Last Updated on September 11, 2021 by Janine
There are all kinds of awesome things to do in Playa del Carmen, but one of the best aspects of this city is its central location within the Riviera Maya.
Sitting almost exactly halfway between Tulum and Cancun, Playa is the perfect base for exploring the entire area. In this article, I’ll cover some of the best Playa del Carmen day trips to help you plan an action-packed itinerary!
- Playa del Carmen Day Trips and Excursions
- 1. Cool Off in a Cenote
- 2. Learn About Ancient Cultures at Chichén Itzá
- 3. Explore Cozumel
- 4. Spend a Beach Day at Playa Xpu-Ha
- 5. Swim With Turtles in Akumal Bay
- 6. Embrace the Boho Vibes in Tulum
- 7. Slow Down in Puerto Morelos
- 8. Go Off the Beaten Path at the Cobá Ruins
- 9. Experience Colonial Valladolid
- 10. Have An Undersea Adventure on a Dive or Snorkel Tour
- Riviera Maya Transportation
Playa del Carmen Day Trips and Excursions
1. Cool Off in a Cenote
There’s no question that swimming in a cenote is an essential Playa del Carmen excursion. These natural underground pools are both beautiful and refreshing!
The biggest problem you’ll have is trying to decide which cenotes to visit. There are literally hundreds of them to choose from within a stone’s throw of Playa del Carmen.
You may wish to opt for a tour that includes a visit cenotes along with other attractions, or you can pick one or two to visit on your own using a rental car or public transportation.
Click through to check out this cenote tour which includes a visit to the Tulum ruins and the beach, as well a swim in cenote Dos Ojos!
Just outside of Puerto Morelos there is a stretch of road referred to as “The Cenote Route.” It’s essentially 50 km of road bordered by different cenotes that you can visit. If you’d like to spend your day exploring a series of different swimming holes, this is definitely what I would recommend.
Because of the distances between each swimming hole along the Cenote Route, it would be easiest to tour this area with a rental car. Keep in mind, the cenotes are often a little ways off of the main road. Renting a car for the day will make this excursion much easier.
Some cenotes are very tourist-oriented and offer amenities like bathrooms, equipment rentals, and even restaurants, while others are just a swimming hole. Most cenotes are on private property and have an entrance fee.
The fees vary widely depending on the location and the amenities offered. You might pay $30 MXN to swim in a small, undeveloped cenote, or up to $300 MXN (or more!) to visit a large property like Dos Ojos which offers a range of amenities.
Whichever cenote you choose, be sure to pack a swimsuit and towel, plenty of drinking water, and biodegradable sunscreen.
For more cenote suggestions, check out this guide to cenotes in the Riviera Maya.
2. Learn About Ancient Cultures at Chichén Itzá
This stunning pre-Hispanic site played an important role for both the Maya and Toltec civilizations, and it is located just 2.5 hours from Playa del Carmen.
Named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988, Chichén Itzá features several fascinating structures, the most famous of which is undoubtedly the El Castillo pyramid (also known as the Temple of Kukulcan). If you count the number of stairs on each side of this pyramid they add up to 365 total, one for each day of the year. Cool, no?!
El Castillo is certainly a show-stopper but you shouldn’t forget to check out the other structures at Chichén Itzá. Personally, I think El Caracol is the most interesting on the site! The ball court can’t be missed either.
There are very few interpretive signs at Chichén Itzá, so I recommend hiring a guide upon arrival to help you understand the significance of what you’re looking at.
Alternatively, you may wish to visit as part of a tour. This way, tour guide and transportation arrangements would all be included in your ticket price, saving you the trouble of having to coordinate each thing separately.
This full day tour includes transportation, a guided tour of the Chichén ruins, a visit to a cenote, and a stop for lunch in the gorgeous colonial town of Valladolid. Click here to check the rates!
If you do choose to go independently, rent a car so you can arrive early. The site opens at 8 AM and if you’re there for opening you’ll be better able to avoid crowds as well as the worst of the sun. Once you’ve explored the site, stop off at a cenote in nearby Valladolid for a refreshing swim before you head back to Playa.
The entrance fee for Chichén Itzá is $480 MXN/$25 USD per person and there is an additional fee for parking.
3. Explore Cozumel
Cozumel is a small island just 40 minutes from Playa del Carmen by ferry. Known for expansive white sand beaches, and the world-famous Palancar reef, there’s no better place for a beach day!
On the island, you can explore the scenic town of San Miguel, visit spectacular undeveloped beaches, tour Maya worship sites, lounge in a beach club, or dive along the Palancar Reef.
My favorite activity on Cozumel is the Punta Sur Eco Park. The El Cielo beach within the park is the perfect place to swim and lounge in the sand for an afternoon!
Clearly, there’s no shortage of fun things to do on Cozumel, so make sure you get an early start. Taking an early ferry is also a good way to enjoy a smooth sailing and avoid seasickness (if you’re prone to such things).
The island is serviced by two ferry companies, WinJet and UltraMar, both of which depart from the ferry landing at Calle 1 Sur and 5th Ave. A return ticket will run you between $300-400 MXN/$16-20 USD per person depending on which company you opt for.
Note: Public transportation on Cozumel (in my experience) was limited, so you may need to rent a vehicle or hire a taxi to help you get around the island. Many people rent scooters on Cozumel to zip around to all the sites, but for just a little bit more money you can rent a car!
4. Spend a Beach Day at Playa Xpu-Ha
Xpu-Ha (pronounced “eeshpoo-ha,”) is a gorgeous public beach about 30 miles south of Playa del Carmen. It’s typically less crowded than the beaches you’ll find right in Playa del Carmen and offers similar amenities.
Along the beach, you’ll encounter hotels, beach clubs, and restaurants, as well as opportunities to partake in activities like snorkeling and paragliding. And, of course, it’s a great spot to go swimming! If you’re on a budget, pack a towel, a beach read, and a picnic lunch (don’t forget plenty of cervezas!) and find a friendly patch of sand to sprawl out in.
To get to Xpu-Ha, take a colectivo from Calle 2 Norte between Ave. 15 & 20 in Playa del Carmen. Inform the driver that you’re headed to Xpu-Ha and he’ll let you out at the appropriate spot. You’ll then have to cross the highway to reach the beach.
5. Swim With Turtles in Akumal Bay
Akumal is a Mayan word meaning “place of turtles” and that’s exactly what you’ll find in Akumal Bay. In addition to being one of the most serene and idyllic beaches in the Riviera Maya (at least in my opinion), Akumal is also a breeding ground for multiple species of sea turtles. It’s easy to get to Akumal via colectivo from Playa del Carmen.
Once there, you’ll have the option of renting snorkeling gear or booking a snorkeling tour to spot the turtles. I recommend going through the Akumal Dive Shop, as they have clean bathrooms, showers, and lockers to stash your belongings while you’re in the water.
The last time I visited Akumal we were told that you are not permitted to snorkel with turtles unless you purchase a tour. However, we worked around this by venturing further down the beach to the hotel area and snorkeling there.
The only hang-up with this plan is that the water isn’t as deep and there aren’t as many coral formations at this part of the beach, so the turtles aren’t as plentiful. Still, if you’re on a budget it’s a good option!
If you’re willing to purchase a tour, you’re sure to see a lot more than if you go the budget route. Tours have access to more opportune areas to spot turtles and other sea life.
This particular tour includes transportation to and from Akumal, snorkeling with turtles, and a visit to two different cenotes near Akumal.
6. Embrace the Boho Vibes in Tulum
Just an hour south of Playa del Carmen sits Tulum. At this point, Tulum is probably Mexico’s trendiest beach town, but it still maintains a small-town, pueblo feel.
The hotel zone, which stretches along the beachfront, is host to a series of boutique hotels, restaurants, shops, and beach clubs. Meanwhile, in the village of Tulum you’ll find everything from taco stands and souvenir shops to bohemian bars and nightclubs, and so much more.
Aside from the boho scene in Tulum, one of the biggest attractions are the Tulum ruins, which sit on a bluff overlooking the ocean. This small archaeological site won’t take long to visit, but it is interesting and beautiful. Go early to beat the crowds and the sun.
Spend the afternoon in Tulum exploring the pueblo or lounging in the sand at one of the beach clubs in the hotel zone! I like the Eufemia Beach Club for the reasonable prices and sometimes they even have live music. But, if you want something a little fancier there are tons of other options. Just take a cruise through the hotel zone and check out whatever speaks to you!
Tulum makes an easy day trip from Playa del Carmen because you can easily reach the town directly by colectivo or an ADO bus. The journey will take about an hour (possibly a little more).
7. Slow Down in Puerto Morelos
This sleepy beach town is just 20 minutes North of Playa del Carmen, but it offers a totally different vibe. Where Playa is modern, bustling, and full of spring-breakers looking to party, Puerto Morelos is slow-paced and quaint.
The beach in Puerto Morelos is protected by an off-shore reef, which means the water is usually quite calm and excellent for swimming. The shoreline is host to an assortment of condos and hotels along with plenty of restaurants (fish tacos anyone?!). FYI, I recommend El Merkadito when hunger strikes.
The village of Puerto Morelos doesn’t have a ton going on, but there is an assortment of souvenir shops and boutiques to pick through if you need a break from the sun. If you’re up for an adventure, take a dive or snorkeling tour to the reef just offshore. You’re sure to spot plenty of colorful fish, coral, and much more!
Just outside of Puerto Morelos you can visit the Jardín Botanico Dr. Alfredo Barrera Marin. Here you’ll find an incredible array of native plants along with information about Maya culture, particularly relating to their use of plants. If you’re lucky, you’ll also be able to spot monkeys in the trees as you explore!
8. Go Off the Beaten Path at the Cobá Ruins
The ancient Maya city of Cobá is about 1.5 hours from Playa del Carmen. This archaeological site is a popular alternative to Chichén Itzá, though, many people will tell you that both are well worth visiting. Cobá features an impressive 42-meter high structure, called Nohoch Mul, which is said to have been one of the tallest structures in the Maya universe. Visitors are permitted to ascend this pyramid, which offers incredible views of the jungle below.
Many people are drawn to this ruin as it is less crowded than Chichén Itzá, but it still offers plenty of fascinating insight into the Maya world, so don’t feel like you have to choose just one!
This full day tour of the Cobá ruins includes a chance to scale the Nohoch Mul structure, a cenote swim, and wraps up with a guided visit to the Tulum ruins. If you’re curious about Mayan culture, don’t miss this!
9. Experience Colonial Valladolid
If you came to the Riviera Maya hoping to experience some of Mexico’s colonial charm, you won’t be able to find it in Playa del Carmen. You will be able to find it in Valladolid though!
This colorful colonial city is just 2 hours from Playa del Carmen, and it’s a great way to break up your beach days.
You’ll find no shortage of charming cafes, boutiques, and tasty restaurants (the food here is seriously so much better than anything you’ll find in Playa!), along with plenty of beautiful architecture.
After you explore the town, take a trip to a nearby cenote (or two!), for a refreshing swim!
The best way to get to Valladolid is with a rental car, but the ADO bus also runs daily from Playa del Carmen.
10. Have An Undersea Adventure on a Dive or Snorkel Tour
The Riviera Maya offers some truly incredible underwater experiences. Whether you’re more interested in diving or snorkeling, there are tons of different spots to satisfy your curiosity.
Many travelers relish snorkeling tours for the opportunity to swim with sea turtles and tropical fish. At certain times of the year you can even swim with whale sharks, which is an eye-opening experience.
As for diving, there is no shortage of fascinating locations to visit. This includes the world-renowned Palancar Reef off the coast of Cozumel. Or, perhaps you wish to explore rock formations in cenotes throughout the region.
If you’re considering getting a diving certification, the Riviera Maya is a wonderful place to do it. There are lots of different companies who offer certification programs and the warm water is sure to make the process more enjoyable.
Riviera Maya Transportation
Your Playa del Carmen day trips will be facilitated by the plethora of different transportation options available in the region.
Taxis are great for shorter distances but can become pricey if you travel very far. However, if you’re in a group, or you simply prefer the convenience of having someone drive you personally, a taxi might be the perfect transportation option for your trip. For instance, if you’re not willing to rent a car, a taxi would be a good way to explore the cenote route.
I recommend negotiating a rate upfront so you don’t have any surprises along the way.
Colectivos are small passenger vans that travel between cities in the Riviera Maya. They are a quick and cost-effective way to travel. The only downsides are that they offer very little room for luggage (a daypack is all you’ll be able to fit), and they don’t stop when they’re full.
If you’re traveling during peak hours, expect to have a few colectivos pass you by before one with vacancy reaches you. Fortunately, these vans run very frequently all day long, so you’ll never have to wait long.
The colectivos depart from Calle 2 Norte between Avenida 15 and 20 in Playa del Carmen.
It’s easy to tell which vans go north and which go south, as they will have signs for either Cancun or Tulum on the windshield. A colectivo from Playa to Tulum will probably run you about $70 MXN/$3.50 USD.
ADO is a major bus line (like a Greyhound) that operates within southern Mexico. There are regular ADO buses from Playa del Carmen to Cancun, Tulum and beyond. These buses cost more than colectivos, but they are also much more comfortable. They have air conditioning, on-board bathrooms, televisions, and plenty of room for luggage.
ADO is a great option for a trip to Valladolid or Chichén Itzá, or even Tulum if you prefer to travel in comfort.
There are two ADO stations in Playa del Carmen. I recommend departing from whichever is closest to you. One station is at Calle Benito Juarez and 5th Avenue, and the other is at Calle 12 Norte and Avenida 20.
Rental cars are definitely the easiest way to get anywhere you need to go within the Riviera Maya. They aren’t necessarily the most budget-friendly option, but sometimes it’s worth paying extra for the convenience.
When renting a car in Mexico, travel on the cuota (toll) roads whenever possible. They are safer and in better condition, which will reduce your travel time. The fees can be pretty high though, so make sure you budget extra for those. I think the fees on the route to Chichén Itzá are about $200 MXN/$10.50 USD each way.
Are there any epic Playa del Carmen day trips that I left off this list? Let me know in the comments!