Playa del Carmen is a sun-drenched, laid back, beachside city on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that is becoming ever popular with tourists from around the world. Playa del Carmen has everything you might need for a hot vacation packed with relaxation or filled with activities.
There are white sands, beautiful, colorful waterfronts and plenty of bars and restaurants too.
Those looking for adventure rather than relaxation will find that here as well, with water sports taking place along the beaches and plenty of diving and snorkeling spots out in the ocean.
There are some great things to do in Playa del Carmen, and there is always something for everyone in Mexico’s best beach holiday destination.
Read on to find out more about what there is to see, how to get there, and the best things to do in Playa del Carmen in this extensive guide.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Cancun, Cozumel & the Yucatan (Travel Guide)
10 Best Things to Do in Playa del Carmen
1. Enjoy the Beaches
Playa del Carmen is first and foremost a beach holiday destination. If you are visiting, then it’s impossible to avoid a trip to the beach, as the city and life here revolve around the spectacular white sands and stunning coastline of the Mayan Riviera.
The beach is extensive, with beautiful stretches of pure white sand to enjoy. Relax the days away basking in the sunshine, and spend the evenings eating and drinking at the beachside restaurants, bars, and clubs that are found along the length of the Playa del Carmen coast.
2. Swim with Turtles at Akumal Beach
One of the most famous and beautiful beaches in the area is just a 30-minute journey south of Playa del Carmen itself.
Along with the white sands and glorious scenery, Akumal Beach is home to a large population of Green turtles, particularly during the summer months.
It is one of the best locations in the world to visit for the opportunity to swim and snorkel with these majestic sea creatures, in clear, calm water.
Something to note, it is okay to visit the turtles in their natural environment. It is not okay to touch, pull or ride the turtles. They are perfectly happy to go about their business or eating and swimming, allowing you to observe them.
If you do not respect their space, though, they will feel threatened and leave the area. Be respectful of nature and nature will allow you to enjoy it.
3. Enjoy the Water sports
Adventurous vacationers can leave the relaxing, soft sands of Playa del Carmen’s beaches and hit the warms water of the Caribbean Sea.
With the coastline being the perfect place to parasail, jet ski, paddleboard, and kayak to name just a few of the watersports opportunities on offer.
Along the beaches of town, local companies will be on hand renting out gear and showing visitors how to best enjoy the water here.
4. Go Snorkeling and Diving
Being a tropical paradise, Playa del Carmen has many wonderful snorkeling and diving spots off the coast.
The Caribbean Sea is home to a diverse array of marine life, including turtles, dolphins and even whales, as well as rich coral reefs and colorful fish.
It is a paradise for snorkelers and divers, and the warm water makes it the perfect place to explore the ocean throughout the year.
5. Explore the Many Cenotes
Cenotes are spectacular, natural underground sinkholes filled with freshwater.
They are a unique sight and a sight that while rare across the rest of the world, can be enjoyed in many places across the Yucatan Peninsula, and particularly near to Playa del Carmen.
Cenotes are beautiful, with crystal clear, fresh water that can be swum in. It’s even possible to snorkel and dive in some Cenotes.
The best and most accessible cenotes from the city, are Cenote Cristalino known for its crystal clear water, and Cenote Azul, an area with verdant, green and blue freshwater.
There are hundreds of cenotes throughout the entire Yucatan Peninsula and if you’re into exploring, I would recommend that you rent a car and map out a trail that will take you to some of the best in the area. It is also possible to visit some of the famous ones by tour.
6. Go to an Adventure or Eco Park
Playa del Carmen is a haven for adventure seekers and thrill lovers, with Adventure Parks and Eco Parks in the city and surrounding area offering outdoor activities and wild experiences for visitors.
One of the most popular is Xplor adventure park, which is set in the dense jungle of the Yucatan.
There are long zip lines through the treetops, vast underground rivers, and cavernous waterways to navigate and a plethora of adventurous activities to undertake in beautiful surroundings.
7. Go Shopping on Avenida Quinta – 5th Avenue
5th Avenue is the heart and soul of Playa del Carmen. This long street is pedestrianized in the evenings when the bars and restaurants all open their doors and spill out onto the lively streets.
There are local shops selling souvenirs, eateries serving up great Mexican and international food and clubs where the party goes on until the early hours of the next day.
Brace yourself for crazy but it’s an experience that cannot be missed. The street is walkable and we’d recommend going in the evening with the plan of grabbing dinner somewhere while you are walking around.
8. Take a Day Trip to Chichen Itza
A two-hour drive from the beaches of Playa del Carmen, in the jungles of the Yucatan, can be found one of Mexico’s most famous archaeological sites. Chichen Itza was once a thriving Mayan city that was eventually abandoned and left to be overgrown.
Today the ruins, including huge Mayan pyramids and unique architecture can be explored on a day trip.
Escape multitudes of tourists on a tranquil full-day tour of Chichen Itza from Playa del Carmel. Experience one of the world’s wonders without the noise and hassle of crowds on this early access tour.
Follow a certified archaeological guide on an ancient adventure to sacred cenotes, colossal pyramids, and a vast ball court.
9. Visit the Tulum Ruins
One hour south of Playa del Carmen can be found the beautiful coastline and Mayan ruins of Tulum. White sand and green palm trees line green and blue waters while the incredible remains of a Mayan city stand on the towering cliffs and in the dense jungles.
A visit to Tulum should not be missed on a trip to Mexico, so be sure to give yourself enough time to take a tour to the ruins.
10. Take the Ferry to Cozumel
Cozumel is a tropical island that lies just a half-hour boat ride away from Playa del Carmen. Cozumel is popular for its sandy beaches and diverse marine life, making it a favorite amongst snorkelers and divers looking to explore Mexico’s underwater world.
There are two possible ways to visit Cozumel from Playa del Carmen. The most popular is on a tour, as we’ve recommended a couple of our favorites below but if you’d rather go on your own there is a daily ferry that operates from the beach in Playa del Carmen.
Playa del Carmen Travel Tips
Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is a destination with something to offer every style of tourist and type of traveler, and the range of accommodation available in the city reflects this diversity, with everything from budget hostels to five-star luxury available.
The beach of Playacar, further out from the center of the city is known for its beachfront, luxury all-inclusive holiday resorts like Iberostar Grand Paraiso, offering vacationers everything they need in one place, but still with easy access to the surrounding areas.
5th Avenue is the perfect choice for those looking for a central location, with local bars and restaurants to choose from. 5th Avenue is lined with hotels, and it’s here that budget travelers will find cheap rooms at El Acuario Hotel and hostels to choose from like Hostel 3B Chic & Cheap.
Where is Playa del Carmen?
Playa del Carmen is found on the west coast of Mexico overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The city is part of the state of Quintana Roo, on the southern Yucatan Peninsula and is found amongst the famous Mexican vacation destinations and beaches of the Mayan Riviera.
The Mayan Riviera is a spectacular stretch of coastline that has long been popular with tourists. Playa del Carmen’s seaside location means there is always plenty of sun, lots of beaches and loads of great resorts and hotels for visitors to enjoy during their stay.
How to Travel to Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen has no dedicated airport, however being centrally located along the Mayan Riviera, the city is only an hour away from Cancun International Airport to the north and a boat ride away from the Mexican island of Cozumel.
Cancun is the most popular destination for international flights to the area, with many long haul and charter flights operating from North America and from Europe. There are dedicated buses transferring passengers from Cancun International Airport directly to Playa del Carmen, while private transfers and taxis are always available.
Cozumel lies just 20 kilometers away in the Caribbean Sea and has its own international airport with regular connections to Canada and the USA as well as frequent domestic flights to other parts of Mexico.
From Cozumel, many companies run ferries across to Playa del Carmen, a journey which takes just half an hour at the best of times. The ferries run roughly every hour throughout the day.
There are many bus routes operating to and from Playa del Carmen, along the Mayan Riviera to Cancun and Tulum and further afield within the Yucatan and Mexico.
Getting around Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is a relatively small city by Mexican standards and a city that is well laid out in an easy to navigate grid system that spreads out from the coast. The main street for tourists to visit is Quinta Avenida – the 5th Avenue – which is the hub for bars and restaurants and the location of many hotels.
It’s easy to walk around this central area on foot, while taxis are found everywhere. Getting further afield, there are lots of car rental agencies and many tour operators who can arrange day tours and transfers.
Don’t forget to bring: Top 10 Cancun and the Yucatan (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide)
Best Time to Visit Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen’s southern location gives it a hot and humid tropical climate. It’s warm throughout the year, however, the months of July to October are really the wet season, with substantial downpours throughout the day, and September being the peak of this rainy period.
The driest, coolest season runs from January through to April, but this also coincides with the peak season for visitors traveling to Playa del Carmen, when costs are higher and the beaches and bars are much busier.
Visit in the shoulder months – although much more humid months – to get great deals on flights and accommodation, leaving you more cash to enjoy all the awesome things to do in Playa del Carmen.
Is Playa del Carmen Safe to Visit?
Despite Mexico’s reputation for violent and gang-related crime, Playa del Carmen is still a particularly safe destination to visit. The city was developed specifically for tourism and as such, is the focus of intense security measures by local police.
Petty crime can be a problem, as in any major tourist destination, but keep safe and follow basic travel principles and your trip to Playa del Carmen will be hassle-free.
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