My Favorite Things to do in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

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Spanish, some EnglishMexican Pesos

Playa del Carmen is about an hour south of Cancun. It still has loads of tourists, but feels a bit more Mexican than its northern, tourist flooded cousin. Not that I have anything against Cancun (I’m going next week!), it’s great to be treated to a resort and not feel too far from home, but as a Mexican I’m bias. I like Mexican culture, and if you ask any non-American Mexican, they will kindly explain Cancun is just not the place to go for culture.

Now on that note, neither is Playa del Carmen but it’s better, I swear! In my experience I find more local Mexicans vacation in Playa del Carmen rather than Cancun. More tend to also live in Playa del Carmen. I found better restaurants in Playa del Carmen as well, some right on the beach where tourists love to hang out.

If you do choose to give Playa del Carmen a try, here is a list of my favorite things to do. Any of these can also be done in a day coming from Cancun, Tulum, or anywhere else on the Riviera Maya. Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!

About to skydive over Playa del Carmen.

1. Fifth Avenue

Fifth Avenue is a 5 mile long, pedestrian only street along side the beach. It absolutely caters to tourist but is a damn good time. You can visit during the day or at night, but I recommend visiting at night to get the full experience of the bars and restaurants. The place comes alive at night and there is also loads of shopping on every corner. You can absolutely spend hours here. Some people come to waste time, but I recommend making it a priority when visiting the Yucatán.

If you come during the day, there is also women giving massages on the beach for CHEAP. I remember spending US$150 for a massage at my resort, then coming here and seeing 30 minute massages for US$20. Make sure you tip the nice ladies. It isn’t mandatory, but they are out there working hard for hardly nothing, it’s the nice thing to do.

A pharmacy on Fifth Avenue, Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

2. Take the Ferry to Cozumel

Playa del Carmen offers a ferry every day to-and-from the island of nearby Cozumel. It runs every hour starting at 7am, and ending at 9pm. So make sure if you don’t want to spend the night on Cozumel, you get to the ferry by 9pm.

If you’re not familiar with Cozumel, it’s an island off the coast of Playa del Carmen with charming scenery, great restaurants, and impressive snorkeling. I recommend taking the day to walk the streets and explore, try finding the plaza with traditional Mexican dancers. Also, many cruises take stops in Cozumel so it’s easy to book a snorkeling tour to swim the second largest reef in the world!

There is not many beaches here, and when there is, it’s usually in front of a hotel. So bring some cash, dollars are accepted everywhere, and enjoy the day on a beautiful Caribbean island!

Sorbet from a street vendor, Cozumel, Mexico.

3. Skydive

Okay, this is for my adventurous travelers.

Although, It’s an amazing place to skydive for the first time if you never have. I went through the company SkyDive Playa, they are certified in not only Mexican but American skydiving certifications as well. Not to mention Nikki Sixx dived with them too!

They will teach you what to do while your in the plane, air, and how to land on the beach. I did a tandem flight, but you can also ride solo if that’s your pace. If it’s your first time, do the tandem. The instructor will land for you and push you out of the plane when it’s time.

We took a short drive from the office to a small airport, flew above the ocean for about 20 minutes until we reached the elevation we wanted, jumped, free fell for about a few minutes (seemed like forever), then when they pull the shoot you just float in the air. Staring down at an entire city and you can actually see the coral reef below the oceans surface. Very, very cool.

Skydiving over Playa del Carmen

4. Day Tour to Tulum

Okay this isn’t in Playa del Carmen, but you still have to do it. Tulum has some of the most stunning ruins in the world. Not so much because of how well preserved they are, but because they are right on the beach! The Archaeological Site of Tulum is so well taken care of and has such excellent conservation that you can even find animals running around the area.

The most noted ruin is the temple that sits propped on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean. There is signs posted at every small thing to look at, with interesting facts and history describing the traditions of Mayans, the importance, and what it was used for.

There is only one entrance into the park, and unless you have a tour, you have to pay to get in. The park has a parking lot, but if you book through a tour, most include lunch and a ride/swim to a cenote. The park alone will take you a few hours to walk through. There is so much to see. Check out some Tulum tours from Playa del Carmen:

Tulum, ATV, and Cenote Tour

Tulum and Turtle Swim

Archaeological Site of Tulum

5. The Beach

Cliché? Oh well. There is beach that stretches all the way down the Riviera Maya, from Cancun, down to Tulum. Miles and miles of beach. It would be ridiculous to not take advantage of the white sanded, turquoise watered Caribbean.

Some more noted beaches include Mamita’s beach for party goers, Akumal beach for nature lovers, and Xpu-Ha for people looking for a quiet get away from the city. Akumal would also be a good option for a quiet beach. Bring a towel and some sunscreen, and see why these beautiful beaches bring people from all over the world.

6. Akumal Animal Sanctuary

This was my favorite day in Playa del Carmen and what I chose to do for my 21st birthday. I always try to fit animals into my trips by finding sanctuaries or taking hikes through a national park. In this case, it was a Akumal Animal Sanctuary.

Akumal is a very small town right outside of Playa del Carmen, you could get a taxi ride from your hotel to the sanctuary. The main reason people come here is because of all the cute rescue monkeys, but they also have other animals like macaws, snakes, turtles, goats, and more.

The REAL reason people come, though, is they let monkeys jump on your head! I’m not kidding. They sit you in a cage, put seeds on your head, and let the monkeys have at you. It’s really funny, and they take professional photos of the experience. The main priority is the animals safety and well being, and you will for sure see that when you visit. Check out the tours they offer here.

Do not do your hair if you visit Akumal Animal Sanctuary.

7. Coba Mayan Ruins

Coba is home to the tallest of all the Mayan ruins, Nohoch Mul, and you can climb the ancient temple to check out the view Mayans themselves had! There is so many interesting things to pass by in Coba such as areas where sports were played, temples, and many many others considering there is estimated over 6,000 structures in its entirety! Only parts of the village are open to the public, but on your walk through, you can enjoy shaded trails considering it’s located in the middle of a jungle.

The pay off is when the trees open up, and you are taken off guard by a giant Mayan building in the middle of no where. If you do climb Nohoch Mul, be prepared for steep and slippery stairs. There is a rope to hang on to, I highly recommend doing so. Don’t let that scare you it’s very doable to climb, and when you finally reach the top, the view is something out of a movie. You feel as if you can see the whole peninsula, seeing jungle for miles and miles, no civilization in sight.

If walking through jungle for hours doesn’t sound like your thing, the park also has bikes for rent or there are people offering a service to bike you where you want to go, you will just need to pay for either option. You can drive or hire a tour to the Coba ruins, here are some good Coba tours from Playa del Carmen:

Coba Half Day

Coba and Monkey Reserve

The top of Nohoch Mul, Coba Mayan Ruins.

8. Snorkel

Don’t want to take the trip to Cozumel? Not to worry! There are several options to snorkel from anywhere on the Riviera. As mentioned earlier, this part of the world is home to the second largest coral reef system on the planet, going down to Belize. Most resorts will offer snorkeling gear, but a tour is great because you get to be on a boat, get fed, and become so tipsy you will need a life vest. Find some fun snorkeling tours here:

Whale Shark Swim

Catamaran Snorkle

Beautiful tropical fish snorkeling in between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel

10. Portal Maya

Portal Maya is not only just a sculpture, but is also situated in a plaza with performers, live music, and street vendors. It’s the perfect hang out place after a day of shopping or swimming.

The sculpture is a 52 foot high tribute to Mayan communities before the Spanish arrived in Mexico. It’s beautifully situated near the ocean and offers a great view while enjoying the surrounding of the city.

Portal Maya

10. Swim in a Cenote

It’s so beyond easy to find a tour that includes a cenote swim. You can find these babies ANYWHERE on the entire peninsula, in fact it’s home to at least 6,000 of them. A cenote is basically a natural opening in the limestone that reveals the underwater river system throughout the Yucatán. The water is cold and clear. Crystal clear, actually.

The water was used by Mayans for survival and sometimes for sacrificial offerings. Even with a little bit of dark history, you will find it hard to discover a cenote that isn’t one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen! Some cenotes are famous, and some are not. The famous ones will have loads of people in them, I recommend doing both. The more packed ones are usually the most stunning, and the least popular ones offer a quiet oasis under the ground giving you a different perspective of what they are.

We only went to unheard ones, that the locals hang out in. Make sure you shower before entering so you don’t risk endangering this environment. Travel responsibly! Ask your hotel about cenote tours or find some here:

Tulum, Coba, Lunch, and Cenote Swim

Private Cenote Tour

9. Drink and Eat!

Playa del Carmen is a fairly large city, don’t be afraid to explore and try something new. It’s interesting because even in the touristy parts of town, you can find a small local restaurant where English is not spoken. Even if you stick to English speaking parts of town, you must try out as many of the amazing restaurants and bars you can find. The best ones are always the ones we don’t expect.

If your on Fifth Avenue, try walking a street or two down to find a restaurant, or ask your taxi drivers about good local spots to eat. The options are endless!

Walking down Fifth Avenue at sunset.

If you’re planning your Playa del Carmen dream vacation, I hope this blog post was help to you. If you liked it, make sure you like or comment on the post.

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Happy travels!

8 Comments

  1. This is super helpful. We are just entering the stage with our kids where we can start thinking about traveling and this is definitely going in my saved folder for a future trip! Thank you 🙂

    1. So good to hear! I didn’t focus too much on what kiddos can do, but check out Xcaret Park. It’s a wonderful place to stay for family’s. Everything on my list is easily accessible from here. 😄 Stay safe, friend!

  2. The water is such an amazing color of blue. We visited Tulum on our last trip to Cozumel and loved visiting the ruins. Thanks for more great ideas if I happen to get back there.

  3. We are going to Mexico next year hopefully, so this is great information. I was pleased to read there are people with bikes to take you up to Coba ruins because I am not a fan of hiking.

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