Ultimate Travel Guide to Playa del Carmen Mexico

Playa del Carmen Travel Guide | Free and Updated for 2021

With spectacular beaches, beautiful nature, top-notch food, and some of the craziest nightlife around, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico is one of the coolest destinations on the Mayan Riviera.

I recently had the opportunity to spend over a month living, working, and playing in Playa del Carmen and made a point to check out the best that Playa has to offer. I swam in caves, cenotes, the ocean, and rooftop pool bars. I tasted traditional Mayan cuisine, a million different kinds of tacos, and 5-star cuisine in a cave.

In this mega travel guide to Playa del Carmen, I’ll cover everything you need to know to travel to Playa del Carmen:

Ready to dive in?

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IMPORTANT TIP FOR USA TRAVELERS TO MEXICO IN 2021
Covid tests are now mandatory to fly back to the USA. Even vaccinated travelers can test positive, and if you do you’ll put into expensive mandated quarantine instead of flying home (just read the horror stories in this USA Today article). My top Mexico travel tip is to always make a backup 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 Visit Playa del Carmen

the beach at Playacar
Playacar beach in Playa del Carmen

Despite the fact that it has the word “playa” in its name, pretty much anyone who knows will tell you that the beaches in Playa del Carmen are actually not all that special in truth. They are perfectly fine, but lack the turqouise water you’ll find in Tulum or elsewhere

So why is everyone traveling the Playa del Carmen? The first reason everyone is traveling to Playa del Carmen is that the city offers the perfect strategic location for exploring the best of the Riviera Maya. Virtually every major site in the Yucatan peninsula is accessible as part of a day trip from Playa del Carmen.

The second reason is that Playa del Carmen offers some of the most affordable accommodation and cost of living in this part of Mexico. While Cancun is loaded up with expensive all-inclusive resorts, and while Tulum’s soaring popularity has sent hotel prices skyrocketing, it is still possible to find a great place to stay in Playa del Carmen for as little as $50 USD per night.

In short, if you’re looking for the best combination of location, convenience, and price, Playa del Carmen is the perfect base for your Mexico vacation.

When to Go to Playa del Carmen

view of a cenote
Playa del Carmen gets hot, but that’s what cenotes are for!
  • What is the best month to go to Playa del Carmen? In general, the weather is best in Playa del Carmen between October and April. Note that February, March, and April are very popular months to visit, which means prices typically surge during this period.
  • Is there a rainy season in Playa del Carmen? Playa del Carmen’s rainy season runs roughly from October to April, but this is counterintuitively the best time to visit because during the dry season temperatures can become unbearably hot.
  • How many days do you need in Playa del Carmen? In general, five to seven days if enough time to get a good taste for Playa del Carmen, although many tourists opt to stay longer (the city has become a popular destination for remote workers lately).

Is Playa del Carmen Safe?

Mexico gets a bad wrap in the news in the US and Europe, with pretty much every incident of cartel violence or crimes against tourists making the nightly news. So, understandably, many tourists have questions about whether the city is safe to visit.

Is it safe to travel to Playa del Carmen? In general, Playa del Carmen is a mostly safe destination for tourists. There are isolated incidents of serious cartel-related violence, but the worst most tourists will be exposed to is simple pickpocketing and petty theft. If you practice common sense and stick to the tourist part of town, you will most likely have a safe trip to Playa del Carmen.

With that said, these days you also have to factor Covid-19 into the safety equation. Be sure to check the latest statistics and restrictions before leaving for your trip. And always consider getting travel insurance for Mexico to protect your trip.

👉 Not sure where to get travel insurance? Check out World Nomads. They really help demystify buying travel insurance, and make it easy to extend or change your policy on the road.

How to Get to Playa del Carmen

If you are coming to Playa del Carmen from abroad, chances are you’ll be landing in the Cancun Airport and then traveling to Playa del Carmen from there. Thankfully, there are a few ways to do this:

Private Transfer to Playa del Carmen

If you’ve had a long flight, are tired, and just don’t want to deal with the logistics of haggling a price or navigating public transit, then hiring a public transfer is the way to go. Private transfer tends to be the most expensive option, and you’ll have to set it up before you arrive in Mexico, but it’s undoubtedly simple. Cancun Airport Transportation is a local family-owned company that offers private transfers to Playa del Carmen.

Drive from Cancun to Playa del Carmen

If you plan on doing a lot of moving around the Yucatan Peninsula or the Mayan Riviera on your trip, then renting a car is your best bet. While the ways of the road are a bit different in this area of the world than they are in the USA or Canada (stop signs and speed limits are more like suggestions), it’s still pretty simple to get from Point A to B via a car. But beware of a shady scam in Mexico where rental car companies advertise $1/day rentals, but then hit you hard with expensive “mandatory” insurance. This is a very common scam and avoiding it is one of our top tips for traveling to Mexico.

🚗 For the most transparent pricing we’ve found, I suggest you rent through the excellent Discover Car Hire site.

ADO Bus from Cancun to Playa del Carmen

Did you know that the Mexican bus company ADO runs a bus that goes straight from the Cancun Airport to downtown Playa del Carmen? Well, there is, and taking it is super easy. To do so, just purchase your ticket when you get to the airport, double-check your seat number and departure time, and then hop on the ADO bus. You may have to wait a bit to get on the bus, depending on departure times, but the comfortable charters and easy system make it worth it.

Things to Do in Playa Del Carmen

There are so many great activities and things to do in Playa del Carmen. Below are my 10 absolute favorites, but for a full rundown of all the things to do, be sure to check out Travel Lemming founder Nate’s guest post over at Goats on the Road:

#1 – Stroll La Quinta Avenida

decorative painted skulls lined up in a shop

La Quinta Avenida, or “5th Avenue”, is the main tourist drag in Playa del Carmen. Here, you’ll find boutique shops, all kinds of restaurants, and chain stores alike. During the day, you’ll find this stretch can get rather busy. However, keep in mind that because 5th avenue is so geared to tourists, you’ll have to be on guard for scammers. It seemed every time I went down to 5th I would have someone yelling that I dropped my wallet (I didn’t), telling me they were the manager of my hotel (I didn’t stay in a hotel), or offering me drugs (I declined). Nevertheless, it’s a must-see on any trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

#2 – Visit the Frida Kahlo Museum

painting of Frida Kahlo

Chances are you won’t be spending a lot of time in museums while in Playa del Carmen. But, if you’re in the mood for a change of pace and a dose of national history, then be sure to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum. Less a gallery of her art and more the story of her life, the Frida Museum will take you through her relationship with Diego Rivera, the tragedies she endured, and how she found inspiration and motivation to create her timeless art.

#3 – Try Some Water Activities

Scuba diving in Playa del Carmen

There are so many water activities to try in Playa del Carmen, Mexico – swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, jet-skiing, and windsurfing. No matter what your flavor, there is a water sport for you. Just head on down to the beach and see what you can find!

#4 – Relax on Playa del Carmen’s Beaches

The beach with huts in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Although it’s a town that literally has the word beach in its name, the beaches in Playa del Carmen can get crowded. Unless you visit on an off day, the beaches tend to be completely crowded with people, and the buildings are so close to the water in some areas that it’s hard to really relax.

So, if you’re looking for something a little less congested, then head out to Playacar. Just south of the main tourist area, Playacar is known for its big beaches, white sand, and clear waters. And be sure to check out the Xaman-Ha ruins while you’re there!

#5 – Visit a Few Cenotes

Light shining through the top of a cenote in Playa del Carmen

There are so many cenotes in and around Playa Del Carmen that you’ll have no trouble picking a great one.

But what is a cenote, you ask?

Cenotes are limestone sinkholes that are filled with fresh water, fish, and beautiful moss. While I primarily explored Playa del Carmen cenotes by swimming, you can easily snorkel or scuba many of them. Some of the best cenotes in the area are Cenote Azul, Chikin-Ha, Crisitano, and Jardin del Eden (my personal favorite).

#6 – Visit the Rio Secreto Caves

A cave with stalactites near Playa del Carmen, Mexico

In my humble opinion, you can’t come to Playa del Carmen and not explore a cave. It’s a must-do. In order to explore one of the area’s many caves, you’ll have to take a tour. On this tour, you’ll walk and swim through darker-than-night passageways, learn all about the history of the caves, listen to the sounds of stalactites, and feel friendly fish brush up against your legs.

For more information on what it’s like to tour a cave, check out our full guide to the Rio Secreto caves.

#7 – Hang Out at a Beach Club

For when you want to add a little more luxury into your beach experience, hanging out at a beach club is the way to go. There are plenty of different beach clubs in the area but, after a bit of research, I found that Lido Beach Club was the best value for money.

Lido beach club has a great atmosphere, friendly staff, and even better lemon pie.

#8 – Swim in a Rooftop Pool

A pool with bungalows in Mexico

Rooftop pools in Playa del Carmen are a popular hangout for both locals and tourists alike and, for that reason, there are plenty to choose from. That said, one of the best has to be Be Playa. Be Playa has great ambiance, a warm pool, a 250 peso minimum spend, and some of the best Mezcal cocktails in Playa.

#9 – Take a Salsa Dancing Class

Going salsa dancing is guaranteed to give you a memorable experience in Playa del Carmen – and teach you some new moves at the same time! There are plenty of spots to go salsa dancing in Playa, but some of the more popular ones are La Santenera and Mojito Queen.

#10 – Join a Walking Tour

An igauna sits perched on the beach in the Mayan Riviera
Ok, not your Playa walking tour guide, but how cool would that be?

Taking a walking tour is one of the best Playa del Carmen activities. For a great free walking tour in Playa del Carmen, I recommend booking with Estacion Tours.

I took their 3-hour long walking tour and learned all about Mayan culture, how Playa del Carmen was formed, recent conservation efforts, and was given the best Playa tips and tricks. If you’re looking for a tour that’s a little more robust, check out this highly-rated Local Walking Food Tour. Just be sure to show up hungry!

Best Nightlife in Playa del Carmen

Nightclub in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Coco Bongo

While you’ll also find Coco Bongo’s in Cancun, Punta Cana, and Los Cabos, this Mexican fiesta is easily the most famous nightlife spot in all of Playa Del Carmen, and for good reason.

Coco Bongo will be one of the wildest parties you ever attend.

Here, you’ll find acrobats, non-stop drinks, all kinds of music, and a dancefloor where you can boogie all night long.

Tickets for Coco Bongo run at $80 USD per person, but it’s totally worth it for the open bar, entertainment, and experience.

Coco Maya

If you’re looking for a beachfront club, then look no farther than Coco Maya.

This booming place is a Playa del Carmen staple, and there’s nothing better than partying all night with a great view of the ocean.

La Bodeguita del Medio

Based on the popular Cuban nightclub of the same name, La Bodeguita del Medio is smaller than the aforementioned clubs, but still packs a punch when it comes to fun.

Along with free salsa lessons on Mondays and Wednesdays, you’ll also find a fun dance floor, endless mojitos, and staff who like to party just as much as you do.

Mandala

The Mandala nightclub in Playa del Carmen

Located right in the center of Playa, Mandala is a piece of Playa del Carmen nightlife you can’t miss.

The entire two-level club is decorated with Asian flair, they have an eclectic music selection, and the atmosphere is undoubtedly cosmopolitan.

Pro tip: Opt for the $55 USD open-bar option. If you’re a partier, this will probably save you some dough.

Best Restaurants in Playa del Carmen

A colorful taco spread with chips and salsa

El Fogon

El Fogon is renowned as having the best tacos in all of Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and I have to agree.

Their tortillas are fresh, there’s a multi-tiered salsa tower on every table, and the flavors will make your mouth water. Seriously, you have to try their sirloin con queso taco.

That said, El Fogon’s Playa locations are also known as having some of the longest lines in the city.

To skip the line, I suggest going around popular eating times or heading there for a late-night snack.

Alux

If you’re looking for a dining experience that’s a little more upscale, then check out Alux.

Located deep underground in a cave, this fine dining restaurant will have you sampling top-of-the-line Mexican spirits, exquisitely crafted cuisine, and an atmosphere like none other.

While Alux is considered expensive by Mexico standards, it certainly won’t break the bank as long as you account for it in your budget.

Oh, and the staff will encourage you to walk around and check out more of the cave once you’re done eating. It’s definitely worth a wander!

Zitla

Zitla is an open-concept restaurant that specializes in delicious, yet relaxed, American and Mexican cuisine.

Zitla is also home to a full bar, lots of art and murals, and live music on select nights.

Cerveceria Chapultepec

For those days when you’re feeling a little bit more budget-conscious, check out Cerveceria Chapultepec.

Known for its fabulous dollar menu, these restaurants (there are two in Playa del Carmen) are home to friendly staff, bumping music, and some of the best comfort food in the city.

In particular, don’t miss trying their fish tacos – there’s a full salsa bar to sample.

Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen

Palm trees, the beach, and the ocean at Playacar Beach in Mexico

Where to stay in Playa del Carmen depends on your budget, preferences, and style. Thankfully, whether you are a luxury traveler or on a backpacking trip, there are plenty of hotels, hostels, and rentals all over the city, so you’ll be sure to find something that suits your taste.

My only real tips are to carefully read the reviews before you book and make sure you pick a hotel that’s central.

Best Hotels in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

  • CondoHotel Fabiola – If you’re looking for a beautiful luxury place to stay, then check out CondoHotel Fabiola. Check out CondoHotel Fabiola on Booking.com.
  • Hacienda del Caribe – A highly-rated mid-budget hotel, Hacienda del Caribe is just around the corner from the beach, features Mexican-style design, and is home to an outdoor pool. Learn more about Hacienda del Caribe on Booking.com.

Best Hostels in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

  • Wabi Hostel – For you budget backpackers out there, Wabi Hostel is a fun and colorful place to come back to after long days of exploring. Check out Wabi Hostel on Booking.com.
  • The Yak Hostel – The Yak is one of the top-rated hostels in all of Playa del Carmen. While I never actually stayed here myself, I did take a great Mojito class on the premises, and absolutely loved the staff and the common area setup. Check out The Yak on Booking.com.

Day Trips from Playa del Carmen

The sun setting behind the main pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico

One of the best things about Playa del Carmen is that it is strategically situated. This means that many of the best activities in the Riviera Maya can be done as day trips from Playa del Carmen. That article lists our full list of day trips and excursions, but here are a few of our favorites:

#1 – Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is one of the most popular sites in the Yucatan Peninsula, and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World!

In ancient Mayan times, Chichen Itza was used as a ceremonial gathering place, and its main pyramid (El Castillo), dates all the way back to 550 AD.

It’ll take you around 2-3 hours to completely case the site, so I recommend getting there as early as you can to beat the crowds and the heat.

Plan your trip now by checking out our guide to the Best Tours to Chichen Itza from Playa del Carmen.

How to Get to Chichen Itza from Playa del Carmen

  • By Bus – The ADO bus from Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza will take you anywhere from 2.5 – 3.5 hours, depending on the bus schedule and your changeover in Valladolid. That said, I still found that the bus was the easiest way to get to Chichen Itza.
  • By Tour – There are tons of awesome tours that will take you from Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza. Check out this highly-rated Chichen Itza tour that will also take you through Valladolid and into a cenote.

#2 – Tulum

The sun sets over the Tulum Ruins in Tulum, Mexico

One of the most bohemian towns on the Mayan Riviera, Tulum has been making waves in recent years for its beautiful beaches, friendly town, and excellent foodie scene.

The town is excellent no matter your budget – there’s everything from hostel dorms to top-of-the-line luxury hotels – and the Tulum Ruins will take your breath away.

How to Get to Tulum from Playa del Carmen

  • Bus – Taking the ADO bus from Playa del Carmen to Tulum is by far the easiest way to make the journey. The bus only takes an hour, and costs about 70 pesos. Keep in mind that you can get the bus from downtown Playa del Carmen to either the Tulum Ruins or Downtown Tulum, and it’s a bit of a jog between the two.
  • TourThis exciting tour will not only show you the best sites around Tulum Town, but it’ll also have you ziplining and snorkeling.
  • Colectivo – One of the more adventurous ways of getting around the Mayan Riviera, a Colectivo is a small shuttle bus that will take you right from downtown Playa to downtown Tulum, making a few stops along the way. Colectivo’s are the locally-preferred way of travel in this area and will cost you a bit less than taking the bus.

Want to learn more about Tulum? Then check out these articles about the Tulum Ruins – The Inside Guide.

#3 – Akumal

A turtle swims in Akumal, Mexico

Akumal is a quick 30-minute trip down the road from Playa del Carmen and is perhaps most famous for being a place to swim with sea turtles.

While you can definitely rent your own snorkel gear and swim with the turtles right off the beach, I recommend going on a guided tour to get the full effect.

How to Get to Akumal from Playa del Carmen

  • Tour This tour will have you swimming in a cenote and snorkeling with the sea turtles all with the company of an expert guide.
  • Taxi – Due to Akumal being so close to Playa del Carmen, you should be able to find a driver willing to take you there. Just remember to haggle the price before you get in the car.
  • Colectivo – There is a Colectivo that will take you to Akumal, but make sure to notify the driver when you want to get off.

#4 – Cozumel

Two people lounging on the beach in Cozumel Mexico

If you’re looking for an easy island getaway from Playa del Carmen then add Cozumel to your itinerary.

Known for its picturesque beaches, excellent scuba diving opportunities, and laid-back atmosphere, Cozumel is perfect for a day of exploring.

However, keep in mind that because Cozumel is a main cruise ship port, it can get quite busy if you go when a ship is docked.

If possible, visit Cozumel during the off-season, or when you know there won’t be a cruise ship in the area.

How to Get to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen

  • Ferry – Due to the Cozumel Ferry Terminal being right downtown in Playa del Carmen, it couldn’t be easier to get to the island. A return ticket costs around 400 pesos, and ferries leave every half hour.

Pro Tip: When you get to the terminal, you’ll notice that there are two ferry companies to choose from — one budget (Winjet) and one a little more high-end (Ultramar).

The two ferries go to the same place, are comfortable, and are fairly new.

For these reasons, I recommend skipping the luxury ferry and taking a just as comfortable ride for less money.

#5 – Valladolid

Colorful buildings lined up in Valladolid, Mexico

A colorful colonial town just an hour away from Playa del Carmen, Valladolid is right next door to Chichen Itza and is one of the most interesting towns to explore in all of the Yucatan (in my humble opinion).

Valladolid is where to go to really dive into Mexican culture – with great walking tours, excellent traditional Mayan restaurants, and lots of art.

Plus, Valladolid is very walkable, the people are so friendly (so many people went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable), and the town is beautiful.

While in Valladolid, be sure to check out some of the nearby cenotes, walk the stalls at Mercado Municipal, check out the art at Casa de los Venados, and visit Iglesia de San Servicio.

Of course, this list is only for starters.

For a full overview of Valladolid, check out our Ultimate Guide to Valladolid Mexico (+19 Insanely Awesome Things to Do), and The Best Hotels in Valladolid Mexico (18 Perfect Places to Stay).

How to Get to Valladolid from Playa del Carmen

  • ADO Bus – The easiest way to get to Valladolid from Playa del Carmen, Mexico is to take the ADO bus. The bus leaves to and from Playa del Carmen multiple times a day, takes about an hour and a half, and will cost you less than 200 pesos round trip.

Travel Tips for Playa del Carmen

Mayan men do a rain dance up a tall poll in Central Playa del Carmen

No Playa del Carmen travel guide would be complete without a few useful tips. We have a full article listing all the things you need to know before going to Mexico, but here are some of the most important tips specifically for visiting Playa del Carmen:

Tip #1 – Have Peso’s on Hand

While many places in Playa del Carmen will take USD as a form of currency, the exchange rate will be terrible and you will probably pay a lot more as a result.

And not many places in Playa take credit or debit cards.

Instead of taking out a wad of cash at the start of our trip, I recommend using ATMs found in one of the many credible banks all over Playa.

Tip #2 – Learn a Little Spanish

While it’s often said that you can travel through the Yucatan Peninsula by speaking English, I found this to only be partly true.

You’ll definitely be able to speak English in the more touristy areas, but as soon as you get out of that zone you’re going to have to rely on Spanish to get around.

In fact, most cab drivers I encountered only knew a couple of English words and I had to really refine my Spanish chops in order to communicate.

I recommend learning at least basic greetings, cash amounts, and the proper pronunciation of where you’re staying.

Tip #3 – Cabs are Very Affordable

Being a traveler in Mexico means that you’ll probably have to pay more money for services than the locals, but don’t let regular cab rides be one of those.

To ensure you don’t overpay for a cab, never hail a taxi near 5th Avenue, the bus station, or near the ferry terminal.

Instead, walk a few blocks away from the beach and try catching a cab where it’s a little quieter.

I found that by getting just 5 minutes away from the tourist zones I could save myself as much as 100 pesos per ride.

Tip #4 – Tipping is Common

Bright yellow buildings with palm trees in Playa del Carmen

While tipping is a common practice in Mexico, it’s a little different than in Europe, the United States, or Canada.

Tipping cab drivers is usually not expected, but a good rule of thumb is to tip 10-15% for food or services, or just leave the change you get from the bill.

That said, some sneaky restaurants will tack a tip onto your bill (even though it’s technically not allowed), so keep an eye on this so you don’t double-tip.

Tip #5 – It’s a Modern City

Playa Del Carmen has only really experienced a tourist boom in the last decade or so, and before that, it was a quiet little town.

Due to this, Playa del Carmen is largely a very modern city and has all of the amenities you could possibly need.

Whether you’re planning a short visit or a long-term stay, you’ll be able to find clothing stores, grocery shops, laundromats, and all kinds of accommodation.

Tip #6 – Playa del Carmen is Very Safe

Like everywhere else, you’ll have to keep your wits about you when traveling to Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Especially if you decide to party.

However, if you implement common-sense safety practices, chances are you’ll have an incident-free trip.

If you’re curious about whether or not you need travel insurance on your trip to Playa del Carmen, then compare policies at this Travel Insurance Comparison site, or check out our article on whether you need Mexico travel insurance.

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That’s it for our free Playa del Carmen travel guide!

Playa del Carmen is truly one of the most interesting cities in the Yucatan, and I know you’re going to have a gas exploring all it has to offer. If you have any questions about visiting Playa, reach out in the comments below.

And for more travel information and tips, check out these articles on the Yucatan, Mexico, and beyond:

Have fun in Playa!

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