Best Things To Do In Playa Del Carmen

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Activities in Playa Del Carmen

Things to do in Playa Del Carmen

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

Planning to visit Mexico soon? These are my favorite things to do in Playa del Carmen after living here for over a year. Beaches, cenotes, Mayan ruins and more.

Playa del Carmen is a fun beach town on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, part of the classic Riviera Maya route down the coast.

Smaller and less touristy than Cancun, it’s becoming a popular travel destination for people looking for travel experiences that are more substantial than your typical all-inclusive resort.

I spent over a year living & working in Playa del Carmen, and have had a wonderful time. Lately, friends have been asking for advice about Playa — so I wanted to share some my favorite things to do here.

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Things To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Cenote Near Playa Del Carmen

Cenote Azul

1: Cenote Diving/Snorkeling

What’s a cenote you ask? It’s an underground cave filled with fresh water. The Yucatan has tons of them — sinkholes that open up into underground rivers with the clearest water you’ve ever seen.

If you have your PADI license, you can go scuba diving in these caves with a guide. Because there’s daylight near the entrance a more technical cave diving license isn’t required.

Not a diver? No problem. You can also go snorkeling at most cenotes. Some good ones include Cenote Dos Ojos, Cenote Azul, Garden of Eden, Gran Cenote, and more.

Coba Ruins

Coba Mayan Ruins

2: Visit Mayan Ruins

The ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum are located South of Playa del Carmen in the town of Tulum. A must-visit if you’re in the area.

Tulum was once a small but important port city for the Mayans. Along with impressive structures on the edge of a cliff, it has a beach below where you can swim too.

Because Tulum is so popular, it can be crowded unless you arrive early in the morning. Coba is another Mayan site near Playa del Carmen which sees less visitors. You can still climb the pyramid there too.

Both sites are only a day trip away from Playa via ADO bus or colectivo taxi.

Coco Bongo Playa Del Carmen

Coco Bongo Nightclub

3: Coco Bongo Nightclub

Playa del Carmen’s nightlife is fun, but not quite as crazy as Cancun. It’s a smaller town. However it does have one special nightclub called Coco Bongo that I think is worth a visit.

Part Vegas show, part nightclub, and a bit cheesy — but it’s still one hell of a party.

You’ll see flying acrobats, blockbuster movie characters, and rock-star impersonators take the stage in turns throughout the night while you drink from a giant plastic cup full of alcohol.

Every ticket includes full open bar all night, so take plenty of photos because you probably won’t remember what happened the next day!

Akumal Beach Snorkeling

Snorkeling with Turtles at Akumal

4: Swim With Sea Turtles

Who doesn’t want to swim with sea turtles? I’ve always wanted to, that’s for sure. I got my chance at Akumal beach, 30 minutes South of Playa del Carmen. The shallow blue-green water here is home to Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead sea turtles that you can swim with.

To visit Akumal, the cheapest way is to take a colectivo taxi headed for Tulum from the stand located on Calle 2 Norte between Avenida 15 and 20 in Playa del Carmen. Tell them you want to get off at Akumal.

From the highway, it’s a 5-minute walk to Akumal Bay. Bring your own snorkeling gear, life jacket (compulsory since 2017) or rent some there. Swimming with the turtles is free!

Restaurant in Playa Del Carmen

El Fogon Restaurant

5: Eat All The Food

Hey, it’s Mexico. Mexican food in the Yucatan is cheap & delicious. There are a few special restaurants in Playa del Carmen I want to share with you.

If you’re looking for some authentic tacos, check out El Fogon. It’s a hangout for local taxi drivers. The place is super basic with plastic chairs and Mexican Idol blaring on the TV, but order 3 or 4 tacos pastor, a cold beer, and you’ll be in heaven.

Next, for something more upscale, check out Alux, the restaurant built inside an underground cave! Aluxes are mischievous supernatural spirits who protect Mexico’s sacred places.

Beaches on Cozumel Island

Beautiful Beaches of Cozumel

6: Boat Trip To Cozumel

Cozumel is a small island off the coast of Playa del Carmen known for it’s pristine beaches. Normally a stop for cruise ships, you can take a 45 minute ferry over on your own from Playa del Carmen for about $13 USD.

An easy & cheap day trip is renting a scooter and driving it around the island where all the best beaches are. Or, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can try hitchhiking around the island instead.

As long as there isn’t a cruise ship in port, you’ll have those white sand beaches to yourself. Plenty of stops on the way for lunch & photos. Jump on the last ferry back to Playa del Carmen around sunset.

Colectivo in Playa Del Carmen

Public Colectivo Taxi

7: Ride A Colectivo

You can’t visit Playa del Carmen without using a Colectivo (group taxi). You’ll see these vans cruise down the street picking up locals. It’s an interesting (and confusing) experience if you’ve never tried it before.

They stuff as many people as possible into these things, and rides can cost less than $1.

Destinations are written on the windshield, but if you don’t know the names, it won’t make much sense. A good place to start is by grabbing one at the Colectivo station on Calle 2 Norte from Playa del Carmen to Akumal beach (mentioned earlier).

Remember to tell the driver where you’re going! It’s cheap, fun, and will push you out of your comfort zone a bit.

Playa del Carmen Scuba Diving

Scuba Diving Playa del Carmen

8: Go Scuba Diving

Playa del Carmen is a great place to base yourself if you’re a scuba diver. Along with all the cool cenote cave diving areas I mentioned earlier, there are some decent reefs nearby too.

A few of the most popular are Pared Verde Ledge and Tortugas near Playa del Carmen itself, Gorgonians down near Akumal, Palancar Reef and Santa Rosa Wall off the coast of Cozumel.

There are tons of dive shops and schools in and around town, so if you’ve always wanted to get your PADI open water diving certification, Playa del Carmen is a great place to do it!

Jet Skiing Playa

Racing Jet Skis at Mamitas Beach

9: Hit The Beach!

Playa del Carmen’s beaches have been hit be erosion pretty badly over the past few years, and frankly the beaches down in Tulum are a lot nicer, however you can still find a spot to soak up the sun while enjoying a fruity drink.

One great place to lay out in the sun is Mamitas Beach Club. You can rent lounge chairs with umbrellas, go jet skiing, parasailing, or take a sailboat ride.

Another good beach is in front of Playacar Phase 1 Community. While the gated community is private, the beach is public. Just walk a few minutes South from the Cozumel Ferry pier. Less tourists, more sand, and just a nicer beach. There’s no services out there — bring your own food/beverages.

Playa del Carmen in the Yucatan

5th Ave in Playa del Carmen

10: Walk 5th Avenue

You can’t visit Playa del Carmen and miss walking down “La Quinta”, aka 5th Avenue. It’s the main walking-street lined with all manner of shops, beach bars, and restaurants.

The cobbled-stoned street is where you’ll find most of the city’s nightlife. It’s a lot of fun to find a bar or cafe, sit down, and watch the (sometimes strange) parade of people walk by.

You can spend hours wandering down the street, stopping into touristy shops, cafes, and trying different vegan smoothies. At night, street performers line the sides dressed in costumes, or breakdancing for tips.

Best Places To Stay

If you’re wondering where to stay in Playa del Carmen here are my recommendations:


Hostal MX – Fun little budget hostel for people trying to save some money. Great location on the 5th Ave, good wifi and free breakfast.


Reina Roja – Centrally located hotel with spacious designed rooms and rooftop pool. Breakfasts there are delicious!

Vacation Rentals

Bric Rentals – These guys offer short or long-term vacation rentals for any budget around Playa del Carmen.

COUPON CODE! For a special $30 off your next hotel stay over $60, make sure to use my special link.

Best Of Playa Del Carmen

If you’re looking for a good time in Mexico and want something different than Cancun, you really can’t go wrong by basing yourself in Playa del Carmen to explore the best of what the Yucatan Peninsula has to offer. ★

Traveling To Mexico Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

Location: Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
Useful Tips: Playa del Carmen is a town I know very well, after living here for almost two years. It’s growing fast as a tourist hot-spot, but there are still many fun things to do nearby. It’s a wonderful hub for basing yourself in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Yucatan
Suggested Reading: The Maya: Ancient Peoples & Places

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Best Things to Do In Playa Del Carmen. More at
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Have any questions about things to do in Playa del Carmen? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!


  1. Hi Matthew,
    Love your travel blog & your wife’s as well! :) We’re a group of 4 adults, who’ll be at Playa del Carmen during Día de Los Muertos / Hanal Pixal. Just wondering, are there any specific events/areas that we can check out?


  2. This is super helpful and I’d love to pin it but it isn’t working :( It may be an issue on my end, but in case it’s glitching I thought I’d let you know. Thanks again for the great article!

    1. Tropical! It gets hot & humid in the summer. This part of Mexico is pretty liberal, so unless you plan to visit tiny Mayan villages, you can wear the same kind of beach clothes you would to other destinations.

  3. We are staying at the rui next week … I stayed at the Royal few times nice … trying something different… good choice…rui palace..?

  4. I just arrived in Playa del Carmen, so this blog post is very useful for me. We already knew we wanted to see Tulum but I had no idea there was another very accessible Mayan ruin nearby. I think I also want to snorkel with sea turtles. Thanks for the hint about the life jacket! I will have to rent one, since it’s not something I would ever carry in my backpack with me.

    The Alux restaurant sounds really cool. Eating in a cave would be amazing. This is my last stop after more than a year of travel, so I think it’s okay if we treat ourselves to something nice to finish this trip.

    Thanks a lot for the excellent guide!

  5. Great work! Thankyou! It’s January so High season, who would I look up for a long term rental? I’m an artist,

  6. Very helpful, thank you. What about personal guides. People who live there.. to help us get the best deals, see some non touristy stuff, like your site.. do they exist?

  7. I’ve been there last year. Absolutely amazing! I believe that any diver should visit Playa del Carmen. It’s worth it. I have a couple of dives logged into my logbook and I can’t wait to go diving again.

  8. Thank you so much for this info Matthew! We are going for a week this Thanksgiving. I’m taking my 16 year old daughter and wondering what ages are allowed in the clubs? And if it’s even remotely appropriate to take her? I know she would have a great time. When we were in Puerto Vallarta there didn’t seem to be any enforcement of drinking age etc. one shopkeeper told her the drinking age is 12 😂

    1. The bigger, fancier clubs have an age limit of 18. Hard alcohol drinking age in Mexico is 18, while it’s 16 for beer and wine. So you could probably bring her to most of the smaller bars.

  9. Great post Matt! Playa Del Carmen is one of my favorites in the Yucatan! We also found it fun just to sit and people watch on the walking street. There is another great hotel on the walking street that is pretty affordable called the Maya Bric. It’s central to the city and beach.

    1. Yes it’s fine, just not a ton of room for luggage. Those colectivo vans are mainly used for local transportation, and there isn’t any space for suitcases. Basically there’s no “trunk”, they use all the space for seats.

  10. When leaving these awesome spots and returning to your resort, how do you find your way back? Are there just taxis everywhere and you take one or do you tell your driver to come back? Are the taxi vans everywhere? I don’t want to get stranded lol

  11. How can you have a list of must dos in Playa del Carmen without mentioning the cave restaurant, Alux is a one of a kind experience. Just tell the taxi driver you want to go to the cave restaurant and don’t get nervous when you enter a sketchy industrial area. It is a natural cave so they had to open where they found it.

  12. Oh man i want to go back there – we were in Playa for week last July and I got to scuba dive the reefs off playa, but only got to swim a cenote – will definitely dive them next time. We are heading to the Virgin Islands next and Egypt after that so Mexico will have to wait a while

  13. Hi, is there any recommendations on EITHER XeHa or Xcaret? We are a family of 5 with three teens, and would like to try one, or if you can offer another option that would be much appreciated. Loved the info you provided.

    1. Hi, i’ve done both 3 years ago. they are both amazing. Xel ha is all about water. my teen loved it! its also cheaper than Xcaret, think the price is about 89 dollars and its all inclusive. Xcaret is totally different, but wauw, i love it! lots of animals to see, underground river and the best show i ever seen at night! its more expensive than xel ha, but we booked it online and if you payed with mastercard, you could go 2 days. both amazing parks, but with teens i would say xel ha

  14. Hi all is anyone travelling to playa this September, I arrive with my son of 16 years on the 9th, would love some adults to maybe share experiences or to dine with on occasions,

    Kind regards
    Michelle and Declan

  15. Hi
    Looking at heading to Akumal bay over the next couple of days to see the turtles and for a day out of playa. Do you know how much I should pay in a taxi to get there and how much snorkel rental is once I’m there?

    Thanks so much !!!

  16. Hi Matt,

    You mentioned snorkeling at Cenote Dos Ojos, Cenote Azul, Garden of Eden and Gran Cenote. I see on TripAdvisors there are many outfits charging $125 per person which gets expensive. Can my family and I just grab our rental car and find the water holes on our own? Any suggestions for how we can find the specific water holes and are we giving up anything by not having a guide? Thanks so much, David

    1. Yes you can! Entrance to cenotes generally costs between 100-200 pesos per person. No tour company needed. Often there are signs for them on the side of the road, and many show up in Google Maps by name.

    2. I dont know the name but there is an awesome Cenote tour in Playa very close to Downtown. Was a two hour tour and I think it was 75 a person.

    3. The best way to get to know the Riviera Maya is renting a car and drive around, is really easy since is only ne freeway along the coast.

      If you have you car just google the cenote’s name on it and you will be getting there in notime… Per sample, Cenote El Eden is just 20km from Playa del Carmen… Usually those cenotes are manage by local people and charge around $150 PESOS ( be sure to have pesos instead of dollars or euros ) per person.

      I recommend to buy a cheap set of snorkel at WaltMart or any other stores ( Soriana, Comercial Mexicana, Chedraui) since you will be using it a lot on several places.

      Some location are not longer allow to swim with fins since is causing damages to the reef… So you don’t need fins

      Enjoy Playa!!!

  17. Can you suggest an all-inclusive hotel that would be great for a mother-daughter trip? (teenage girls) There are so many great choices but it is hard to know the right one. We have stayed at The Royale and loved it. Unfortunately, you must be 18 and older so we cannot stay with our daughters this time.

    1. Any of the AI’s that line up on the Playacar stretch of beach are suitable for any couple, family, or combination. Sandos at the end is very nice and there are Riu’s, Iberostars, Occidentals, etc, in this beach.

      It is a “gated” community, all cars & trucks coming in must pass by the guard stations. Playa Del Carmen town is a quick cab ride or walking distance depending on where along the beach your selected hotel is located.

  18. I will be traveling to playa del carmen this Saturday, February 6-13 as a single and staying at a bed and breakfast just out of town! Is it safe to walk at night?

  19. Hi Matthew! I love reading all of your posts and am super inspired to go see the world for myself now. I was wondering, do you pick up on a lot of languages as you travel more or do you get by with knowing the basics and using books? For instance, after spending those 3 months in Playa del Carmen were you fluent or did your Spanish improve?

      1. Hi! I have some problems with snorkling, is it possible to swim just with swimming glasses there? Would you still see anything?
        Thank you

  20. Been doing some research before heading out..
    Love all of your suggestions. These are experiences are exactly what I’m looking for. I’m not a fan of the crowded tourists attractions, so this guide helped a ton. Thank you!

  21. Wow what a great list, I am visiting Playa Del Carmen in December for the first time and am so excited! I am visiting a friend who runs a hotel so some of the time I will be on my own while he is working so its great to get some ideas of things to do by myself. I wanted to ask if you knew of any good horse riding tours in Playa Del Carmen? My friend and I are experienced so were hoping to find a place that you can have a bit of a gallop rather than the usual trail ride and hopefully ride on the beach! Any advice on this? Thanks Matthew!

    1. Hi Lucy,
      I am a fun young woman traveling to Playa Del Carmen for the first time in December, 2015. My friend changed her mind so I will be traveling alone. If you’re interested in meeting up while your friend is working, let me know.

  22. I really enjoyed reading your list! I have been to Mexico numerous times and every time I go, I find something new to see or do. I love the variety of activities, attractions and sights in the Yucatan :)

  23. This is a great list of must do things in Riviera Maya. Most of the top things to do lists represent only the typical made for tourists destinations. We live in Puerto Aventuras, so reading this list makes me feel like feel like you really did your homework. El Fagon (my favorite for over 12 years) and riding the colectivo are great suggestions. Here is a link to some great aerial and underwater video I shot of the area.

  24. Some great photos. I’ll be in Mexico in mid-summer and may be in the area – if so I really want to see some of the Mayan ruins, including Tulum.
    One of the things I never tire of in Mexico is the food and drink, love the stuff.

  25. Those tacos are making me droll as I am in Chiang Mai and craving some REAL mexican! We loved Tulum, we talk about basing ourselves in Mexico next…who knows! The ruins are gorgeous and the beach, amazing. We have been by Coco Bong but never done a night out, maybe next year! Also got to love the collectivos!

  26. While renting a scooter may be cheap, it’s certainly not easy on Cozumel and should only be done by people who are familiar with the island AND by people who are experienced scooter or motorcycle drivers.

    If you have spent anytime whatsoever in the island you know that it is very dangerous for scooter drivers and many unsuspecting tourists have been injured and have even died due to the bad traffic, bad drivers and the road conditions on the island (like loose gravel).

    People think because it’s an island and they are on vacation that they are somehow insulated from the dangers they may face in any other city and they think renting a scooter is a good idea even though they have never been on one and would never ride one in the US or even their own hometown. But the dangers are the same or even more since they are driving on unfamiliar roads.

    I do not agree with this suggestion as a “must do” and think you should revise it ASAP. It is a very dangerous thing to lightly suggest.

    1. absolutely a must do if you are a world traveler. If you want to stay “safe” don’t do it. Enjoy life and be safe, look over your shoulder always, whether you are in New Orleans (unsafe) or Playa del Carmen (safe) but enjoy. The U.S. is not the only place to be.

  27. Your ‘Coco Bongo Nightclub’ pics above remind me of the time I spent in Cancun during my spring break(s) when I was in school.

    …or should I say…the parts of it I’m able to remember!

    Want a crazy Mexican adventure? Try Tijuana. Not exactly the safest of destinations but your guaranteed to leave with a few wild stories…

  28. This gem in Mexico is a must for tourists to go to. Great shot on the Mayan Ruins, and it looks like you had fun at the Coco Bongo! The food, of course, is something that should be experienced by travelers, Mexican food is just so good. Great post and shots, Matthew! Eager to read more!

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