Playa del Carmen Travel Guide: Visiting Mexico's Caribbean (2022) (2023)

Playa del Carmen Travel Guide: Visiting Mexico's Caribbean (2022) (1)

Playa del Carmen is a popular beach destination located along Mexico’s tropical Riviera Maya coast.

With lapping Caribbean waters, a thriving night scene as well as many ancient ruins lying nearby, this town is a must-see when visiting this area of Mexico.

Playa del Carmen Quick Summary:

  • 📍 Where is it: Southern Mexico
  • 🗺 Difficulty Getting There: Very Easy
  • ⏱ Time needed: 5+ days
  • ☀️ Best Time to Visit: January/February
  • 🍴 Top Food/Drink: Cochinita Pibil, Fruit Smoothies
  • 🔥 Our Favourite Gem: Aktun Chen Cenote

Table of Contents

Playa del Carmen Travel Guide

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take a look at everything you’ll need to know about Playa del Carmen. We’ll cover how to get there, where to stay, how to stay safe, the best things to do, when to visit and much more!

Where is Playa del Carmen?

Playa del Carmen is situated on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast, which runs along the south-east of the country.

It’s located within the state of Quintana Roo, however is better known for being within the popular Riviera Maya region (which is made up of both Quintana Roo and the Yucatán). Playa del Carmen is just 68km south of Cancún, and 1600km east of Mexico City.

Is Playa del Carmen safe for tourists?

Playa is a strange one when it comes to safety, and if you’ve ever been here before you can probably appreciate this statement.

The Quinta Avenida is one of the safest streets in the city, where there’s always a tonne of people walking around (locals and tourists alike).

Although, even then there are many “normal looking” locals seemingly popping out of nowhere offering drugs. Just politely decline, walk off and you’ll have no problems.

When it comes to the drug trade, it’s important to remember there’s virtually no effect on tourists, and only on those who consume drugs or get involved.

This area, as well as its beach, is safe to walk along both during the day and night. Stay between the Quinta Avenida up until around Avenida 20 Norte and you’ll be fine, but any further can get seedy (Playa has its streets running adjacent to the sea increasing in multiples of 5, which is good to note).

You definitely don’t want to walk any further than the underpass of the motorway bridge, since it can get dangerous – and to be honest there’s no reason for a tourist to even need to go near there anyway.

Do you already have travel insurance for Playa del Carmen? we suggest getting a quote with SafetyWing so you can make the most of of an insurance policy that is tailored to suit you. Taking out insurance before you travel is important to cover you in case of any accidents.

Is Playa del Carmen Worth Visiting?

The Riviera Maya region in itself is full of tropical beauties, and some really worthwhile gems to see too. George has spent a tonne of time here (over 2-3 months) and still comes back for more!

Playa del Carmen is the perfect base camp for day trips, where you can jump on local colectivos to explore its ancient ruins, cenotes, secluded Caribbean beaches and also the wild jungle.

Playa itself is a bustling city, and we prefer it to Cancún, which is the other major hub of the region (which can feel seedy and unsafe in many areas). However, Playa is full of good vibes and perfect for those looking for a good time with its endless entertainment options.

You’ll also find all kinds of restaurants serving cuisines from all over the world, and many nightlife options ranging from cozy bars to don’t-see-don’t-tell pumping clubs.

How to get to Playa del Carmen

The closest international airport to Playa is near Cancún, which is roughly 55km north of our destination. Driving distance usually takes around 1-2 hours, depending on the time of day and traffic.

There are many ways to get to Playa, including by taxi or private transport, but the most popular way is to use the ADO bus.

This leaves Cancún Airport every 30-60 minutes and arrives directly at Playa (on the return it stops at every airport terminal which is very useful).

We recommend booking tickets online to secure your seat on the coach. There are two ADO terminals in town you can get dropped off at, with the most popular terminal located right on the Quinta Avenida.

The airport of Cancún also links up well with many other Mexican hubs such as Mexico City and Monterrey, and with many daily flights, it means you can cross the country with ease.

The bus station in Playa also connects with many other destinations in Southern Mexico. The bus from Tulum to Playa del Carmen takes around 2 hours, whilst it’s more like 4 hours from Bacalar.

You can also take a bus from Palenque in the neighboring region of Chiapas, which takes around 12 hours of travel time in total. It is popular to hire a car in this region for the chance to explore at your own leisure.

Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen

Playa is all about the Quinta Avenida. Here you’ll find a range of options ranging from all-star hotels to cheap Airbnbs and hostels.

As we’ve already mentioned, you’ll want to stay between the beach up until Avenida 20 Norte, since it starts to get a little more unsafe after that.

For those who want the all-inclusive experience, stay at the Playa Maya by MIJ. It is a beachfront hotel that has its own access to the Caribbean Sea, as well as an expansive swimming pool and perfectly-positioned terraces.

Another great option is The Fives Downtown Hotel & Residences by Hilton. Just a block away from the bus station, it’s perfectly located for you to explore the Riviera Maya region with ease.

What to do in Playa del Carmen

Now let’s take a look at the very best things to see and do in Playa del Carmen. Whilst most of the top sites are outside of town, we’ll also look at the best things to see in Playa as well as where to eat and party.

Best Things to do in Playa del Carmen

Frida Kahlo Museum: This spectacular woman needs no real introduction. A very popular figure today, Frida was known to be one of the most important women of her generation in promoting equality in Mexico, and also for her own powerful and often conflict-driven life. This museum is dedicated to her life and special events that happened and is located right on the Quinta Avenida. Definitely worth a visit when strolling along this road.

The Beach: The beach in Playa is where life comes to relax and rejoice in front of the stunning Caribbean waters. Whilst you can find more idyllic and quieter beaches in the region, this one is perfect for its ease of accessibility, and also with many bars and restaurants within touching distance. Since it’s so popular, this means it’s great for trying out different water sports, with jet-skiing and snorkeling the most popular. For adrenaline seekers, you can land on the beach after skydiving over the deep blues of the ocean (George did this and 100% vouches for it!).

Best Day Trips from Playa del Carmen

Below we’ll explore the best day trips from Playa del Carmen you can take.

Chichén Itzá

One of the world’s new seven wonders, Chichén Itzá truly is a spectacular site (even despite the hordes of tourists who visit).

If you come early in the morning, you’ll avoid these and also be greeted with sounds of shrieking birds, as well as synchronized singing of insects from the nearby jungle. You’ll also have the imposing pyramids surrounding you, and trust us, they’re even better in real person.

The best way to get to these pyramids is with a tour like this one which gives you the chance to explore the site.

Aktun Chen Cenote

The Riviera Maya region is well known for its abundance of cenotes, which are caves filled with bright blue or green waters. Playa del Carmen has quite a few close-by, and our favourite has to be the Aktun Chen Cenote.

Here you’ll weave between incredible rock formations, as well as long stalagmites and stalactites, before reaching the pools which are perfect for a swim. Aktun Chen is around 40 minutes south of Playa, and you can easily take a colectivo which will drop you off at the entrance on the side of the highway.

Akumal

There are many awesome towns dotted around Quintana Roo’s palm-fringed coast, however, it’s Akumal which we think is the best for a day trip. This small town is around half an hour south of Playa and has some really incredible beaches perfect for a day of bronzing up under the hot Mexican Sun.

Akumal is also one of the best places in the country to swim with turtles, and your best shot is to rent some snorkeling equipment and head to Half Moon Bay. There are many great restaurants and bars lining these beaches, so you’ll always have good food and a cold one right on hand.

See this action-packed day trip that allows you to see the best of Akumal, explore nearby cenotes and even go snorkeling with turtles.

Other Notable Mentions: The Riviera Maya region really is vast, and we’ll need to make a separate guide on literally everything you can see and do here! Until then, other notable mentions of what to see here include Tulum and its Mayan Ruins, Puerto Aventuras, as well as the popular Cenotes of Ik Kil, Dos Ojos, and Suytun.

Where to Eat in Playa del Carmen

As you can imagine, Playa has quite a diverse food scene. For those who love creature comforts, you’ll be surprised with the sheer amount of western style restaurants, which have pretty much all cuisines from around the world.

Most of these are along the Quinta Avenida, on the beachfront as well as on Avenidas 10 & 15.

For those looking for some real, authentic Mexican food, we’ve also got you covered! El Fogon and Don Sirloin are the two best authentic restaurants in Playa, and some dishes you’ll want to try here include the infamous Tacos del Pastor as well as any arrachera-based dish.

And for those who are feeling more adventurous, you can head to the outdoor food market in the Parque Leona Vicario. Here there are some real awesome taco stands selling the good stuff for less than a dollar apiece.

After your finished, head to the Marquesita stands, with these chocolate or strawberry-based desserts are a real treat for those with a sweet tooth.

See our tips on how not to get sick in Mexico if you on concerned about eating street food and trying new dishes in this region.

Playa del Carmen Nightlife

This town is arguably one of Mexico’s best spots for nightlife.

Most of the action is based around the forever-busy Quinta Avenida, and you’ll find things kicking off most days of the week too. Some of the most popular clubs to visit here are right next to the beach, which includes La Vaquita and Mandala.

Before kicking your night off, we always recommend heading to the beach with some beers, or to a beach bar where you can watch the sun go down.

There are tons lining the long beach here, however, our favorites are Coralina Daylight Club as well as INTI Beach.

Playa del Carmen Travel Tips

The Best Time to Visit Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen has a typical Caribbean climate, with both a dry and wet season with temperatures hot year-round.

The dry season begins around late November and runs through until April. Average daily temperatures hover between 72-78°F, with highs of up to 88°F and lows of down to 65°F. Rainfall ranges between 1-2 inches throughout each of these months, with March being the driest month of the year.

A visit during this time of year is best for those who want comfortable temperatures, and long, uninterrupted spells on the beach.

The contrasting wet season starts in May and continues on until November. During this season, temperatures are hotter, with a daily average of 76-81°F.

Highs can reach up to a toasty 90°F, with night-time lows of around 68°F. Rainfall levels also pick up during these months, with between 3-6 inches falling throughout each month.

The wettest month of the year for a visit is September. Whilst the rainfall puts some off, it’s still a good time to visit since showers are usually heavy, but over quickly. It’s especially a good time for those looking for cheaper prices and overall fewer crowds.

Is Playa del Carmen Expensive?

Like most destinations in the Riviera Maya, things used to be pretty cheap until tourism was explored in recent decades.

Playa is quite expensive when compared with other beach destinations in Mexico, especially if you’re looking to stay at a good hotel along the beachfront (or on the Quinta Avenida). The better restaurants will also be a little more pricey since they cater mostly to American and European clientele.

Having said that, it’s more than possible to do Playa del Carmen on the cheap. There are tons of hostels and Airbnb around this area, which will keep costs low. There are also plenty of more local restaurants (with more authentic food too!) that are much better for the wallet.

Taxis can be expensive when hopping between destinations within the Riviera Maya region, however, you can always use the local colectivos which are very cheap (and take just a little longer than a taxi would).

Best Playa del Carmen Events and Festivals

It’s true that the party vibes of Playa never stop year-round. So even if you don’t make one of the big events below, trust us, it’ll still live up to the hype.

New Year’s in Playa really is a spectacle in itself. Crowds amass along the Quinta, and literally, every bar and club within the vicinity will be jam-packed. Expect lots of deals and behind-closed-doors antics during this time, with the beach a good place to get a few beers in beforehand in the hot winter sun.

Heading in the complete opposite direction now, let’s take a look at a unique cultural event that happens twice a year. During the Spring and Fall Equinoxes (21st March and 22nd September respectively), the ruins of Chichén Itzá are flocked to where a truly awesome thing happens.

The Mayans were ahead of their time when it came to astrology, and so they built the main pyramid in such a way that the shadow of a large snake (known as Kukulcán) appears along the base. Pretty awesome to say the least!

Playa del Carmen Travel Tips

  • We’ve found the best months to head to Playa are either March or April. Deep within the dry season, these months only have between 1-1.5 inches of rain, are the overall driest of the year. Temperatures are nice and hot, with a daily average of 75-78°F, with highs of 90°F and comfortable evening lows of between 66-69°F.
  • There are many great restaurants to eat at in Playa, however, our top recommendation has to be Les Amis Baguetteria. Just a few steps from the beach, here you can order a really tasty baguette, along with some great smoothies too!
  • When heading to Playa, you’ll want to spend around 5 days here. Whilst 2 days is easy enough to see the sights inside the town, it’s all about getting out into the Riviera Maya region. As we’ve seen, there are countless caves, cenotes, and ruins all waiting to be explored, and you’ll need a decent amount of time to see the very best here.

Playa del Carmen Travel Guide: Final Words

And that’s all for our guide to Playa del Carmen.

This pumping town is one of the most popular for a stay along Mexico’s Caribbean Coast. Here you’ll find a tonne of accommodation options, restaurants and nightlife that satisfy all tastes. It’s also the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the best sites within the Riviera Maya region.

In this guide, we’ve explored Playa del Carmen, which includes the best things to do, how to get there, where to stay, and how to stay safe. We’ve also given our best recommendations based on our own time spent here.

We hope you enjoy your time in Playa del Carmen and be sure to read our Tulum travel guide to take a closer look at what things you can see.

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