On the pristine Yucatan Peninsula, Playa del Carmen is a picturesque beach destination. But the coastal town goes well beyond the typical vacation experience. Its downtown streets are colorful and packed with atmosphere day and night, while visitors will be minutes from exotic beaches, incredible nature and mind-blowing history.
It’s hard to imagine that only two decades have passed since this popular beach resort was a sleeping fishing village. Today, it represents adventurous opportunities with plenty of fun things to do in Play del Carmen and endless relaxing beach days. Spend your time venturing into underground caverns before finding plenty of ways to kick back and chill.
In this post, we'll cover:
14. Museo Frida Kahlo
Featuring the works of a beloved yet controversial artist, the Museo Frida Kahlo is a must-see for art lovers. Frida Kahlo is a celebrated Mexican artist famous for portraits that were inspired by her home country. Frida’s work mixes realism and fantasy to showcase Mexican culture and nature.
If you’ve been to Mexico City, you may have seen Frida’s Casa Azul. While that has a bigger collection of original works, Museo Frida Kahlo explores her life in a deeper way. You can learn about her enigmatic life via a range of multimedia displays.
13. Parque Los Fundadores
If you choose to travel across the harbor to Cozumel, you’ll first wander through Parque Los Fundadores to reach the ferry. Before or after, take time to explore the Founding Fathers Park. You’ll find a variety of entertainment thanks to the park’s location on the vibrant waterfront.
If you want to relax but not at the beach, come here for a pleasant picnic. There are spacious lawns to hang with friends and family, along with shady trees to break open a book. Those with young kids can head to the playground, while couples can enjoy a romantic stroll on the oceanside path.
12. Cenote Chikin Ha
Part of an elaborate cenote system discovered in 1997, Cenote Chikin Ha is an open-air cavern providing an exceptional swimming experience. From the surface, snorkelers can look deep into the caves with the freshwater providing far-reaching clarity. You’ll be able to spot schools of fish, frolicking turtles and colorful coral formations.
Scuba divers can go even further, venturing into the adjoining caverns with rays of light splashing against the turquoise water. Get up close to marine life before enjoying the views from the opulent jungle setting. For a different perspective, soar over the cenote along a zipline.
11. Xel-Ha Park
Translating to “where the water is born”, Xel-Ha park is another eco-park that puts you in the heart of a beautiful environment. Xel-Ha is a natural aquarium, so forget enclosures and exhibits. You’ll be able to explore a vibrant and colorful environment on your own terms.
The center of Xel-Ha is an inlet and a lagoon. Chuck on your snorkel gear and explore the underwater world teeming with tropical fish, turtles and, if you’re lucky, some friendly dolphins. Compared to Xcaret, Xel-Ha is a natural haven, which for some makes this the better of the two.
10. Visit Tulum
An hour south of Playa del Carmen is the famous coastal town of Tulum. The town has become one of the top destinations in Mexico but there’s much more to Tulum than bright white beaches. Travelers will be able to explore well-preserved Mayan ruins, indulge in some R&R and trek deep in the jungle.
The ancient Mayan ruins are the top attraction. Tulum was once home to a walled city on the edge of the cliff. It won’t be hard to picture the city, owing to the well-preserved shape it’s in after 800 years. As you explore, keep an eye out for iguanas perched on the walls of the ruins.
9. 3D Museum of Wonders
You’ve come to Playa del Carmen in search of sun and fun. But if the weather isn’t looking flash, a great rainy day activity is the 3D Museum of Wonders. It’s the most entertaining indoor experience you’ll have in town. The museum will draw you in from the moment you enter with the chance to embark on a range of amazing adventures.
Rather than just wander around and admire the paintings on the wall, the 3D Museum of Wonders places you in the heart of the action. Young and old can interact with the art, from riding waves, to jumping into the underworld and inside bubbles.
8. Day Trip to Chichen Itza
Three hours from Playa del Carmen, Chichen Itza is a popular day trip for travelers. It’s a site of a magnificent Mayan city and listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. At its height, Chichen Itza was the biggest city along the peninsula. Now it harbors the secrets of an ancient civilization who were able to create captivating architectural marvels.
Chichen Itza is found deep in the dense jungle and at the heart of the complex is a stunning pyramid. Incredibly, within the building is a second smaller pyramid. Each of the local monuments is also astronomically aligned. It truly is a place that has to be seen to comprehend.
7. Cenote Chaak Tun
Of all the beloved cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula, Cenote Chaak Tun has always been a favorite among locals and travelers. Not only is it the closest one to Playa del Carmen, but it may just be the most photogenic.
Most tours to the local cenote will provide you with two hours of underground exploration. Be sure to arrive with your camera nicely waterproofed to capture all the memories of the colorful experience.
The caves may be dark, but your torch cuts through the water with ease and you’ll have incredible clarity as you explore. Gaze upon prehistoric formations with the minerals creating a prismatic swath of colors.
6. Take a Ferry to Cozumel
The beaches, parks, shops and nightlife in Playa del Carmen are enough to keep you entertained for days on end. But travelers should still make the day trip to the spectacular island of Cozumel. One, because it’s gorgeous, and two, because it’s just that easy.
All that stands between you and the island is a cruisy 30-minute ferry. The island is so close you can see it from the beach. The ferry takes you over glistening waters and out of one of the world’s most iconic cruise ports.
Upon arriving on the island, jump in a taxi or hire a scooter and get exploring. Rush out of the happening downtown (leaving plenty of time to explore at the end of the day) to quickly reach the white sand on the east coast. Go for a swim before enjoying the scrumptious beachfront restaurants.
5. Rio Secreto
Even after exploring the cenotes along the Yucatan Peninsula, there remain more underground adventures to complete. The highlight of your time beneath the surface in Playa del Carmen will be Rio Secreto. Like Xel-Ha and Xcaret, Rio Secreto perfectly straddles the line between education and fun.
Travelers will be able to explore this incredible labyrinth of underground caves that have formed thanks to porous limestone. The caves are flooded, so you’ll put on a wetsuit and venture through translucent freshwater.
It’s an otherworldly experience with stalactites dangling from the ceiling, mineral deposits frozen in time. While the stalagmites rise from the surface like long-lost statues. You’ll quickly see why the Mayans believed the caves were the entrance to the Underworld.
The Disneyland of the Yucatan, Xcaret blends the qualities of the famous theme park with the region’s exceptional natural gifts. Xcaret is an enormous open-air eco-park filled with all kinds of wildlife experiences on top of thrilling rides and tours.
Visitors will have their choice between the park’s beaches, which are wonderful for swimming and diving, along with several animal encounters. These include the dolphin aquarium, a sanctuary full of turtles, shark diving and stingray encounters.
If that’s not enough to get your heart racing, then you can sign up for the speedboat ride that will zoom you around the park and hair-raising speeds. Afterwards, relax on the lazy river before strapping up to zipline across Xcaret.
3. Quinta Avenida
The Fifth Avenue of Playa del Carmen, Quinta Avenida, is the town’s main drag and is teeming with some of the best attractions in the area. A single block back from the golden sands and the Caribbean Sea, the avenue is an equally sightly view.
From the moment you step onto the street, you’ll feel the atmosphere. As a pedestrian-only street, you won’t have to contend with traffic and can simply take in the avenue’s frenetic energy.
It’s here that you’ll find the heartbeat of Playa del Carmen. It’s a flurry of activity day and night, with travelers bouncing between shops and healthy breakfast joints while enjoying the street performers. At night, the neon lights flash and out come some of the city’s best nightlife.
2. Enjoy the Beach
Playa del Carmen has no shortage of beachfront hotels. But even if you’re a block or two back from the coast, you’ll have plenty of local beaches to choose from. In fact, much of the town layout revolves around the beach-side action.
The main beach can be found in front of the bustling Quinta Avenida. Here, you’ll be a quick walk from all the local fun, including shopping and restaurants, with the soft white sand dancing between your toes and the effervescent sea glistening under the sun.
For an upscale experience, head a few miles north to Playa Mamitas. Here you’ll have access to the vibrant Mamita’s Beach Club. If you’re after some solitude and tranquility, Playa Paamul rewards those with fewer crowds and a relaxing beach day.
1. Go Snorkeling or Scuba Diving
The crystal clear turquoise water that traverses the coastline is best explored with your own two eyes. Alongside the local cenotes, there are exceptional experiences to be had at the dive sites along the Yucatan Peninsula. These include one of the biggest coral reef systems on earth.
The barrier reef begins nearby and runs to Honduras, making Playa del Carmen the perfect launch point. Travelers will have plenty of options to explore the reefs, get PADI certified or snorkel locally. The calm Caribbean Sea, however, is forgiving for first-time divers, making it a great place to start your scuba diving journey.
Some of the best dive sites close to Playa Del Carmen include Tortugas and the Pared Verde Ledge. To venture further afield, explore the Palancar Reef and the startling Santa Rosa Wall.
Best Time to Visit Playa del Carmen
Lying right at the heart of the Mayan Riviera, Playa del Carmen sees by far the most visitors from November through to January. Due to the warm weather and sparkling sunshine, many come to spend the winter sunbathing, scuba diving and sailing.
During these months, all the city’s resorts and beaches are packed with December being the most expensive time to visit. As well as celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, there is also the Dia de los Muertos and Riviera Maya Jazz Festival taking place.
Although slightly quieter and cheaper, huge events and holidays like Easter, carnival and the spring equinox keep drawing crowds to the city. It is only finally in May that tourist numbers decline a bit. This period is very hot and sunny with temperatures ranging from 29 to 32°C (84 to 89°F). Besides enjoying its watersports, many take trips then to Tulum or Chichen Itza.
As May to October is the rainy season, its beaches and resorts are much less crowded. The exception is in July and August when the summer holidays see thousands flock here to soak up some sun and splash about in the Caribbean. Countless concerts and cultural events are also held as part of the Playa del Carmen Fair.