To put it bluntly, Playa del Carmen is a slice of heaven on earth. One of Mexico‘s most gorgeous, dynamic, colorful, and bright locations is this jewel on the Mexican Caribbean. Playa del Carmen, unlike other beach destinations where the primary activity is to soak up the sun, has a lot of entertainment and things to do.
It’s difficult to believe that Playa del Carmen was once a peaceful fishing community surrounded by vegetation. This beachfront town, about 30 minutes south of Cancun, is now a full-fledged attraction in its own right, with dozens of hotels ranging in price, beautiful beaches, high-end shopping, nocturnal entertainment, and outdoor sports.
There are so many things to do in Playa del Carmen that an itinerary might easily fill up, but we’ve reduced it down with our list of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen.
Rooftop Pools in Playa del Carmen
Perhaps you’d prefer to spend your time in the pool. Playa del Carmen, fortunately, offers some of Mexico’s most magnificent rooftop hotel pools. You do not need to be a guest to come; simply purchase a day pass. The pool day passes are similar to beach club memberships in that they include admittance, a chair, and a food credit.
Be Playa, Thompson Playa del Carmen, Ikonik The Carmen Hotel, The Fives Downtown Hotel & Residences, and Live Aqua Boutique Resort Playa del Carmen all include rooftop pools.
Beach Clubs in Playa del Carmen
All of Mexico’s beaches are open to the public, which has both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, this means that no beach is ever closed to both locals and visitors. On the downside, this means that beaches, particularly in Playa del Carmen, can be crowded.
Purchasing a day pass to a beach club is one option to avoid the throng. This normally entitles you to a lounge chair or day bed, as well as a credit for food.
Because Playa del Carmen is close to the Caribbean Sea, it has some lovely beaches, so if you want to make the most of your visit, consider spending an afternoon at a beach club like Lido Beach Club or Mamita’s Beach Club.
La Quinta Avenida
Did you even go to Playa del Carmen if you didn’t go to La Quinta Avenida? The hectic, colorful, and bustling Fifth Avenue, which runs one avenue back from the ocean, is the major artery of this Caribbean treasure.
The pedestrian thoroughfare is dotted with shops and restaurants, and it hums with activity from early morning until late at night. Whether you’re grabbing a breakfast acai bowl at one of the many healthy cafés, scooting a block over to take a dip in the sea, or watching the many street performers dust off their skills after dark, it’s easy to spend an entire day strolling down the cobblestone street.
Because La Quinta Avenida in Playa del Carmen’s the most popular attraction, be aware that it can get extremely busy during peak season and on weekends.
Nearby beaches in Playa del Carmen
While there are beaches within walking distance of Playa del Carmen, there are beaches a short drive away that offer a distinct, more serene ambiance.
Playacar is a private neighborhood located just outside of Playa del Carmen’s downtown area. While the community is private, the beach is open to the public (as are all beaches in Mexico). A short stroll south of the ferry port shows vast stretches of powdery sand, as well as significantly fewer tourists. Because this stretch of beach is largely made up of resorts, you’ll need to bring your own drinks and towels.
Another example is Xpu-Ha. Xpu-Ha lies 20 miles south of Playa del Carmen, and unlike the shoreline to the north, it is free of vendors, loud music, and tourists. It’s peaceful, serene, and breathtakingly lovely. If adventure sports are your thing, the bay can get fairly windy, which is ideal for kitesurfing.
Theme Parks in Playa del Carmen
Even if you don’t enjoy the ocean, there is plenty to do inland, including culture parks, ziplining, and even a Cirque du Soleil event.
Grupo Experiencias is one of the most well-known and well-liked regional entertainment organizations in this part of Mexico. Xcaret, their most well-known park, is a theme park dedicated to Mayan tradition and culture unique to this part of Mexico.
The park features over 50 natural and cultural attractions in a variety of settings, including the rainforest, the beach, and underground rivers. Throughout the day, there is a Butterfly Pavilion, a coral reef aquarium, and traditional Mayan performances.
However, under the Xcaret umbrella are other theme parks such as Xenses, which offers ziplining and lazy rivers, and Xel-Ha, a water park. Near Playa del Carmen, there are eight Grupo Experiencias theme parks.
Cenotes in Playa del Carmen
Visitors to the Mayan underworld do not need to go spelunking to appreciate the magnificent environment that exists beneath the Earth’s surface. The stone ceilings of many of these hundreds of miles of rivers contain openings that let in natural light. Cenotes are natural sinkholes found throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, and there are thousands of them.
They are captivating, formed by the collapse of the limestone, which exposes the river to the sky. Many cenotes are available to the public, and tourists can spend the day swimming, snorkeling, or even scuba diving to explore this seemingly limitless water world.
There are plenty to select from in and around Playa del Carmen, but Cenote Chaak Tun remains a fan favorite. This stunning, natural habitat is an underground paradise of crystal-clear water and prehistoric rock formations that appear to be from another universe when bathed in natural sunlight from above. Expect beautiful colors and the opportunity to simply be in nature.
Rio Secreto in Playa del Carmen
Did you know that hundreds of kilometers of underground rivers run through the Yucatan Peninsula? The landmass on which Playa del Carmen and its environs are built is porous limestone with miles and miles of vast underground passageways.
These tubes and caves were thought to be gates to the underworld by the Mayans, who have lived in this area of Mexico for generations. Many are now open to the public as educational centers and adventure parks, with more being discovered every year.
Rio Secreto, a stunning underground fantasy realm right out of a Sci-Fi film, is one of the most popular in Playa del Carmen. Put on a wetsuit and prepare to be awestruck by one of the world’s most amazing underground cave systems.
As you weave in and out of stalactites and stalagmites, swim through crystal-clear freshwater pools, and locate the entrance to the underworld, you’ll be transported back thousands of years.
Cooking Class in Playa del Carmen
It’s one thing to eat Mexican food while on vacation in Mexico, but cooking it yourself may take the experience and appreciation to a new level. The cuisine of Mexico is quite diverse, and Playa del Carmen boasts some of the most distinctive styles. Spending the afternoon learning the centuries-old, passed-down secrets of cooking in this corner of Mexico is well worth it.
Mexico Lindo Cooking is more than simply a cooking lesson; it’s a Mexican experience, led by Mexican native chef Alejandra Kauachi. Her cooking school is tucked away in the jungle just outside of Playa del Carmen, and it explodes into view in flashes of pink and yellow.
Guests who enroll in a cooking class can expect an immersive experience that includes learning about the history of Mexican dishes, watching Chef Alejandra demonstrate, and then actually producing meals. A lovely meal is served on traditional Mexican ceramics, and the experience is made all the better by the fact that the menu was created collaboratively.
Mayan Ruins in Playa del Carmen
Chichen Itza, a superbly built Mayan city complex and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, maybe well-known, but did you know there are dozens of other Mayan ruin sites around Playa del Carmen and throughout the Yucatan Peninsula? Chichen Itza is a fantastic place to visit, but it’s a three-hour trip from Playa del Carmen. Instead, why not see two additional magnificent archaeological sites that are excellent for a half-day excursion?
The first is Tulum, a port city perched on a cliff above the emerald-blue sea. Tulum is well recognized for being a boho, trendy beach town with boutique luxury hotels and wonderful eateries. The archaeological site, however, is the true claim to fame.
According to the earliest documentation, these ruins date back to around 564 C.E. They are now the most recognizable structures along Mexico’s Pacific coast.
Coba, a Mayan city further inland that was relatively unknown until recently, is another Mayan city. Coba was founded approximately 600 C.E. and comprises various buildings divided by a number of lakes. It is one of the largest archaeological sites in this section of Mexico. It’s notable for a network of limestone roads that stretch for more than 50 kilometers.
The Castillo and Nohoch Mul pyramids are two of Coba’s most iconic buildings. The temple stairways at Coba are one of the few places in Mexico where you can still climb them.