I recently spent well over a month based in Playa del Carmen, and one of my favorite things about basing myself there was that there are so many incredible destinations that can be visited as as excursions or day trips from Playa del Carmen. Don’t believe me? Just look at the photo above of Cenote Suytun, which is located at #2 on this list.
Whether you want to explore a new city, find a gorgeous stretch of sand, check out an island, learn all about Mayan history, or become one with nature, there are so many possible Playa del Carmen excursions – and this article is going to list the 15 best ways to get away!
Note from the Editor: Hi it’s Nate, Travel Lemming’s founder here. I just moved back to Playa del Carmen, and realized how horribly bad the Sargasso (seaweed) situation is in 2021. Gross! Anyway, to help you figure out what the bleep to do during a beach vacation to a place covered in seaweed, I’ve marked the table of contents below with asterisks to identify those Playa del Carmen day trips that are seaweed-free. Hope that helps! Ok, now over to our writer Taylor:
Table of Contents
(click to navigate, “*” means no or minimal seaweed / Sargasso involved)
- Valladolid *
- Xcaret Park *
- Isla Holbox *
- Isla Mujeres *
- Cozumel *
- Coba *
- Chichen Itza *
- Tulum Ruins
- Xel-Ha Park *
- Xplor Park *
- Rio Secreto *
- Sian Ka’an
- Cenotes *
⚠ IMPORTANT TIP FOR USA TRAVELERS TO MEXICO IN 2021 ⚠
I am currently in Mexico. I hear constant reports of travelers – vaccinated included – testing positive and forking out thousands for quarantine. There’s no way out: you have to test to return to the USA. And a positive test = quarantine. Period. Just read the horror stories in this USA Today article. What’s your plan if it happens to you?
My tip: make a backup plan for quarantine and consider travel insurance. World Nomads is what I personally use, but be sure to compare policies (TravelInsurance.com is great for that) and stay safe out there!
Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support my work by purchasing through the affiliate links on this page, which may earn a commission for this site. Thank you!
15 Best Excursions and Day Trips from Playa del Carmen
#1 – Tulum
Why Visit Tulum: If we’re being honest, the Playa del Carmen beaches can’t compare to those in 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 beach clubs. Seriously though, the beaches – if you’re interested in being a total beach bum in Tulum, then our mega Tulum beach guide 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 from Playa del Carmen:
- ✨ Tour – If you like someone else to do the planning, you can take this reasonably affordable tour combining the Tulum ruins with several cenotes.
- 🚌 Bus – The Mexican bus company ADO has a route from downtown Playa del Carmen to either the Tulum ruins or Tulum town. Book tickets via BusBud if using a US credit card (which ADO won’t accept online).
- 🚗 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. Note that there are a lot of rental car scams in Mexico, which you can avoid by reserving through Discover Car Hire.
- 🚐 Colectivo – Colectivo’s are shared mini buses 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.
🕓 Length: Tulum is about an hour from Playa del Carmen, and also a great base for day trips.
📚 Travel Safety in Mexico: Playa el Carmen is safer than the news would have you think, but traveling during a pandemic is never risk free. Read our guide to trip insurance coverage for Mexico to understand why we always insure our trips to Mexico. Or get a quote directly from World Nomads.
#2 – Valladolid
Why Visit Valladolid: Valladolid is a colorful inland city with plenty to do and see and is 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, incredible cenotes, art exhibits, and some of the most famed cenotes on the peninsula. Plus, Valladolid is nearby several major Mayan Ruins, including Chichen Itza and Ek Balam.
How to Get to Valladolid from Playa del Carmen:
- ✨ Tour – This excellent Chichen Itza private 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.
- 🚌 Bus – If you opt-out of a guided tour to Valladolid, then I recommend taking the ADO bus (again, pre-buy tickets via BusBud). There are several bus times every single day, and you won’t have to deal with driving on bumpy roads with no shoulder.
- 🚗 Drive – If you’re up for driving in Mexico, you can get some pretty good rental car deals for a Valladolid day trip through Discover Car Hire.
🕓 Length: Valladolid is about an hour and a half from Playa del Carmen.
🛏️ Staying overnight? Check out our guide to the best accommodation in Valladolid.
#3 – Xcaret Park
Why Visit Xcaret: Part theme park, part resort, Xcaret Park is the big kahuna of the major parks scattered near Playa del Carmen – and a great way to easily get some time in the water without having to fight all the seaweed in Playa del Carmen. Xcaret is a good place to visit if you have kids, as they have tons of activities and attractions to keep all ages occupied. It’s also an incredibly easy day trip from Playa del Carmen, as it’s just a few minutes down the road, plus . On the other hand, do be aware that Xcaret gets PACKED with tourists in the holiday high season (over 1 million people visit each year) and also has drawn some controversy over its dolphin swimming attraction. With that said, it’s floating lazy river is super popular as a way to cool off from the Playa del Carmen heat!
How to Get to Xcaret from Playa del Carmen
- 🚗 Drive – There is free parking at the park.
- 🚕Taxi – Taxis are pretty affordable since it’s such a short ride for this day trip from Playa del Carmen.
🕓 Length: Xcaret is about 15 minutes from Playa del Carmen.
#4 – Isla Holbox
Why Visit Holbox: Though it’s a pretty full day if done as a day trip from Playa del Carmen (especially if you’re doing it independently), 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.
- 🚐 Private Tour – 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.
🕓 Length: Holbox is about 3.5 hours from Playa del Carmen.
🧳 Always Forget Something? Use my Mexico packing checklist to make sure you bring all the essentials on your trip!
#5 – Isla Mujeres
Why Visit 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 (thankfully, at least for now, cruises aren’t running). Activities in Isla Mujeres (a name that translates to ‘Island of Women’) include scuba diving the underwater art museum, visit the lighthouses, snorkel with the colorful fish, and go swimming with whale sharks.
- 🚌 ⛴️ 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.
- ⛵ Guided Boat Tour – On this 7 hour-long, all-inclusive Catamaran tour from Playa del Carmen, 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.
🕓 Length: Isla Mujeres is about 2 hours from Playa del Carmen.
✈️ First Time in Mexico? Don’t miss our article listing our most useful tips for visiting Mexico. #7 is definitely a crucial travel tip these days!
#6 – Cozumel
Why Visit 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 a National Marine Park. For especially clear water, take a boat tour to snorkel in El Cielo. And, of course, enjoy the fact that Cozumel tends to have significantly sargassum (seaweed) than Playa del Carmen.
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 45 minutes.
- 🚙 Guided Tour – This 5-6 hour private Jeep excursion 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.
🕓 Length: Isla Mujeres is about 45 minutes from Playa del Carmen via ferry.
#7 – Coba Mayan Ruins
Why Visit 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.
- 🚙 Guided Tour: This highly-rated private tour from Viator 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.
🕓 Length: Coba is about 90 minutes from Playa del Carmen.
#8 – Chichen Itza
Why Visit 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.
- 🗺️ Guided Tour With a Private Archaeologist – If you want to go a little deeper into your understanding of Chichen Itza, Viator runs an exclusive all day tour that 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. If you can’t swing this tour, you can check out our full list of the best Chichen Itza tours from Playa del Carmen.
🕓 Length: Chichen Itza is about 2 hours from Playa del Carmen.
#9 – Tulum Mayan Ruins
Why Visit the Tulum Ruins: The Mayan ruins near Tulum 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 from Playa del Carmen:
- 🚌 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.
- 🚙 Guided Tour – A great option if you’re pressed for time, this half-day 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.
🕓 Length: The Tulum ruins are about 1 hour from Playa del Carmen.
#10 – Xel-Ha Park
Why Visit Xel-Ha: 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.
🕓 Length: Xel-Ha is about 40 minutes from Playa del Carmen.
#11 – Xplor Park
Why Visit Xplor: 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!
🎟️ Get Park Tickets Here direct from the park.
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.
🕓 Length: Xplor is about 15 minutes from Playa del Carmen.
#12 – Rio Secreto Underground Cave
Why Visit Rio Secreto: 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
- 🚕 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.
- ✨ Door to Door Tour – If you prefer to have everything taken care of you from door-to-door, this is a super popular tour to Rio Secreto.
🕓 Length: Rio Secreto is about 15 minutes from Playa del Carmen.
#13 – Sian Ka’an Biosphere
Why Visit Sian Ka’an: 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. It’s one of the longer day trips from Playa del Carmen on this list, but definitely worth the hassle considering how stunning the biosphere is!
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.
- 🚙 Guided Tour – Our favorite full-day tour from Playa del Carmen includes hotel pickup and drop off, all transportation at the site, a guide, snorkeling equipment, and lunch.
🕓 Length: The Sian Ka’an Biosphere is about 2.5 hours from Playa del Carmen.
#14 – Cenotes
Why Visit a Cenote: 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, and are definitely one of the more popular activities to do in Mexico.
Some of the more popular cenotes near Playa del Carmen include Cenote Azul, Cenote Jardin del Eden, Cenote Dos Ojos, and Cenote Chaak Tun.
How to Get to Cenotes from Playa del Carmen
- 🚕 Taxi – Most of the above listed cenotes are within a $5 taxi ride from Playa del Carmen.
- 🚐 Collectivo – Take the collectivos towards Tulum and ask them to drop you off at your cenote.
- 🤿 Guided Snorkeling Tour – The Chaak Tun Caverns are some of the most popular cenotes in the region. This guided tour is about 2 hours long and includes all the gear you’ll need to safely explore the cenote.
🕓 Length: Varies by cenote, but many are within 20 of Playa del Carmen.
#15 – Akumal
Why Visit Akumal: This part of the Mayan Riviera is home to one of the biggest barrier reefs in the world, and Akumal in particular is known as the perfect place to get up close and personal with a sea turtle. 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! Plus, since it’s so close to the city, this is one of the easiest day trips from Playa del Carmen.
How to Get to Akumal from Playa del Carmen
- 🚐 Collectivo – Take the collectivos towards Tulum and ask them to drop you off at Akumal.
- 🤿 Guided Snorkeling Tour – Viator offers nearly a dozen day trips to Akumal from Playa del Carmen.
🕓 Length: Akumal is 35 minutes from Playa del Carmen.
That’s it for our guide to the best tours and day trips from Playa del Carmen! Which day trip 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 Playa del Carmen day trip.
For more information to help you plan your trip to Mexico, check out these articles:
- 33 Best Things to Do in Mexico
- How to Go from Cancun to Tulum
- The Best Things to do in Puerto Vallarta
Have a great time in Mexico!