Welcome to our Beach Thursday: Yucatán special! I know what you’re probably thinking: “Oh no, not another ‘things to do’ post!” But don’t fret. I am publishing an adventure-packed photo essay of things to do in Playa Del Carmen, based on my own trip and interviews with locals. I promise: you will love every single activity (and picture) 😀
If you have additional questions about a tour or accommodation in Playa Del Carmen, feel free to send me a note or leave a comment below!
Things to do in Playa Del Carmen: Day trips
Due to my short Thanksgiving break (Thursday – Monday), I had to be very selective about the places I visited. I wanted a good mix of history, relaxation, and adventure. As I would be more energized the first few days, I decided to visit the lesser-known Maya ruins of Ek Balam and Cobá. However, if you have never visited Chichen Itza, I recommend you go there instead of Cobá on your short Playa Del Carmen vacation.
I booked my tours via Karma Trails, a travel agency that partners with local tour companies that give back to the Maya communities. I was very happy with this practice! All tours included a short stop at a local Maya village, giving them the opportunity to sell their own crafts without a middleman.
My Ek Balam tour included a great morning spent at Río Lagartos as well. We got to float on the salt flats holding ponds and bathe in mineral-rich mud, which brought back memories of my trip to the Dead Sea in Israel! We also got to see some crocs up close and personal (!), in addition to several other birds and PINK FLAMINGOS! 😀
The highlight of the all-day, 13-hour tour was our guide Gianluca though — a funny, knowledgeable polyglot. It was pretty awesome that he had an iPad with many photos, maps, etc. to discuss Maya and Mexican history with us during the rides between sites. We learned not only about the Maya ruins we visited, but also got cultural tidbits from other parts of Mexico. The history buff in me LOVED this.
The second tour, Cobá Mayan Encounter, was action-packed! In the morning, we visited a Maya community, witnessed a Maya shaman perform a ceremony, drifted on a beautiful lake, and rode down several zip lines. We also got to do some rappelling down a cenote + canoeing! Travel bucket list items checked 😀
In the afternoon, we visited the wonderful Cobá Maya ruins. I decided to rent a bike and it was the best decision I made. We had our tour guide explained the history for the first 20 mins., then we got to explore the site at our own pace for a good 45 min. It was plenty of time to leisurely cycle around the ruins, take some good photos, and even climb the main “pyramid”! By the way, that’s in quotes because apparently, we’re not supposed to call it that way 😉
Other great day trips from Playa Del Carmen is the charming town of Valladolid and swimming with turtles in Akumal. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to either town on this trip. I’ll definitely have to go back and experience everything else the amazing Riviera Maya and Yucatan have to offer!
Theme parks & reserves: Xel-Ha, Xcaret, Xplor, Sian Ka’an
As I opted to visit 2 Maya sites + adventure tours, I didn’t get to go to any of the theme parks. However, Xel-Ha, Xcaret, Xplor, and Sian Ka’an are highly recommended by several travelers and bloggers. I’m definitely checking them out on my next trip, especially the Xcaret night show (which I could have done one night, but Playa Del Carmen nightlife got me quite distracted!).
Xel-há Park (daily, 8:30 AM – 7 PM): for a close encounter with nature. Lazily float down the river, go snorkeling, SNUBA, walk underwater and even swim with dolphins here.
Xcaret (daily, 8:30 AM – 9:30 PM): archaeological & adventure park, excellent to learn more about Mexican culture. Food is great, too. Dolphin/shark swims & other water activities also available here. Make sure you stay for the night show, check out the wine tasting & try out one of the semi-underground spa treatments!
Xplor (Mon – Sat, 9 AM – 5 PM): for the adventurous souls. 14 zip lines (including one through a waterfall and into a cave!), swim in an underground river, and even drive an amphibious vehicle. Enough said!
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve: located in Tulum, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is spectacular. It is a little out of the way, but worth it. Kayaking, fly fishing, and condoning our popular here. I recommend used to spend one night at one of the cabins on-site.
Where to eat in Playa Del Carmen
Coming soon! I still have to look for my notepad with all my restaurant recommendations 😉 I can tell you right now though: Go to Yaxche Mayan Fusion Cuisine Restaurant on 5th Avenue! Have one of the specialty Maya food mixed platters, Maya coffee (a ceremony in itself), and plantain flan for dessert (called pie de platano, with hazelnuts and cajeta, which is goat dulce de leche. TRUST me, you gotta have it).
Playa Del Carmen nightlife
As I told you on a previous post, Playa Del Carmen nightlife is ACE!
One more thing to do in Playa Del Carmen: Beach massages!
So many Playa Del Carmen beach clubs offer cheap massages by the ocean, giving you tremendous bargaining power. I scored a 70-min. reflexiology massage for USD $18. BLISS! See if you can get one for less and report back 😉
Got more recommendations of things to do in Playa Del Carmen?
Special thanks to Karma Trails for offering a complimentary Cobá Encounter tour. I was not paid for a positive review and all comments on this article are my honest opinion, though.
my 28yr daughter & I r going 2 all-inclus. in playa del Carmen dec-jan with an not so great budget to do a whole lot of adventures. We wld like to do 1 full-day and a half day attractions. love jungle nite shows daughter zip line, not too many stairs 4 me (will do with her) she likes the pyramids. help can’t choose the best to see with not a lot of $. 500.00 a pc. what wld u do most with what i’v tld u. vry much appreciated. help me. the best w/not a lot of time. can’t wait thank u. love u’r page
thank you and am so sorry I missed your message Susanne! what did you end up doing? Definitely Xcaret and Xelha parks should offer many options for both the adventurous and the one who wants to be more chill or has limited mobility.
We’re going to Playa del Carmen for two weeks in December, planning lots of day trips so this is super useful!
Looks like you had one amazing adventure, the Yucatan sure is one place to visit that is full of history, culture and non-stop fun. Chichen Itza is one of my fav places to visit, i am in ore every time I go there.
I certainly had a blast, never get tired of going back to the Yucatán! Good food, sweet people 🙂
Great post about the main sites to visit! I never entered the Coco Bongo, yet. Maybe the next time.
omg, WHAAAA?! It’s a BLAST! So much going on, so great. If you’ve been Las Vegas though this might not be so amazing… But for Mexico? Pretty awesome
When I visited the Mayan Riviera and the Yucatan, I wasn’t able to do the tours you highlight in here. However, I visited Valladolid, Chichen Itza and Xcaret. All those were great but I am ready to go back and explore more of the area. I would love to float in Rio Lagartos. I was able to get a massage for $35 an hour. You have to tell me where you went for yours.
An ancient haggling technique: act like you don’t care much — keep just walking by with a coy smile. Eventually, tell them that you know of a different place that charges $18 for a 70-minute massage and whether they’ll match the price 😉 Walla! Competition is so fierce that they’ll likely give in. If they don’t? Go to a different place that will! 😉
Oh, that croc looks scary! I’ve been to Chichen Itza, so I guess next time I’ll head to Cobá. Looks fascinating.
you should definitely go back, Cathy! The Riviera Maya has WAY too much to offer, could never do it on just one trip.
PS: I was terrified of the croc being that close, too. But now I think it was a great experience! haha :p
I went to Chichen Itza as a kid, and my family nicknamed it “Chicken Pizza.” Hubby and I tried out Xcaret a few years ago when our cruise ship was in port. I really enjoyed floating down the underground river but thought the drinks were waaaaay overpriced (but I was preggers, so it didn’t matter).
any touristy part will be expensive, although I have found the all-inclusive passes (including all drinks and food) to be quite reasonable for families. You should definitely go back and do some of the adventurous activities!
Reflexology for $18? unheard of!
Pink flamingos? Mayan ruins, salt flats, crocs ? I always thought Playa del Carmen was too touristy but I see there are lots more things to do there. Thanks for this writeup, Maria!
yes, you will find tourists on the beach and a lot of them on 5th Avenue, but that doesn’t take away from the charm and many things to do in Playa Del Carmen. You should definitely hit it up!
Two TPThursday posts in a row for destinations where I’ve only sampled on cruises. When we were there we went to Xcaret because we were told the food was good and safe for tourists. At lunch when the waiter put down a spicy salsa I assumed that it was spicy by tourist standards and went a little too hard on it. I found out after a few minutes that it was the slow burn kind of salsa when it suddenly got hot even by my standards. I had to down my margarita and my wife’s sangria to fight the flames. I spent most of the afternoon curled up on a bench semi-drunk with heartburn while my wife explored the park and gift shops.
oh no! Hopefully you’ll be able to enjoy the destination better next time. Because there WILL be a next time, right? 😉
A beautiful place to visit 🙂
It looks like you had an amazing time 🙂 I would love to go to all of these places!
just GO Izy! ;-D
Hi, I am Sherlyn, a new fan of your Latin cultures blog, I find your blog pretty interesting as I love Mexico city so much and I have always wanted 2 visit Mexico city because of my significant other.. 🙂 Perhaps, we can meet up in Singapore and hang out together..
Singapore has been on my list for a while, actually! Let’s see what 2013 brings 😉
I LOVED Sian Ka’an! One of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I wish I had come across an $18 70-minute massage though!
only in Playa Del Carmen 😉 and you must haggle!