How we have never written about the best things to do in Playa del Carmen before today is a mystery. Playa del Carmen was the first place Dave and I visited in Mexico way back in 1999 and we have been back again and again. We’ve stayed in everything from, apartment rentals, all-inclusive resorts, and budget hotels here. Each time we enjoyed Playa del Carmen just as much as the last.
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. Since we first visited in 1999 it 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 Yucatan Peninsula keep reading to see all the places to visit in Playa del Carmen and the nearby attractions along the Mayan Riviera.
Top Things to do in Playa del Carmen, Mexico
The beaches 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.
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 Cancun.
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.
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. 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 La Quinta Avenida 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.
Playa del Carmen has come a long way since our first visit and the only bar 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, BePlaya Rooftop Pool,
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.
Popular beach clubs in Playa del Carmen are Lido Beach Club which is a small laid back beach club, Mamita’s Beach Club is a legendary beach climb in Playa del Carmen located on the main beach, and Kool Beach Club which is close to Mamita’s in case that is too busy.
Parque 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 Fundadores is the widest beach in Playa del Carmen with beach volleyball and watersports and is within walking distance from a Quinta Avenida.
Portal Maya Statue
Located at Parque 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. Standing 50 feet high, it is an impressive sight.
Another one of Playa del Carmen’s best beaches is Playacar Beach has beautiful white sand that is less frequented tha other beaches in Playa del Carmen.
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 as to why this area was developed into such a tourist Mecca.
We love taking sailing trips and if you want to explore the coast while taking in the sun, sailing is the way to go. The Mayan Riviera is a beautiful coast and you must get out on the water. Instead of high-speed or party boats, get on a sailboat. Sailing trips often include snorkeling too. This combines two of our favorite things to do in Cancun: Getting on the water and getting in the water!
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.
Book this highly rated tour – An all-inclusive Isla Mujeres Catamaran cruise – Including an open bar, food, and stops at El Meco coral reef, downtown Isla Mujeres and beautiful views of the Riviera Maya coast.
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. In fact, we bought our own so we can paddleboard the Grand River here in our hometown. 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 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.
Go Scuba Diving
Our second trip to the Mayan Riviera was all about scuba 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 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 scuba diving 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 floated 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!
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 Cancun.
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.
Rio Secreto – Secret River
Rio Secreto is an extraordinay cenote to explore. This is the longest semi-sunken cave system in the Yucatan that has become a popular day trip from Cancun. 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 Cancun. 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
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.
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 Cancun is that you have forest canopies to zipping over Cenotes to choose from! 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
Museo Frida Kahlo
If you are looking for a cultural experience in Playa del Carmen, pop into the Museo Frida Kahlo 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.
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.
Part 2 – Things to do in Playa del Carmen at Night
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.
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. 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)
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 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.
At first, it is a bit daunting as men play a Mayan ball game dating back to 1400 BC. I didn’t’ quite understand what was going on until the show progressed through the ages. The show takes you on a journey from the ancient Mayan civilization to today.
My favorite moments happened in part two when the wonderful and talented singers and musicians came on stage to perform many classic tunes that we have all seen and heard. Xcaret has more to do than just the night show, Book this full day pass including night show to experience everything it has to offer.
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.
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.
We’ve had some amazing adventures in Mexico and here are some ideas for you to get off the resort and explore some of the best day trips from Cancun.
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.
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 Cancun.
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 from Cancun, it is now a popular vacation destination in Mexico.
Combine a tour of the ancient Maya ruins of Tulum with a cenote adventure on this top ranked tour.
Mayan Ruins are scattered throughout Quintana Roo but this popular day trip is a must. Chichen Itza is definitely the star as the best Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula. We visited Chichen Itza years ago when you could still climb to the top of the main temple. But to this day we are still amazed by it. 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 and it is a must if you are into archeological sites.
This Chichen Itza tour combines a visit to Chichen Itza, Coba, and 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
Fun Fact, Chichen Itza is a 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.
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.
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 Cancun? 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 Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula regularly since 2000!
From ancient Mayan ruins to world-class coral reefs and long sandy beaches, Cancun has something for everyone. Many people spend all their time in the resort but there are so many things to do in Cancun you could spend all your time doing excursions. In fact, that is exactly what we do. We’re always hopping on a tour to take day trips from Cancun and these are our favorites.
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.
Swim with Whale Sharks
One of the best day trips we’ve ever done was swimming with whale sharks in Cancun. 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.
Just two hours off the coast of Cancun, 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!
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.
Isla Contoy is another popular island 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 at the Cozumel ferry pier. It can make for a good day trip to see this picturesque island off the coast. It’s 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.
How to Get to Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is 45 minutes from the Cancun 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.
Where to Stay in Playa Del Carmen
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.
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.