There are so many incredible things to do in Playa del Carmen that it can be hard to sort through the options.
Well, I’m here to help. After three months living here, I’ve had plenty of time to try out many of the awesome activities in Playa del Carmen: and I’ve come up with this list of the 21 absolute best things to do in Playa del Carmen in order to help you make the most of your trip to this beautiful town on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera.
From the secret beach spots, to where to find unique local dishes, to the best day trips, I’ve got you covered with an exciting array of things to see in Playa del Carmen. This is one of the best places to visit in Mexico for sure.
Oh, and you’re definitely going to want to try #17 (some people love it and some hate it, but you’ve got to check it out yourself to find out!)….
1. Take a Dip in a Cenote (one of the most refreshing things to do in Playa del Carmen!)
Believe it or not, the best places to swim in Playa del Carmen aren’t in the ocean! Ask any local where to take a dip and you’re certain to get the same answer: visit a cenote.
What’s a cenote?
Well, I’m glad you asked. Cenotes are essentially underground swimming holes formed where limestone bedrock gives way to underground rivers and springs. There are thousands of them in the Yucatan peninsula and visiting one should be at the top of any list of things to do in Playa del Carmen.
There are many cenotes to choose from, but my personal favourite is Cenote Azul. You can visit on your own by taking the “collectivos” that leave for Tulum on Calle 2, you can rent a car to get there (just be sure you have travel insurance covering Mexico), or you can join up as part of a tour. Oh, and if you’re certified, you can even go diving in many of the cenotes!
☞ SEE ALSO: Submerging Into Centoes – A Cave Dive in Mexico
2. Explore Chichen Itza
Named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza are a spectacular site to behold.
One of the most important archaeological sites in all of Mexico, Chichen Itza is located deep in the jungle, and a bit of a challenge to reach. You can rent a car and make the two-hour drive yourself, or check out any of the many tours from Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza.
Pro tip: if you can, get up early and visit the temples before the crowds and the heat set in!
3. Try Traditional Mayan Food (and Grasshoppers) at La Perla Pixan Cuisine
Finding authentic local cuisine in Playa del Carmen can be a bit of a challenge, as the tourist zone is filled with imported restaurant chains started by celebrity chefs.
But nestled in the hustle and bustle of La Quinta Avenida (Playa’s main pedestrian drag) is La Perla, a gem of a restaurant that serves up traditional and utterly delicious Mayan food with nightly performances of live music.
Try the traditional tlayuda or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, any of the several dishes made with grasshoppers! Eating authentic Mexican food is one of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen, and Mexico as a whole.
4. Chill Out at Lido’s Beach Club
For a place whose first name literally means “beach,” it can be surprisingly difficult to find a comfortable and affordable stretch of sand. Most of Playa del Carmen’s prime beachfront is consumed by exclusive resorts or beach clubs charging exorbitant prices for the use of a beach chair.
Thank goodness, then, for Lido’s beach club, where there’s no fee for using the beach loungers and no minimum spend. Just pay for whatever you order, and enjoy the comfy green loungers or the swings at the laid-back bar.
5. Swim in the Rooftop Pool at Be Playa
One of the most relaxing things to do in Playa del Carmen is to hang out at one of the city’s many rooftop pools. My favorite of the bunch is the pool that sits atop the stylish Be Playa hotel.
You’ll need to spend a minimum of 200 pesos per person to enjoy the pool, but it’s well worth it and that total is still only half the minimum spend at most other rooftop pools in the area. The drinks here are solid and the pool is rarely overcrowded. It’s a great way to beat the heat year-round!
6. Wait in Line at El Fogon
I know what you’re thinking: why in the world would waiting in line be on a list of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen?
Well, try the food at El Fogon first and then we’ll see if you’re still asking that question.
Easily the most popular restaurant in Playa del Carmen, El Fogon is a Mexican cantina so busy that its main location on Avenue Constituyentes sports a sizeable line every night starting around 7:30 PM. Don’t worry though, the line moves fast, and the wait is well worth it (just ask the many locals who frequent the joint).
7. Take a Day Trip to Xpu Ha
There are many incredible beaches just a short ride away from Playa del Carmen, but my favorite is the secluded beach at Xpu Ha. You’ll need to either rent a car or take a collectivo minibus to get there, but the journey will reward you with access to a pristine white sand beach with clear water and without the crowds.
There is a 50 pesos entrance fee to the beach. You can get that back if you meet the minimum spend at one of the handful of beach clubs, or you can just bring your own towel and settle in on any of the many wide open stretches of sand.
8. Dine in a Cave at Alux Restaurant
Right off one of the busiest and most chaotic streets in Playa del Carmen is the understated entrance to the Alux restaurant.
You’ll feel like you’ve left the city behind as you descend into the spectacular underground cavern (complete with its own mini-cenote) that plays host to the restaurant. If you’re looking to splash out, Alux also offers some of the best fine dining in town.
9. Check Out the Frida Kahlo Museum
One of the most popular things to do in Playa del Carmen is to visit the stylish Frida Kahlo Museum. Conveniently located on La Quinta, the museum is open everyday from 9 am to 11 pm and the entrance fee for the general public is around $15 USD.
Inside you’ll find a series of exhibits dedicated to the life and history of Mexico’s famous portrait artist (note that, unfortunately, there usually aren’t original works on display).
10. Try Some Elote
Elote is a local street food dish that is essentially grilled corn covered in a sort of mayonnaise and cayenne pepper paste.
Ok, I realize that doesn’t sound super appetizing but trust me… it is.
You can find elote at street vendor stalls around town for juts a dollar or so: the best bet for finding it is on Avenida Juarez around the intersection with Calle 15.
11. Go Salsa Dancing at Zenzi
One of the most fun things to do in Playa del Carmen at night is to get your groove on. And there’s no better place to do that then Zenzi, an upbeat but not-too crowded joint with live music and a vibrant dance floor. Thursdays and Saturdays are usually salsa nights, but check the schedule on to be sure.
Have two left feet? That’s fine, you’ll still love the fun ambiance, affordable prices, and the incredible beachside location.
12. Explore the Caverns at Rio Secreto
Have you ever been swimming inside a cave before?
Well, if not, you definitely need to check out this unique thing to do in Playa del Carmen.
Located just a few minutes outside the city, Rio Secreto is a complex of five stunning caves that are filled with underground rivers and springs. You’ll don a wetsuit and join a small guided tour through a cave that includes the incredible experience of swimming inside a pitch black cave! It’s definitely one of the awesome things to see in Playa del Carmen.
13. Ride a Jet Ski
At at least $50 per hour, it’s not a cheap activity in Playa del Carmen, but renting a jet ski is definitely an exciting way to enjoy the water in and around Playa del Carmen.
You can find vendors renting jet skis along La Quinta Avenida, or book a package tour including jet skis in advance.
14. Stroll the Shops of La Quinta
The main artery of Playa del Carmen is La Quinta (5th Street), is a vibrant pedestrian street running well over a kilometer parallel to the beach. La Quinta is lined with hundreds of shops and vendors offering everything from designer handbags and questionable pharmaceuticals, to funky trinkets and unique artwork.
Sure, it’s more than a little touristy, but a visit to La Quinta should be on every list of things to do in Playa del Carmen.
15. Go Paddleboarding at Fusion
The Caribbean water in Playa del Carmen is blissfully still, especially right before sunset, which makes it a great place to try out paddleboarding.
Paddleboarding rentals or lessons can be arranged through Aloha Paddle Club, starting at around $45 USD. The location is at the Fusion beach bar, which also makes a great stop for a drink or three after you’ve come back off the water from this awesome activity in Playa del Carmen.
16. Party the Night Away at Coco Bongo
Ok, so it may be a little cliché, but there’s no denying that Coco Bongo is the mainstay of Playa del Carmen’s throbbing nightlife scene.
At over $80 U.S. dollars for a ticket, a night at Coco Bongo doesn’t come cheap. But your admission includes drinks, a spectacular show featuring rotating acts (this past May saw a Star Wars-themed show), and a night you won’t easily forget (or maybe you will….).
17. Try a Marquesita
A marquesita is a local dessert that sort of resembles a crunchy hand-held crepe. The traditional version is served with Nutella and Edam cheese, which makes for quite the unique flavour combination, though you can also get them with peanut butter, cream cheese, chocolate syrup, or a variety of other toppings.
Marquesita are served up by mobile street food vendors, so you may need to keep your eyes open to find one. The best places to look for them are on Calle 2 and Avenida Juarez around their intersections with Avenida 20.
18. Escape the Crowds at Punta Esmerelda
Playa del Carmen’s main beaches get crowded quickly, so do like the locals do and head north to the much quieter, much less commercial beaches at Punta Esmerelda. It’s one of my personal favorite places in Playa del Carmen.
You won’t find huge beach clubs here, but you will find a small cenote and some of the best beaches in Playa del Carmen. You can get to Punta Esmerelda by taking a short taxi ride from town, or by walking north along the beach for 45-60 minutes from central Playa.
19. Visit Parque Fundadores
Playa del Carmen doesn’t have many traditional points of interest (the city is largely built around tourism), but one the more interesting places in Playa del Carmen that you can find is in Parque Fundadores.
There, you’ll find the Portal Maya Statue, a gorgeous sculpture depicting two figures rising up to touch each other. You’ll also street vendors selling snacks and wares, as well as the occasional public performance by dancers.
20. Swim With Sea Turtles
Just a short ride south of Playa del Carmen lies the quiet beach outpost of Akumal, one of the best places on the planet to go swimming with sea turtles.
You can access Akumal as part of the many guided tours that offer snorkeling here, or you can take a collectivo south from Playa del Carmen, walk to the beach, and rent your own gear. You don’t even need a boat to swim with the turtles – you can usually find several just a short distance off the shore!
21. Take a Ferry to Cozumel
Hop on a ferry from Playa del Carmen’s main dock and in 45 minutes you’ll find yourself whisked away to the island of Cozumel, home to some of the bluest water in this part of Mexico.
Once in Cozumel, you can enjoy the world-class diving and snorkelling scene. Or you can rent a car (my favourite: the old VW convertible beetles!) and take a drive around the island, stopping at the many beach clubs that dot the route.
Ready for Playa del Carmen?!
There’s so much to do in Playa del Carmen that you might feel overwhelmed with all these amazing options, but the truth is that you can’t go wrong with any of the items on this list!
I’ll leave you with a quick tip to help you save some cash during your stay in Playa del Carmen: while many vendors accept US dollars and the ATM on La Quinta even dispense them, the exchange rate you’ll get is likely to be a huge rip off. So pay with pesos and use the money you’ll save to do a few more things in Playa del Carmen.