Endless sandy beaches and a whole host of adventures are awaiting you! Here are all the best things to do in Playa del Carmen, Mexico!
You likely know of the Riviera Maya from Instagram photos, travel magazines, and the picture-perfect image of a tropical beach that you dream of escaping to during winter.
I’m here to tell you that it is indeed just as good in real life! I spent a year living in Playa del Carmen, and I never grew sick of staring at the turquoise water or basking in the beautiful warm sunshine.
While there are all kinds of incredible destinations in the Riviera Maya, I think Playa del Carmen’s central location makes it the best base for visiting the region.
Playa del Carmen (Playa, to locals) sits right in the heart of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, just 40 minutes from either Tulum or Cancun.
The city, which has grown dramatically from 45,000 to nearly 200,000 people over the last 20 years, sprawls along the coast, meaning you’re never very far from the beach!
Playa offers big-city amenities in the form of world-class resorts, high-end restaurants, golf courses, and shopping malls, but the vibe is definitively that of a laid-back beach town. Ultimately, you have plenty of options and can choose the types of experiences that best suit your travel style!
Want to soak up the sun or drink beer under a palapa? You’ve got it! If you prefer to lay by the pool at an all-inclusive resort or charter a private yacht to cruise you around, you can do that too! Whatever your idea of fun, there is plenty to be had in Playa!
This post covers some of my favorite things to do in Playa del Carmen, along with tips on where to eat, drink, and plan for your trip!
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Though it may have originated as a sleepy fishing village, Playa del Carmen is ultimately a resort town, which means there are always plenty of tourists. It has a thriving expat and digital nomad community made up of people of all ages.
Because it’s such a touristy spot, many people speak at least a little bit of English, but knowing some Spanish is always an advantage.
On that note, people come from all over Mexico and Latin America to work in the tourism industry, which means you’re bound to be exposed to a whole range of different types of Spanish.
I felt pretty confident in my Mexican Spanish when I arrived but was completely thrown for a loop when I realized most of the people I was interacting with were from Argentina and pronounced everything differently!
Overall, Playa is easy to navigate, even if you don’t speak a word of Spanish. It’s a friendly city and offers a range of experiences for travelers at any level of budget.
If you’re not yet an experienced traveler, this is a great destination. It’s easy to get around, and it’s quite safe (though you should always use common sense).
WHAT TO PACK
For detailed suggestions of what to pack, check out my packing list for the Riviera Maya! In general, the weather is typically hot and humid, so plan accordingly. Here are a few other things to note:
- In the spring and summer (April – August), expect rain showers. They don’t last long (maybe 20 minutes), but they are intense. Bring quick-dry clothes and even a rain shell to keep yourself (and your camera) dry. I have this one, which folds into one of the pockets, making it compact and easy to pack.
- In the winter (November – January), temperatures can dip into the mid-60s, especially at night. Bring a pair of pants and a sweater just in case! I was glad to have my Patagonia fleece this winter!
- You will definitely need sunscreen. Opt for a reef-safe brand to protect the natural habitat while you’re here. This one is reef safe, cruelty-free, and comes in a handy reusable tin! For more biodegradable sunscreen recommendations, check out this post.
FUN THINGS TO DO IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN
Wander along La Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue)
La Quinta Avenida (also known as 5th Avenue) is the touristic hub of Playa del Carmen. It’s a pedestrian street that extends from Calle 1 through to Calle 110. The most active sections, though, are downtown, between 1st and Calle 38.
The colorful street is lined with restaurants, bars, boutiques, souvenir shops, and even shopping malls. While this street is quite touristy, it’s still worth a visit. Poke around in the boutiques and browse the souvenir shops.
You’ll encounter a mix of high-end clothing and jewelry items along with budget-friendly souvenirs, and everything in between.
Pro tip: Caravan is a great place to pick up boho souvenirs like sarongs, baskets, jewelry, and more.
When you get too hot or hungry to continue, pop into one of the many bars and restaurants that line this street. You’ll find everything from fine dining to tacos, ice cream shops, fast food, and beyond.
There are some really fantastic restaurants and bars along La Quinta (Patio 8 is a favorite of mine), so don’t write it off as too touristy before you give it a chance!
Watch the Danza de los Voladores at Parque Fundadores
Parque Fundadores is a large, open park that sits at the south end of La Quinta and occupies an entire city block between the street and the beach.
Here you can catch a performance of the Danza de los Voladores. This ancient mesoamerican dance ritual involves flyers (voladores) performing while hanging by their ankles. It’s quite a spectacle!
The dance is believed to have originated in the city of Papantla, Veracruz, and is associated with the Huastec, Otomí, Nahua, and Totonac people.
To perform the dance, 5 flyers ascend a 30-meter pole. One performer sits on the platform at the top of the pole and plays a tune, while the other 4 flyers, who are attached to the platform by a rope, begin the dance.
The ropes begin to slowly unwind as the dancers perform while suspended upside down.
The captivating Danza de los Voladores has been recognized by UNESCO as an “intangible cultural heritage,” and it is now performed throughout Mexico.
If you stop to take in a performance, don’t forget to tip the dancers afterward!
Sunbathe On The White Sand Beaches
There is plenty to do in Playa, but when in doubt, head to the beach! After all, you were likely drawn to the area by the promise of beautiful white sand beaches and turquoise waters of the Caribbean! The water is never too cold, and the sand is never too hot!
One of my favorite things about Playa del Carmen is it’s right on the coast. Wherever you are, there is liable to be a beautiful beach nearby, just waiting for your enjoyment.
Mamitas Beach is renowned for the beach club, where you can rent lounge chairs and order cocktails right from the sand.
During high season (December – March), this area can be a bit of a party spot, with loud music and thick crowds, so it’s always good to have backup options.
My favorite beach in Playa del Carmen is Playacar beach. It’s a bit of a walk (only 10 minutes, but it feels like more in the heat!), south of the ferry dock on Calle 1 Sur. Cut through the Señor Frogs restaurant and follow the beach until you reach an appealing patch of sand!
There are no services on this stretch of beach, so bring plenty of water and snacks. This area is usually only occupied by locals or the people staying in the beachfront homes nearby.
Scout For Street Art
A few years ago, Playa del Carmen hosted a street art festival in an attempt to beautify the city and create “a sense of belonging.”
Because of the rapid (and ongoing) growth, Playa’s aesthetic can look a little rough around the edges.
There is construction on practically every corner, which means there are piles of bricks, building materials, and rebar poking out of the tops of half-constructed buildings. The street art definitely helps distract from this!
There are some really incredible murals to be found throughout the city. I used to go for walks just to scout for new murals! The best time to explore is early in the morning or evening when it’s not too hot or bright out.
Calle 4 and Calle 2 were the two streets the art project was focused on, and you will find some great art there, but there are plenty more murals scattered throughout the city. Wherever you happen to be based, just take a walk around!
For a more focused approach, book a street art tour!
Go Swimming in a Cenote
One of my favorite things to do in all of the Riviera Maya is to swim in cenotes. In case you’re unfamiliar, cenotes are basically sinkholes that form when the porous limestone bedrock (which comprises the majority of the land in this area) gives way to expose an underground river.
The Maya people believed that cenotes were a portal to the underworld and a way for them to connect with Chaak, the rain god.
There’s something so intriguing about these mysterious swimming holes that just draws me in. I find them both eerie and alluring. Maybe because “portal to the underworld” sounds like something from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or perhaps it’s because exploring them with my mask and snorkel makes me feel like a female Jacques Cousteau! Either way, I think they’re delightful, and you shouldn’t miss the chance to check them out for yourself.
Note: Because they are fed with groundwater, the water temperature in cenotes is quite…refreshing. Though shocking, this is ultimately a good thing because the air temp is usually quite hot!
Some cenotes are only a couple of feet deep, while others go down hundreds of feet. Some are directly exposed to the sky, and others are just partly exposed, appearing more like caves than pools.
There are thousands of cenotes all over the Yucatán peninsula, and that’s only counting the ones that have been discovered!
There are dozens of popular cenotes throughout the Riviera Maya, and I highly recommend taking a day trip to one of them. You can snorkel to see the underwater rock formations, which are sure to blow your mind! Dos Ojos is one of my favorites!
If you’re a diver, some of the cenotes have options to do cave diving. I haven’t done this, but I bet it’s fascinating. If this is something you’re interested in, I recommend inquiring at a local dive shop.
Explore Under The Sea On A Diving or Snorkeling Tour
Fans of water-based activities will definitely want to go on a diving or snorkeling tour. This area is home to one of the most impressive coral reefs on earth, the Palancar Reef, which lies off the coast of Cozumel Island. It’s a massive, diverse coral reef and is home to many fascinating sea creatures.
If you’ve ever wanted to feel like you’re living out a real-life version of A Little Mermaid (minus the evil octopus-woman who steals your voice, of course!), you NEED to check out one of these tours! You can see fish, coral, sharks (friendly ones!), rays, turtles, anemones, and more!
You can even snorkel with whale sharks (if you’re visiting between May and September).
There are seemingly endless options for dive and snorkel companies in Playa del Carmen, but I recommend going with Phantom Divers as I can personally vouch for their high quality of service.
Practice Yoga in Paradise
Playa del Carmen is home to many yoga studios and teachers and you can take yoga classes in all kinds of different settings. From a beachside palapa to an open-air rooftop or a traditional studio space, you’re sure to find a setting that appeals to you. Classes are available in both English and Spanish too, so you don’t have to worry about a language barrier!
So, if you’re a fan of yoga, why not keep up your practice in Playa del Carmen?!
DAY TRIPS FROM PLAYA DEL CARMEN
There are so many things to do in Playa del Carmen that you could easily spend your entire vacation within the city, but it’s sometimes fun to explore a little further. There are tons of exciting day trips that you can take from Playa.
Here are a few of the highlights:
- Tulum Ruins – You’ll likely recognize this small, beachside archaeological site as the subject of many of the photos from this region. It’s located about 1 hour from Playa del Carmen, outside the city of Tulum. Spend the morning at the ruins and the afternoon on the beaches of Tulum!
- Chichén Itzá – One of the New 7 Wonders of the World, Chichén Itzá is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico. It is located about 2.5 hours from Playa and was the former center of the Maya civilization. If you’re interested in archaeology and/or Mesoamerican history, it is DEFINITELY worth the trek. For more details on Chichén Itzá, click here!
- Akumal – Just 30 minutes south of Playa del Carmen lies the dreamiest beach in all of the Riviera Maya (at least in my opinion). If you’re interested in snorkeling with turtles, this is the place to do it. Check out my detailed guide on how to make it happen!
- Puerto Morelos – This small, seaside village is just 30 minutes north of Playa del Carmen and the epitome of a sleepy beach town. It’s the perfect place for a relaxing beach day, a snorkel tour, or just a change of scenery! For more on what to do in Puerto Morelos, click here.
- Adventure Parks – There are numerous adventure parks in the area, including Xcaret, Xenses, and Xplor. They offer everything from cenote swimming to zip-lining to theatrical performances highlighting Mexico’s history. If you’re looking for an action-packed experience infused with Mexican culture, you should definitely check out one of these parks!
Where to Eat In Playa del Carmen
One of the must-do activities in Playa del Carmen is eating! Mexico is renowned for its amazing food, and while I wouldn’t say that Playa has the best representation of Mexican cuisine, there is certainly a plethora of incredible restaurants.
Due to the area’s touristic nature, there is a wide range of different culinary styles to choose from. You will find everything from sushi, to Brazilian barbecue, to Italian, and everything in between. You definitely can’t miss stopping at one of the hundreds of pizza stands, either!
Here are a few of my favorite spots…
Chez Céline – Quinta Avenida and Calle 34
This is a cute little French-inspired brunch or lunch spot. They serve delicious sandwiches, and their pastry selection should not be overlooked. I like to sit in the garden and people watch while I enjoy my meal. They usually have a happy hour in the afternoon where they promo cocktails AND pastries, so definitely check it out!
Don Sirloin – numerous locations; I recommend the one on 25 Avenida and Constituyentes
Don Sirloin serves the best tacos in Playa del Carmen. I know… it’s a bold claim, and probably everything else you’ve read says you’ll find them at El Fogón, but I respectfully disagree. It’s easy to do a side-by-side comparison because they’re located right next door to El Fogón!
For Date Night
Como Como Osteria Mediterranea – 10 Avenida, between Calle 12 and 14
This is a higher-end (at $18 USD per plate) Italian restaurant right in the heart of Playa. They have a diverse menu featuring everything from pasta to seafood, and a romantic garden setting, which I love.
Beware, though, a friendly raccoon lives in the hedge and will likely ask to share your breadsticks. If you’re put off by this, skip the garden and sit inside (or order an extra glass of wine, whatever works!).
For more restaurant suggestions, check out my guide to cheap eats in Playa del Carmen.
PLAYA DEL CARMEN NIGHTLIFE: WHERE TO DRINK
Playa del Carmen is without a doubt a popular party spot, particularly for spring breakers. While I am steadfast that my clubbing days are FAR behind me, I have been to exactly one nightclub in Playa since moving here, so I can’t say I didn’t try! Thankfully, Playa has plenty of more relaxed bars for those of us who have left our clubbing days in the past.
- Kitxen – Quinta Avenida Nte between Constituyentes and Calle 20 If you’re a fan of live music, this is the place to be. Kitxen (pronounced “kitchen”) is owned by the lead singer of a famous Mexican rock band, Caifanes, and this spot reliably gives a stage to some of Playa’s best musical acts. The atmosphere is relaxed, and the drinks are reasonably priced.
- Club de la Cerveza – Quinta Avenida Nte between Calle 34 and 38 If the name hasn’t already convinced you, allow me! This is a laid-back bar right on La Quinta Avenida. They have a menu that features over 70 different beers, including a selection from local breweries! It’s the perfect spot for a chill night out!
- Cero Uno – Calle 8 Norte and Quinta Avenida The one nightclub I’ve actually visited! This is a multi-level club, which features a rooftop complete with twinkly lights. If they didn’t also serve beer, I’d say the rooftop was the only draw — unless you like electronic music, in which case this is probably the perfect place for you!
WHERE TO STAY IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN
Playa del Carmen is home to a huge range of accommodations. From party hostels to trendy Airbnbs and relaxing resorts, there’s something for every type of traveler.
Unless you’re staying at an all-inclusive, or have booked a rental car for the duration of your stay, your best bet is to stay inside the pink rectangle on this map.
That’s not to say that you can’t find suitable safe, and affordable places to stay outside of this area (you definitely can). I just think it’s a lot easier to remain centric because you will be able to walk anywhere you need or want to go.
When I first moved to Playa, I figured it would be okay to live further from the beach to save a bit of money on rent. I immediately regretted the decision. It was such a hassle trying to catch/coordinate public transportation or taxis. It’s soooo much nicer to be able to go wherever I want just by walking out the door! It only took me 2 weeks to realize my mistake and ditch the apartment in the suburbs and move downtown.
Chances are, you’re visiting Playa del Carmen because you wanted a beach vacation, so why not book one of these incredible beachfront Airbnbs?
If you stay inside that rectangle, you’ll be within easy walking distance of the beach and anywhere else you may want to go.
You can use this map to search for accommodation in Playa del Carmen.
HOW TO GET TO PLAYA DEL CARMEN
If you’re arriving at the Riviera Maya by plane, you will fly into the Cancún airport, which is about 40 minutes from Playa del Carmen. Upon clearing baggage claim, you will be inundated with a plethora of transportation options that will take you anywhere you need to go. Let’s break them down:
- Rental Car – Rates across rental car companies are usually similar, but they vary depending on the demand. I like to use Discover Car Hire to compare rates across a variety of companies all at once. Keep in mind, Mexico requires that you purchase an insurance policy with your rental or pay a massive deposit (up to $2000 USD). In my experience, you should expect to pay around $50 USD per day for a rental car. You can compare prices here!
- Shuttle Van – Airport shuttles are usually large passenger vans that take passengers directly to their destination. There are both private shuttles and shared shuttles. Private shuttles may cost a little more, but you will go straight to your hotel rather than having to wait while the shuttle drops other passengers at their accommodations. Click here to check rates.
- ADO Bus – ADO is basically Mexico’s version of a Greyhound bus… only way nicer and way cheaper. This is by far my preferred option for getting to Playa del Carmen from the airport. The bus will drop you at the ADO station on Avenida Benito Juárez and La Quinta Avenida in downtown Playa del Carmen. Tickets cost about $10 USD.
Related Reading: Cancun to Playa del Carmen Airport Transportation
Mexico Travel Planning Resources
🌡️ Do I need travel insurance?
Yes! Healthcare in Mexico is affordable for minor ailments, but travel insurance will give you peace of mind if an emergency arises. Plus, you can add coverage for trip interruption, theft, etc. Get a quote from SafetyWing.
🏨 What’s the best way to find accommodation in Mexico?
I use a mix of Booking, Airbnb, and Hostelworld.
💸 How should I exchange money in Mexico?
Use local ATMS to withdraw cash. US travelers should open a Charles Schwab bank account because they’ll refund ATM fees at the end of the month.
Travelers from outside the US should open a Wise account to secure the best currency exchange rates.
📱 Where can I buy a local SIM card in Mexico?
Pick up a Telcel SIM card at any convenience store. Or, buy an Airalo eSIM online so you’re connected as soon as you land.
🗣️ Do I need to speak Spanish in Mexico?
No, but it definitely helps you feel more confident and connected.
✈️ What’s the best way to find affordable flights?
I use Skyscanner because it makes it easy to compare rates across different travel days.
🚖 How do I find a safe airport transfer?
I recommend GetTransfer for airport transfers anywhere in Mexico.
🚗 What’s the best way to find rental cars in Mexico?
I recommend Discover Cars because they aggregate prices across rental car companies, making it easy to find competitive rates.
🚐 How do I book bus tickets online in Mexico?
🤿 How do I find cool activities and tours in Mexico?
🇲🇽 How can I experience Mexico like a local?
Solo female travelers can hire a local female guide through Greether. Greeters will tailor tours based on your interests— it’s basically like experiencing a destination with a local bestie!
🧳 What’s the best luggage for Mexico?
Unless you’re staying at a resort, a travel pack is recommended. I’ve used this one from Osprey for the last 8+ years.
👯♀️ How do I connect with fellow travelers in Mexico?
Join my Female Travelers in Mexico Facebook group, a supportive community of fellow Mexico travel enthusiasts, where you can find answers to all your travel questions!
I hope this was helpful in your adventure planning process!
If you have any questions about visiting Playa del Carmen, the Riviera Maya, or Mexico in general, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment or reach out to me over email.
In the meantime, click here to check out the rest of my content on the Riviera Maya.