The Top Things to Do in Playa del Carmen

Photo of Richard Collett
21 September 2021

Mexico’s luxurious Caribbean beach resort, Playa del Carmen is brimming with things to do for every type of traveler.

Overlooking the white sands and coral reefs of Mexico’s Caribbean coastline, Playa del Carmen is the place to be if you love to adventure during the day and return to the luxury comforts of a resort for the evening. You’ll find freshwater cenotes for swimming and snorkeling, Mayan-themed eco-adventure parks and of course, who could forget the beaches?

Xcaret Park

Amusement Park
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HMAKWD Papantla Flying Men-Voladores de Papantla Region during a performance in Xcaret Ecological Park near Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Quintana Roo, Yucatan
© agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

If you’re a big fan of theme parks but are determined to spend more time in the midst of nature, then Playa del Carmen’s Xcaret Park is the solution you never knew you needed. This massive adventure play park is like Disneyland for thrillseekers, because at Xcaret Park you can zipline through trees, snorkel above coral reefs and ride powerboats along the coast. Xcaret Park also promotes the local Mayan culture and you’ll find Mayan ruins to explore, pre-Hispanic food to try and cultural shows to absorb.

Xenses

Amusement Park
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Xenses
Courtesy of Xenses Park
Take your senses for a ride with a trip to Playa del Carmen’s Xenses theme park. A quirky day out for all, this place is all about subverting your sensory expectations. At Xenses, you’ll find yourself lost in a labyrinth of mirrors before being mesmerized by colorful kaleidoscopes. Pathways through the park lead you through a curious town of oversized or undersized houses, where the streets seem to descend but actually ascend. There’s a cave of perpetual darkness where you must rely on senses other than sight, lazy rivers where time floats away and zip lines where you’ll be pumped full of adrenaline.

Río Secreto

Natural Feature
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CTGMX8 Swimming man looks at fantastic rock formations at Rio Secreto, an underground cave that people can visit in Mexico
© Yvette Cardozo / Alamy Stock Photo

Enter the underground caverns of Rio Secreto to discover the hidden subterranean world that lies beneath the surface of Playa del Carmen. The Secret River is a vast network of flooded limestone caves, underground lagoons and stalactites and stalagmites that extends for as much as 38km (23mi). You can explore a small fraction of this vast cave system on a guided tour, but get ready to snorkel or scuba dive to see the underwater rock formations and marine life at their best.

Cenote Cristalino

Natural Feature
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RREDRW Overhead woman floating in the Cristalino cenote,Quintana Roo, Mexico
© Adam Melnyk / Alamy Stock Photo

Wear your swimmers when you visit Cenote Cristalino because you’ll want to jump right in as soon as you see the crystal-clear water that awaits you. You can swim all day in the water or jumping off the surrounding rocks here if you wish. Cenote Cristalino is located around half an hour south of Playa del Carmen, just off the main highway.

Cenote Chaak Tun

Natural Feature
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2AP2RXP impressive orange cliff in a cenote in Mexico
© Mountaingoat_Tom / Alamy Stock Photo

Cenote Chaak Tun is one for the underwater adventurers because this freshwater cenote is best explored on a snorkeling tour. Cenote Chaak Tun is a 15-minute drive inland from Playa del Carmen and you’ll need two hours to tour through this complex underground cave system with a local guide. They’ll provide the wetsuits, lifejackets, masks, snorkels and waterproof torches when you arrive. Be prepared for an excursion into a claustrophobic yet otherworldly subterranean network of flooded caves and underground lagoons.

Playacar Beach

Natural Feature
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ATCYX3 Playacar Beach, Playa del Carmen, Mayan Riviera, Quintana Roo, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Image shot 11/2008. Exact date unknown.
© Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

Escape Playa del Carmen’s busier beaches by taking a stroll all the way down to the southern end of the city’s coastline, where you’ll eventually reach Playacar Beach. Lacking the denser developments of the beaches to the north, there’s just one spacious all-inclusive resort overlooking the sandy shores of Playacar Beach. The beach is public and the further south you walk, the quieter it gets. In the dry season, the Caribbean is cool and calm, so bring along a mask and snorkel to explore the coral reefs just off the coast.

Museo Frida Kahlo Playa del Carmen

Museum
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G0N9WF Portrait of Frida Kahlo by Nickolas Muray, 1939, Frida Kahlo museum, Coyoacan, Mexico City, North America
© Jerónimo Alba / Alamy Stock Photo

At the Museo Frida Kahlo Playa del Carmen you’ll find a delightful gallery and exhibition dedicated to the life and works of Mexico’s beloved Frida Kahlo. This is one for the cultural traveler because a guided tour of the museum will reveal not only reproductions of Frida Kahlo’s most famous works – the original works mostly remain at the Frida Kahlo Museum Mexico City – but offer a unique insight into the curious life and loves of the surrealist, 20th-century painter. If you’re in a hurry, then purchase a skip-the-line ticket – queues can be extensive in peak season.

Playa Punta Esmeralda

Natural Feature
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2F6846X Tropical mexican beach 88 Punta Esmeralda in Playa del Carmen Mexico.
© Arkadij Schell / Alamy Stock Photo

If you’re visiting Playa del Carmen for both the beaches and the cenotes, then make your way to Playa Punta Esmeralda, where you’ll find both of these natural attractions seamlessly woven together. Located towards the northern end of the seafront, at Playa Punta Esmeralda a large cenote opens out into the ocean. The water is incredibly clear, calm and shallow in the dry season and, after a refreshing dip, you can enjoy a lunch of fresh ceviche and a cold beer on the white sandy beach.

Parque Los Fundadores

Park
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RTY911 Portal Maya, Playa del Carmen, Mexico
© Mattia Marenco / Alamy Stock Photo

Stroll to the southern end of Playa del Carmen’s Quinta Avenida – the main tourist street adjacent to the beaches – and you’ll reach Parque Los Fundadores. One of the city’s original public plazas, it remains a popular gathering place for locals and tourists alike. In the plaza, you’ll find the humble Capilla de Nuestra Señora del Carmen church, alongside vendors selling ice creams, drinks and grilled sweet corn. The plaza leads onto the beach, where you’ll walk under the elegant arches of the Portal Maya, a large sculpture that represents the entrance to the Mayan world, to reach the seafront.

3D Museum of Wonders

Museum
Map View

Have you ever wanted to surf big waves, climb the world’s highest mountains or win a Formula-1 race? Well, at Playa del Carmen’s unusual 3D Museum of Wonders, you can take the photographs to convince your friends that you have. The 3D Museum of Wonders is full of life-size and in many cases larger than life murals, paintings and artworks that are designed to look three-dimensional. This one’s a real laugh; not just for the kids, but for fun-loving adults too.

Looking for somewhere to stay? Book into one of the top resorts in Playa del Carmen, or opt instead for one of the best hotels for every traveler. Don’t miss the most beautiful beaches nearby. And if you’re feeling peckish, make sure you try the top restaurants in Playa del Carmen, too.

These recommendations were updated on September 21, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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