The Best Things to do in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

The 15 Best Things to do in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Overlooking the golden sand of the Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen is one of the best beach destinations in Mexico. Located an hour’s drive south of Cancun, this ever-expanding city has a more laid-back feel when compared to the all-inclusive resorts of its more popular neighbor.

Sure, you’ll find fancy hotels and busy bars in Playa del Carmen, but you’ll also find quiet tavernas, street food stands, and tempting taquerias offering local eats and drinks. There’s Mexican culture, too, with the Frida Kahlo Museum being one of the must-do things in Playa del Carmen and the Rio Secreto offering a unique insight into the Maya Underworld. 

You can spend the day soaking up the sun on the beach, swimming with the turtles at Akumal, or taking the ferry across to Cozumel. Adventure parks like Xcaret and Xel-Ha are right on your doorstep, and quirky attractions like the 3D Museum of Wonders are perfect for a rainy day.

With so many great things to do, you might not know where to start. That’s why we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Playa del Carmen for you. Keep to these fun and unique Playa del Carmen bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an incredible time exploring this gorgeous corner of Mexico!

The 15 Best Things to do in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

1. Lounge on the Beach

Best Things to do in Playa del Carmen: Go to the Beach

You can’t visit Playa del Carmen without visiting the beach. After all, the city has the word “beach” in its name (playa means beach in Spanish!), and Playa del Carmen is lined with mile upon mile of soft, white ribbons of sand.

This is the heart of the Riviera Maya, and even the worst beaches here are some of the best in Mexico. Stroll along the seafront, and you’ll find restaurants and bars spilling out onto the Playa del Carmen beach, which sits in front of the city’s Centro district, just off Quinta Avenida. You can walk the length of Playa del Carmen’s main beach when the tide is out, and while access is free, you can also pay for sun loungers and umbrellas. 

Keep walking north, cross over the Muelle, and you’ll find yourself on Playa Mamitas, one of the best beaches in Playa del Carmen. Located next to the Grand Hyatt, Playa Mamitas has a reputation for its lively entertainment, which includes live music, events, and festivals, often hosted by the popular Mamita’s Beach Club, where you can enjoy great food and cold beer. 

Keep going north, and Playa Punta Esmeralda offers seclusion, white sand, and a turquoise lagoon that was made for swimming. To the south of Centro, Playacar is home to fancy resorts and gated communities, but the beautiful beach is free for all to enjoy. 


2. Stroll Along Quinta Avenida

Fun Things to do in Playa del Carmen: Quinta Avenida

Playa del Carmen’s simple grid layout makes it super easy to get around, but there’s one particular street where you’ll be spending more time than most. Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) is Playa del Carmen’s central high street, and you’ll love how almost all of its perfectly straight, five-mile route is pedestrianized. 

Quinta Avenida runs parallel to the main beach in Playa del Carmen, which means you’ll be using the street to get around during your stay. At one end is the Playa del Carmen bus station, and at the other, you’ll find the city’s big hotels and resorts. In between, Quinta Avenida is lined by boutique shops, tacky souvenir stands, high-end restaurants, lowbrow bars, museums, galleries, hostels, and apartments. 

Take a walk during the day, and you can pick up a new pair of sunglasses or a Playa del Carmen T-shirt to take home with you. By early afternoon, the bars are already starting to swell, and by the time the sun has set, the crowd at Señor Frog’s is already on the tequila shots and ice-cold margaritas!


3. Visit the Frida Kahlo Museum 

What to do in Playa del Carmen: Frida Kahlo Museum

One of the most popular things to see in Playa del Carmen is the Frida Kahlo Museum. Dedicated to the life and work of Frida Kahlo, one of Mexico’s most famous 20th-century artists, you’ll love the colorful mural of the lady herself that awaits you at the entrance on Quinta Avenida. 

Frida Kahlo was born in 1907, and if you’ve visited her family home in Coyoacan, Mexico City – which is also a museum – you’ll know that she had a troubled upbringing when she was left with lifelong injuries after being hit by a tram. Her pain contributed to her art, while her left-wing beliefs led her to become part of the Mexican Communist Party in the late 1920s. 

It was here that Frida Kahlo met Diego Rivera, another titan of the Mexican art world, who was renowned for the murals he created depicting Mexican life and history. Kahlo and Rivera’s relationship, often fraught, took on a life of its own, and there’s an entire room dedicated to this period of her life at the Frida Kahlo Museum in Playa del Carmen. 

The museum has few of Kahlo’s artworks on display. Instead, it’s an exploration of her life, her beliefs, and her artistic style, rather than being a traditional art gallery. Once you’ve delved into her world, you can then enjoy a bite to eat at the Frida Kahlo Restaurant.


4. Take a Food Tour

Unique Things to do in Playa del Carmen: Food Tour

A food tour is one of the top things to do in Playa del Carmen. It’s all too easy to play it safe and stick to the busy restaurants, with their English menus, on Quinta Avenida, but there’s little authenticity to be found here. 

Instead, join a local guide for a tour of Playa del Carmen’s best street food stalls, marketplaces, tavernas, and taquerias. You won’t find enchiladas and fajitas on these menus, but your taste buds will be awed by the taste of tamales, sated by the sumptuous smell of sopes, and tantalized by the endless choice of tacos.

Eating with Carmen offers a three-hour foodie/walking tour of Playa del Carmen, which takes you to the city’s lesser-known districts in search of truly local eats and drinks. There are plenty of options for both meat eaters and vegetarians alike!


5. Hang Out at Parque Los Fundadores

Fun Things to do in Playa del Carmen: Parque Los Fundadores

One of the most recognizable Playa del Carmen attractions is the Portal Maya, an intricate bronze sculpture that stands some 50 feet tall. The sculpture, created by artist Arturo Taravez, depicts two women forming a tall archway as they clasp their hands together. 

Portal Maya is dedicated to Mexico’s Maya history and culture. Ball game hoops are woven into the design and the date marking the end of the last Maya calendar cycle in 2012 is carved into the bronze. The sculpture takes pride of place in Parque Los Fundadores (Founders’ Park), where it’s become a popular photo stop in the city.

You’ll find Parque Los Fundadores at the southern end of Quinta Avenida, just opposite the bus station. This popular public park is home to sculptures, an “I Love Playa del Carmen” sign (which is another great photo stop!), and plenty of street entertainers, food stalls, and souvenir stands.


6. Be Amazed by the 3D Museum of Wonders

Rainy day? Perhaps you need to entertain the kids, or maybe you just need a break from the sun – if that sounds like you, then why not visit the excellent 3D Museum of Wonders?

This is one of the most fun things to do in Playa del Carmen, and you’ll love immersing yourself in the interactive displays and galleries created by leading 3D illustrators. Step inside the museum, and you’ll be amazed by the realistic design of the 3D images, which depict everything from giant party cakes to life-size animals. 

The paintings and pictures literally pop out of the frames, and you’ll have an awesome time being photographed next to monsters, poker-playing dogs, and famous scenes from history. The diversity of the displays is impressive, but you’ll be more impressed when you learn that the museum’s primary artist started out as a humble entertainer painting 3D scenes on pavements. 


7. Cool Off in a Cenote

What to do in Playa del Carmen: Cenote

The Yucatan Peninsula’s unique geology contributed to the formation of freshwater-filled sinkholes called cenotes, which are incredibly unique to the region. The Maya believed these sinkholes were sacred, building their cities nearby and often leaving sacrifices to their gods in the waters. 

Today, cenotes have become one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s most important tourist attractions, and there are many in the Playa del Carmen area that you’ll love visiting. One of the best is Cenote Azul (Blue Cenote), which is an easy 20-minute drive south of the city. This open cenote is known for its shallow, crystal-clear waters, and it’s a popular place to spend the day swimming and cliff jumping. 

Cenote Dos Ojos is the perfect place for snorkeling through underground caverns (join a tour so you don’t get lost!), while Jardin del Eden Cenotes is popular with cave divers looking to get deep into the underground caverns below the Riviera Maya. 


8. Have an Adventure at Xcaret Park

Best Things to do in Playa del Carmen: Xcaret Park

A day out at Xcaret Park is one of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen, and given that this adventure park is just a 15-minute drive from Centro, there’s no excuse to not book your ticket!

Xcaret Park is technically a theme park, but step through the gates and into lush tropical rainforests, and you’ll soon realize it’s much more than this. The park pays homage to Maya traditions and history, as well as the beautiful nature of the Yucatan Peninsula. 

Built around the preserved ruins of a Maya temple (named Xcaret), the park is home to underground rivers, cenotes (freshwater sinkholes), ziplines, and a Maya village that merges culture, nature, and adventure into one.

You can snorkel into underground caverns or explore the coral reefs off the beach. You can enjoy entertaining shows that showcase Maya dance and games. You can follow boardwalks through the jungle, relax at the Temazcal Spa, and enjoy sumptuous Yucatec cuisine (try the cochinita pibil) at the restaurants. There’s even an all-inclusive Xcaret Hotel where you can spend the night, which is particularly useful if you’d love to be the first person in the park in the mornings. 


9. Snorkel and Swim at Xel-Ha Park

Fun Things to do in Playa del Carmen: Xel Ha Park

You can enjoy the Yucatan Peninsula’s “cenote culture” to the extreme with a day out at Xel-Ha Park. Located halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, this “natural” waterpark offers an all-inclusive package of unlimited drinks, food, and snorkeling.

This water park isn’t about the big slides of rubber dingy rapids. Xel-Ha Park is built around a natural lagoon that leads right out into the Caribbean Sea, creating a sheltered snorkeling zone that’s brimming with marine life. 

You can take a tour of the underground rivers that feed the lagoon, you can rent a propulsion device to get you out to the coral reefs, or you can join a power boat journey along the coast. Back on dry land, you can zipline through the trees, ride a bicycle through the rainforest, and gorge on the all-you-can-eat buffet! 


10. Venture into the Depths at Rio Secreto 

A journey into the depths of the “Maya Underworld” is one of the most unique things to do in Playa del Carmen. Beneath the surface of Playa del Carmen, you can visit Rio Secreto (Secret River), an underground river that’s just begging to be explored!

Strap on your helmet and pull your life jacket on tight because you’re in for an otherworldly excursion like no other. You’ll be guided through darkened caverns and caves as you wade and swim along a river that the Maya thought led to the underworld. 

The standard Rio Secreto tour allows you to explore around a mile of the underground river system, but join the “Plus” tour, and you’ll be lowered down on ropes to access secret caves where few people have ever set foot! 


11. Snorkel with the Turtles

What to do in Playa del Carmen: Turtles in Akumal

A half-hour drive south of Playa del Carmen, along the beautiful shores of the Riviera Maya, brings you to the small resort town of Akumal. A few hotels, resorts, and restaurants line the coast here, but it’s the sea turtles that Akumal is famous for. 

Be careful where you stand because from May to October, the beaches here are an important nesting ground for several key species of turtle, including green turtles and loggerheads. Local conservation programs aim to protect the beach and the nesting turtles, and if you’re here at the right time of year, you can learn more on guided tours of the beaches. 

Playa del Carmen Things to do: Turtles in Akumal

The rest of the year, the shallow coral reefs off the beach are teeming with sea turtles. You can literally jump straight in, strap on a mask and snorkel, and be swimming with these amazing sea creatures within minutes. 

The main beach in Akumal has, rather unsurprisingly, become quite busy in recent years because of this, and you may want to consider a snorkeling tour to more distant reefs in order to escape the crowds and to give the turtles breathing space.

Just north of Akumal, you can also visit the Yal-Ku Lagoon, a beautiful swimming area that leads out into the open sea. The sheltered lagoon is often frequented by stingrays and turtles, while the meeting of freshwater and saltwater is an unusual transition to swim through. 


12. Explore Chichen Itza

Best Things to do in Playa del Carmen: Chichen Itza

When you’re staying in Playa del Carmen, you’re perfectly placed to visit one of the best sights in Mexico. A 2.5-hour drive inland brings you to Chichen Itza, where you can spend the day exploring the ruins of this once-powerful Maya city. 

You’ll recognize the perfectly symmetrical shape of the Temple of Kukulcan as soon as you lay your eyes on it. This towering temple formed the centerpiece of the city of Chichen Itza and rises high above the forest that surrounds the city. Tour through the excavated remains of Chichen Itza, and you can visit the Great Ball Game Court, the Temple of the Warriors, the Sacred Cenote, and much more.

We highly recommend getting a local guide to learn more about Chichen Itza’s history. The city is thought to have developed around the 6th century AD, and by the 8th century AD, Chichen Itza was one of the foremost powers on the Yucatan Peninsula. 

But the city fell into a long period of decline, and by the time the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century AD, Chichen Itza was already depopulated and being reclaimed by the rainforest. 

For many hundreds of years, this once-great Maya civilization lay hidden from view. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the importance of Chichen Itza was realized by archaeologists, who began a concerted excavation and preservation program that continues to this day. 

Visit Chichén Itzá


13. Visit the Ruins and Beach Clubs of Tulum

Must do things in Playa del Carmen: Tulum

If you had visited Tulum just a decade ago, you’d have found a small, sleepy town sitting in the shadow of one of the best-preserved sets of Maya ruins anywhere on the coast. The ruins are still there, of course, but Tulum has since ballooned into one of the chicest destinations in the world. 

Tulum has become a playground for influencers and celebrities, a status which was cemented during the pandemic when the town remained one of the few destinations without restrictions. Long gone are the days when backpackers would sleep in hammocks, and instead, the world’s best chefs and hoteliers operate lavish beach clubs, bars, and restaurants, while guests stay in Instagram-friendly resorts by the sea. 

From Playa del Carmen, Tulum is an hour’s drive to the south. It’s a fascinating town to visit, not least for the impressive Maya ruins that overlook the Caribbean Sea, but because this is where the outside world collides with the Yucatan Peninsula. 

After you’ve explored the remains of the Maya city, spend the day hopping from beach clubs to bars, head inland to visit the equally exceptional Maya ruins of Coba, or stay on for an infamous jungle rave late into the night!


14. Take the Ferry to Cozumel

Best Things to do in Playa del Carmen: Cozumel

Look out from the sandy beaches of Playa del Carmen, and you’ll catch a glimpse of Cozumel in the distance. This gorgeous tropical island is just a 45-minute ferry ride away, and a day trip here is easily one of the best Playa del Carmen activities.

Cozumel is 30 miles long and only 10 miles wide, and while its sheltered western coast has been heavily developed for tourism, the eastern shores – which are regularly hit by hurricanes in the summer – are relatively wild. We recommend renting a car or joining a Jeep Safari for the day, so you can explore the best beaches and nature on Cozumel. 

From the ferry port, you can spend the day driving around the island, stopping off in secluded coves, popping into a beach club for a drink, or hopping into the sea for a snorkel. There are Maya ruins, nature preserves, and some of the best-preserved coral reefs in Mexico. 

At the end of the day, head back to the ferry port, and 45 minutes later (accompanied by the onboard mariachi bands that entertain the tourists!), you’ll be back on Quinta Avenida.


15. Brave a Night Out

Cool Things to do in Playa del Carmen: Night Out

The partygoers have made their way south from Cancun, and Playa del Carmen now offers one of the best nights out on the Riviera Maya. As you’d expect, the action is centered along Quinta Avenida, where the best restaurants, bars, and clubs await you.

Start with a few sunset drinks on the beach, then prepare yourself for the raucous entertainment that never seems to end until sunrise. Señor Frog’s is the place for endless shots and frozen margaritas (but be prepared to be dragged into drinking games!). 

Best Things to do in Playa del Carmen: Night Out

You can even hit up Coco Bongo Playa del Carmen. This infamous entertainment club has a branch by Quinta Avenida, where you can dance the night away to tacky tunes and wild entertainers. Other popular clubs include Mandala, which is always packed out, and La Vaquita, which is rather bizarrely known for its cow-themed decor. 

There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Playa del Carmen. What’s your favorite thing to do in Playa del Carmen?


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Author

  • Richard Collett

    Richard is an award-winning travel writer based in Southwest England who’s addicted to traveling off the beaten track. He’s traveled to 75 countries and counting in search of intriguing stories, unusual destinations, and cultural curiosities.

    Richard loves traveling the long way round over land and sea, and you’ll find him visiting quirky micronations and breakaway territories as often as he’s found lounging on a beach (which is a lot).

    When he’s not writing for BBC Travel, National Geographic, or Lonely Planet, you can find Richard writing for the Wandering Wheatleys or updating his off-beat travel blog, Travel Tramp.

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