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Top 13 Things to Do in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Playa del Carmen is a legendary resort town in the heart of the Riviera Maya and one of the world’s top vacation destinations. While it was once a small fishing village with relaxing on a white sandy beach the main thing to do, today you’ll have a wealth of options when it comes to activities and attractions. From exploring an underground river to thrilling ziplines and pampering spa treatments, you’ll want to put some of these things to do in Playa del Carmen on your must-experience list.

Relax on the Most Beautiful Beaches Playacar beach, Playa del Carmen
Credit: Playacar beach, Playa del Carmen by © Patryk Kosmider | Dreamstime.com

Relax on the Most Beautiful Beaches

What Is It? The beach is still the star of the show which means you will want to spend time on some of the most beautiful, like Playacar, often named the most stunning. It starts on the south side of the ferry dock where ferries depart to Cozumel and runs along the entire length of the Playacar neighborhood.

Why Do It? The sands are a brilliant white with seaweed rarely a problem as it’s cleaned before you’ll have time to lay out your beach towel. Dotted with palm trees, you’ll have shade to duck under when needed too.

Good to Know: To get a good spot on this top beach in Mexico and take full advantage of it, you’ll need to arrive early.

Experience the Rio Secreto Underground River Tour with Crystal Caves Rio Secreto, Playa del Carmen
Credit: Rio Secreto, Playa del Carmen by © Nadinekanz - Dreamstime.com

Experience the Rio Secreto Underground River Tour with Crystal Caves

What Is It? A tour of an underground river that includes wading, swimming, and encountering a glittering crystal cave with thousands of dramatic stalagmites and stalactites.

Why Do It? It’s an unforgettable journey into a unique system of ancient caverns and underground rivers, revealing the astounding interaction of time within the interior of the planet.

Good to Know: The guides are friendly and knowledgeable, helping to bring the story of the caverns to life. A photographer is on-hand to capture photos of your experience too.

Zip-Bike at Xel-Há Zip Bike Xcaret
Credit: Zip Bike Xcaret by Xcaret Experiencas

Zip-Bike at Xel-Há

What Is It? The Zip-Bike is an exciting adventure at Xel-Há that combines biking and ziplining.

Why Do It? You’ll be able to admire spectacular nature while flying through the trees, pedaling up to 23 feet in height during the 30-minute ride that travels a third of a mile.

Good to Know: Ages 10 and up can participate, with the bike and helmet included.

Go Parasailing Parasailing in Playa del Carmen
Credit: Parasailing in Playa del Carmen by © Jagannathan Narayanan - Dreamstime.com

Go Parasailing

What Is It? Parasailing involves wearing an open parachute while being towed by a motorboat that allows you to glide through the sky. It’s one of the most popular activities in Playa del Carmen, with many boats ready to provide the help you check it off your bucket list.

Why Do It? Once you’re up in the air, you’ll enjoy one of the most serene experiences with a bird’s-eye view of the sea and beaches below.

Good to Know: This is a great activity for photos, so be sure to bring a waterproof camera.

Take a Chocolate Workshop at Pasión de Cacao Pasion de Cacao
Credit: Pasion de Cacao by Pasion de Cacao

Take a Chocolate Workshop at Pasión de Cacao

What Is It? A chocolate-making workshop that’s held at a genuine chocolate factory just south of downtown where authentic Mexican chocolate goes from bean to bar all right on the premises.

Why Do It? You’ll not only learn all about the Mexican cacao but the process of turning the bean into delectable treats from scratch using traditional tools. Of course, a tasting is included.

Good to Know: You’ll get to make your own chocolate bar while learning from passionate locals, making it a great way to connect with the local culture too.

Snuba in a Cenote Snuba in a cenote, Xcaret, Playa del Carmen
Credit: Snuba in a cenote, Xcaret, Playa del Carmen by Xcaret

Snuba in a Cenote

What Is It? Snuba® Cenote is an activity that’s only available in Xel-Há, combining diving with the freedom of movement that snorkeling offers.

Why Do It? It’s a great opportunity to get a taste of what diving is like in a safe, easy way with a certified instructor. You’ll descend into a beautiful cenote that’s up to 23 feet deep to observe in detail the natural rock formations.

Good to Know: Your instructor will make sure you’re comfortable using the equipment and provide several minutes of practice time before you go exploring.

See the Portal Maya at Parque Fundadores Parque Fundadores
Credit: Parque Fundadores by © Joanne Rymell - Dreamstime.com

See the Portal Maya at Parque Fundadores

What Is It? A huge, more than 50-foot-high arched sculpture at the beachside depicts men and women in a swirl of wind and water.

Why Do It? It’s a must-see and a fantastic photo-op for your Instagram feed.

Good to Know: The arch was designed by Guanajuato, Mexico resident/artist Arturo Taravez to celebrate the Mayan calendar. Keep an eye out for the Papantla Flyers, who perform a unique and dazzling dance ritual known as Voladores de Papantla, or Dance of the Flyers, throughout the day.

Swim with Sea Turtles at Akumal Beach sea turtle off Akumal Beach in Playa del Carmen
Credit: sea turtle off Akumal Beach in Playa del Carmen by © James Kelley - Dreamstime.com

Swim with Sea Turtles at Akumal Beach

What Is It? An independent activity that allows you to swim right alongside majestic sea turtles.

Why Do It? If you like sea turtles, you’ll enjoy the opportunity for a close encounter, and it won’t cost you a thing.

Good to Know: While multiple people will sell you a tour to bring you to swim with the turtles, it can be done on your own from Akumal Beach. Just grab a snorkel (readily available for rent or sale if you don’t have your own) and arrive early in the morning for a tranquil experience that also includes viewing colorful corals, giant schools of fish, and more.

Watch an Authentic Traditional Dance Performance in a Mayan Village Mayan dance at Mayan village at Xcaret Park, Playa del Carmen
Credit: Mayan dance at Mayan village at Xcaret Park, Playa del Carmen by © Paulina Kurpiewska - Dreamstime.com

Watch an Authentic Traditional Dance Performance in a Mayan Village

What Is It? Xcaret hosts a traditional Mayan village that includes the opportunity to witness pre-Hispanic dances.

Why Do It? You’ll get an authentic look at traditional Mayan life through dance, complete with the sounds of ancestral drums and the aroma of copal. Before it begins, you can immerse yourself in the daily life of a pre-Hispanic community and learn about creative processes from real Mayan artisans, perhaps taking home a piece of their remarkable works too.

Good to Know: The dance takes place just as the sun goes down, with the ancestral drums indicating its start.

Indulge in a Massage or Spa Treatment Relaxing hot stone massage
Credit: Relaxing hot stone massage by © Tatiana Badaeva | Dreamstime.com

Indulge in a Massage or Spa Treatment

What Is It? Playa del Carmen has become renowned for its many spas, most of which offer a wide range of massage options.

Why Do It? There are few better ways to melt stress away and pamper your senses than with a relaxing spa treatment, Caribbean-style. Some spas even use local ingredients with benefits that can enhance wellness.

Good to Know: Many hotels and resorts in Playa del Carmen have their own spas, and the country’s top theme park, Xcaret hosts the Xpá Xcaret Spa, a great addition to a day of exploring the park’s many attractions and activities. The entrance is impressive itself, set within a hidden cave behind a waterfall.

Enjoy Fine Dining at Oh lala! International Cuisine by George Oh Lala! Restaurant
Credit: Oh Lala! Restaurant by Oh Lala! Restaurant

Enjoy Fine Dining at Oh lala! International Cuisine by George

What Is It? A fine dining restaurant open for dinner only with just nine tables divided between indoor and outdoor seating and an open kitchen.

Why Do It? Many say Oh lala! is the best restaurant in the region, if not all of Mexico. It’s focused on international cuisine, with an extensive array of fish and seafood dishes developed by highly-acclaimed Chef George using only the freshest, highest-quality ingredients.

Good to Know: Despite the rave reviews, prices are reasonable, but you’ll want to make a reservation before arriving in Playa del Carmen to avoid disappointment.

Embark on a Day Trip to Isla Mujeres North Beach, Isla Mujeres, Yucatan, Mexico
Credit: North Beach, Isla Mujeres, Yucatan, Mexico by Bigstock.com

Embark on a Day Trip to Isla Mujeres

What Is It? A top beach destination in Mexico, Isla Mujeres is an island that provides a peaceful respite from the tourist crowds just a 15-minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen.

Why Do It? It’s easy to reach the “Island of Women” for a day trip that includes soaking up the sun and the sand in relative seclusion as well as enjoying a more laid-back atmosphere and mouthwatering street foods.

Good to Know: Plan to spend the whole day as there are also Mayan ruins to explore, a turtle protection center that can be visited, and a downtown area with shops and eateries.

Explore 5th Avenue 5th Avenue, Playa del Carmen
Credit: 5th Avenue, Playa del Carmen by © Kmiragaya - Dreamstime.com

Explore 5th Avenue

What Is It? 5th Avenue is a pedestrianized avenue that serves as a hub of downtown for shopping, dining, drinking, and souvenirs.

Why Do It? While strolling 5th is one of the most typical touristy things to do, it’s really a must. Keep watch for street performers, which range from fire breathers and painted mimes to musicians and breakdancers. Just off the avenue is L’Aquarium, with over 10,000 marine animals.

Good to Know: While many of the items in the shops here are a bit pricier than what you’d find elsewhere, by heading a street or two back from the beach, you’ll find many more affordable options.

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