Airport procedures for Playa del Carmen, MX
There are two airports that service Playa del Carmen.
I strongly recommend you book to Cancun. With Cozumel, it gets more complicated. You need to get transportation to the ferry dock, then buy a ferry ticket, and then the good news is you can walk to the condo because we are so close the the dock. But, if the seas are rough, they will suspend ferry traffic. And you don't know how long that will last.
Now that you've selected Cancun airport (CUN) here's the rundown.
1. Which terminal will you be arriving at?
a. There are four terminals at Cancun airport, soon to be five. The terminals are not linked by a tram or even a walk way. They are separate buildings that are spread quite far apart.
b. If you are arriving via a major US airline (American, Delta, etc) you will most likely disembark at terminal three.
Here's a video that was taken recently. If you've been to Cancun before you will notice the few changes.
c. Here's some info about terminal 4 since it seems to be the most confusing.
After you've cleared immigration and have your bags, there will be a sign pointing one way for family and friends and the other way for shuttles. If you are being picked up by someone at Terminal 4 it's important you follow the pathway marked for family and friends. The private transfers section is not accessible by private cars. Once you've reached the Family and Friends area, you will see a large wall with a painting on it. That's actually a door that slides open for you. Many people are fooled by the painting and leave the area instead of proceeding.
You will clear immigration first and then proceed to pick up your bags. You no longer need to line up for Customs clearance. It is now done randomly. You may be randomly selected for search or asked if you have any cigarettes. Another trigger is if you have an exraordinary amount of luggage. Details about what is, and isn't allowed, is outlined in the above link on Mexican forms.
If you want to skip all of the lines, you might try this service.
c. Here's more info about Customs at Cancun International
3. Leaving the airport
Once you have retrieved your luggage and departed the area, you will go out via a long hallway with a lot of people looking to sell you something. DON'T STOP. They are mostly scammers and timeshare sharks. Just go out of the building without talking to them.
Hopefully, you have planned ahead on how you're going to travel to Playa del Carmen. It's about a 40 minute drive from Cancun airport. If this is your first time to Playa del Carmen, I recommend a private transfer. We can help you make those arrangements. It's the easiest and not the most expensive way. When you return to Playa del Carmen on future trips, you will be more familiar with the area and I therefore recommend the ADO bus. It's the lowest cost option and very easy once you know the town a little.
If for some reason you need to go to another terminal, there is a free shuttle that runs between them but only if your itinerary requires it. It's not really possible to walk between them either. Security has been beefed up and walking may be prohibited. Terminal drive is a one way street counter clockwise.
If you take the bus, you can make a reservation on line or take your chances once you arrive. Walk out of terminal 3, past all of the people with signs for the private transfers, past Margaritaville, and you will soon see buses straight ahead. There is a small podium and a person with a red ADO vest on. Make arrangements with that person and no one else.
I do not recommend a taxi. They are very expensive.
4. Departure from Cancun Airport back home
a. Under normal conditions You need to allow 40 -60 minutes to get to the airport. However, there is currently (2023) major road construction near the airport. Allow 2 or more hours to get to the airport. If you're traveling on Saturday the traffic is the worst, allow extra time. Plan to BE THERE 2-3 HOURS in advance. The big resorts will get all of their people there 3 hours in advance so keep in mind where you'll be in the line.
c. There are many restaurants and shops for you as you wait in the departure area. They take both US and Mexican money.
d. Keep an eye on the departure boards. They don't assign gates until the aircraft arrives. So don't trust the one printed on your boarding pass. The gates frequently change.
All in all, Cancun is a nice airport and does a great job with the millions of travelers that go through there every year.
5. Here's a view of the expansion plans for Cancun