When it comes to idyllic beaches and glistening blue water which captures the imagination, it’s hard not to think of a place like Playa del Carmen, Mexico. More importantly, Playa del Carmen seems like the quintessential beach location to unwind, relax, and let all your worries simply melt away. Read on as we share the best things to do in Playa del Carmen.
1. Go Snorkeling or Scuba Diving
The entire Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is perfect for snorkeling or scuba diving, with Playa del Carmen being no different. The waters stay at a cool and refreshing temperature almost all year round, which makes it a great spot to snorkel or scuba dive even in the middle of winter.
The region is known to have a large array of tropical fish, coral formations and plenty of other sea life, including eels and turtles. If you’re lucky, or unlucky depending on how you look at it, you may even spot the odd shark.
2. Become a Certified Diver
Branching off the theme from the first suggestion, becoming a certified diver is relatively cheap in Mexico. While it may not be as cheap as other popular diving destinations like Thailand and Honduras, the prices are still cheaper than what you’d pay compared to a more Western country like the United States or Australia.
The benefit of becoming a certified diver, or even an advanced diver in Playa del Carmen, is that you’ll have the opportunity to explore some of the unique cenotes in the region. The cenotes were created from a meteorite millions of years ago, and are unique to this region of the world.
3. Try Traditional Mexican Food
As they say – When in Rome, do as the Romans do. In this case, it would be to eat local traditional food. The street tacos in Mexico are fantastic, as they use fresh ingredients and are cooked right in front of you. Beware though, since Playa del Carmen is a popular tourist location, some street tacos and street food can be overpriced in the tourist areas. It’s best to wander a few streets over and buy your food from where the locals eat, as it’ll usually be tastier and cheaper.
The standard food I ate for lunch when in Playa del Carmen was the torta. A torta is essentially a sandwich, but on a crispy roll. They come in an array of flavours, with most tortas usually being pork or beef based. The sandwich is usually topped off with tomato, onions, herbs, a dash of avocado, and a drizzle of some tasty sauces.
4. Enjoy the Nightlife
While Playa del Carmen may not have the notorious nightlife that Cancun does, it’s still nothing to sneeze at. Playa del Carmen is a popular tourist location, so there are quite a few bars and restaurants to enjoy your time in the beach location with either new or old friends.
5. Relax on the Beach
This one almost seems too obvious to be one of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen, but at the same time it can be easily forgotten. When coming to Playa del Carmen, while it may be the beach which attracted you to the location in the first place, it can be rather easy to be swept up in other activities and simply forget, or not have the time to relax on the beach. So take a moment to relax – bring a book or listen to some music, and let your worries pass you by.
6. Go Shopping
Playa del Carmen isn’t short of shopping stops. For those whose ideal holiday is to go shopping as much as humanly possible, Playa del Carmen has you covered with quite a few high-end stores, and just as many non-name brands so you can find something special and unique that you wouldn’t normally find back home. Looking for cheap souvenirs? Head to 5th Avenue (Avenida 5) where you can find everything from Mexican sombreros and ponchos to Mayan sculptures and carvings.
7. Visit the Cenotes
As mentioned earlier, one thing which is truly unique about Playa del Carmen is its accessibility from the town to a true natural wonder – the cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula. The Yucatan Peninsula arguably has more cenotes in its small area than any other part of the world.
Only a short day trip from Playa del Carmen towards Tulum are several cenotes for you to explore. The great thing about visiting these sites is that you don’t need to be into scuba diving in order to enjoy the site, as you can more than enjoy the cenotes by simply snorkeling or through a leisurely swim.
8. Take a Ferry to Isla Cozumel
Only a 20-minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen is the island of Cozumel. The waters surrounding Cozumel are quite simply phenomenal, and that’s why it’s one of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen. It’s surprising how much of a difference the environment can change simply moving 20 minutes away.
The thing that stands out the most about Cozumel is its unique coral formations, which can be seen if you decide to go scuba diving or snorkeling, though more so with the former. The coral formations are taller than 30 meters (90 feet) in some parts, which make them quite the site to see.
9. Visit Beautiful Tulum
When it comes to the top beaches in the world, Tulum always ranks quite high. Tulum is one of the most iconic spots within Mexico, and is only a quick day trip from Playa del Carmen. Placed alongside the cliffs and overlooking the Caribbean Sea are several Mayan ruins which are still standing today. They remain a testament to the Mayan civilization, the impact they had on history, and the region of Yucatan as a whole.
Photo op wise, contrasting the Mayan ruins with the neon blue waters of the Caribbean Sea will provide any budding photographer with plenty of unique photo opportunities.
10. Sail from Playa del Carmen to Isla Mujeres
Sailing the Riviera Maya is truly romantic. There is something about the region that will leave a lasting impression, not only on you, but on that special person you decide to sail with. This part of the world, with its clear blue water, warm weather, free-flowing drinks, and good atmosphere, will put a smile on just about anybody’s face.
Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen
Here are our top recommendations of hostels and hotels in Playa del Carmen. All are centrally located, highly rated and have excellent facilities.
- Best Hostel: The Yak
- Best Budget Hotel: Illusion Boutique Hotel
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Magic Blue
- Best Luxury Hotel: The Royal Playa del Carmen
Don’t forget to also take a look at Airbnb. They have many accommodation options available in Playa del Carmen, and many of them are cheaper than your average hotel. For recommendations check out our list of the best Airbnbs in Playa del Carmen.