Playa del Carmen, Mexico is a small coastal town on Yucatan’s peninsula. It sits on the Riviera Maya and has a full stretch of lovely beach, where you can catch some rays in the warm sun. Generally known as a resort town, there is so much more to Playa del Carmen than resorts. Playa del Carmen has some great activities if you want to experience Mexican culture, from traditional foods, to archaeological sites, to native cenotes, and even salsa dancing. You’ll enjoy the relaxation environment with a splash of adventure!
What are the Best Things to Do in Playa del Carmen?
What is a cenote? A cenote is the result of collapsing limestone, creating an underground pool. Cenotes can be found in caves, or out in the open, the Yucatan peninsula is riddled with cenotes and they are so much fun to dive and swim in! In Playa del Carmen, one of the most beautiful and popular cenotes is Cenote Azul, both natives and tourists recommend this local watering hole. It’s the perfect place to take a refreshing dip in a natural incident, local to the Yucatan region. There are many other cenotes in the region and some, where you can even snorkel, you could spend your whole time in Playa del Carmen jumping from cenote to cenote!
As Playa del Carmen is mostly a resort town, most of the local beach is occupied by resorts who charge a fee to use their lounge chairs and occupy the beach space. If you aren’t staying at a resort, there are other options available, it is perfectly acceptable to occupy lounge chairs if (and once) you have purchased something from that establishment’s bar or restaurant. Mamita’s Beach Club is the perfect place to rent a lounge chair, relax on the beach, and even jet ski or parasail! But, if you’re a budget traveller and don’t want to worry about the extra money for chilling on the beach, then Lido Beach Club is your place. There is no cost to rent the chairs, nor a minimum spending amount, the perfect place to take a load off and relax! There are many beach clubs all over Playa del Carmen’s beaches, so you have to choose just one, but you do have to make it to the beach, as it is one of the best things to do here.
Frida Kahlo Museum
A great place to learn about the great Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, this museum is on the main street in Playa del Carmen and is a fun way to get off the beach. You’ll be wrapped up in the vibrant colors of the works on display, which will bring a smile to your face. It is important to note that there are no Frida Kahlo original works, but the tribute pieces are just as beautiful and mesmerizing. If you are aware of Frida Kahlo, then the Frida Kahlo Museum is one of the top places to go.
Even though it is a small town, you can find a gem or two in the nightlife scene. Whether you prefer something more local, or a big show and party, Playa del Carmen has you covered. Head to Zenzi for a night of salsa dancing- be sure to check the schedule for whi nights it is scheduled! If you’re not a dancer, the vibes in Zenzi are also great for those who are willing to socialize, and it never gets truly packed. If you’re looking for something a little more wild, check out Coco Bongo, a mix of performance act, bar, and club, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself at a place called “Coco Bongo.” No matter your taste, if you enjoy a bit of fun, you’re sure to find it at one of the best places to go in Playa del Carmen.
What to See in Playa del Carmen
The famous Mayan ruins are a short distance away from Playa del Carmen and make a great excursion for the day! Named as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, these ruins are strikingly beautiful and impressive. The iconic pyramid makes a great photo op, but there is so much to see on the ruin grounds. From temples to ball courts, you’ll get a feel of how the ancient Mayan civilization lived and worshiped.
Also known as Calle 5, or 5th Street, is a colorful pedestrian friendly stretch of road where there are many shops, restaurants, and food stands ready to be discovered! If you’re taking a break from the sandy beaches, wandering around the town is a great idea to get a lay of the land. Pick up a coffee or a smoothie, and make your way down the street as you window shop (or for-real shop) until you drop!
“Founding Fathers” Park is a public space that will sometimes host public events. Occasionally you can see dancers and street performers here, who are ready to shock and awe! In the park there is a massive statue of two people rising up to meet each other, it’s truly impressive. There is also a playground for kids to run and enjoy the summer weather while they climb all over little courses. Parque Fundadores is a great little stop in town, and one of the best things to see!
Unique Things to do in Playa del Carmen
Swim with Sea Turtles
If you head about 30 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, you will arrive in Akumal. In Akumal there is a shallow bay that is easily accessible and perfect for snorkeling! You have the chance to see Hawksbill, Loggerhead, and Green sea turtles, swimming with these kind creatures is an experience like no other and is one of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen. Since it’s 30 minutes away, we recommend hopping in a ‘Colectivo,’ a shared taxi that picks up passengers along the way and is an experience in itself, just remember to bring cash and make sure you tell the driver where you’re headed!
From Playa del Carmen you can take a ferry to the island, Cozumel. Cozumel boasts some of the most blue waters in the Riviera Maya, and is perfect for taking a day trip! Relax on Cozumel’s beaches or wander the small island on scooter’s as you disolver all of the island’s beautiful secrets!
Literally just outside Playa del Carmen’s city center, the Rio Secreto caverns are an unexpected activity in a resort town! View some of the most interesting stalagmites and stalactites set against aqua rivers flowing through the caverns. For those who want to get out and have a little adventure, the Rio Secreto caverns are the perfect place to explore the Yucatan’s most interesting nature, it is truly one of the most unique things to do in Playa del Carmen.
Best Places to Eat in Playa del Carmen
Let’s be honest, one of the reasons you’re visiting Mexico is to try some amazing Mexican dishes. Here in Playa del Carmen you will find the best tacos at El Fogon. Considered one of the most popular restaurants in Playa del Carmen, it’s on everyone list and recommended by every local. It’s a very casual cantina, so there is not much seating and you can even end up waiting in lines for your meal. But, rest assured the tacos are so worth it, that even the locals will wait in the long lines to get some of these tacos!
Another top restaurant in Playa del Carmen is this finer establishment, Alux,which is inside a cave. In a little carved out cavern, this restaurant even has a small cenote inside of it. The cool temperatures and colorful mood lighting make for a great romantic night out, or just a unique experience while you have some fine courses underground! Eating at Alux is one of the top things to do in Playa del Carmen!
Elote and Marquesitas
One of the must do’s while in Playa del Carmen, and Mexico in general, is to try some of the quick and delicious street foods! Two of the most popular street foods are elote and marquesitas- both very delicious and perfect for a snack at any time! Elote is grilled corn on the cob, covered in spices, mayonnaise, and lime juice. While this may sound more like an adventurous taste, we urge you to try it, as everyone who has, loves it! Marquesitas are the choice if you’re craving something sweet. A fried dessert pancake, you can get it topped with all kinds of things like chocolate sauce, peanut butter, cream cheese, etc. But, the traditional marquesita is with nutella and cheese, and it’s definitely worth a try!
Now, if you’re feeling really adventurous, we recommend going to La Perla, a traditional Mayan restaurant that serves up some unexpected creations. Hidden within Playa del Carmen’s busiest street, La Quinta, La perla is serving up Mayan delicacies, such as grasshopper. The menu has a variety, so do not be scared if you really don’t enjoy the occasional bug or two, but it definitely makes for an interesting meal!
Is it Safe in Playa del Carmen?
As Playa del Carmen is a tourist town, filled with resorts, the economy depends on the tourist, which means there is little crime. Any crime that happens is out of sight and does not affect tourists or residents. However, practicing common sense safety habits is always a good idea, such as, watch out for potential pickpockets and be aware of your surroundings at night. But, like any city in Mexico, if you are constantly interacting in seedy nightlife, or hanging around in search of drugs, then there is a higher potential of encountering crime in Mexico.
Are there sharks in Playa del Carmen?
You will most likely never encounter a shark during your travels to Playa del Carmen. According to travelyucatan.com, the natural reef has almost disappeared, which means that sharks do not have a natural prey, hence no food for the sharks. There is a season during the year (November-March), where one spot in Playa del Carmen sees a migration of bull sharks. This spot is not near the beach clubs, and you would have to take a boat ride and go SCUBA diving to be in their presence. If you’re staying along the may stretch of beach in Playa del Carmen, you can relax and enjoy the beach, shark free!
Is Playa del Carmen Expensive?
Playa del Carmen is a town made for tourists. The economy depends on the tourist, and tourism in general. With this being said, expect higher prices in Playa del Carmen than other parts of Mexico. The average prices for eating out can vary depending on the restaurant, potentially 15 EUR per person for dinner and more. Lunch and breakfast are cheaper, but it’s important to know the spending potential. If you decide to eat at more local restaurants or even have the opportunity to grocery shop, this can cut costs as well.