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With white sandy beaches, all-inclusive resorts and a year-round tropical climate, Playa del Carmen is an attractive destination for snowbirds and tourists looking to escape the harsh winter months elsewhere.
In addition to beaches there are lots of attractions in Playa del Carmen to keep you occupied, including watersports, cenotes, theme parks, golf courses and shopping malls. The town is known for being a bit of a party place, so there are lots of beach clubs and bars to explore too.
Here’s a full list of things to do in Playa del Carmen:
Best Things to Do in Playa Del Carmen
Playa del Carmen Sign
When researching Playa del Carmen online you may have seen photos of the colorful Playa del Carmen sign. If you want to have your photo taken with it, head down to the beach area and the famous archway, Portal Maya. When you reach Portal Maya make a right and you’ll come across the sign, called ‘Letras Playa del Carmen’ on Google Maps. It’s located right by the ferry terminal where boats depart to Cozumel.
Address: Centro, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Portal Maya & Parque Los Fundadores
Portal Maya is an iconic archway by the beachfront that stands over 50ft high. Designed by Arturo Tavarez, this beautiful bronze archway depicts a man and woman clasping hands.
The archway frames the white sand and turquoise blue water, marking the entrance to Playa del Carmen beach.
Next to it is Parque Los Fundadores which is a small park which has become quite a gathering place for locals and visitors. It’s a great place for people watching.
Watch the Papantla Performers
Next to the beach Papantla performers (pole flyers) fly around a 30 meter pole in an ancient cultural ritual.
Four men (known as birdmen) wear colorful costumes and climb up the pole, where they tie themselves to the top of it with a rope. They then launch themselves backwards from the pole, beginning their descent towards the ground. Each one must do 13 laps of the pole before touching the floor. The fifth member (known as the caporal) has the risky task of playing traditional music with a flute and a small drum while dancing at the top of the pole.
This ritual is so significant that it was added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.
El Fogon Tacos
El Fogon is a famous restaurant in Playa del Carmen that serves authentic, inexpensive tacos. There are a few different locations now but the main one is located at 30 Avenida Norte. In addition to tacos they also serve nachos, quesadillas and other Mexican foods, plus beers and cocktails.
Address: 30 Avenida Norte s/n, Centro, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
3D Museum of Wonders
The 3D Museum of Wonders is an interactive experience with 3D paintings. If you experience a rainy afternoon in Playa del Carmen and you’re looking for something to do indoors, this is the place to go. As you walk through the museum you’ll discover a number of different galleries with visual illusions, which make for fun photo opportunities.
Tickets: $35 per adult, children ages (4-11) $30.
Address: 10 Avenida Nte., Centro, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Q.R.,
The Yucatan Peninsula is home to many cenotes, which are large caves or sinkholes that are found in collapsed sedimentary limestone rock. These sinkholes are filled with cool rainwater or water from underground rivers so they are usually quite chilly if you decide to take a dip! Of all the things to do in Playa del Carmen, you should definitely put a cenote on your list!
There are many cenotes in the area but these are some of the most popular ones:
Cenote Chaak Tun – This underground cenote features a network of caverns and cave systems filled with stalagmites and stalagmites. Visitors can dive and snorkel in the clear waters and are provided with all the necessary equipment, including a flashlight, snorkel, mask, water shoes, life jacket and wetsuit.
Cenote Azul – Cenote Azul, Cristalino and Jardin del Eden are actually all located fairly close to each other so you could see all of them in one day. Cenote Azul is a large cenote with several pools and fish of varying sizes. If you want to snorkel you can bring your own gear or rent the equipment on site.
Cenote Cristalino – Cenote Cristalino is an open-air cenote which is around 6 meters deep. This beautiful cenote has crystal clear aquamarine water and there’s also an area to cliff jump.
Cenote Jardin del Eden – This large cenote is quite deep in places, so if you’re not a good swimmer, you’ll probably want to wear a life jacket. The rock formations here are covered in green moss and the cenote is surrounded by lush greenery. In the middle of Jardin del Eden there are rocks that are submerged under the water, which you can sit on if you need a rest. Snorkeling, diving and cliff jumping are all possible at this cenote.
Sundowners at Zenzi Beach
Zenzi Beach is a lively bar/restaurant located right next to the beach. Grab a table on the sand so you can watch sunset and listen to the daily live music which starts from 7.30pm. If you like dancing, there’s also a salsa night every Sunday.
If you’re feeling hungry, Zenzi’s menu features a selection of light bites, salads, sandwiches and hamburgers, plus daily specials.
Quinta Avenida is Playa del Carmen’s bustling main street, which runs parallel to the beach. The street is lined with many bars, restaurants, street vendors and souvenir shops. It’s nice to take a stroll along here in the evening, buy some souvenirs and sit down at a bar for a cocktail or two. It’s always very lively on 5th Avenue, so it’s a great spot for people watching.
If you want to do some clothes shopping, head to one of Playa del Carmen’s shopping malls. Paseo del Carmen shopping mall is a nice open-air shopping mall with cobbled streets and a nice selection of shops, including Lacoste, Zara, Bershka, Guess, Sunglass Hut and Pull & Bear. There’s also a Starbucks, Krispy Kreme and sushi restaurant.
Located right on 5th Avenue, Quinta Alegria is a three-storey shopping plaza with a central courtyard and lush greenery. Shops here include Haagen-Dazs, Forever 21, L’Occitane, Nike, Aldo, Bebe and Levi’s.
Playa del Carmen boasts some beautiful palm-fringed sandy beaches, which is probably what you came for, right? There are a number of beaches in the Playa del Carmen area, including:
Playacar Beach – This is perhaps the nicest beach in Playa del Carmen. The sand is powdery white, there’s less seaweed and the water is clearer. Since the beach is located in front of a gated community full of all-inclusive resorts, you can’t just walk through the resorts to get to it. The easiest way to get to it is by walking past Senior Frogs and the Cozumel ferry terminal and walking south along the beach,
Playa del Carmen Beach – This is the stretch of beach that runs in front of the Portal Maya archway and up to Zenzi Beach and the Muelle pier. This beach has lots of bars and restaurants and is generally very busy and lively with lots going on.
Mamitas Beach – Located in front of Mamitas Beach Club, this section of beach is the party beach with plenty of beach chairs, alcohol and techno music. If you’re looking for a place to see-and-be-seen, this is it.
Playa Punta Esmeralda – Playa Punta Esmeralda is popular with locals and is often referred to as the “locals beach”. This stretch of sand is backed by lush, green vegetation and has a tiny cenote that connects to the ocean.
When you fly into Cancun you’ll see billboards and advertisements for Xcaret, which is a water park, theme park and ecotourism development located about 15 minutes drive from downtown Playa del Carmen.
Built in the Mayan jungle among underground rivers and cenotes, the park has numerous natural attractions where visitors can swim.
The park also features a Coral Reef Aquarium, a Butterfly Garden, an Aviary, a Rainforest Trail, and a Living Orchid and Bromeliad Museum.
Admission to the park costs $109.99 for adults and $54.99 for children. Night time tickets cost $89.99 per adult and $44.99 per child.
Playa del Carmen has a number of beach clubs where you can lay on lounge chairs, order food and drinks and listen to music. These include:
- Mamitas Beach Club
- Coralina Daylight Club
- Kool Beach Club
- Lido Beach Club
- Encanto Beach
- Martina Beach Club
While you can lay a towel on the beach for free, sometimes it’s just nice to treat yourself to a day at a beach club with chairs, bathrooms and food and table service.
Coco Bongo is a Vegas-style entertainment venue with a nightly show that starts at 11pm and goes till 3.30am. Expect dancers, acrobats, confetti and dazzling costumes in a four hour long extravaganza.
If you buy a regular ticket it’s standing room only and the ticket comes with 15 national drinks. If you’d rather sit down in comfort, get the Gold Member or Front Row tickets, which come with unlimited premium drinks too.
Address: Calle 12 Norte, esquina con Av. 10 Norte, Col. Centro, Gonzalo Guerrero, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
Day Trip to Cozumel
Across the water from Playa del Carmen lies the island of Cozumel, which is known for its beautiful beaches and world-class diving. The ferry to Cozumel departs from the ferry terminal which is right next to Parque Los Fundadores. There are two ferry companies that operate out of here – Ultramar and Mexico Waterjets.
Cozumel is much quieter and more laid back than Playa del Carmen, so if you’re down to just chill on the beach with a book or go diving over the coral reefs, then this place may be for you. You can buy a ferry ticket at the ferry terminal, or you could book a jeep or snorkeling tour.
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Playa del Carmen is popular for watersports, particularly snorkeling and scuba diving. There are a number of reefs and cenotes in and around Playa del Carmen where you can explore underwater life. These include Cenote El Jardin del Eden, Puerto Morelos, Akumal and Puerto Aventuras.
While you can visit these places on your own, the easiest way to see them is by booking a tour. There are numerous catamaran excursions and cenote trips that include snorkeling as part of the experience. You’ll also find several diving schools in downtown Playa del Carmen, or you can book a scuba diving course online.
Hacienda Tequila Museum
Hacienda Tequila is a large souvenir shop on 5th avenue where you can purchase T-shirts, magnets, keyrings, chocolate and other gifts to take home. At the back of the shop lies the Hacienda Tequila Museum, where shoppers can sample tequila tastings and purchase bottles of tequila.
There’s a huge tequila selection and prices are in USD and pesos, so you can choose what currency you want to pay in. The museum also makes for a great photo opportunity, since there are lots of Mexican Calaca skeletons on display next to the tequila.
Address: Quinta Avenida 5, Centro, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
Rio Secreto is a 1km-long system of underground caves and rivers with stalagmites and stalactites. I’ve visited many caves but what’s unique about this tour is that you can actually swim in them. You’ll be given a wetsuit, a life jacket and a helmet with a lamp so you can hike and swim through the underground system led by an experienced guide.
A standard adult ticket without transportation costs $79, while a child’s ticket costs $39.50. With transportation from Riviera Maya included, an adult ticket costs $109.00 USD while a child’s ticket costs $54.50.
Address: Carretera Federal Libre Chetumal – Puerto Juárez Km 283.5, Ejido Sur, 77712, 77712 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
If you enjoy golfing then Playa del Carmen has numerous beautifully landscaped golf courses. These include:
With tropical surroundings, swaying palm trees and ocean views, the golf courses in Playa del Carmen are a golfer’s dream.
Sit on a Swing Chair
In Playa del Carmen you’ll notice that lots of bars have swing chairs. In fact, they’re everywhere, even at the hotels! If you want to sit on a swing and order a drink, try Senor Frogs, Pez Vela, Luna Blue and Blue Parrot. You’ll also find swing chairs at La 20 Restaurant and Bar on Calle 8, which is the bar in the photo.
If you want to buy art, jewelry, crafts and souvenirs, check out the local street market that takes place on weekend evenings at the municipal park, Andador Solidaridad. There are also food vendors here selling things like churros and elote (corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise, chilli powder, salt and lime juice).
Day Trips from Playa del Carmen
Chichen Itza was a very important pre-hispanic city and one of the greatest Mayan centers. Today, it is a popular archeological site and one of the most visited attractions in Mexico. The main highlight of this site is the ancient pyramid, El Castillo, but there are also other ruins to visit including El Caracol or Observatory, The Temple of The Warriors and the Mayan Ball Game.
Chichen Itza can be found near the city of Vallodolid, which is about a 2 hour drive from Playa del Carmen. To get to it you’ll need to rent a car or book a tour – I’d suggest the Chichen Itza, Valladoid and Cenote Tour with GetYourGuide.
Located about an hour’s drive from Playa del Carmen, Tulum is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Mexico. On a day trip to Tulum you can explore the Tulum ruins (Tulum Archeological Zone), which features a 13th-century, walled Mayan site overlooking the sea. Highights include the clifftop Castillo, which was used as a watchtower, and the Templo de las Pinturas – a two story temple featuring partially restored murals on the inner wall.
How to Get to Playa del Carmen
Most travelers visiting Playa del Carmen fly into Cancun International Airport. The drive takes about 45 minutes to an hour. You can either rent a car from the airport or book a shuttle bus/private transfer. If you’re staying at one of the all-inclusive resorts, check to see if they offer transportation to and from the airport. If you’re on a tight budget, you can also hop on the ADO bus that runs from the airport to the bus station in downtown Playa del Carmen.
For rental cars, check out Kayak or Rentalcars.com
For shuttle buses and private transfers, there are lots of companies to choose from. You can book online in advance or you’ll find lots of drivers hassling you to take their service outside the airport terminal.
Here are some companies:
FAQs About Playa del Carmen, Answered
A Final Word…
If you’re looking for sun, sea and sand but you also want a vacation that won’t break the bank, then Playa del Carmen is a great option. There are lots of affordable hotels and resorts in Mexico and if you’re coming from East Coast U.S. the flight time isn’t too bad. It’ll take around 3.5-4 hours from New York to Cancun and 2 hours from Miami.
Once you arrive, don’t just spend all your time at the resort. There are lots of things to do in Playa del Carmen so definitely explore the downtown area and visit a cenote!