Choosing the best day trips from Playa del Carmen can be a tough decision.
I mean, in an area known for its natural beauty and adventure, there are just so many options for Playa del Carmen excursions!
I recently spent well over a month based in Playa del Carmen, exploring everything I could about the city and the amazing sites close by.
And let me tell you, there is a lot to see on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Whether you want to explore a new city, check out an island, learn all about Mayan history, or become one with nature, I’ve got you covered for the best day trips and excursions from Playa del Carmen.
Here is exactly what we’ll cover in this guide:
- 2 best city excursions
- 3 island escapes
- 3 best Mayan ruins tours
- 4 best theme parks
- 4 eco adventure tours.
And be sure to bookmark our top Mexico articles:
Ready to dive in? Let’s go:
⚠ WARNING FOR USA TRAVELERS TO MEXICO ⚠
Covid tests are now mandatory to fly to the USA. Many travelers are testing positive and put into expensive mandated quarantine instead of flying home (just read the horror stories in this USA Today article). If you do travel, be safe, make a plan for quarantine, and consider travel insurance. While not legally required yet, I feel like I’d be tempting fate without it during a pandemic. Plus, it’s actually pretty cheap! World Nomads is my personal go-to during covid times. But do your own research and stay safe out there!
Why Take a Day Trip from Playa del Carmen?
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Playa del Carmen is an awesome city to explore in its own right – it has 5-star food options, some seriously fun things to do, and some incredible beaches (PS – check out our Playa del Carmen Beach Guide to see my favs).
But while Playa del Carmen is great, staying in the city only scratches the surface of what the area is all about.
Taking day trips from Playa del Carmen will give you a much better overview of all the Mayan Riviera has to offer.
And with a million and one things to do, you won’t regret it!
For some added ideas for what to do, where to stay, and what to eat in Playa del Carmen, check out our Ultimate Guide to Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
And be sure to not miss our 17 Tips for Travel in Mexico. You definitely don’t want to mess up #2 on that list (unless you want to be horrifically embarrassed!).
The Best City Excursions from Playa del Carmen
City Excursion #1 – Tulum
The more laid-back answer to Playa del Carmen’s city vibe, Tulum is a bohemian escape full of Mayan ruins, boutique hotels, water-based adventures, and top-notch beaches,
Seriously though, the beaches – if you’re interested in being a total beach bum in Tulum, then our mega will help you find the perfect beach for you.
Meanwhile, Tulum town is a great place to go shopping, have a few drinks and socialize at a cool bar, or grab a bite at one of the many renowned restaurants.
Tulum is also the perfect town to visit if you have a vegetarian or vegan diet – there are plenty of food options.
How to Get to Tulum Town from Playa del Carmen:
If you opt-out of a guided tour, then you can get to Tulum independently a few different ways:
- Bus – The Mexican bus company ADO has a route from downtown Playa del Carmen to either the Tulum ruins or Tulum town.
- Drive – While driving in the Yucatan can take some getting used to (not all road rules are necessarily followed), the road from Playa del Carmen to Tulum is fairly easy to navigate. *Pro tip*: avoid rental car scams by reserving through Discover Car Hire.
- Colectivo – Colectivo’s are shared minibusses that are often much cheaper (and much more of an adventure) than the other options. There is a colectivo that goes from downtown Playa del Carmen to downtown Tulum town.
Tulum is about an hour from Playa del Carmen.
The Best Tulum Tours from Playa del Carmen
- Tulum insider’s bike: Maya ruins, cenote, Tulum Pueblo, Mayan bee farm & lunch – This highly-rated five-hour bike tour will have you exploring the Tulum Ruins, a nearby cenote, the shops and murals of Tulum town, and even a Mayan bee farm. Note that this tour is based in Tulum and pickup in Playa del Carmen will cost extra.
Or Stay Overnight at These Great Hotels…
City Excursion #2 – Valladolid
Valladolid is a colorful inland city with plenty to do and see and makes for a great day trip from Playa del Carmen.
While on the quieter side (compared to Playa del Carmen, anyway), Valladolid is bursting with culture and is a great place to go to get a real taste of local life in the Yucatan.
In Valladolid, you’ll find traditional Mayan restaurants, bustling markets, art exhibits, and some of the most famed cenotes on the peninsula.
For more ideas on what to do in Valladolid, check out our Ultimate Guide to Valladolid, Mexico.
How to Get to Valladolid from Playa del Carmen:
- Bus – If you opt-out of a guided tour to Valladolid, then I recommend taking the ADO bus. There are several bus times every single day, and you won’t have to deal with driving on bumpy roads with no shoulder. The bus from Playa del Carmen to Valladolid takes about an hour and a half.
The Best Valladolid Tours from Playa del Carmen
- Chichen Itza Private Mystical Tour from Riviera Maya – This tour lasts 7 – 9 hours and will take you on a private tour through Chichen Itza, Valladolid, and to a cenote. Lunch and round trip transportation are included.
Or Stay Overnight at These Great Hotels…
The Best Island Day Trips From Playa del Carmen
Island #1 – Isla Holbox
If you’re looking for a picture-perfect island on which to spend a day, then look no further than Isla Holbox.
A long, skinny island located in the North of the Yucatan, Isla Holbox is a largely untouched refuge full of boutique hotels and restaurants, crystal clear waters, and white sandy beaches.
Not to mention, Holbox has put strict laws in place to protect it from plastic waste, resorts, and pollution.
Golf carts are the name of the game in Holbox, as there is no pavement, and chances are you’ll find an easy-going set of fellow travelers when you arrive.
How to Get to Isla Holbox from Playa del Carmen:
- Bus & Ferry – To get to Holbox without a tour, take the ADO bus from downtown Playa del Carmen to the ferry port in the town of Chiquila and catch the ferry. The trip will take around 3.5 hours.
The Best Isla Holbox Tours from Playa del Carmen
- Magical Holbox Tour from Playa del Carmen and Riviera Maya – A full-day tour that includes a visit to a bird sanctuary, swimming, round trip pick up and drop off, and a tour around the island.
- Holbox Island from Playa del Carmen – This 9-hour long tour will have you exploring the beaches of Isla Holbox, swimming in cenotes, birdwatching on Passion Island, and zooming around the streets in a golf cart.
Or Stay Overnight at These Great Hotels…
Island #2 – Isla Mujeres
To be honest, Isla Mujeres isn’t the place to go if you’re looking for a sleepy, relaxing island day trip from Playa del Carmen.
Due to Isla Mujeres being firmly on the cruise ship route, the island can get pretty jammed with tourists at a moment’s notice.
But that’s not to say it’s not beautiful or it doesn’t have a lot of unique activities to try!
On Isla Mujeres (a name that translates to ‘Island of Women’), scuba dive the underwater art museum, visit the lighthouses, snorkel with the colorful fish, and go swimming with whale sharks.
Just do a little research on the cruise ship schedule or visit in the off-season so you can explore sustainably and without the crowds.
How to Get to Isla Mujeres from Playa del Carmen:
- Bus & Ferry – To get to Isla Mujeres without a tour, take the Mexican bus company ADO from central Playa del Carmen to Cancun, and then take the ferry. The trip will take you about 1.5 to 2 hours.
The Best Isla Mujeres Tours from Playa del Carmen
- Isla Mujeres All-Inclusive Catamaran Tour from Playa del Carmen – On this 7 hour-long, all-inclusive day trip, you’ll be taken across the Caribbean to Isla Mujeres where you’ll snorkel, have a beachside lunch, and indulge in an open bar. Round trip hotel transportation is included.
- Sail Trip to Isla Mujeres from Playa del Carmen – For 10 – 11 hours, hang out on the beaches of Isla Mujeres and go snorkeling on this full-day sailing tour. A guide provides commentary and there’s lunch, an open bar, activities, and hotel pickup and dropoff.
Or Stay Overnight at These Great Hotels…
- Luxury – Zoetry Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres Cancun
- Mid-Range – Ixchel Beach Hotel
- Budget – Casa de los Suenos
Island #3 – Cozumel
Situated just a hop across the water, Cozumel is the easiest island day trip from Playa del Carmen.
Also located on the cruise ship route, Cozumel can get busy fast – and has a lot of touristy shops, restaurants, and bars to accommodate.
However, that’s not to say quality has been stripped away in favor of a tourist grab. You can still find gems here, just expect to pay a little more for the luxury.
As soon as you get away from downtown San Miguel de Cozumel, you’ll find some amazing gems to explore – in particular, Cozumel is known for its lush vegetation, diving spots, beaches, and National Marine Park.
How to Get to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen:
- Ferry – To get to Cozumel without a tour, go to the main ferry terminal in Playa del Carmen. The ferry to Cozumel takes about a half-hour.
The Best Cozumel Island Tours from Playa del Carmen
- Private Jeep Excursion in Cozumel with Lunch and Snorkeling – This 5-6 hour private tour will have you rollicking through the jungle and beaches of Cozumel with just your family and friends. With a jeep as your wheels, you’ll follow your guide through a National Park, snorkel Cozumel’s beautiful waters, and learn all about Mayan history in the process. Not to mention, you can completely customize this tour to your interests.
- Cozumel Shore Excursion: 5-Hour Sightseeing Tour with Private Driver – Another private tour on Cozumel, this excursion will give you an overview of Cozumel’s history, the industries on the island today, as well as traditional tequila and chocolate making techniques.
Or Stay Overnight at These Great Hotels…
The Best Mayan History Day Trips from Playa del Carmen
History Day Trip #1 – Coba
An hour and a half from Playa del Carmen, Coba is one of the main Mayan archaeological sites in the Yucatan Peninsula.
What makes the Coba ruins unique is that, in addition to its many distinguished sites, you can actually climb the main pyramid (at 138 feet tall though, it’s a little steep so make sure to wear good shoes).
Not to mention, there are plenty of sites at Coba that are still unexcavated – a fact that helps add to the mystique and vibe of the site.
How to Get to Coba from Playa del Carmen:
- Bus: To get to Coba without a tour, buy a ticket to Coba at the central ADO bus station in Playa del Carmen. This bus will take you to first to Tulum where it stops for a second, and then onwards to Coba.
The Best Coba Tours from Playa del Carmen
- Coba Ruins Day Trip from Cancun or Riviera Maya – A full day excursion, this tour will have you learning all about the Mayan civilization and the architecture at the site. This tour provides round trip transportation from most Playa del Carmen hotels.
- Private tour to Coba Ruins and Swim in Cenote – Much like the other Coba tour listed, this tour will have you learning all about the ancient Mayan civilization who built the ruins. What makes this one different is that there is time to snorkel in a cool cenote and have a traditional Mexican lunch.
History Day Trip #2 – Chichen Itza
A new wonder of the world and one of the most popular day trips from Playa del Carmen, Chichen Itza was a major pilgrimage site and trading hub for the ancient Mayan civilization.
This UNESCO world heritage site is most famous for its main pyramid, El Castillo (The Temple of Kukulcan), although there is so much more to see.
The site of Chichen Itza is spread over roughly 4 square miles (10 kilometers) and will take you a few hours of exploration to cover.
How to Get to Chichen Itza from Playa del Carmen:
- Bus – To get to Chichen Itza without a tour, take the ADO bus to Valladolid, and then catch another bus to Chichen Itza. This trip will take around 2.5 – 3 hours in total.
- Drive – Alternatively, if you want to get to Chichen Itza a little faster, you can drive this route. Just be prepared for narrow roads and potential military checkpoints. Remember to use Discover Car Hire to avoid scams from local rental agencies.
The Best Chichen Itza Tours from Playa del Carmen
- Viator Exclusive: Early Access to Chichen Itza with a Private Archaeologist – If you want to go a little deeper into your understanding of Chichen Itza, then this is the tour for you. An all-day tour, this will give you early morning access to the site and a more one-on-one experience with the ruins. A private archaeologist will explain the history of the area and give you perspectives that other tourists just don’t get.
- Day Trip to Chichen Itza, Valladolid with Cenote Swim and Lunch – A tour that includes Valladolid, this Chichen Itza tour is a full-day excursion that includes a guide, buffet lunch and cenote swim.
Or click to read our full guide to the Best Chichen Itza Tours from Playa del Carmen.
History Day Trip #3 – Tulum Ruins
The Tulum Ruins make for a great day trip from Playa del Carmen as not only are they the closest ruins, they’re also right on the ocean.
About 15 minutes outside of Tulum Town, the Tulum Ruins are a great place to go to learn about Mayan history, understand how Tulum was created, and get some great ocean views in the process.
Because, unlike Coba and Chichen Itza, you can swim in the ocean and view the ruins at the same time.
Talk about paradise!
How to Get to the Tulum Ruins:
- Bus – You can get to the Tulum Ruins using the same methods as I listed for Tulum Town above but, in this case, I recommend taking the ADO bus. The bus will drop you off right at the road for the ruins, so you won’t have to find your way there from town or look for parking.
The Best Tulum Ruins Tours from Playa del Carmen
- Tulum Coba Cenote from Playa del Carmen – A 7-hour combo tour through both the Tulum and Coba ruins, this is a great tour if you’re short on time and want to see two sets of Mayan ruins in one fell swoop.
- Tulum Express Half-Day Tour from Playa del Carmen – A great taster tour, this tour lasts 6 hours and will take you through the Tulum ruins and to the beach nearby. The price includes hotel pick up and drop off as well as the entrance fee to the ruins.
- Coba, Tulum, Hilarios Cave and Playa Paraiso from Playa del Carmen – This full-day tour will take you through both the Mayan ruins of Tulum and Coba. A small group tour, this departs from a few Playa del Carmen hotels and includes time at the Cho-Ha cenote and Playa Paraiso beach.
Before you head to the Tulum ruins, read our super-detailed Tulum Mayan Ruins Guide for some practical tips and history!
The Best Theme Park Day Trips from Playa del Carmen
Theme Park #1 – Xel-Ha Park
For a nature-based day trip from Playa del Carmen, check out Xel-Ha theme park.
This aquatic park is protected from the waves of the ocean, giving you a relaxing place to explore and try out adventure activities with peace of mind.
Xel-Ha is the perfect place to go to hang out in the water, snorkel, dive, swim in cenotes, go caving, tube down a river, zipline, or hike the jungle trails.
Click here to buy Xel-Ha tickets direct from the park.
How to Get to Xel-Ha Park from Playa del Carmen
- Bus – The easiest way to get to Xel-Ha without a tour is by taking the ADO bus. The journey takes about 40 minutes (it’s located near Akumal) and, unlike the Colectivo, will drop you off right at the park as opposed to the side of the highway.
The Best Xel-Ha Tours from Playa del Carmen
- Priority Access: Xel-Há All-Inclusive Day Trip from Playa del Carmen – Skip the lines and nab a priority access pass to Xel-Ha. This pass will give you access to all the activities as well as free reign over the restaurants and amenities.
Theme Park #2 – Xplor Park
A little more adventure-based than Xel-Ha, the Xplor park is a jungly theme park that boasts the highest ziplines in Playa del Carmen, amphibious vehicle courses, spelunking, and so much more.
Xplor is an all-inclusive adventure park, is only 15 minutes from Playa del Carmen, and is right by Rio Secreto.
If you’re looking for a great nighttime adventure, then head to Xplor after dark when it turns into Xplor Fuego. It’s a whole other ball game to see the park lit up at night!
How to Get to Xplor Theme Park from Playa del Carmen
- Drive – Xplor has free car parking at the gates, so if you already have a rental car then driving will be a breeze.
- Taxi – Given that Xplor is only 15 minutes outside of Playa del Carmen, taking a taxi should be an easy experience that won’t cost an arm and a leg.
The Best Xplor Tours from Playa del Carmen
- Priority Access: Xplor Adventure Park from Playa del Carmen – With the priority access ticket, you’ll get full admission to the park, hotel pick up and drop off, and all the goodies and activities that the park has to offer.
Theme Park #3 – Xcaret Park
So here’s the thing, Xcaret Park is the big kahuna of the three parks listed here, and is kind of a controversial place to visit.
On the one hand, Xcaret is probably a great place to go if you have kids, as it’s part theme park, part resort, and they have tons of activities and attractions.
It’s an easy day trip from Playa del Carmen that will keep the whole family occupied.
On the other hand, Xcaret gets PACKED with tourists in the high season (over 1 million people visit each year), and some animal rights groups have called the practices and “ecotourism” here into question.
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, so just do some research and decide for yourself.
If you do decide to go, keep in mind that Xcaret is not an all-inclusive park.
How to Get to Xcaret from Playa del Carmen
- Driving or Taxi – Xcaret is located right near Xplor Park, so you can use the same methods to get there as you would Xplor.
The Best Xcaret Tours from Playa del Carmen
- Priority Access: Xcaret Day Trip from Playa del Carmen – This full-day Xcaret tour includes hotel pick up and drop off, 40 activities, and access to nearby beaches, lounge chairs, and facilities.
Theme Park #4 – Rio Secreto Underground Cave
Literally translated as “Secret River,” the Rio Secreto cave complex is the most natural and possible the most incredible theme park you can visit as a day trip from Playa del Carmen.
While the other parks on this list have tons of bells and whistles, at Rio Secreto the incredible underground cave and river complex is the star of the show – and you spend your time caving like a pro.
Check out our full guide to Rio Secreto to start planning your trip now.
How to Get to Rio Secreto from Playa del Carmen
- Driving or Taxi – Rio Secreto is close enough to Playa del Carmen that you can get there for about 200 pesos in a 10 minute taxi drive.
- Collectivo – Alternatively, take the collectivos towards Tulum and ask them to drop you off at Rio Secreto’s entrance.
Rio Secreto Tours from Playa del Carmen
- Tickets Only – Rio Secreto is super close to Playa del Carmen, so if you just prefer to book tickets (slots do book up during high season) then you can grab those here.
- Full Day Tour – If you prefer to have everything taken care of you from door-to-door, this is a super popular tour to Rio Secreto.
The Best Eco Tours from Playa del Carmen
Eco Tour #1 – Sian Ka’an Biosphere
A UNESCO world heritage site, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere is a lush mecca filled with freshwater marshes, lagoons, and ancient Mayan-built canals.
With a name that translates to “Origin of the Sky”, the whole site is an ecologically-protected area, and this natural attraction is an especially amazing spot if you’re a photographer.
How to Get to Sian Ka’an Biosphere from Playa del Carmen:
- Drive – Located near Tulum, driving to Sian Ka’an Biosphere is an easy 2.5-hour trip. You’ll need to book a 4×4 to full explore the reserve. You can find lots of Jeeps for hire from Tulum or Playa on Discover Car Hire.
- Bus – With a bus changeover in Tulum, taking the bus from Playa del Carmen to Sian Ka’an takes a little longer, but is still doable as a day trip if you leave early and come back late.
The Best Sian Ka’an Biosphere Tours from Playa del Carmen
- Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve Tour From Playa Del Carmen – This full-day tour from Playa del Carmen includes hotel pickup and drop off, all transportation at the site, a guide, snorkeling equipment, and lunch.
- Full-Day Guided Sian Ka’an Biosphere Safari from Playa del Carmen – This biosphere tour option includes hotel pickup and drop off, a guide, lunch, and free beer (score, right?).
Eco Tour #2 – Rio Secreto Caves
Located near the Xplor and Xcaret theme parks, Rio Secreto is an adventure of a different sort (and is so good that it makes our list of Playa day trips twice!).
Unlike these parks, Rio Secreto is a natural reserve consisting of five gigantic caverns that you’ll hike and swim through over the course of an afternoon (of course, you’ll cover only a tiny area of these caverns on your tour).
Inside the Rio Secreto caves, you’ll find well-preserved stalactites and stalagmites, an underground river, and immense caverns.
There are incredible mineral formations here, not to mention a diverse array of wildlife.
It’s an easy day trip from Playa del Carmen and one that you’ll be sure to remember!
Pro tip: Save money by skipping the guided tour and just booking your tickets then taking a taxi for ~200 pesos to the entrance (it’s only 8 minutes from Playa del Carmen!).
How to Get to Rio Secreto Caves
- Tours – Honestly, the easiest way to get to Rio Secreto is just to book a tour with hotel pickup and drop off. Given that you can only visit Rio Secreto through a tour offered by the nature reserve this is probably your best bet.
- Taxi – Ask any Playa del Carmen taxi driver where to find Rio Secreto and they’ll know where to take you. The trip shouldn’t cost you more than 200 pesos.
The Best Rio Secreto Tours from Playa del Carmen
- Rio Secreto Wild Tour – Rio Secreto is one of the areas most well-known and popular caving routes. This highly-rated tour includes hotel pick up and drop off, complimentary breakfast and lunch, and a guide that will take you cycling, hiking, and swimming through the area.
For more information about visiting Rio Secreto, check out this full guide to the nature reserve!
Eco Tour #3 – Cenotes
Did you know that there are over 6000 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula?
That’s a lot of cenotes!
What are essentially limestone sinkholes filled with freshwater, cenotes once played a vital role in providing drinking water to the people of the Yucatan. In fact, the ancient Mayans regarded them as sacred due to this fact.
Today, these cenotes are popular places to swim, relax, snorkel or scuba dive, and are truly beautiful, lush places to explore.
They make for the perfect day trip from Playa del Carmen!
Some of the more popular cenotes near Playa del Carmen include Azul, Jardin del Eden, Dos Ojos, and Chaak Tun.
The Best Cenote Tours from Playa del Carmen
- Snorkel Tour in Cenote Chaak Tun Caverns – The Chaak Tun Caverns are some of the most popular cenotes in the region. This tour is about 2 hours long and includes all the gear you’ll need to safely explore the cenote.
- 2 Cenotes Tour From Playa Del Carmen – Trust me, just because you’ve seen one cenote doesn’t mean you’ve seen them all. This tour will take you through two beautiful cenotes near Playa del Carmen – Cenote Hilarious and Cenote La Gloria. This tour includes transportation to the cenotes as well as snacks, life jackets, and admission.
Eco Tour #4 – Snorkeling & Diving
Playa del Carmen is home to one of the biggest barrier reefs in the world, and checking it out couldn’t be easier will all the tours the area has to offer.
Personally, I took a snorkeling tour to the reef and was amazed by the coral, sea turtles, and stingrays I found there.
Whether you’re an avid snorkeler or you love to dive, you won’t want to miss the diverse flora and fauna that live just offshore!
The Best Snorkeling and Scuba Diving Day Trips from Playa del Carmen
- Playa del Carmen Local Snorkel Trip – This highly-rated snorkeling trip from Playa del Carmen lasts three hours and provides a guide, snorkeling equipment, and a boat ride to the reef.
- Discover Scuba Diving Course in Playa del Carmen with Two Coral Reef Dives – A great tour for newbie Scuba divers, this full-day tour will teach you the basics of scuba diving, test out your skills, and then take you out to two different diving locations on Playa del Carmen’s reef. This tour has been designed by PADI, a world-leader in Scuba diving safety, and includes all the equipment you’ll need.
That’s it for our guide to the best tours and day trips from Playa del Carmen!
Which tour are you most curious about? Scroll down and leave a comment to let me know!
Playa del Carmen is one of the most beautiful and interesting destinations on the Yucatan Peninsula, and any of these day trips will be sure to enhance your trip.
For more information to help you plan your trip to Mexico, check out these articles:
Have a great time in Mexico!