The 10 Best things to do in Playa del Carmen, MX
When I first arrived in Playa del Carmen in 1998, it was a sleepy little fishing village with an amazing beach… and an even more amazing Caribbean Ocean. Fast forward twenty years and there are many more restaurants, shops, and attractions, but the beach and the Caribbean continue to be amazing.
For me the Caribbean is still the most important part of the now cosmopolitan city of Playa del Carmen. The locals call it simply “Playa” meaning beach in Spanish. Playa del Carmen is “Carmen Beach” in English. Now that you have all of the background, let’s get started on my Top 10 things to do while visiting Playa.
1. Snorkeling or Scuba Diving – You will love this! If you're a scuba diver, you will be happy to know that the Riviera Maya was voted BEST DIVE DESTINATION IN THE WORLD.
If you're not a scuba diver but still want to take in the magnificent view, snorkeling is a great option. The warm Caribbean waters keep you afloat with no effort while you swim among the beautiful tropical fish.
<Check out the video below to see snorkeling> There are several places you can go for snorkeling. You could take a sailing catamaran aka, the booze cruise, making snorkeling stops near Akumal. Or, you could rent a car and go to Yalku Lagoon on your own. The big water parks have fabulous snorkeling and even SNUBA. Xcaret is the closest water park to our condo and to Playa del Carmen. Click on the video below.
2. Take a stroll down famous 5th Avenue (Avenida Quinta). Wear your walking shoes. It is more than 3 miles long. 5th Avenue is the hub of nightclubs, bars, restaurants of all types, and souvenir shopping. There is so much to see and do, you will want to go several times during your stay. Try Sonora Grill for a good steak. There’s even a Casino just off 5th avenue at the intersection of Calle 10 and Avenida 10.
3. Playing with your kids in the water – Whether they’re your kids, your grandkids, nephews, or whatever, there’s nothing like making memories with kids And there’s no better place to take them than Playa del Carmen. You can make it both an educational experience and a fun filled vacation with the family.
4. Try some authentic Mayan and Mexican food – Mexican food is ubiquitous in Playa. I mean you’re in Mexico, of course it is! The Guacamole is much better in Mexico. There is something about the avocados. So creamy and fresh. The tortillas are made from scratch, fresh, warm, and so good. I like a Corona along with my Mexican food.
For a real treat, try the Grouper. It is caught fresh every day in the Caribbean waters near Playa del Carmen and served in most restaurants. Grouper Veracruz is a great local dish. I prefer it broiled with garlic and butter. So yummy!
5. Visit one or more of the Mayan Ruins – There’s a very small temple across the street from our condo complex, Xaman Ha, in Playacar. Most people have no idea that it’s there. I’ve heard many stories about the temple. Some say that it was a place of prayer prior to a canoe journey to the Island of Cozumel.
Don’t miss some of the larger ruins. After all, Chichen Itza is one of the 7 wonders of the world! You can’t miss that! On the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes, the sun shines upon the Castillo (the primary pyramid) and it appears that there is a snake slithering down to the ground. There are light shows after dark too. It can be very crowded on those two days, so plan ahead. It’s fun to go other times too. but you won’t see the snake come down the pyramid.
6. Go exploring and find an adventure! Try zip lining <check out the video below>, drive some ATV’s, boating in an underground cenote. How about tandem skydiving?
I’ve been watching the parachutes land on the beach in front of the condo for years. They hit their spot every time!
In the ocean, you can try flyboarding with this contraption attached to the bottom of your feet that sprays the water at high pressure thereby making you fly! If that’s not for you, there’s always parasailing, jetskiing, or kiteboarding.
7. Talk to the locals – The Indigenous people are the Mayans. They are kind, friendly, loving people. They are very family oriented. The rapid growth of Playa del Carmen has brought people from all parts of the world to visit, retire, or start a new life. There are many cultures and nationalities blended together in paradise. Take some time to enjoy learning about where people are from and how they ended up in Playa del Carmen.
8. Venture out of the city of Playa del Carmen and see more of the Yucatan peninsula. There are many places to go but, I would start with Isla Holbox (Holbox Island). Holbox is a beautiful, beach island to the west of Cancun and straight north from Playa del Carmen. Most of it is a national game preserve. The area designated for people is on the far western end. It’s about a 1.5 hour drive from Playa on the new highway. The highway was cut through virgin jungle and required some special accommodations for the resident Spider Monkeys. You will see rope ladders crossing the highway at regular intervals so that they may cross safely. If you go in the early morning or late evening, you are more likely to see them. They travel in family groups.
The highway ends after about an hour and you will begin traveling through quaint little towns and villages on your way to the port city of Chiquila to take the ferry to Isla Holbox. Make at least one stop along the way in the town of Solferino. Solferino is home to a 1000 year old tree. There are signs pointing to the right in both Spanish and English. The tree is right on the road and it’s free. The locals across the street have done their best to create a “park” with walking paths for a fee. But, the main attraction is right on the road.
The ferry to Holbox leaves from Chiquila and runs about once an hour. But you can take a private boat for about the same price. You will need to pay to park your car since no cars are allowed on Isla Holbox.
Golf carts are the primary means of transportation on Holbox. You can drive golf carts on the beaches and the sand roads. When the ferry drops you at Holbox, you will want to seek out a golf cart rental. There are plenty of them available. Once you have it, take your time to drive around and check out all of the new homes and boutique hotels being built. Stop at one of the many beachside cafes and enjoy a cool drink and maybe some fresh ceviche. Everyone is so friendly on Holbox, you’ll make friends quickly.
9. While you’re on Isla Holbox, go swim with the Whale Sharks – If you’re traveling between mid-May and August, you should not miss the chance to swim with the largest fish in the ocean…the Whale Shark. Unlike other sharks, a Whale sharks diet consists of plankton and krill, not meat or people. Plankton is plentiful in the Gulf of Mexico along the North Yucatan during the summer months. Holbox and Isla Mujeres are the two best places to depart from for Whale Shark tours. The guides know where the whale sharks are at on any given day and they will take you to them in the boat. Once there you will jump in and swim alongside the Whale Sharks!! They are completely indifferent to humans.
10. Relax and enjoy the beauty of Playa del Carmen. Read a good book under a Palm Tree on the Beach – Yes, I’m getting old and stodgy, but who doesn’t love this!! Especially when your drinks are delivered to your chair…HEAVEN.
Make a point to watch at least one sunrise over the Caribbean. The spectrum of vivid colors is glorious. There’s something magical about the Caribbean. I can spend hours just relaxing on my deck with a cold drink or a cup of coffee. After all, it’s all about the Caribbean and the beach for me. It just never gets old!
Here's another point of view on the best things to do in Riviera Maya.
All content and photographs owned and copyrighted by Terry Frazee. Thanks to Robin Swenson for the photos that she has provided me here and over the years. She is a treasure.