Things to do in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

They’ve got a word in Spanish for beach, don’t they?  Oh yeah…it’s PLAYA!   The biggest asset Playa del Carmen has going for it is the beach.  The best reason to go to Playa (as it is referred to by many locals) is to go on a nice beach vacation.  And there is no debating it; Playa del Carmen has some nice beaches.  For those looking for it, the beach area just to the north of the ferry pier has a reputation of being clothing optional friendly.  It’s not exclusively topless but it is acceptable there.

So if you’re in Playa, go to the beach and relax for a while.  But there is so much else to do there that you aren’t going to want to spend your entire vacation soaking up rays

Playa del Carmen is a well situated base to explore the diverse environments of Quintana Roo. During a week-long stay, it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to visit at least one of the Mayan Ruins in the area. The easiest significant ancient city to reach is the cliff-side ruins of Tulum, located in the modern village of the same name. You can book a tour at any hotel travel desk but it’s an easy trip to arrange on your own from Playa. The most convenient way is to hire a cab for about $25-$35 each way.  The drive should be less than 45 minutes.  If you ask, your cab driver will wait  in the parking lot for your return. There is also regular bus service run by several companies with frequent departures between Playa and Tulum. The Riviera bus line is a good one for a ride to Tulum.  It’s kind of a local tourist service with frequent stops.  You can also take the regular city-to-city ADO bus line.

  1. credit: lecates on Flickr

About 45 km west of Tulum are the even more impressive Coba ruins. You may find some organized tours available but the best way to see Coba is to rent a car and drive yourself. You can easily tour the ruins at both Tulum and Coba and still have time for a visit to a beach or cenotè in a single day if you have your own car.

If you have any interest at all in scuba diving, you must find your way over to Cozumel. While there is some open water diving along the mainland coast, it pales in comparison to what you’ll find in Cozumel. The 35-45 minute ferry ride from Playa will drop you in the middle of the town of San Miguel on Isla Cozumel and there will be a line of taxis at the end of the pier waiting to take you anywhere you want to go. It would be smart to work out the details with a local Cozumel dive shop before traveling over. Have a look at our Cozumel Dive section for lots of additional info.

Other Playa del Carmen excursions 

  • Go snorkeling or diving in a cenotè. Cenotès are actually part of an elaborate subterranean cave system where the roof has collapsed revealing a section of an underground a river. The literal translation from Maya for cenotès is sacred pool and the ancients considered them gifts from the Gods. You can book a tour from a local company or just drive up and down Highway 307 and follow the signs to one of the many that dot the area.
  • Chichen Itza is a very impressive Mayan ruin that is more inland and a bit further away than Coba. There are regular tours that you can book with any hotel travel desk. This trip is a little harder to do as a self drive unless you are somewhat familiar with the area.
  • A trip to the Xel-Há ecological park can be an all-day experience taking advantage of the myriad of water and land activities. The inlet there is described as “an aquarium free of walls and glass panes” and allows visitors to swim with native tropical fish. For an additional fee, visitors can take part in a Dolphin Swim Adventure. Xel-Ha is located at kilometer 240 on highway 307, also called the Chetumal-Cancún highway. It is open 365 days a year from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm.
  • Xcaret promotes itself as an eco-friendly natural park. It features a wide range of water sports including a Dolphin experience and nature trails. It’s a little like Disneyworld with a Mayan theme.
  • It may be a bit of a long day but a nature tour in the UNESCO World Heritage site in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a great experience.  It’s owned and operated by the local Mayan community who seem to have a real interest in sharing what they knew about the history and beauty of the area. Contact Sian Kaan Tours or Centro Ecologico Sian Ka’an(CESiaK) for additional information.
  • Play some golf.  The only course that is technically in Playa is the Playacar Golf Club but The Iberostar Plaza Paraiso Golf Club, the Greg Norman designed  El Camaleón Club (at the Fairmont Mayakoba), where PGA Tour events have been held and the par 3 Mayan Resorts Golf Riviera Maya are all under a half-hour drive (and half a wedge) away.