Playa del Carmen was one of our favourite cities in Mexico (with our absolute favourite being the dreamy island of Cozumel). After a couple of hours in the city and we could clearly see why it is one of the top Mexico vacation destinations. The central location in the Yucatan Peninsula makes it the ideal place to stay for those wanting to really experience all this area has to offer. There are so many fun things to do in Playa del Carmen, you’ll be entertained whether you’re here for a few days, or a few weeks.
In the hunt for where to stay in the Riviera Maya, many people weigh out the pros and cons of Playa del Carmen vs Cancun vs Tulum. After having stayed in all 3, we found Playa del Carmen to have a very upbeat, unique vibe that we absolutely loved. Playa del Carmen acts as the goldilocks between the big city of Cancun and the laid back beach vibes of Tulum.
If you’ve already read our complete guide to Playa del Carmen we’ve hopefully answered all your burning questions about the city (if we missed anything please let us know!). Now comes the best part of trip planning: figuring out all the best things to do in Playa del Carmen and planning your excursions.
The dreaming stage is one of the best parts about traveling and we LOVE helping you dream! Let’s dive in.
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Top Things To Do In Playa del Carmen
There are so many amazing things to do in Playa del Carmen that it’s hard to keep this list small (we tried). It has the perfect mix of great climate, pristine beaches, shopping, restaurants, and adventure. The best part of Playa is its location being so central and allowing for endless possibilities on your vacation. We could easily keep going but without further ado, here are our top 20 activities in Playa del Carmen.
1. Go shopping on the streets of Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue)
The most famous street in Playa del Carmen, possibly all of the Mayan Riviera, is Quinta Avenida – 5th Avenue. This is the heartbeat of the city. Everything seems to be connected to this 4 km (2.5 mile) long street. The vibes on this street are insane and so full of life. It’s wild how much they change drastically from day to night.
During the day it’s filled with street vendors and shops that are great to explore. This is the hub of Playa del Carmen shopping and where we bought most of the souvenirs for our friends and family. You’ll be able to find everything from local handmade vendors to scuba dive shops, restaurants, large chain stores, and beach clubs.
At night the second you step foot on the strip, you’ll be met with street performers there to entertain you as you eat, drink, and shop. You can expect to see acrobats, fire dancers, musicians, and even spiderman when walking the strip. If you visit the main beach area near the ferry terminal at night, you will be treated to a free fire performance showcasing Mayan history that can be fun to watch.
Many restaurants have different entertainers offering nightly performances in the restaurant while you eat. Who doesn’t love dinner and a show?
2. Explore a Mayan ruin
We absolutely love diving into the culture and history of the countries we travel to. For us, it’s one’s of the best parts of traveling! Luckily for us, Mexico has a pretty cool history and it’s displayed everywhere.
Before the Spanish conquered Mexico in the 16th century, the Yucatan Peninsula was inhabited by the Maya. You may have heard of the Mayan calendar, this ancient civilization left behind some pretty impressive communities. There are many stunning ancient ruins left in Mexico to be explored to this day.
We like getting good bang for our buck which is why if you plan a day trip to Mayan ruins, we recommend booking a combo tour. Taking a full day to see the ruins and soak in a cenote makes for one of the best day excursions you can have.
Tulum ruins are one of a kind. These coastal ruins remain quite intact and have the beautiful location of being right on the Caribbean Sea. While you should still expect heat as there’s very minimal shade (be sure to bring water), you can expect some wind coming off the ocean to keep you more comfortable. The area is incredibly picturesque and makes for the perfect photo op with the ocean in the background.
If you’re wanting to see these ruins and looking to combine a few Playa del Carmen things to do into a single day, we have a few tours that you’ll love. This combination Playa day tour combines all of the most popular activities into one. For $233 CAD ($169 USD) ($206 CAD / $149 USD for children 8-11 years old) you’ll be chauffeured from your hotel to Tulum. You’ll get to explore Tulum Ruins, Yal-ku Lagoon and Cenote el sueño, then you’re off to Punta Venado Beach Club for lunch and drinks.
For a more a la carte option there is the 6 hour Tulum Day Trip from Playa del Carmen which includes Mayan Ruins, and Cenote Casa Tortuga in Tulum.
The most famous Mayan Ruins are those found at Chichen Itza. We loved our trip to Chichen Itza and recommend a visit to these ruins for anyone looking to dive into culture and history. Chichen Itza tours from Playa del Carmen will take the full day and are usually paired with a swim in a cenote along the way (welcomed because inland Mexico is HOT!).
We stayed overnight in the town of Valladolid when we visited Chichen Itza. While we enjoyed exploring the town, we missed the coastal cities and think spending a few hours in the city is enough. Valladolid is a nice place to stop, eat and stretch your legs on your trip. One of the top rated day tours to Chichen Itza includes just that, and a dip in a cenote as an added bonus.
Coba was unexpectedly our favourite Mexican Ruin. The site is spread out and there are bicycles that you can rent to tour around the ruins. These ruins felt really authentic as they were built into the Mexican jungle. Instead of the area being clear cut (like with Chichen Itza) these ruins are tucked into the trees providing a good amount of shade throughout your tour.
You can bring up to 15 people on this private day tour to Coba and cenotes. It’ll take you from Playa del Carmen to Zona Arqueologica de Coba where you’ll spend two hours on bicycles touring the ruins. Next, you’ll head to Cenote Multum Ha and Cenote Tankach-Ha to cool off before heading back to your hotel. The price for this tour varies based on how many people are in your group and includes a tour guide, all entry fees, lunch, and drinks so all you have to do is show up.
3. Relax at a beach club
Let’s be real, one of the biggest reasons so many people flock here is to relax on the many beautiful Playa del Carmen beaches. One of the best ways to do that is by finding a beach club to spend the day at. Luckily you have a lot of options to choose from!
Playa del Carmen beach clubs typically trade a traditional “entry fee” for a minimum consumption amount (ideal because why else go to the beach except to enjoy a cold drink and eat some tasty food). If you’re wanting to stay close to the action, there are a few beach clubs on Quinta Ave.
If you’re wanting chill beach vibes where you can enjoy a tranquil slice of paradise, Inti Beach Club is your best bet and has a minimum consumption of 300-500 MXN ($23-40 CAD/$17-29 USD) depending on the season.
If you’re looking for more of a party atmosphere, Senor Frogs is a popular place to choose located right on Quinta Ave by the ferry terminal. Coralina Daylight Club is the ultimate party scene at the Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen.
4. Go scuba diving with sharks
Scuba diving is one of our favourite things to do and we try to go at every tropical place we visit. Scuba diving in Playa del Carmen is some of the best we’ve seen! The water is packed with life including tons of small and colourful fish, sea turtles, dolphins, lobsters, sting rays, and friendly sharks.
Samara’s favourite animal in the world is sharks – she watches shark documentaries quite frequently. Every time we go diving she spends her whole time underwater looking and hoping to see a shark. That’s why we were so excited to learn that if you visit between December and March, you can scuba dive with the bull sharks that migrate to the area to have their babies.
If you’re like us and have your PADI scuba diving certification already, you have your choice of boat tours that will allow you to explore the reefs. If you’re not scuba certified yet, this is an epic spot for your first time. Beginner scuba diving courses are readily available and the crystal clear water makes for one of the best to learn to scuba dive in the world. Trust us, the Playa del Carmen scuba diving scene is not to be missed.
5. Snorkel with fish
When we’re at the beach, we always want to be in the water! With the hot Caribbean waters in Playa, it’s the perfect place to snorkel. Playa del Carmen has an epic location for exploring underwater as it sits along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world. The coral reefs are incredibly colourful and full of life.
One of the main reasons we would choose to stay at an all inclusive hotel in Playa del Carmen is that their private beaches sometimes have snorkeling offered right from the beach. Otherwise, this is one city I would definitely book a snorkel tour!
If you’re wanting a more adventurous snorkeling excursion from Playa del Carmen you’ll love this Whale Shark encounter tour. You have a chance to swim with turtles, manta rays, dolphins, and whale sharks. We like that they accommodate vegetarians for the included meal. They’ll even pick you up and drop you off at your hotel.
6. Splash in the many Playa del Carmen cenotes
Cenotes are natural sinkholes that have water in them to swim through. These underground freshwater pools were sacred to the Maya who would build their communities close by and utilize the freshwater source. There are over 6500 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula and only a couple hundred can be swam in. Playa del Carmen cenotes, in our opinion, are some of the best you’ll find!
Some of the most awe inspiring cenotes is included in this cenote and lagoon snorkelling adventure. You’ll see huge stalactites hanging from the ceiling along with crystal clear water to swim through. Once you got your fill of the cenote you can explore the magical Yal Ku lagoon
7. Visit an Xcaret Park
If you’re looking for an action packed excursion, the eco tours at one of the Xcaret parks in the area are one of our favorite ways to spend the day in Mexico. These family friendly parks are great for all ages – even (or especially) adults. An all inclusive experience, each one of these parks includes food and drinks while you play.
If you’re excited to visit these parks but can’t decide on which ones to visit, the good news is: you don’t have to! If you’ve got some time to spare, booking this priority access combo tour is the best way to get the most bang for your buck while visiting multiple parks. You can choose two day excursions (Xcaret, Xplor, Xel-Ha, and Chichen Itza) to visit within 15 days of each other for $357 CAD ($260 USD).
The OG eco park in the area, Xcaret makes for the absolute perfect way to spend your day. With your Xcaret tickets, you can expect 40 different attractions in the park from swimming through underground rivers, lots of areas to snorkel, and a good look into Mayan history. This is an ideal family excursion to go to that showcases a lot of Yucatan nature and history. While this park makes for a great adventure, its location in Cancun makes it a bit more difficult to get to from Playa. If you’re looking for excursions in Cancun, this is a top pick.
Xplor will go down as one of the most fun days we spent in Mexico. When you’re done lazing on the beach, an adrenaline pumping adventure at Xplor is one of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen. You will spend your day speeding down multiple ziplines through the park, ripping through the jungle on an ATV, and swimming through underground rivers.
For this heart pumping day, you can book an Xplor day trip with transportation from your hotel for $242 CAD ($176 USD). For a unique experience, you can even visit Xplor at nighttime and experience the jungle around you comes alive. The park is lit up all around you with fire and lights that make for quite the show. Called Xplor Fuego, you can book a tour with roundtrip transportation for $212 CAD ($154 USD). If you don’t need the transportation, you can get just the Xplor Fuego entrance ticket for $171 CAD ($124 USD).
Xel Ha Park
One of the best Playa del Carmen attractions, Xel Ha is a great park in the Xcaret family that makes for the perfect day excursion from Playa del Carmen. The Xel Ha water slide is the most recognizable part of this park but there is so much more offered here. Xel Ha snorkeling is some of the best in the area with stunning coral reefs to explore. Caves, cenotes, jungle trails, and ziplines are also found in this fun filled adventure park.
As the name suggests, Xenses Mexico is all about your senses. This engaging experience will have you defying gravity, exploring dark caves, and speeding through the air on ziplines. You are sure to be entertained by the 50 activities offered at this park.
8. Explore Rio Secreto
Rio Secreto is one of the most amazing Playa del Carmen attractions. This is unlike anything on our list with its an underground river with crystal caves. If you’re looking for a Rio Secreto and Tulum tour, this cave excursion near Playa del Carmen is a great one! You can build your ideal tour with the option to include a trip to Coba, Tulum, and even transportation to and from your hotel. Everything is included to make sure you’re warm and safe during your swim – a wet suit, hard hat, water shoes, and life vest – along with lunch and lockers, and towels.
9. Take a day trip to Tulum
Tulum has gotten a lot of buzz in recent years and we think it’s well deserved! This small laid back town is located an hour’s drive south of Playa del Carmen and sits right on the Caribbean Sea. Known for its boho vibes, Tulum is unique in that it’s built into the jungle. We loved our visit to Tulum and think it’s one of the highlights of a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula.
The beaches in Tulum are picturesque where the jungle runs to the ocean making for a picturesque and authentic landscape. Tulum is full of unique things to do from the famous Tulum Ruins to epic cenotes, and world class resorts. This is the place to go for yoga retreats, vegan health food, and shopping for handmade goods. Tulum Town itself is located inland about 3km (1.8 miles) from the beach. It is popular to rent bicycles to take you from the town to the beach.
If you’re interested in visiting Tulum for the day, you can book a Tulum day tour which will showcase all the highlights of the town. The full day combo tour includes transportation and will take you to the Tulum Ruins (located right on the Caribbean Sea), swimming in a cenote, exploring a cave, and snorkeling in a beautiful coral reef. Lunch is also included in this tour.
10. Take a day trip to Cozumel
Cozumel was our favourite Island in the Maya Riviera. If you find yourself in Playa del Carmen we STRONGLY recommend spending a day (or 5) exploring this truly amazing island in Mexico. Cozumel Island, which sits 30 km (20 miles) off Playa’s coast, has received worldwide recognition for superior snorkeling and scuba diving. You can easily book a tour to snorkel in these waters and be transported to the best snorkeling in Mexico.
There are so many great things to do in Cozumel, you can easily spend more than a day here. The ferry port is located right in town at the end of Quinta Ave and is a quick 45 minute boat ride to the island. There are two ferry companies you can choose from to get to the island: Winjet or UltraMar. Both are reliable and comfortable ways to get to Cozumel for between 200-250 MXN ($15-20 CAD, $12-15 USD).
11. Take a day trip to Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres, translating to woman island, is one of the most beautiful islands off the coast of the Riviera Maya. The long white sandy beaches have received worldwide attention as being some of the best in the world. While it is a small island, Isla Mujeres offers so many great things to do to busy your day. From riding in golf carts around the island to snorkeling in the water at Playa Norte, you will have no shortage of entertainment.
Isla Mujeres is located just off the coast of Cancun. You can choose to drive yourself to Cancun and then take a ferry over to Isla Mujeres, or you can choose a more luxurious path and take a catamaran cruise to Isla Mujeres.
For Isla Mujeres tours from Playa del Carmen, you should expect a full day excursion. You will be picked up from your hotel in the morning and driven to Cancun where you will climb on board your boat and travel to the islands. Isla Mujeres isn’t the only island you will explore but you’ll also get some time at the secluded remote island of Isla Contoy.
Isla Contoy is a protected National Park that you can only get to with a dedicated tour. Government restrictions only allow 200 people to visit a day. The only residents on this island are the estimated 150 bird species and sea turtles that live here. You can expect a jungle paradise with stunning private beaches and the best coral reefs.
The tour costs $220 CAD ($159 USD) and includes all snorkel gear, transportation, and time to explore both islands. Breakfast, lunch, and more importantly BEER are all included in this price.
12. Swim with sea turtles in Akumal Bay
Swimming with sea turtles is a total bucket list item. These beautiful animals live to be about 50-100 years old and deserve all the respect in the world. That’s why if you’re going to swim with them, it’s important to do so ethically!
We don’t support animal tourism and steer clear of zoos, aquariums, and other attractions that trade an animal’s life for a few minutes of human enjoyment. That’s why we liked Akumal Bay!
38 km (24 miles) south of Playa del Carmen you’ll find this small town that has a protected bay where sea turtles love to hang out. Thanks to the seagrass lining the ocean floor (a favourite food of these turtles) and the protected bay, turtles love hanging out in this area year round. There are dedicated turtle zones that require a guide to enter and only a limited number of people can swim through a day (a conservation effort we can stand behind!).
You can take yourself the 30 minutes to Akumal Bay and hire a guide independently, or book a turtle and cenote day tour. The half day tour costs $123 CAD ($89 USD) and includes transportation, snacks, a snorkel experience at Akumal Bay, a walk through a cave, and a dip in a cenote.
If you are going to do this activity, please remember to respect the animals! Do not try to touch or chase the turtles – keep your distance to not cause them any stress. Make sure you stay horizontal in the water to not disturb the sea floor. DO NOT wear sunscreen (even “reef safe” sunscreen) or bug spray!
13. Take a sailing tour on the water
If you’re looking for a luxurious excursion in Playa del Carmen, or maybe planning a girls trip and looking for something fun to do, a sailing tour on the stunning Caribbean Sea is an epic choice! Taking a half day catamaran tour will allow you the perfect environment to relax and unwind, snorkel a stunning coral reef, paddleboard on the calm waters, and eat and drink to your heart’s content. This tour costs $191 CAD ($139 USD) per person and includes lunch, an open bar, and round trip transportation.
14. Embrace the nightlife
Playa del Carmen is known for its amazing nightlife. When the sun goes down the party starts. Quinta Avenue comes alive with street performers and many different restaurants, bars, clubs, and lounges. You will have no shortage of options, no matter what type of nighttime entertainment you’re looking for.
You’ve probably heard of Coco Bongo – they have locations in Cancun, Punta Cana, and Playa del Carmen. It’s one of the best places to catch a live action show. They range from Moulin Rouge to Mad Max and tributes to bands like The Beatles and Queen. This Coco Bongo Gold Member VIP Night out includes round trip ride from your hotel, skip the line tickets, and 15 free drinks! Come ready to party and keep in mind the show starts at 10 pm.
Cirque du Soleil is one of the most famous names in show biz. The Cirque du Soleil JOYÀ show has many options to choose from ranging from the show only to a VIP experience with a 3 course dinner and unlimited champagne. This particular show takes cues from Mexican heritage and is about an alchemist and his granddaughter.
Social PubCrawl in Paya del Carmen is a top rated night tour that’ll take you all the way through the night. Get loads of rest because your night won’t get started until 8:30 pm and go all the way till 3 am. Between 10 and 40 other party goers will share this night tour in Playa with you. You’ll hit up 4 different venues that have been hand selected for a good night on the town.
15. Feast on the local cuisine
Quinta Ave has virtually every single style restaurant you could ever imagine. You will often be treated to dinner and a show as these restaurants go above and beyond to entertain. When we were there we saw an incredible acrobatic show during dinner at a Greek restaurant.
Playa del Carmen offers a great selection of restaurants and street food. Of course, you come to Mexico and expect to eat Mexican food. If you’re wanting to taste a good selection of local cuisine, we recommend a food tour. We love these types of tours as the local guides know all the best places to eat. It’s also a really fun way to meet new people and bond over some delicious food.
Taking a taco tour in Playa del Carmen will have you feasting on the best tacos in the city. For $150 CAD ($109 USD) you will visit 4 different places tasting delicious tacos (even desert tacos – YUM!!) and sip on some great tequila. This tour is fun and interactive as you will try your hand at making tortillas, salsa, and even margaritas – an important lifelong skill!
16. Enjoy a beach day with watersports
One of the best things to do in Mexico is spend the day on and near the water. No trip to Playa is complete without a couple of lazy beach days. Luckily, Playa del Carmen has some of the best beaches in the Yucatan Peninsula.
If you’re not one to laze on the beach all day, try spicing the day up with some fun watersports on the beach! There are lots of different water excursions in Playa del Carmen to choose from. Our favourite is paddle boarding! There is nothing better than a sunset paddle on the water. For $55 CAD ($40 USD) per person, your guide will take you out on the water for the best sunset views in the Riviera Maya. If you’re a morning person, this morning paddle may be a better option for you. Both of these experiences are perfect for beginners and advanced paddlers.
17. Spend the day at a rooftop pool
Let’s be real, rooftop pools are a whole vibe! Taking in city views as you sip on a delicious cocktail in a rooftop pool is the best way to spend your day. There are many rooftop pools at the different Playa del Carmen hotels. Sitting in a rooftop pool with a cocktail in hand is definitely one of our favourite activities in Playa del Carmen!
Our hotel La Pasion had one that we spent a lot of time at. There are others around town with bars on the roof where you’ll have a minimum spending amount to enjoy for the day. If you’re looking for somewhere to hang out, Playa Hotel is a great one to choose – 200 pesos ($16 CAD/$12 USD) is all you need to spend on drinks to enjoy their rooftop pool.
18. Visit a museum
I know what you’re thinking, why would we direct you to a museum on a Mexican vacation? This isn’t your ordinary museum though – trust us! The 3D Museum of Wonders is one of the most perfect rainy day attractions in Playa del Carmen! This is the perfect Instagram spot in Playa del Carmen as you can take photos throughout the exhibit and get some unique shots.
Tickets are $57 CAD ($42 USD) for adults 12+, $49 CAD ($36 USD) for kids 3-11 and free for infants 2 and under. You’ll feel like you’re a part of this museum as the paintings pop from the wall. There are lots of different exhibits that are a lot of fun for all ages.
19. Take the kids to Aqua Nick
If you’re looking for great Playa del Carmen family activities, this is the ultimate pick. The ideal way to spend a hot day, Aqua Nick is the best kid’s waterpark in the Riviera Maya. No matter what age your kids are they’re guaranteed to have fun here. From Nickelodeon Studios, this park is geared towards all things kids.
Aqua Nick is a 6 acre waterpark between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. There are different levels of activities here depending on your kid’s age. You can expect everything from thrilling speed slides to lazy rivers and baby zones. Their favourite characters will be walking around to meet as well including SpongeBob, Dora, and PAW Patrol!
You will need to buy your tickets to Aqua Nick ahead of time. The price of your ticket will vary whether you need transportation or want to get access to the Nick Bistro. General admission tickets include food like hamburgers and poke bowls as well as beer and soft drinks. We love that kids under 3 are free!
20. Get lost in the jungle
A short drive out of the city will get you deep into the heart of the Mexican jungle. We love a good backwoods adventure which is why we always love doing jungle adventure excursions. Ripping through the jungle on a quad showcases a unique side of Playa del Carmen that’s a lot of fun to explore.
Playa’s superb location makes it an epic spot to get lost in the jungle and get covered in mud and water. This ATV, zipline, and cenote combo tour makes for the perfect action packed day of adventure. For $90 CAD ($65 USD) your tour includes transportation from your hotel, lunch, and all your activities
Thanks for stopping by!
Playa del Carmen is one of our favourite spots in the Mayan Riviera. The city’s central location between Cancun and Tulum and sitting right on the Caribbean coast makes it one of the most picturesque places to visit. We felt like the city had the perfect mix of big city busyness and laid back small town vibes. There are so many great things to do in Playa del Carmen, you will have no problem spending a few days, or a few weeks, in this tropical paradise.
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