Playa del Carmen Things To Do
Playa del Carmen is a beach paradise. Diving, snorkeling, jet skiing, and sunbathing are a few of the popular daytime things to do in Playa del Carmen. At night, the walkable downtown turns into a pulsating party zone. To add to the fun, excursions from the city center will take visitors to some of the best Riviera Maya adventure parks and Mayan ruins that the Yucatan Peninsula has to offer.
Use our list of top things to do in Playa del Carmen, Mexico to jump start your vacation planning.
For more information on travel to Mexico read our travel blog posts on:
THINGS TO DO IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN DOWNTOWN
Stroll La Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) to people watch and shop for souvenirs.
Playa del Carmen 5th Avenue is the town’s unofficial main street. Located one block from the beach, 5th Avenue is an 8-kilometer festival of Mexican music, food, bric-a-brac, tequila bars, and jewelry stores. The avenue is pedestrianized making it easy for street performers and musicians to mingle with the crowd. It is a lively atmosphere with store owners vying for patrons, and beats from the bars flooding into the streets. Mixed between souvenir shops (haggling is expected) are high-end specialty stores and restaurants. It’s a messy blast.
Spend the day relaxing at a beach club.
Playa del Carmen beaches are beautiful. Whiling away the day at a beach club is one of the most popular things to do. Although the entire beach is open to the public and free to use, private beach clubs that dot the shore provide beach goers with food, drink, loungers, and umbrellas (some offer music, messages, yoga classes, and dance lessons). Playa del Carmen beach clubs are usually associated with large hotels or nightclubs. To use the facilities there will be a set fee (typically a fee for the lounger or minimum food and drink purchase).
Get active on the Caribbean Sea.
Snorkeling and scuba diving in Playa del Carmen are huge past times. Many shops in town cater to this industry. Just a 5-10 minute boat ride from shore there are several well-known reefs with coral formations. These sites tend to be shallow and the sea is calm, making the gorgeous aqua water just right for viewing marine life. Experienced divers will often make the short trip to Cozumel for more challenging dives.
For those who do not like to snorkel or dive, there are beach kiosks renting jet skis and selling parasailing excursions.
Take a sunset sail.
Another favorite water activity is a sunset (or daylight) sail. There are several major marinas in Playa del Carmen offering day and sunset cruises, and fishing charters. You can also book swimming and snorkeling trips, dinner cruises, and private yachting charters.
Chill on the deck of a rooftop pool.
There are several well-known rooftop bars and pool complexes in Playa del Carmen. At these establishments visitors can purchase a pool day pass and use the facilities. These haunts tend to be popular with travelers and the local community. Deck 5 Pool and Skybar, 5 Rooftops, and Be Playa are three popular in-town choices.
Power shop at the Quinta Alegria mall.
In the heart of Playa del Carmen on 5th Avenue, shoppers will find the pedestrian entrance to the Quinta Alegria mall. This high-end shopping center uses a combination of native vegetation, benches, and low lighting to create a relaxing shopping experience. In the cool, two-story mall you will find a variety of name brand and chain stores offering fashion, beauty, food, and more.
See the Papantla Pole Flyers perform in Fundadores Park.
Each day by the Portal Maya sculpture in Fundadores Park, a group of performers execute a ritual Mayan acrobatic dance. The ancient Voladores de Papantla was originally done to appease the gods during the drought. During the performance, dancers climb to the top of a 30-meter pole and twirl downward until reaching the ground to the sound of beating drums and chants. Watching the ritual is free; a tip jar is circulated for viewing the ritual and taking pictures.
Explore Playacar’s Xaman Ha’ ruins.
In the gated community of Playacar there lies the ruins of a Mayan settlement that dates back to the 13th century. Xaman-Ha’ served as a base camp for pilgrims traveling from the main land to the Island of Cozumel to worship Ix Chel, the goddess of fertility. Visitors can get to Xaman-Ha’ via Playacar beach or through the Playacar Fase II gates (let the guards know you are visiting the free ruins). Shrouded in roots and vines, the ruins are small, but impressive.
Rent a Beach Bike
Playa del Carmen has a bike sharing system with bike stands located at strategic points throughout town. Bikes can be rented for around $15 US dollars per day. The terrain is mostly flat. Cyclists can pedal along the beach by following Tenth Avenue between Fundadores Park and Avenida CTM. Playacar is also a nice area to cycle.
PLAYA DEL CARMEN EXCURSIONS
Note: When traveling outside of the Playa del Carmen downtown area, we recommend booking guided tours that include pick-up and drop-off at your hotel, or travel via the Playa del Carmen Shuttle Colectivo system (which has stops at many hotels and tourist destinations). Here is a list of our favorite Playa del Carmen excursions:
Visit a cenote nature park.
A cenote is a limestone sinkhole. Cenotes are often filled with turquoise water and fish, and surrounded by lush tropical ferns. The Mayans considered these freshwater pools to be portals linking the natural world to the ancient gods. Three Playa del Carmen cenotes are within a 20-minute drive from town. The Jardin del Edin, Azul, and Christalino cenotes neighbor each other off Highway 307. At the natural swimming holes, you will find visitors swimming, snorkeling, jumping from cliffs, and frolicking in shallow pools.
Take a day trip to view Mayan ruins.
Don’t miss a chance to view the spectacular Maya Ruins of Chichen Itza, Coba, or Tulum. The excavations of the ruins are preserved in a well-run National Park system. At each site you will tour a collection of temples, pyramids, and monuments from the ancient Mayan civilizations.
The largest of the ruins, Chichen Itza, is a full day’s outing from Playa del Carmen. The UNESCO World Heritage site is famous for its spectacular pyramid, the Temple of Kukulkan. Coba and Tulum are half-day trips from Playa del Carmen. Coba has the Ixmoja Pyramid which can be climbed. Tulum has a gorgeous cliffside castle, El Castillo, and a swimming beach.
Explore the Island of Cozumel
The Island of Cozumel is a short ferry ride from the Playa del Carmen Ferry Terminal. Cozumel is a great island to explore. It is small and easy to navigate. The island has miles of beaches, tropical forests, a tequila factory, and several nature reserves. One caution: the main beach town can get quite crowded when cruise ships are in port.
Favorite excursions to the island include diving excursions to el Cielo, snorkeling in the Chankanaab Beach Park, climbing the Celearain Lighthouse in the Punta Sur eco-park, and touring the island by buggy or jeep.
Frolic in Underground Caves
Rio Secreto (Secret Rivier) is a network of caves and caverns. In this guided tour, visitors begin the excursion by off-road biking and hiking through a jungle to arrive at the cave system. After donning protective equipment and descending underground, guests spend the day rappelling and swimming in the blue waters of underground cenotes. There are fish to view and colorful mineral stalactites. This popular Playa del Carmen excursion books up fast.
Visit a Playa del Carmen Adventure Park
Many Playa del Carmen excursions to Riviera Maya adventure parks drop-off and pick-up at area hotels. Some of the most visited parks include: Xplor (ziplining, ATVs, and cave to explore); Xel-Ha (snorkeling, tubing, zip lining, bicycling, and swimming with dolphins); and Xenotes (zip lining, kayaking, rappelling and swimming). Most tours are booked through hotels.
Go Horseback Riding on the Beach
There are a number of ranches south of Playa del Carmen that offer horseback riding excursions along the beach. Guests can opt for group or private tours and pay accordingly. Most excursions will provide transportation to and from the ranch from a central pick-up area. The rides usually last 45minute to 1 hour ride, with the highlight being a gallop on the beach. Some excursions will include a barbeque lunch.
Spend the day at Xcaret and See the Espectacular Show
Xcaret is an eco-archaeological park on the Riviera Maya coast. The park features over 50 outdoor adventure activities and cultural attractions in a beautiful jungle setting. It’s expensive, but there is really nothing like it. We think all visitors to the area should go at least once.
On the grounds visitors can enjoy a lazy river, snorkeling, and swimming, There is a butterfly pavilion, jaguar exhibit, and bird sanctuary. There are also authentic Mayan ruins and exhibitions of Mexican dance, music, costume, and homelife. Best of all is the nighttime Espectacular Show where performers depict 500 years of Mexican history in a lovely outdoor theater. It’s great entertainment.
Cool off at the Jungala Aqua Experience; then see Cirque du Soleil’s JOYA Show
Twenty minutes from Playa del Carmen is the 1000-acre Vidanta Riviera Maya Resort. Here, visitors will find the Jungala Aqua Experience and Cirque du Soleil JOYA theater. Guests can spend the day at the luxury water park enjoying the extreme waterslides, lazy river, and private cabanas. Then, after dark, have dinner and enjoy the JOYA show. The resort offers free parking, transportation between attractions, and locker rooms for changing. This is a wonderful day out for kids and adults.
Snorkel or swim with Sea Turtles at Akumal Beach
Within a half-hour of Playa del Carmen is Akumal Beach. This stretch of sand is famous for its large concentration of sea turtles. Beach-goers can rent snorkel equipment and snorkel (or swim) off the beach to see the turtles (but a guided tour will get you to the best spots). This tour is often bundled with a trip to the Tulum Mayan ruins or area cenotes.
Visit the Colonial Town of Valladolid
Valladolid is a charming Mexican town about 2-hours west of Playa del Carmen. Away from the bustling coast, the pace slows a bit in this little city. In the town center there is a large square that is bordered by shops and restaurants. At the southern end of the square is the lovely San Servacio Church. Trekking through town visitors will find several art museums, cenotes, and the Mercado Municipal to explore. An excursion that bundles Valladolid and the Coba Mayan ruins makes for a nice day.
Hasta la proxima (see you next time), Laura and Randy
For more information on travel to Mexico read our travel blog posts on:
IF YOU LIKE THIS ARTICLE, PIN IT!