Not long ago Playa del Carmen was undeveloped with lush jungle and named “Xaman-Ha” meaning “waters of the north” in the Mayan language. The beach was used as a resting point for giant canoes before they made their 30-mile voyage to Cozumel Island.
Playa del Carmen has now turned into an amazing tourist and vacation hot spot. Located on the coastline of the Caribbean Sea, Playa del Carmen has much to offer.
With beautiful beaches, lush jungle, fantastic nightlife, extensive culinary options, tourist attractions, cultural and commercial shopping, arts and entertainment, Playa del Carmen is truly an upbeat and unique place to visit.
Continue reading to explore the top 10 things to do in Playa del Carmen, but first some helpful information.
When to Visit Playa del Carmen
While Playa del Carmen is a year-round destination, each season has its advantages and disadvantages.
Winter and spring are considered the high season. The climate is at its best with temperatures around 77 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit (25 – 30 C) and lower humidity levels making for beautiful beach days and breezy Caribbean nights.
The tourist population does rise as well as the price of hotels in this season, but the beaches are absolutely beautiful with powdery sand and crystal clear water.
In the summer months of June, July, and August the temperatures begin to rise as well as the humidity levels making for some extremely hot days. Still, you will find the city busy with pool parties, overseas tourists, and many events happening.
One downside to the summer months of Playa Del Carmen is the Sargasso seaweed that you might find along the beaches. Different tides and wind patterns push this type of seaweed to the shore making the beach and water uncomfortable to enjoy.
The amount of Sargasso can change day to day as it really depends on the weather. Don’t worry, this is the perfect time to enjoy cenotes and rooftop pools.
You may want to avoid traveling to Playa del Carmen in the fall as it is the height of the hurricane season. High winds, heavy rain, and power outages are not uncommon as hurricanes roll through.
Luckily, the bad weather only lasts for about a week as these storm systems can move very fast. If you are visiting during this season, for your safety, just be sure to stay up to date with the local weather forecasts.
How to Get to Playa del Carmen
If you are flying from an international destination you will be landing at the Cancun International Airport (Code: CUN). The travel time to reach Playa del Carmen is normally around one hour. You can take a taxi, or private shuttle, rent a car or take public transportation.
Taxis from the airport normally cost 1000 pesos equivalent to about $50 USD and are always available outside the airport without pre-booking.
Some hotels in Playa del Carmen offer shuttle services from the Cancun Airport. Be sure to check with your hotel beforehand and schedule a pickup with them prior to your landing.
There is also an abundance of private shuttles and black car services to meet your needs. For these types of services, you will need to book ahead of time through a private company. This is a comfortable and affordable option for a private transfer. The price varies depending on how many people are traveling together.
Renting a car in Playa del Carmen can be a great option as it will allow you the freedom to explore the city and surrounding areas as your curiosity explodes with excitement. Read all of our tips for renting a car in Mexico and if you’ve never driven in Mexico before, this is worth reading as well.
There are a few different car rental companies at the Cancun Airport making it very convenient to start your journey to Playa del Carmen. You will also have the option to return the car at the airport at the end of your stay. You can check prices and pre-book your rental car through Rentalcars.com here.
An economically friendly option to reach Playa del Carmen is to take the local ADO bus. The ADO is a big charter-style bus with air-conditioning, assigned reclining seats, luggage storage, and a washroom making it a comfortable journey.
You will find the ADO ticket terminal located near the exit of the Cancun airport. If you need help finding it at the airport just ask an attendant and they will be happy to point you in the right direction. Read our guide to bus travel in Mexico here.
The bus departs the Cancun airport every hour and tickets cost 250 pesos (USD $12.25). The ADO will take you all the way right into downtown Playa del Carmen’s famous 5th avenue. From here you can easily catch a taxi or even walk to your hotel depending on where it is located and of course how much luggage you have.
Getting Around Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is an easily walkable city because of its smaller size.
The downtown “Centro” and 5th avenue, also known as La Quinta Avenida, is where all the action happens. Walking is a great option as there is so much to see and explore making it easy to stop and take pictures and to pop in and out of shops.
Renting a bike is a great option for the exercise enthusiast to explore Playa del Carmen.
This is a very common method of transportation in Playa del Carmen and you will see many locals riding around town. Just be sure to always lock up your bike and not to leave the bike outside overnight. If you have rented a bike for your entire stay, ask your hotel where you can safely keep your bike.
Taxis are always driving around the city searching for customers and waiting at busier tourist points. All taxi rides within the “Centro” Zone should cost no more than 50 Pesos. ($2.50 USD).
If you need to book a taxi for a certain time you can conveniently order a taxi through Whats App using the Radio Taxi Playa website.
If you decide you want to rent a car once you arrive in Playa del Carmen, there are several local companies that you can use. Located along the main streets in the centro, there are several in a tow that you can pop into and inquire about prices and availability. The local rental shops tend to have lower rates than the big chains.
Public transportation is also another option to explore the unique city of Playa del Carmen. The bus service is called the “Combi” or “Collectivo” which has a hop on – hop off service. The buses run on the major streets of the city and are relatively cheap costing anywhere from 7 – 50 Pecos.
There is no real schedule or designated bus stops. Isn’t that cool? The fun of it is you simply flag one down when you see it coming and the final destination is always painted on the windshield. It means you can also get off wherever you want as well.
A bit of Spanish speaking is required to navigate this system so you can be let out at the correct destination. Simply ask the driver the fare and pay as you get off the bus.
The sequence of events for riding the bus is; flag the bus down, enjoy your ride, and when you are ready to get off (normally at a major crossroad or tourist destination) tell the driver to stop, ask the bus driver how much “Cuanto?” and pay your fare. Voilà! You have just taken Mexican public transportation and can chalk it up as a unique experience.
Where To Stay In Playa del Carmen
The location most popular to stay in Playa del Carmen is in the Centro or center of town. Here, you will find an extensive amount of hotels, hostels, and Airbnb options to fit your needs.
This will also allow you to access all of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen without traveling too far.
Boutique hotel Soho is one of my personal favorites offering comfortable beds, chic décor, and a loungey rooftop pool with great views of the city. They even include a free breakfast at the Green & Fit restaurant located in their lobby. Rooms start at $65 USD per night. Book a stay at Boutique Hotel Soho here.
For a luxury, stay check out the Reef 28 Hotel. This property is located in the middle of the city making all Playa del Carmen attractions easily accessible. Indulge yourself with an optional all-inclusive add-on and enjoy their swanky rooftop pool with craft cocktails, cold beer, and great menu options. Rooms start at $125 without all-inclusive options. Book a stay at the Reef 28 Hotel here.
Looking for something more budget-friendly? Book into the Selina Playa del Carmen Hostel. The Selina hostel is well known for its location, amenities, and vibes. They offer a pool, rooftop terrace for yoga and salsa classes, co-working space, restaurant and bar, and much more. Traveling solo? Selina is the perfect place to meet like-minded individuals and make friends to go exploring with.
If you would prefer to self-cater, this apartment located right in the downtown area of Playa del Carmen is absolutely stunning. For under $200 a night you get utter luxury with a rooftop pool, nice balcony, and a fully-stocked kitchen. Book that apartment here.
Top 10 things to do in Playa del Carmen
And now, on how to spend your time in this vibrant city. Here are the best things to do in Playa del Carmen for all types of adventures and activities.
1. Playa del Carmen Beaches
Splish, Splash, calling all you water and beach babes. What better thing to do in Playa del Carmen than to check out all of its beautiful beaches?
Known for white powdery sand and bright blue water, Playa del Carmen is the perfect spot for a beach day.
There are many different beach clubs around the city to be enjoyed. Remember that by law all of the beaches in Mexico are free to visit.
Many beach clubs will have restricted access for their patrons only but in front of the beach clubs closer to the water, the beach will be accessible to all. Pathways to the beach are located all over downtown Playa del Carmen, so grab your beach blanket and enjoy.
Lido Beach Club has an amazing food menu, charming aesthetics, and a beautiful view of the Caribbean sea. The menu at Lido is very extensive with vegetarian and vegan options.
If you are looking for a big beachfront party make your way over to Coralina beach club. Reminiscent of a Las Vegas Pool party, Coralina will have you dancing and partying the entire day.
For a more relaxed atmosphere, pack a cooler and some snacks and head over to the beach in front of the PlayaCar Community. This long stretch of beachfront is home to many private homes and hotels, often quieter than the beaches in the downtown area of Playa del Carmen.
A local favorite is Playa Punta Esmeralda which is a small bay with calm waters and even a tiny cenote nearby.
2. Avenida La Quinta (5th Avenue)
One of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen is to pay a visit to La Quinta Avenida. Translated to English, as 5th Avenue, this vibrant street has it all; art, entertainment, shopping, food, and culture.
La Quinta Avenida is five miles in length and is closed off to vehicle traffic, so grab your best shoes and start exploring.
The street is full of vendors selling all types of different things. You will find hand-painted art, beautiful artisan hats, handwoven macramé pieces, dreamcatchers, hammocks, hand-beaded jewelry, silver jewelry, and the list goes on.
Step into a bigger souvenir shop to find any size of shot glass you desire, local vanilla, honey, Mexican blankets, ponchos, sarongs, and of course sombreros.
You can even find an “I heart Playa del Carmen” t-shirt and matching hat for your dog.
La Quinta Avenida also offers a range of higher-end shops such as Pandora, Sephora, Steve Madden, Zingara, Tommy Hilfiger, and Sunglass Hut. There are two shopping malls with stores like Zara and H&M.
As you roam the avenue you might hear a Mexican band singing La Bamba, or a beautiful solo vocalist belting out the latest pop songs. I have even seen live harpists, electric violinists, drummers, and guitar players all busking their talents.
Beetle juice, Spiderman, and Captain America will come and find you and offer to have your photo taken with them. Just be sure to have some small bills on you as they will ask you for a tip. If you are lucky you might even see Captain Jack Sparrow wobbling around with his bottle of rum.
Restaurants and Cafes
If you are craving a sweet treat you will find an ice cream shop on almost every block. Grab a scoop of hazelnut gelato or maracuja (passion fruit) sorbet from Mexico’s own Aldos Gelato Shop.
Ah Cacao is another local favorite serving a selection of coffee and chocolate beverages. What is special about Ah Cacao is that their products are sourced locally. Try the chocolate brownie. It is heavenly delicious.
Sit down and relax at one of the many restaurants 5th Avenue has to offer. From traditional Mexican, Italian, American, Greek, Steak houses, and Sushi there is an option for every taste bud.
This is also a great place to enjoy some live music.
Caiman is one of my personal favorites as they have amazing rock bands playing classic rock hits. If you don’t like what they are playing, wander over to Baton Rouge to check out the vibe. Playa del Carmen is full of entertainers and artists, making for an amazing art scene.
Looking for more of a party? Head over to 12th street where you will find a handful of clubs blasting reggaetón, electronic, and dance music. Dance the night away sipping margaritas, smoking hookah, and mingling with people from all over the world.
Who can forget the tequila?! Mexico’s national alcohol. 5th avenue has an abundance of shops where you can taste and purchase different tequilas from Mexico. Don’t be shy, there will be many salesmen standing outside their shop offering free samples.
I recommend visiting Avenida La Quinta in the late afternoon and evening. In the midst of the day, the heat can be overpowering so remember to stay hydrated.
The nighttime is when this colorful street comes to life with all the entertainment and excitement it has to offer.
A cenote is a sinkhole of bedrock that has formed a natural pool.
Filled with fresh water from the underground river system of the Riviera Maya, Cenotes are a perfect way to beat the Mexican heat. Cenotes are freshwater so the water temperature is a bit cooler than the balmy temperature of the Caribbean Sea.
Trees, vines, and lush foliage surround the cenotes and some even have small picnic areas to enjoy a packed lunch.
In my opinion, the best view is what you will see underwater. Bring your snorkel gear for convenience or you can always rent gear from the property for a small extra fee. The underwater rock formations and caverns are simply enchanting. You will also see fish, turtles, and maybe even a crocodile.
Many cenotes are very close to Playa del Carmen and easily accessible by public transportation or car. Check out our full guide to the best cenotes in the area here.
All Cenotes have an admission fee starting at 150 pesos. Some Cenotes have higher prices but will include a tour.
If you don’t have a rental car, you can take a tour of cenotes from Playa del Carmen. This is a very adventurous tour that includes riding around on quad bikes to get to the cenotes.
Xcaret might be the best Playa del Carmen attraction to experience while visiting the area and should definitely be on your list of things to do in Playa del Carmen.
Located in the Mayan Jungle, Xcaret’s location is very privileged reaching cenotes, underground rivers, and the Caribbean Sea.
Be sure to pre-book your tickets, especially if you are visiting during peak travel times like spring break or semana santa in Mexico which is the week just before Easter.
You can pre-book your tickets via Get Your Guide here. This ticket includes entry, lunch, and a night show. You will have to get yourself to Xcaret with your own transportation.
If you don’t want to drive (there are some great cocktails here!), you can book this tour which includes pick up and drop off anywhere in the Riviera Maya anywhere between Playa del Carmen and Cancun. It also includes your entry, a buffet lunch, and a night show. Book that tour here.
Due to its popularity, it is now known as a great landmark in the Mayan Riviera. Xcaret offers over 50 natural and cultural attractions celebrating the vast beauty of Mexico.
Float through the underground river admiring the beautiful cenote formations, visit the aquarium and butterfly sanctuary, and even do some snorkeling. Throughout the day you will find different cultural performances displaying Mexican rituals, animals, and pre-Hispanic dances.
Take a break and relax at the beach, or enjoy an ice-cold beverage lounging in a hammock. Xcaret also offers many different culinary experiences. From tacos and traditional Mexican cuisine to a delicious wine-paired meal, Xcaret has it all!
Be sure to stay until the evening to witness the award-winning show “Xcaret Mexico Espectacular”. The story takes you on a journey covering more than 500 years of history from the pre-Columbian era to modern-day Mexico.
The grand pyramid design of the Tlahco Theater will leave you in awe as over 300 artists display Mexican history, folklore, costuming, and much more. Visit their website for more information and a list of all the attractions.
5. Scuba Dive
Many people from all over the world travel to Playa del Carmen to Scuba dive the Mesoamerican Barrier reef.
This is the second largest coral reef in the world extending from the Tip of Isla Contoy in the Yucatan peninsula down to Belize, Guatemala, and the Southern Bay Islands of Honduras. Home to a vast range of species, this coral reef is vibrant in its color and full of aquatic life.
Across the different dive sites in Playa del Carmen, you will see beautiful fish, turtles, different species of rays, octopus and so much more.
A very unique thing to do in Playa del Carmen is to Scuba with the bull sharks. Sounds thrilling right? No need to worry, this dive is totally safe and tourists have been coming to Playa for a very long time for this special encounter.
The female bull sharks are docile and migrate to Playa del Carmen to give birth to their young in the warm Caribbean waters. The bull shark season lasts from approximately November until the end of March depending on the bull shark’s migration pattern.
There are many different dive shops to choose from in Playa del Carmen all offering trips to different dive sites. I always recommend shopping around and finding a shop or a dive master that you feel totally comfortable with.
6. Joya Cirque du Soleil
For an extravagant evening step in line to get your tickets to Cirque du Soleil’s “Joya ”.
Being an arts and entertainment enthusiast myself, this might be one of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen. Tickets to the show start at $100 and are worth every cent for this theatrical and culinary experience.
Located on the property of the Vidanta resort, Joya’s theater is intimate, making for a very engaging performance created to enlighten your 5 senses.
The show is action-packed with amazing acrobats, dancers, and circus performers telling a whimsical story about the heritage and history of Mexico.
Simply enjoy the show or splurge on a ticket including a magical dinner and drink package. Any option you choose will not disappoint. Explore their website for more information and all ticketing options.
7. Coco Bongo
Ready for a nonstop party? Coco Bongo is the place for you!
This nightclub disco and live show is full of entertainment. Tickets start at $90 USD and include entrance to the club, all-inclusive drinks, and you get to enjoy the entire show. They offer a small snack menu of hamburgers, hotdogs, french fries, pizza, and nachos.
The show is a combination of dancers, acrobats, character impersonations, and audience interactions. Don’t be surprised if you see Spiderman hanging from the ceiling fighting off Green Goblin as confetti is falling and your server is refilling your drinks.
The doors open at 10 pm and the show runs until 2:30 am with the different entertainment acts playing every 15 minutes. From classic movies to pop culture, this show caters to all generations. The pyrotechnics, lighting, and visual effects will impress you so much that you will be talking about the shows for days to come.
If you are visiting during peak travel periods, be sure to book your tickets well in advance. You can see all of the ticket options available here.
Be prepared for an energetic night of dancing, laughter, and pure entertainment. This is a Playa del Carmen attraction you will not want to miss.
8. Roof Top Pools
Another top thing to do in Playa del Carmen is to enjoy a fabulous Rooftop pool. Each rooftop is unique in its decor but almost every pool has a stunning view of the Caribbean Sea.
All of the rooftops open to the public will charge you a minimum consumption fee with prices varying across the different venues. Most of the time you will receive the entire amount you paid deducted from your bill but some of the higher-end rooftops keep a small portion as an admission fee.
The Thompson Rooftop is absolutely beautiful and offers a higher-end food menu and craft cocktails. You get a stunning 180 view of the horizon and can relax on their super comfortable lounge beds.
My personal favorite Rooftop pool is Be Playa. Located at the top of the Be Playa hotel, Be Playa offers cute loungers, visually appealing decor, and delicious cocktails. The Sushi Club restaurant located on the bottom floor provides a food menu and has some delicious choices.
9. Salsa Dance Socials
Let your hair down and dance the night away at one of Playa del Carmen’s many Social Salsa nights. These events are very popular in occurrence and can be found at various restaurants, beach clubs, and bars around the city.
The event will start with a class in a Latin dance style for example Salsa, Merengue, or Kizomba. The class is open to all levels and can be enjoyed by people of all ages.
After the class is finished, the DJ will begin to play and the dance floor will be open. Now it’s your turn to put to practice the moves you have learned.
Come with friends, come alone, or come with a partner. The ultimate goal here is to socialize, enjoy and dance with people who have the same interest in Latin music as you do. Follow on Instagram @letsdancemex and @livesocial.mx to stay up to date with all the local events happening in Playa del Carmen.
The adventure of skydiving is an amazing Playa del Carmen activity. What can be more thrilling than jumping out of a plane 10,000 feet above the beautiful blue Caribbean sea?
A small plane will take you on a 15-minute scenic ride to reach your altitude. Jump out of the plane, tandem style, and enjoy an approximately 40-second free fall followed by an incredible parachute landing.
There is only one company in Playa del Carmen offering this Adventure, Skydive Mex. They have a great reputation for safety and extremely knowledgeable instructors. You couldn’t be in better hands for this breathtaking experience. Head over to their website to check out all the details and different packages available.