A Travel Guide to Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen has the reputation of being a party capital. Although I think he deserves the title in many ways, there is also much more to it than meets the eye. I lived a few hours from Playa for about a year and made frequent trips there to visit friends, go to the beach and explore what else there was to do besides going to the clubs. I’ve often been surprised to discover that this bad party town is actually a great place to connect with nature, hang out with the locals and learn about Mexican culture. The list below includes my favorite unexpected things to do there.
Best hotels in Playa del Carmen:
1. Playacar Beach
This is my favorite beach in Playa del Carmen because it is a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle near Quinta Avenida (one of the main shopping areas). Playacar Beach has the same lush white sand and clear water as other beaches in the area, but with half the people or even less — and the further south you walk on Playacar, the fewer people there are. It is a public beach and there is only one large resort, unlike others nearby that are lined with hotels from one side to the other.
One of the great attractions of Playacar is snorkeling. You will find a reef near the coast at the southern end; the shallow and calm sea is perfect for observing corals and marine life.
2. More Hotels in Punta Esmeralda
Playa Esmeralda eliminates the pressure of choosing between a day at the beach and a day at the cenote, because this paradise has both. There, a large cenote opens onto the ocean on one side. The crystal clear water is an absolute dream, and the palm trees and white sand make it even sweeter.
Playa Esmeralda is located on the north side of Playa del Carmen. The best time to visit is during the dry season (December to March) because the water is calmer and shallower. Come early because there are a lot of people in the afternoon.
3. Río Secreto
The Riviera Maya (the region that includes Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Cancún) has some of the longest underground rivers in the world. It is they who feed the cenotes, and in the cave systems created by the rivers there are underground caves that you can visit. Río Secreto is one of them, and it’s definitely not a place you want to miss.
You can reach Río Secreto with a guide. Along the way, you will see huge stalactites and stalagmites as you meander through the labyrinthine caves.
4. Parque De Fundadores
The big picture you see here, one of the most important monuments of Playa del Carmen, is a representation of a Mayan portal. The Mayan portal leads to the Parque Los Fundadores, which is one of the first squares in the city. Go down a few stairs and you will arrive at another popular public beach.
The statue is the perfect spot for a quick photo, and the beach behind it is a fun place to people watch or have a picnic. There are a lot of people in the afternoon, so go earlier in the day. I love this place because there are many street vendors selling antojitos (snacks), such as fresh fruit with chili lime salt, elote (grilled corn), churros and many others.
5. Azul Cenote
Just south of Puerto Aventuras (just a 15-minute drive from Playa del Carmen) you will find the Cenote Azul, an open cenote that looks like a pond, with cliff overhangs from which you can jump into the water. The water here is so clear that you can look several meters into the rocky depths.
The jungles surrounding make this place feel completely removed from the busy streets of Playa del Carmen. It is the ideal place to go swimming and enjoy the beauty of the Riviera Maya. Arrive early (it opens at 8 am) to enjoy the tranquility before the crowds arrive.
What could be more impressive than the Caribbean Sea from the beach? I see it from the sky. Soar above the turquoise waters of the Caribbean on an exciting parasailing ride. From above you can see the abundant reefs off the coast of Playa del Carmen, as well as the endless expanses of white sand and palm trees. Book your parasailing adventure here.
7. Xcaret Park
This is a theme park like no other. Nestled in the Mayan jungle, Xcaret combines the rugged nature of the Riviera Maya with adventurous sensations that are sure to get your adrenaline pumping. Here you can snorkel in the coral reefs, zip line in the jungle, hike through the ruins, etc. Not only that, but there are nightly fire shows and other exciting events throughout the year.
The park also hopes to promote education around the sacred traditions of the Mayan people. There are shows throughout the park that feature centuries-old dances, stories and even games. Buy your Xcaret Park entrance ticket here.
8. Street art tour
Artists from all over the world travel to Mexico to leave their mark, and Playa del Carmen is no exception. The city is decorated with colorful murals at every turn, especially in the center.
The best way to immerse yourself in the street art scene is to take a tour of Playa del Carmen Art Tours.