The Insider Guide to Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen – or simply Playa – has long been a tourist-luring stop on the Riviera Maya trail. The palm-lined beaches and warm weather are enough for many by themselves. However, with the wonders of the Yucatan Peninsula all around, you may find yourself itching to explore.
¡Vamos! The Main Attractions
When you come to Playa del Carmen, you won’t be able to (and nor should you) resist the magnetic lure of the Caribbean coastline. There are plenty of lounger-lined beaches on which to unfurl, but lively Playa Mamitas is the place for a younger crowd and a fiesta attitude. Looking for something more tranquil? Slightly north, Playa Punta Esmeralda is a calmer alternative, home to a shallow cenote perfect for little ones. Running parallel to the Playa coastline is Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), the main pedestrianized strip with bars, restaurants and street performers. At one end sits Parque Fundadores, where you can watch dancers in Mayan garb shimmering and shaking in a blur. If you’re looking to extend your day into the early hours of the next, the nightlife of Calle 12 street runs on the rhythms of reggaeton well into the small hours. When it’s time to venture further afield, hop on a ferry to the neighboring island of Cozumel. There you’ll snorkel the protected coral reef off El Cielo beach and explore the San Gervasio Mayan ruins. Alternatively, the small beach town of Akumal lies between Playa and Tulum, and brings the chance to swim with turtles. Tie in the visit with a trip to nearby Yal-Ku, a snorkel-friendly lagoon with plenty of water fauna. If you’re on a family vacation, you should head to Rio Secreto, a mystical underground river with stalactites and stalagmites. Then try Xcaret Park: an eco-friendly theme park with grand performances, adventure playgrounds and Mayan ruins. For more ancient history, Chichen Itza, with the stepped pyramid of Kukulkan and an impressive ball court, is a two-hour drive from Playa but worth the journey. Plus, the seaside ruins at Tulum are under an hour away. There are also plenty of cenotes nearby, including the open-air Cenote Azul and the two linked waters of Dos Ojos.