Planning a vacation to Playa del Carmen? The Riviera Maya is one of the top beach destinations on earth and a stay in Playa del Carmen puts you right in the middle of it. While the many day trips and excursions around the Mayan Riviera are basically interchangeable between Playa del Carmen and Cancun, there are plenty of things to do in Playa del Carmen that set it apart from a regular Cancun holiday.
Top Things to Do in Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Since our first visit in 1999, Playa del Carmen has transformed from a sleepy fishing village with sand streets and outdoor markets to an upmarket destination with luxury hotels, fine dining, and endless entertainment. If you are considering a trip to the Riviera Maya keep reading to see all the things to do in Playa del Carmen and the nearby attractions.
Planning Your Trip To Playa del Carmen Right Now?
Below are some of the top tours in Playa del Carmen. Don’t forget to plan ahead when visiting Playa del Carmen.
Top Activities and Tours in Playa del Carmen:
A great way to get around Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is to book a rental car. With a rental car, you have the freedom to find the best beaches, find an authentic Mexican restaurant or tw,o and enjoy the ancient Mayan ruins at your own pace. Compare rental car prices here.
1. La Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue)
La Quinta Avenida is the heartbeat of Playa del Carmen and you will find yourself wandering this pedestrian-only street for shopping, dining, and nightlife. Mexico’s 5th Avenue is a bustling 5-mile-long cobblestone street bustling with street performers, vendors, and bars cutting through downtown Playa del Carmen.
We love pulling up a chair at one of the many patios to listen to some live music as we enjoy the nightlife. You can visit 5th Avenue day or night and it will always be alive. There are even local art galleries to pick up local artisan souvenirs from your journey.
When a cruise ship is in town though, you are going to want to avoid the streets, as things can get pretty hectic and crowded.
2. Rooftop Pools
Playa del Carmen has come a long way since our first visit and the only bar we saw was Senor Frogs. Today, it has some of the best rooftop pools around, and relaxing at one has become one of the top things to do in Playa del Carmen. You can purchase day passes to the rooftop pool of your choice and sit back and relax taking in the views.
Your rooftop pool day pass includes a lounge chair and food credit. Other places will let you enjoy their rooftop pool if you spend a minimum amount of Pesos. Some popular rooftop pools in Playa del Carmen include The Thompson Playa del Carmen, Be Playa Hotel Rooftop Pool,
3. Sun and Fun at a Beach Club
When you visit Playa del Carmen, there is no doubt you will want to hit the beach and Playa del Carmen is famous for its beach clubs. While we’ve noticed that the beautiful beaches we remember from our first visit to Playa del Carmen have been eroded so finding a good spot on your own is getting to be a little more difficult. That is why many beach clubs have popped up.
We’ve had the privilege of staying right on the beach at Playa del Carmen in our own little oasis, but if you don’t have to one of the Playa del Carmen beaches from your hotel, there are plenty of beach clubs to check out. You can rent a day pass that will give you a lounge chair right on the Caribbean Sea.
Mamita’s Beach Club is a legendary beach climb in Playa del Carmen located on the main beach, and Kool Beach Club is close to Mamita’s in case that is too busy. Popular beach clubs in Playa del Carmen are Lido Beach Club which is a small laid-back beach club,
4. Parque Los Fundadores (Founding Fathers Park)
While we mentioned that some of the best beaches of Playa del Carmen have been eroded over the years, there are still places to get out to enjoy the sand and surf. Parque Los Fundadores is the widest beach in Playa del Carmen with beach volleyball and watersports and is within walking distance from Quinta Avenida.
5. Portal Maya Statue
Located at Parque Los Fundadores is the Portal Maya statue that depicts two figures being pushed by a spiral of wind and water. It was created in 2012 to celebrate the end of the Mayan Calendar and to celebrate the Mayan communities that lived in the Yucatan Peninsula. Standing 50 feet high, it is an impressive sight and is located in Parque Fundadores.
6. Swim with Sea Turtles
Turtle Bay at Akumal is an excellent place to swim with 3 of the world’s seven species of sea turtles. This tour will pick you up in Playa del Carmen and transfer to Akumal Bay where you’ll snorkel with these majestic creatures. You’ll then go to a cenote to swim in the underground Mayan world. This tour combines two of Playa del Carmen’s best experiences, sea turtles and cenotes.
7. Playacar Beach
Another one of Playa del Carmen’s best beaches is Playacar Beach has beautiful white sand that is less frequented than other beaches in Playa del Carmen.
8. Playa Punta Esmeralda
Playa Punta Esmeralda, often just called “Punta Esmeralda,” is another popular spot for locals and visitors alike. Located in the northeastern part of Playa del Carmen, it’s a bit off the main tourist area, which provides it with a slightly more relaxed and less commercial feel than some of the central beaches. If you’re staying in the main area of Playa del Carmen, it’s easily accessible by taxi, bike, or even a longer walk.
One of the unique features of Punta Esmeralda is the presence of a freshwater cenote that flows into the sea. Like many beaches in the Riviera Maya, Punta Esmeralda boasts white sands and turquoise waters. But the addition of the cenote, surrounded by rocks and mangroves, adds to the scenic charm.
Since it’s a favorite among locals, especially families on weekends, visiting Punta Esmeralda gives travelers a more authentic experience. It’s an opportunity to mingle with residents and enjoy the beach as they do..
9. Catamaran Cruise or Sailing trips
Getting on the water is our top recommendation for things to do in Playa del Carmen. The water is crystal clear, warm, and beautiful. Sailing along the coast really gives you an understanding of why the Playa del Carmen area was developed into such a tourist Mecca.
We love taking sailing trips and if you want to explore the coast and its pristine beaches, this is the way to go. Sailing trips often include snorkeling which is highly recommended as this area has some of the best coral reefs in the world.
This complete customizable catamaran cruise lets you choose your own itinerary as you sail aboard a 32-foot yacht. It holds up to 25 of your closest friends and family with an open bar. We suggest, asking to visit the turtle conservation center located on the island too where you’ll be able to witness sea turtles being hatched! The center is making great strides in its sea turtle conservation efforts.
10. Go Paddle Boarding
When looking for things to do in Playa del Carmen, there is no doubt you will want to get on the water. It’s no secret that we love paddleboarding. If you have always wanted to try it, this is the place to do it. But we recommend taking an organized tour as the experts will know the best places. If you have experience, head to the Fusion Beach Bar at the Aloha Paddle Club to rent some paddleboards. It’s also just a cool place to hang out.
If you want to try it directly from downtown Playa del Carmen, this tour begins at the quietest beach in Playa del Carmen where you’ll learn how to paddleboard and then go on a guided tour at sunrise before the crowds, jet skis, and cruise ships come in. Get more details and book it here.
This luxury boat trip takes you on a catamaran for a snorkeling trip to see sea turtles, stingrays, and other marine life. This tour offers a chance to try SUP. Snorkeling equipment is included and life jackets are provided.
11. Go Scuba Diving
Our second trip to the Mayan Riviera was all about diving. We packed our gear and made our way to the Yucatan Peninsula to spend a month diving in the pristine waters of the second-largest barrier reef in the world! We followed the Mesoamerican Reef System from Cozumel to Honduras. There are some decent coral reefs nearby but we suggest taking a diving tour to explore Palancar Reef, Santa Rosa Wall, and Akumal Bay.
If you want to go beyond snorkeling and give it a try, there are plenty of places to Discover Scuba Diving with plenty of dive shops in town. We loved drift diving in the crystal clear waters as colorful tropical fish floating by. If you don’t have experience, many resorts offer scuba diving instruction and Mexico is an excellent place to become certified in open water!
12. Cenotes Adventures
If you are looking for unique outdoor adventures when you visit Playa del Carmen, you must make sure to book a trip to one of the nearby cenotes. Cenotes are underground rivers flowing through limestone caves. Some of these natural sinkholes have large openings that you can abseil right into. One of the most popular cenotes to visit is Ik Kil because it is often combined with a trip to Chichen Itza. But there are plenty of Cenote Adventures that you can book from Playa del Carmen.
You can do everything from taking a zip line over them, to rappelling into them. But the most exciting adventure is snorkeling or diving inside these incredible natural wonders. When you book a tour, snorkeling gear is provided, so there’s no need to pack anything extra. Read more here and watch our video here.
13. Rio Secreto – Secret River
Rio Secreto is an extraordinary cenote to explore the Mayan Underworld. This is the longest semi-sunken cave system in the Yucatan that has become a popular day trip from Playa del Carmen. There is 12 km of underground rivers to explore and you don’t need a dive certification to spelunk into Rio Secreto. Visitors are taken in small groups on a three-hour tour and you feel like you have the caves all to yourself.
This Cenote adventure takes you deep into the system swimming under low-hanging ceilings, wading through spectacular caverns, and swimming in complete darkness. It is truly one of the best things you can do in Playa del Carmen. Tours can be booked in advance through Get Your Guide. You can also read all about a tour of Rio Secreto at Rio Secreto Cenote – Mexico’s Magical Underground Caves
14. Visit the Xel há Theme Park
Located just south of Playa del Carmen is one of the adventure parks in the Yucatan, Xel Há is a great place to go snorkeling for the whole family. The all-inclusive park lets you enjoy a full day of fun in the sun. Besides snorkeling in its crystal clear waters, go tubing among the mangroves, try your hand at cliff jumping, explore a cenote or do some zip lining and high ropes over the water. Purchase your full-day Xel Ha pass here.
15. Go on a Zipline Adventure
Staying in Playa del Carmen offers plenty of opportunities for adventure. We always love a Zipline and if you are looking to up your adventure travel game, you must give it a go. What makes ziplining unique near Playa del Carmen is that you have forest canopies to zipping over Cenotes to choose from!
Strap on a life jacket, zip from the jungle, and plunge into the Mayan world of ancient cenotes. If you want a fun day off of the resort, head out to one of the zip-lining adventures. Xplor is one of the best places to go zip lining near Playa del Carmen
16. Xcaret Park
There are many theme parks around Playa del Carmen and Xcaret is one of the most popular with 40 activities and attractions. This family-friendly theme park has a coral reef aquarium where you’ll see sea turtles plus a manatee lagoon to see the cows of the ocean.
There’s a Mayan village, and at night you can wat the performance at Xcaret. It’s a giant in-the-round dinner theatre where you are served traditional Mexican food while watching the history of the country and Mayan cultures unfold before your eyes. The show takes you on a journey from the ancient Mayan civilization to today.
Xcaret has more to do than just the night show, Book this full day pass including the night show to experience everything it has to offer. If you stay at Xcaret Hotel, you have free admission to all the parks including, Xcaret, Xplor, Xplor Fuego, Xenses, Xoximilco, Xel-Ha and Xenote.
If visiting the cenotes on an organized tour isn’t up your alley but you want to try some sip lining while visiting Playa del Carmen Besides the theme parks like Xcaret, make your way to Xplor adventure park. This full-day all-inclusive entry ticket to one of the most popular adventure parks in Playa del Carmen.
Here you’ll find 14 of the biggest zip lines in Latin America. There are rock formations with stalagmites and stalactites in underground caves and there are river swims and rafting. Complimentary drinks and a lunch buffet are included. Book in advance online here.
18. Visit the Frida Kahlo museum
If you are looking for a cultural experience in Playa del Carmen, pop into the Frida Kahlo Museum to see the most iconic artist from Mexico. While the main museum can be found in Mexico City, since many tourists don’t venture out of the Yucatan Peninsula or Caribbean Coast, they have set up a museum in Playa del Carmen honoring her work. The museum is located on the corner of 8th Street and 5th Avenue.
19. Take a Jet Ski Tour
I will admit, we weren’t fans of heading out on a Jet Ski until we tried it in the Cayman Islands. And renting a jet ski in Playa del Carmen is a blast. Vendors can be found on the beach or you can book this waverunner adventure that takes you to Maroma Beach, for a 30 to 60-minute jet ski tour. It includes round-trip transportation and soft drinks. (no alcohol when driving a motorized vehicle)
Part 2 – Things to Do in Playa del Carmen at Night
The Riviera Maya may be known for its incredible beaches, but Playa del Carmen comes alive at night with plenty of dancing, nightlife, and entertainment.
19. Coco Bongo
When searching for things to do in Playa del Carmen at night, there is no doubt you will see Coco Bongo as a suggestion. With Las Vegas Style shows Coco Bongo is an extravaganza. It has long been a staple of Cancun and the Mayan Riviera and when in Playa del Carmen it is just five minutes from 5th Avenue. With live music, nonstop alcohol, and performances, it is the place to be in Playa at night.
21. Go Salsa Dancing
One of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen at night is to try some salsa dancing. One of the best places to go Salsa dancing is at La Bodeguita. You’ll feel like you are in Little Havana as both locals and tourists alike love to dance to the live music to party all night long. If you are looking for something a little louder, Mandala has live DJs playing loud music to dance the night away.
22. Mexican Cooking Class
We had so much fun taking a Mexican cooking class in Playa del Carmen to make our own Mexican cuisine. This tour is led by a Chef and offers a cultural and culinary immersion into local life in Playa del Carmen. Go to the market and see how the locals shop before heading back to cook authentic cuisine.
23. Take a Food Tour
If you really want to immerse in authentic Mexican cuisine book a food tour. This Street Food Crawl is one of the more fun things to do at night as it follows a professional guide to the best street food in Playa del Carmen. Sample local delicacies, tamales and shots of tequila. This food tour takes you away from the tourist crowds to immerse in traditional Mexican culture. Details here.
Day Trips from Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula smack dab in the heart of the Mayan Riviera. It is one hour from Cancun and is close to several Mayan ruins, spectacular clear waters, and some of Mexico’s most beautiful islands.
Several day trips can be booked from Cancun or Playa del Carmen. You can choose from adventurous cenote tours, diving tours, or easier leisurely tours with easy cancellation for a full refund.
24. Chichen Itza
Mayan Ruins are scattered throughout Quintana Roo but this popular day trip is a must. This famous archaeological site is definitely the star of the Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula. We first visited ago when you could still climb to the top of the main temple, but even though you can no longer climb to the top, it is still amazing.
It’s one of the largest of the Mayan Ruins and it is probably the best and most excavated of them all. Chichen Itza is also the most visited ruin in all of Mexico.
Take a Chichen Itza tour that combines another great archaeological site, Coba, plus a Cenote giving you three top Playa del Carmen attractions in one day! Spend the entire day on a fascinating tour as you visit the Mayan ruins and climb the highest pyramid in the region followed by a swim in the cool waters of this pristine natural environment. Book it here
Tulum is located one hour south of Playa del Carmen and is situated on one of the most beautiful beaches and sea cliffs in the area. There are archaeological sites all over Mexico giving a glimpse into Ancient Mayan culture. Tulum is one of the most easily accessible from Playa del Carmen. Read more: 10 Best Ruins Near Tulum
Sitting high on a cliff overlooking the miraculous turquoise waters will take your breath away. A popular backpacker’s haunt, Tulum also has wonderful beaches. If you want to escape Tulum there is a lot of accommodation there. And it is fast becoming more than a day trip, it is now a popular vacation destination in Mexico. Read more: The Best Tulum All Inclusive Resorts
Combine a tour of the ancient Maya ruins of Tulum with a cenote adventure on this top ranked tour.
26. Ek Balam
Ek Balam is a lesser-visited Mayan Village near Cancun and you can climb up this one! It’s a sprawling complex of 45 structures but you can visit these Mayan ruins couple of hours. So you will get your history fix and still have time for other excursions afterward! There is also a Cenote nearby.
Fun Fact, This UNESCO World Heritage Site that was listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World! Read more: 7 Wonders of the World – the New, The Natural, and the Ancient
We visited the Mayan Ruins of Coba way back in 2003 when we decided to scuba dive our way around Central America. Something tells me it hasn’t changed much as when I look up information on it, it is still quite unexcavated with many temples yet to be unearthed.
You will wander through the jungle feeling like Indiana Jones as you stumble upon untouched ruins. Here you can still climb the high pyramids reaching 42 meters in the air!
Coba tours can be booked with tours to Chichen Itza and a stop at Cenote Ik Kil. This is an amazing day tour that showcases some of the top Mayan Ruins and highlights of the Yucatan Peninsula.
28. Sian Ka’an Biosphere
The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is rich with wildlife including many bird species. With activities like boat tours and snorkeling, visiting the Sian Ka’an Biosphere is a great way to get out and experience the natural beauty of the Riviera Maya.
If you want a cultural experience a trip to Valladolid is a must. Step back in time to this 16th-century city showcasing beautiful colonial architecture.
Valladolid is becoming more popular each year as people prefer to immerse themselves in the culture of the Mayan Riviera and enjoy a quieter pace than the hectic Cancun and Mayan Riviera hotels. Valladolid is often combined with a trip to Chichen Itza. Book this highly rated tour to see the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza combined with a stop at Valladolid and the Cenote Ik Kil. Tours leave from Cancun or Playa del Carmen.
30. Puerto Morelos
We only recently discovered Puerto Morelos on our last trip to the Riviera Maya. While staying at the Excellence Cancun Riviera, we were just a couple of km from Puerto Morelos. Located smack dab in the middle of Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, Puerto Morel0s is a place the tourists overlooked leaving it with a charm that other places don’t have. The quiet fishing village is located on an excellent beach. It has everything that you could want with great snorkeling, many cenotes nearby, a long sandy beach that is perfect for a sunrise walk, and a great market.
Looking for the best day trips from Playa del Carmen? We’ve chosen our favorite excursions to take on the Mayan Riviera to get you off the resort. Mexico is one of our favorite winter escapes and we have visited Playa del Carmen, Cancun, and the Yucatan Peninsula regularly since 2000!
31. Swim with Whale Sharks
One of the best day trips we’ve ever done was swimming with whale sharks off the Coast of the Riviera Maya. They may be the biggest fish in the sea, but they are gentle giants. Growing to lengths of over 12 meters (40 feet) whale sharks are impressive to see. This tour lets you swim with whale sharks just north of Isla Contoy followed by relaxation on Playa Norte Beach.
Just two hours off the coast in the Caribbean Sea, you can see them if you go at the right time of year. That time of the year would be from May to September and it is spectacular!
32. Isla Mujeres
We went with Get Your Guide when taking our Whale Shark Tour. Book This Top-Rated Tour. It was an amazing experience and we stopped at Isla Mujeres to enjoy the beach and to do some swimming. This tour offers easy Cancellation and last-minute bookings.
When booking a day trip from Playa del Carmen to one of the nearby islands, chances are it will stop for a bit at Isla Mujeres. If you don’t want to swim with whale sharks, you can book this highly-rated tour to Isla Mujeres for an all inclusive Catamaran cruise. It includes an open bar, food, and stops at El Meco coral reef, downtown Isla Mujeres and beautiful views of the Riviera Maya coast.
33. Isla Contoy
Isla Contoy is another popular island and day trip located just off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. This small island is only 3.7 square km but it is a protected national park. Only 200 people are allowed on Isla Contoy a day. It is a bird sanctuary with more than 170 bird species migrating through the island and its crystal clear waters are protected as well. It is a great place for snorkeling, and bird watching and you can spy loggerhead turtles as well.
Trips to Isla Contoy are often combined with stops at Isla Mujeres. You can book this combo tour to enjoy the crystal clear waters and white sand beaches of both islands.
Cozumel ferry leaves from Playa del Carmen’s main dock at the Cozumel ferry pier. It can make for a good day trip to see this picturesque island off the coast. Cozumel Island is an excellent vacation destination on its own and you can either hop over to check out the markets and scene for a day or spend the night. Heck, we’ve spent a week on Cozumel and never ran out of things to do.
We use Get Your Guide for day trips around the world and have used them for many of our Playa del Carmen travels. From Swimming with Whale Sharks to spending a day relaxing at Xel Ha, Get your guide offers some of the best deals for excursions plus they offer transfers, tour guides, and access to many of the top activities in Playa del Carmen and Cancun.
Do you have a favorite recommendation for day trips from Playa del Carmen? We go back to the Yucatan regularly and we’re always looking for things to do.
What is the Best Time to Visit Playa del Carmen
The best time to visit Playa del Carmen, Mexico, depends on your preferences in terms of weather, crowd sizes, and events. Here’s a breakdown to help you decide:
November to April: This is the dry season and is considered the best time to visit in terms of weather. Temperatures are warm but comfortable, ranging from the mid-70s to the mid-80s Fahrenheit (around 24°C to 29°C). February to April is especially popular because it offers a reprieve from the colder temperatures in Northern countries.
May to October: This is the wet season, with September and October being the peak of the rainy season. Humidity is higher and there’s a higher chance of rain, but the region is greener and more lush. It’s also the hurricane season, so it’s a good idea to monitor weather reports if you plan to visit during this period.
Peak Season (Mid-December to April): Expect larger crowds, especially during Christmas, New Year, and Easter (Semana Santa). Accommodations and flights might be more expensive during these times.
Low Season (May to early December): Fewer tourists, which means you can find some good deals on accommodations. Beaches and attractions are less crowded.
Best Time for Events and Festivals in Playa del Carmen
Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos): Celebrated from October 31 to November 2, this is a unique cultural experience where locals honor deceased loved ones.
BPM Festival: Usually held in January, it’s a massive electronic music festival that attracts DJs and fans from all over the world.
Riviera Maya Film Festival: Celebrated annually, this festival showcases national and international films, usually in April or March.
Best time for Diving and Snorkeling
If you’re interested in diving or snorkeling, the waters are usually clearer during the dry season. However, if you’re aiming to see whale sharks, they are typically spotted between June and September near Isla Holbox and Isla Mujeres, a bit north of Playa del Carmen.
Given all these factors, the best balance of good weather, fewer crowds, and attractive prices is typically in the shoulder months: late November, early December, and late April. However, choose the period that aligns best with your interests and priorities!
How to Get to Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is 45 minutes from the Cancun International Airport. Most hotels offer an airport shuttle directly from the Cancun airport and we also recommend booking a pick up online in advance as you won’t need to wait for other passengers.
Looking for transportation from Cancun Airport to your hotel, check out eTransfers for the best prices. They offer airport shuttles to the Hotel Zone, Playa Del Carmen, Tulum, and all along the Mayan Riviera.
Where to Stay
The Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen is a luxurious oceanfront property with direct beach access that is within walking distance to a Quinta Avenida – Fifth Avenue. It’s a little oasis in the heart of all the action.
Paradisus Playa Del Carmen is located on the beach this property is an all-inclusive four-Diamond resort surrounded by mangrove trees.
Luxury Apartment – This apartment rental is a good one. We stayed at this property a few years ago and it was within walking distance of all amenities. Located directly on the beach with swimming pools and lovely rooms.
So, there you have it the best of Playa del Carmen. There are so many reasons to visit. The beaches of Playa del Carmen are soft and inviting to go for a stroll at sunrise and there are plenty of walking streets, nightlife, shopping, and cafés. With so many different things to do in Playa del Carmen, it has something for everyone. No matter what your travel style, you will love Playa del Carmen.