A guide to things to do in Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is the hip older sister of Cancun – relaxed, trendy and very much ‘in the know’. People holiday in Playa del Carmen for the Mayan culture, watersports and international cuisine. It doesn’t have the range of nightlife that attracts the young to Cancun, or quite so much beach, but it does have picturesque vistas, excellent reef-diving and a European vibe oozing from the contemporary bars and boutiques. This is an ideal spot for your dream holiday in Mexico if you’re looking for a more stylish vibe.
Gold and white sand beaches
Cancun might beat Playa del Carmen on beach miles, but the tourist town has a bohemian vibe that you just can’t quantify. The town was built around the beach, a long strip of wide sand split in two by the Cozumel Ferry Pier.
To the north, the beach is lively – filled with kids building sandcastles, young Europeans playing volleyball and multi-generation families enjoying the excellent accessibility and nearby cafes.
To the south, the beach becomes wilder, less populated and full of secretive caves and rock pools. If sand and sea alone aren’t enough to keep you entertained however, veer towards Mamitas – one of the best-known, action-packed beaches in Playa del Carmen. Here you can hang out in the Mamitas Club and enjoy drinks and bar snacks served to your sunlounger, with music to tap your toes to, and many people travel to Mexico just to come here.
Playa del Carmen can playa del hard with plenty of bars, a range of late-night clubs and the odd pub to suit most tastes. If you want to sample a few of these fine establishments in one night, you can book a local bar crawl for queue jump access and VIP seating. Top of the pops include L’Ambassade, Palazzo Disco and Abolengo for club night tunes that’ll keep you going until dawn.
Coco Bongo is one of the most famous clubs in Mexico, and for good reason. It’s a pricier night than your average but you get so much more than an average night out. Live bands, acrobatic displays and magicians take to the stage for a surreal night you’ll never forget. For further fun, Cancun is just a taxi ride away if you want to experience Mexico’s beach clubbing capital.
Shop the day away
A five-kilometre pedestrian walkway – 5th Avenue – runs through the centre of Playa del Carmen town and acts as the epicentre for shopping and dining. You’ll find a whole host of independent shops selling traditional Mexican crafts, contemporary fashions and souvenirs, as well as the big name brands.
There are two shopping malls, including Quinta Alegria which was opened in 2014 and is home to fast-fashion favourites. Market stalls are the places to barter, and buy top souvenirs include ceramics, leather, blankets and embroidery.
The Mayan civilisation reached the peak of their power around the 6th Century AD but their impact on the region remains visible to this day. You shouldn’t visit the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico without setting your eyes on the spectacular ancient city remains.
Start with Tulum – home to a Pre-Columbian Mayan walled city which once served as a major port for Coba. It’s the closest ancient site to Playa del Carmen – around 40 minutes away by car. You’ll find plenty of tour operators in Carmen running trips to Tulum and other attractions in the region.
If that leaves you wanting more, Chichen Itza is the site friends back home will recognise on their postcard. Home to the iconic Mayan pyramid and sitting in the middle of the Yucatan Peninsula, it’s a truly remarkable experience shrouded in secrets.
The water around Playa del Carmen is made for sports. Scuba diving, parasailing, even wave running are on offer just a short walk from the town centre. Many people come to this part of Mexico to swim with dolphins so if that’s your dream you can live it here. The coral reefs and abundant sea life offer a wealth of snorkelling and diving opportunities, with shipwrecks lurking in the depths for qualified divers to explore.
For organised adrenalin-seeking, head to the Xplor Park, a hugely popular jungle adventure park a short bus ride away. Here you can fly down the zip-lines, ride in a 4×4 adventure vehicle and float like a mermaid along stalactite rivers. Better for families is the neighbouring Xcaret Park with its zoo attractions, cultural demonstrations and kids play areas.
You won’t run out of things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula. Once you’ve visited Cancun and the Chichen Itza, there are plenty of other beaches and towns to explore and waterparks to frolic in. Xel Ha is an ecological waterpark, perfect for safe snorkelling, lazy river rides and skyline adventures. There are also jungle trails and beaches, making this a less-commercialised version of the popular Xcaret Park.
Cenote Chaak Tun consists of two caves with some of the most impressive stalactite formations you’re ever likely to see. The caves have only become popular with tourists in the last few years, so visitors still have relative freedom to wander and get a truly unearthly experience.