with your helmet, lamp and wetsuit, you’re then ready to explore the underwater world of stalagmites and stalactites.
It’s really an experience you’ll never forget. The feeling of wading, even swimming at some points, through the refreshingly cool water whilst feeling the presence of the cave walls all around you is incredible.
At one point you’ll even have to swim through the cave in the pitch black! Maybe not for those who are claustrophobic or scared of the dark?
You can book the 3.5-hour cave tour online for $79 which includes all the equipment you’ll need plus a light lunch afterwards.
Another adrenaline-filled activity close to Playa del Carmen is ziplining at Selvatica.
The park has 10 world-class zip lines for you to fly through the jungle on. By the end of the day you’ll understand what it feels like to be as free as a bird.
That’s not where the fun stops though! Selvatica has a unique ‘human rollercoaster’ style zipline called Tarzania. If you like rollercoasters, you’ll love this ride. Though it’s slightly different, you’re the roller coaster car this time!
If you opt to join a tour to Selvatica you’ll also get to hop in a safari truck and visit a private cenote for a swim. The perfect way to relax from your thrilling day. The tour lasts 3.5 hours and costs 1,748 MXN ($89).
Playa del Carmen is arguably one of the best places to party in Mexico!
There’s a large number of bars, big clubs and beach clubs offering something for everyone. There’s no need to wait for the weekends either. No matter what day it is, you’ll always find a party in Playa del Carmen.
For a cheap night out, head to Bar Loco, where you can buy Margaritas for less than $1.
One not to miss is Coco Bongo, the biggest and one of the most popular clubs in Playa del Carmen. It’s more than just a club, it’s an experience with acrobats hanging from the ceiling and performances.
#14 Volunteer and go for a dog walk
If you’re a dog lover, or just missing your furry friend at home, then you should give Voluntarios Perrunos a visit whilst in Playa.
They’re a charity that rescues dogs who have been abandoned or abused, giving them the chance to enjoy the rest of their lives.
A few times a week, the charity organises group walks along the beach, allowing them to stretch their legs and be free.
As well as being a fun thing to do, it’s a great way to give back and help out!
Make sure to check out their Facebook page to find out when the next walk will be.
#15 Go on a shopping spree along 5th Avenue
In general, Mexico has a pretty good shopping scene compared to the rest of Central America. You’ll recognise a lot of shops from your home country and there’s a decent number of malls to explore across the country.
If you’re in need of some new clothes or souvenirs, then Playa del Carmen is the place to embark on a shopping spree.
Like with most things in Playa del Carmen, you’ll find most of the shops on 5th Avenue. There’s around 20 blocks of stores!
Expect to find popular shops like H&M, Pull & Bear and a huge Walmart, but also boutique stores to find more unique clothes or accessories.
Playa del Carmen is full of luxury hotels and beach clubs, but Maya Villa is one of the best. Guests staying at the hotel get access to both a gym and the beach club!
The hotel boasts a Mayan and tropical style with its natural decor and airness. The turquoise pool winds around the hotel, dotted with waterfalls that create a relaxing soundtrack to the hotel. You can also enjoy a hot tub on the roof!
Opal Suites offers luxury apartments with all of the facilities you get with a good hotel. Staying here you’ll have access to a gym, rooftop swimming pool and even a barbeque.
Each stunning apartment contains all you’ll need, a kitchen, washing machine, balcony and even Netflix. This can be a great option if you’re staying in Playa del Carmen for a couple of weeks, so you can have similar facilities as at home.
Start the day right with the hotel’s complimentary breakfast, made up of fresh and home-made goodies. You can literally taste how much love the host puts into the food as well as the overall running of the hotel.
Just looking at the hotel will make you feel happy. It’s bursting with colour, both on the walls and from the fruit plants that surround the garden. The hotel gets its name from the vanilla plants around the hostel, so basically everywhere smells great.