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Playa del Carmen Travel Guide

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Once a sleepy little beach town, Playa del Carmen is now the crown jewel of Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Its white sand beaches and shimmering Caribbean waters attract beach lovers from around the world.

Of course, there is more to the city than just the beach. The festive atmosphere, delicious food, and fantastic shopping are also a major draw.

Whether you stay inside the city or nearby, Playa del Carmen’s “5th Avenue” is a must-visit attraction. From high-end spots to small shops owned by locals, the pedestrian zone stretches for over 2 miles. Lined with stores, bars, and restaurants, 5th Avenue is the perfect place for an afternoon stroll or a lively evening out on the town.

Want to explore the surrounding area while you’re there? Tours of nearby archeological sites – like Coba, Tulum, and Chichen Itza – run daily. You can even hop the ferry and take a day trip to Cozumel, or sign up for a snorkeling tour to visit a cenote or one world’s most beautiful coral reefs! It can all happen from Playa del Carmen.

Playacar Palace – This 5-star all-inclusive resort offers excellent food and solid rooms at a relatively reasonable price point. Even better, the location can’t be beat. Located in the highly desirable Playacar neighborhood, this hotel is just steps away from the southern entrance to 5th Avenue. Hang out by the pool and enjoy the activity around the swim up bar, or relax while listening to the waves lap up on the beach. If you want easy access to all that Play del Carmen has to offer, it is hard to go wrong with Playacar Palace. Check rates and availability >>

Hilton Playa del Carmen – Looking for an adults only all-inclusive resort? Look no further than the Hilton Playa del Carmen. Located just east of 5th Avenue, this resort sits directly on the beach – providing a great space to unwind while keeping you right in the middle of the action. Check rates and availability >>

Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen – The Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen resort is a great place that the entire family can enjoy. Enjoy the peaceful oasis of this downtown hotel’s stunning pool and beautiful beach. When you’re ready for some more excitement, just walk a city block to immerse yourself in the exciting dining, shopping, and nightlife on 5th Avenue. Check rates and availability >>

🌴🌴🌴 The Beach – The beautiful white sand beaches and crystal clear waters are two of the Playa del Carmen’s biggest draws. And, with beautiful beaches comes a whole host of water activities to enjoy – including swimming, snorkeling, boat rides, and more. Although summer prices tend to be lower, if you’ll be spending most your time on the beach, the best time to visit is from fall through spring. This can help you avoid potential issues with what has become an annual sargassum (seaweed) bloom.

🌴🌴🌴 5th Avenue – If you are staying in or near Playa del Carmen, a trip to 5th Avenue can’t be missed! Hundreds of shops, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs line this pedestrian zone, providing the heartbeat for the city and exuding a palpable energy you won’t find just sitting at your resort. Do yourself a favor and spend an afternoon or evening exploring 5th Avenue. Trust me, you won’t regret it!

🌴🌴 Snorkeling & Diving – Playa del Carmen (and the surrounding area) is home to some of the world’s best snorkeling and diving. Whether you want to explore the area’s coral reefs, snorkel in a cenote, or swim through an underground river, there are dozens of tours that can make your dream a reality. Browse Snorkeling/Diving Tours >>

🌴 Tulum – The walled city of Tulum is one of the most picturesque archeological sites you’ll find. Although not as old as Chichen Itza or Coba, the ruins of Tulum stand guard on a cliff – keeping peaceful watch over the beautiful sandy beaches below. Tulum lies about an hour’s drive south of Playa del Carmen, so you can get there by bus or taxi if you’d like. However, we recommend taking a day trip with a licensed tour company – which will likely combine your trip with stops at Coba and a cenote. Plan to spend your whole day on the tour. Browse Tulum Tours >>

🌴 Coba – Visit an ancient Mayan city and climb the famous pyramid at the Coba archeological site. There are dozens of tours that include a trip to Coba, many of which combine it with a visit to Tulum and a cenote. Plan for this to be an all-day event. Browse Coba Tours >>

🌴 Chichen Itza – Located about a 2.5 hour drive from Playa del Carmen, the archeological site of Chichen Itza is also within reach. The ruins of this ancient Mayan city are extremely well preserved and worth a visit if you are interested. Keep in mind that tours of the area will likely be an all day event. Browse Chichen Itza Tours >>

Xcaret Park – On your way from the airport, you’ll see a ton of signs for Xcaret. Sure, it is touristy, but it is still fun for the whole family. This combination resort and “ecological park” offers activities like snorkeling, river rafting, ziplining, and much more. Compare Xcaret Tickets >>

Xel-Ha Park – Xel-Ha is another ecological park that is a ton of fun for families who enjoy water activities. Enjoy snorkeling in their natural “aquarium,” floating down the lazy river, jumping off a 5 meter (16.5 foot) cliff, and more. Compare Xel-Ha Tickets >>

(Key: 🌴🌴🌴=Must See, 🌴🌴=Make an Effort to Visit, 🌴=If You Have Time, None=Worth Mentioning)

Airport – Cancun International Airport (CUN) is the major airport for this area of Mexico. It is the second largest airport in Mexico, and most major airlines have at least one or two flights a day arriving and departing from Cancun.

Getting to/from Your Hotel – Playa del Carmen is located about 35 miles (56 km) south of the airport. If you drive directly to your hotel, this generally takes about an hour – depending on traffic. To get from the airport to your hotel, you typically have three options:

  1. Book a private transfer (highly recommended). – We always book a private transfer to our hotel, especially if we are staying in Playa del Carmen or Riviera Maya. They are reliable, fast, relatively inexpensive, and comfortable. Find private airport transfers here >>
  2. Utilize a free hotel transfer. – Many hotels offer free pickup at the airport. However, this could mean waiting for and riding with several other groups. It could also mean multiple stops on the way to your hotel, which could result in a long and (sometimes) uncomfortable ride.
  3. Take a taxi.

Getting Around Playa del Carmen – Although we have done it before, we do not recommend renting a car in Mexico. For travel inside of Playa del Carmen, we recommend walking or taking a taxi. For travel outside of Playa del Carmen, have your hotel call you a taxi or take a guided tour.

Tours and Activities