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7 Awesome Day Trips From Playa del Carmen

7 Awesome Day Trips From Playa del Carmen

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Playa del Carmen is a beautiful, lively, and happening beach city with so much to offer.  With its prime location in the middle of the Mayan Riviera, it is the perfect base to discover Quintana Roo and Yucatan. From amazing beaches to Ancient Mayan ruins you will find a wide range of activities, excursions, and day trips from Playa del Carmen to suit every travel style. 

To explore not only the best day trips from Playa del Carmen but how to arrive in the city and what excursions will make your trip all the more exciting and special for your personal travel continue reading.

Getting to Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is an easily accessible city. From international destinations, you will be arriving at the Cancun International Airport. Leaving the airport you can take a taxi, private shuttle, car rental, or public transportation. The driving time from the Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen is usually 1 hour, all depending on the traffic. 

If you are planning to arrive in Playa del Carmen from a destination in Mexico, the ADO bus is another option. Read our full guide about taking the bus in Mexico here.

The ADO bus is a charter bus system with routes connecting all of Mexico offering comfortable reclining assigned seats, air conditioning, bathrooms, and luggage storage. It might not be the fastest option but the ADO is budget-friendly, reliable, safe, and a great way to meet fellow travelers. 

sign of isla mujeres an easy day trip from Playa del carmen

Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

Reaching your Playa del Carmen Day Trip Destinations

There are a few different ways to travel around the peninsula from Playa del Carmen.

Rent a Car

Renting a car for your Playa del Carmen tours is a very favorable option as it will allow you the freedom to explore at your own leisure. Many tours and excursions will offer and include transportation but I prefer the convenience of a vehicle and following my own schedule.

There are many big chain rental shops at the Cancun Airport as well in Playa del Carmen. You can also find local outlets and support local businesses for a bit of saving. Choose a vehicle to suit your style and hit the road! 

Check out our guide to renting a car in Mexico here and driving in Mexico here.

Local Collectivo or Combi Bus

For day trips from Playa del Carmen that are relatively close by, the local Collectivo bus is a great and economically friendly option. This local bus offers hop-on hop-off style service running along the Carretera Federal 307.

This is the main highway connecting Cancun and Tulum. It reaches the southernmost point, Chetumal, the last Mexican City before the Belize border.

The bus is fast, convenient, and only costs around 50 pesos depending on your final destination. If you are ready for a real Mexican experience this bus is a great option for you. 

Taking a Tour

The easiest and most convenient, and usually the most expensive option for taking day trips from Playa del Carmen is to take an organized tour. Where available, we have listed our top picks for tours to the destinations below. 

If you don’t speak much Spanish or you want to learn more about the place you are visiting, going with a tour guide is always the best way to get around any barriers and get the most out of your experience.

Map of Day Trips from Playa del Carmen

Best Day Trips from Playa del Carmen

There are so many great experiences to have that are within a few hours of Playa del Carmen. These seven are some of the most popular and easiest to reach from Playa del Carmen.

chichen itza mexico the main temple

Chichen Itza, Mexico.

1. Chichen Itza

One of the new 7 wonders of the world is Chichen Itza. A day trip from Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza must be on your to-do list.

Centuries-old and mystifying stories of Mayan history, Chichen Itza is one of the most visited archaeological sites and tourist attractions in Mexico.  Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, Chichen Itza is home to grand temples, towering lookout zones, sacred cenotes, and intriguing Mayan ball courts. 

Traveling from Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza takes roughly three hours. I recommend arriving in the morning as early as you can to avoid long lines and hot temperatures. 

In the afternoon, the Yucatan heat can be extreme so remember to bring lots of water, a hat, sunscreen, and anything else necessary to protect yourself from the sun. There is little to no shade as well, so many people use umbrellas while visiting to shade themselves from the sun.

Admission to Chichen Itza costs 533 pesos ($27-30 USD depending on the exchange rate) which allows you to explore the site at your own leisure. Hiring a tour guide is a favorable option as they will tell you all the history and stories that this old Mayan City once was. 

The magic of Chichen Itza does not end until you take a dip in Cenote Ik Kil. Jump into the refreshing water of this open-air cenote, admiring the vines, and surrounding foliage so YES, you will want to bring your bathing suit.

If you are on a self-guided tour pack some drinks and snacks or make your way over to one of the restaurants in the area.  Many local companies in Playa del Carmen will offer tour packages including transportation, entrance fee, tour guide, a stop at Cenote Ik Kil, drinks, and lunch. 

If you would like to take a tour from Playa del Carmen for the day, you can book one like this.

This tour includes a full guided tour of Chichen Itza as well as another of the popular day trips from Playa del Carmen to Coba all in one single day trip. It also includes a buffet lunch. It’s a long day, but a great experience. Book that tour here.

tulum archaeological site in front of the caribbean sea

Tulum Archeological Site.

2. Tulum

With blissful beaches and trendy ambiance, Tulum is the perfect hot spot for travelers looking for tranquility, extravagant dining experiences, history, boutique shopping, yoga, nightlife, and much more.  Driving for only one hour from Playa del Carmen, this town is very easy to get to. 

The town of Tulum has three main areas. Downtown, the Hotel Zone, and the Archeology Zone. Each zone offers a different experience. 

In downtown Tulum, you can find many restaurants, great breakfast cafes, ice cream shops, bars, hotels, hostels, bike and scooter rental shops, and of course shopping. 

Check out all of our guides to Tulum:

Be sure to stop at the ever-popular Don Cafeto Tulum. Known for amazing breakfast and coffee. This all-day restaurant offers an extensive menu from local Mexican cuisines to All American favorites. Order the Chilaquiles dish and don’t forget to add the cheese, you are in for a real treat! 

Make your way to the Hotel Zone. With some of the most beautiful beaches and Tulumanti aesthetic, this is the perfect place to unwind from busy city life. 

There is only one road in and, the same, one road out of the hotel zone.

You will need to bring your calm and patient mood because the traffic can be very slow and congested but the journey is absolutely worth it. It is part of the amazing site seeing experience in Tulum.

On both sides of the street, you will be fascinated with chic Bohemian-style clothing shops, charmed Tulum-style architecture, candlelit bars, and exuberant beach clubs. 

The beach clubs along the hotel zone will require a minimum charge and sometimes a reservation. Minimum charges can start at 50 USD. Grab your best bikini and be ready for a stylish day.  

One of my favorite spots is La Zebra, known for its edgy cocktails, chilled atmosphere, and great promotions. On Tuesdays, you can enjoy 2 x 1 cocktails crafted by the “Mulberry Project” and Thursday gorge on all-you-can-eat Tacos. 

Looking for a Lush experience?  Reserve a table or day bed at Bagatelle Tulum. With a gourmet menu, beachfront pool, exquisite service, a posh atmosphere, and drinks to suit, this location will have you entertained by a bumpin’ DJ ready for a great party. 

For lovers of history, culture, and ancient architecture, a tour of the Tulum Ruins is a must-do. This old Mayan City is extremely well preserved and is a very important part of the Mayan culture as it is the only ancient Ruins located in front of the Caribbean sea.

Entrance to the ruins costs 100 pesos (cash only). You can opt to hire a tour guide for an additional cost to reveal all the secrets of this magical land.  Once you are finished exploring, make your way down to the white sandy beach on foot and cool off from the intense Mexican heat. 

Mayan ruins from Isla Mujeres

Ruins in Isla Mujeres.

3. Isla Mujeres

Recognized worldwide for its pristine blue waters and powdery soft sand, day trips from Playa del Carmen to Isla Mujeres offer the perfect amount of time to explore this blissful Caribbean Island.

Located only 13 kilometers off the coast of Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a quick 30-minute ferry ride on Mexico’s own “Ultramar” ferry company. Tickets cost 462 pesos round trip. You will depart from the Puerto Juarez ferry terminal in Cancun. Puerto Juarez is easy to access by car or local transportation and also offers parking for a reasonable fee.

Another way to reach the island is by private water taxi departing from the Punta Sam terminal.

Upon arriving on the island there are many options to enjoy your day.

With the tropical breeze and the wind cooling you down, a fun way to explore is to rent a golf cart and tour around on your own. You can drive around the entire island in about one hour but, you will definitely want to make stops along the way. Don’t forget to bring your driver’s license as the shops will require it for your rental.

One picturesque location on the Island is the ancient Myan Ruins. Don’t forget to stop and cool off, literally, at the Ice Bar. That is correct, a bar made of total ice. 

For the water enthusiast, Isla Mujeres offers a great variety of snorkeling and Scuba diving tours. Featuring an underwater museum, a protected snorkeling zone, an abundance of underwater species, and crystal clear visibility, this is a great part of the Mesoamerican Barrier reef to explore.

Picturesque beaches and laid-back lounging is where you can make your way over to Playa Norte. Playa Norte is home to crystal clear waters in many stunning shades of blue. Sip an ice-cold Pina Colada and enjoy your time at one of the many beach clubs and restaurants this stretch has to offer.

If you want to take a tour up to Isla Mujeres from Playa del Carmen, this tour is a great option. It includes pick up and drop off in Playa del Carmen as well as a snorkeling tour around the island. Book that tour here.

woman swimming underwater with snorkel gear in cozumel mexico

Snorkeling in Cozumel.

4. Cozumel

Cozumel Island is one of the best day trips from Playa del Carmen that I recommend for any traveler.

Larger in size than Isla Mujeres, this Caribbean Island offers amazing snorkeling, scuba diving, beach clubs, restaurants, bars, bakeries, and much more. 

With crystal clear blue water, idyllic sandy beaches, and a quaint energy, I will admit Cozumel Island is my favorite getaway in the Mayan Riviera. Check out our full guide to one day in Cozumel here.

The ferry departs from the terminal in Playa del Carmen located just off 5th avenue. There are two companies operating boats on alternating schedules, making the 45-minute trip easy to access. 

Upon arrival, rent a scooter, famous dune buggy, or jeep and begin your tour around the Island. There are so many amazing spots to explore in Cozumel you won’t be disappointed. For more information and great details check out this article. 

ruins of coba near playa del carmen

Coba Ruins.

5. Coba

An enchanting and adventurous Playa del Carmen excursion is a trip to the Coba Ruins. Located 42 kilometers (26 miles) outside Tulum in the middle of the Mayan jungle, this archaeological site will leave you fascinated by all its history, culture, and natural beauty. 

Coba means cloudy water in the Mayan language and it gets its name from the murky watered lagoons surrounding the site. Home to the largest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula, Coba’s importance lies in the different religious and ceremonial rituals practiced in the ancient Mayan Village.

You will want to arrive at 9 am when the site opens because they only allow 1500 visitors per day.  The entrance fee is 85 pesos and to park your vehicle also costs 85 pesos. 

To learn all the Mayan secrets and stories it is recommended to hire a tour guide. Coba can be explored by foot or by bicycle and rentals are available inside the grounds at an extra cost.

Lush jungle and towering trees provide shade over the ruins but do bring lots of water as the heat is still very intense.  Don’t forget snacks, bug spray, sunscreen, and of course local Mexican currency, which is Pecos.

On the way back to Playa del Carmen there are many Cenotes you can stop to enjoy. Take a dip and cool off remembering all the magic of your day. Check out our guide the best cenotes near town here.

sea turtle swimming underwater

Sea turtles in Akumal.

6. Akumal Bay

Have you ever dreamt of swimming with sea turtles? Well, Akumal Bay is the perfect place to fulfill your wishes. 

Akumal means “place of the turtles” in the Mayan language, and this small bay in the Caribbean sea is home to an abundance of these prehistoric peaceful creatures. 

Just a short 35-minute drive from Playa del Carmen, you can reach Akumal very quickly by car or public transportation. 

Catch the local collectivo in the cento zone of Playa del Carmen and tell the driver you want to reach Akumal. When you exit the bus, simply walk across the Carretera Federal on the provided overpass, and make your way down the road to the Bay. (About a 10-minute walk)

If you arrive by car there is a parking lot very near to the entrance of the bay and it costs 50 pesos for the full day. If you have your own snorkel gear bring that along but leave your fins at home as they are prohibited for use in this area. 

The best way to experience the turtles is to take a guided swimming tour. Tours are available to book from Playa del Carmen or direct from the tour guides on the Beach in Akumal. What option you choose will determine the price.

The major benefit of the tour is that you will receive access to the protected area in the sea, access to the coral reef, lifejackets, and snorkel gear. The beautiful gathering of the turtles is normally found in the protected area in the sea. 

There is a locker room on site with showers, change rooms, toilets, and lockers where you can keep your valuables during your swim. The entrance fee for use of the facility is included with the price of the tour, however, you will need to leave a 100 peso cash deposit for the rental of the lock and key. 

After your tour, you are welcome to enjoy the beach and facilities for the rest of the day.  Satisfy your hunger at one of the many restaurants on the beach, or in the little village of Akumal.  

May until September is prime time to visit Akumal as it is the incubation season for the turtles. The mother turtles arrive in Akumal bay to feast on delicious sea grass and lay their eggs in this safe and natural protected area of the Caribbean.  If you are really lucky you may even see the turtles on shore tending to their nest.

Please do not use sunscreen in the ocean as it is damaging to the reef and its ecosystems. Grab a rash guard or long sleeve shirt for protection. Yoga pants are also great to cover your legs and provide warmth if you tend to get cold in the water. 

For a great tour option, check out this tour. It includes hotel pick up and drop off anywhere in the Riviera Maya (which includes Playa!) and it also includes swimming with the sea turtles with a certified guide. You can book that tour here.

swimming with whale sharks in mexico

Whale sharks in Mexico.

7. Whale Shark Tour

An incredibly unique and phenomenal experience in the Mexican Caribe is to swim with the Whale Sharks. For all of the water and animal lovers out there, this is a Playa del Carmen tour you must partake in.   

These gentle giants arrive in the ocean near Playa del Carmen from June to September being the largest congregation of Whale Sharks in the world.  Whale Sharks are the largest breed of fish and come to the Mayan Riviera to feed on the plankton. Not bothered at all by humans swimming with the Whale Sharks is an absolutely unforgettable adventure. 

Tours departing from Playa del Carmen will transport you to Punta Sam in Cancun where you will then embark on a 45-minute boat ride out into the open sea.

There are so many tour options for swimming with whale sharks, it can be hard to choose. Be sure you go with a company that follows all of the regulations required when it comes to swimming with these gentle giants.

These are a few great options:

Upon arrival In the specific ocean zone, you will begin to see many fins of the sharks, and what a spectacular view that is! Snorkel gear, fins, and lifejacket on, your tour guide will tell you 1, 2, 3, JUMP!

Now it is your turn to swim as long as you can beside the Shark taking in all the Incredible beauty of this enormous creature. 

After the Whale Shark encounter the tour will normally take a stop at Playa Norte of Isla Mujeres serving up a fresh lunch of guacamole, ceviche, and soft drinks. 

For those of you that get motion sick on boats, take a Dramamine tablet 20 before your boat ride to beat the sea sicknesses. It is an early morning and full-day tour in the sun so be sure to get a good rest and prepare for one of the most incredible experiences nature has to offer. 

Spending More Time in Playa del Carmen?

Be sure to check out all of the comprehensive articles we have about this wonderful slice of Mexican paradise.

You can explore all of our content about Tulum here, Cancun here, and general Riviera Maya content here.