Are you thinking of traveling to Playa del Carmen in Mexico?
Playa del Carmen is a popular beach destination located along Mexico’s tropical Riviera Maya coast home to many beaches, parties and giant resort.
With lapping Caribbean waters, a thriving night scene as well as many ancient ruins lying nearby, this town is a must-visit when heading to this area of Mexico.
The incredible nightlife scene and its forever evolving 5th Avenue (Quinta Avenida) make this town one of the most visited destinations in Mexico.
Being smaller and less touristic than Cancun, some people have learned to love Playa del Carmen and others hate it, but you must try it out for yourself to decide.
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Playa del Carmen Travel Guide
In this all-inclusive guide, we’ll take a look at everything you’ll need to know about Playa del Carmen as a first time visitor to Mexico and the Riviera Maya region.
We’ll cover imporant things to know, such 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. See the map below to get a better idea:
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 Cancun, and 1600km east of Mexico City.
Is Playa del Carmen safe for tourists?
We’ve looked at some of the most dangerous cities in Mexico before on this blog and in our opinion, Playa del Carmen is a strange one when it comes to safety.
If you’ve read up on safety in Playa already, or been have already visited the town before, you can probably appreciate this statement.
Having said that, the Quinta Avenida is one of the safest streets in the city, where there’s always a ton of people walking around (locals and tourists alike).
Although, even then there are many “normal looking” locals seemingly popping out of nowhere offering drugs. If this happens to you, just politely decline, walk off and you’ll have no problems.
When it comes to the big bad drug trade, it’s crucial 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 somewhat dangerous (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.
Carrying a money stash like this one with you is a great idea as it allows you conceal your belongings effectively while exploring the streets.
Is Playa del Carmen worth visiting?
Yes! – The Riviera Maya region in itself is full of tropical beauties, and some really worthwhile gems to see too. We have spent a ton of time here (over 2-3 months) and still come back for more on our trips to Mexico!
Playa del Carmen is the perfect base camp for day trips, where you can jump on local colectivos to explore its ancient ruins and cenotes, secluded Caribbean beaches and also the wild jungle.
Playa itself is a bustling city, and we prefer it to Cancun, which is the other major hub of the region (which can feel seedy and unsafe in many areas).
However, Playa del Carmen 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 clubs.
How to get to Playa del Carmen
The closest international airport to Playa is near Cancun, 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 (especially for budget travelers).
This leaves Cancun 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 with ADO online to secure your seat on the coach before traveling.
There are two ADO terminals in town you can get dropped off at, with the most popular terminal located right on the Quinta Avenida.
Cancun’s airport, also links up well with many other Mexican hubs such as Mexico City and Monterrey, and with daily flights, it means you can get here 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.
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 generally 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. Doing a local food tour is good way to find out about some of the best places to eat and worth doing at the start of your trip.
Having said that, it’s more than possible to do Playa del Carmen on the cheap.
There are lots of hostels (check out Selina on Quinta Avenida) and Airbnbs 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).
Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen
Playa is all about the Quinta Avenida. Here you can find a huge range of accommodation options ranging from all-star hotels to cheap hostels and Airbnbs.
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, we recommend staying at the Playa Maya by MIJ. This beachfront hotel 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 main walking street and adjacent streets plus the Riviera Maya region with ease.
Best Things to do in Playa del Carmen
Now let’s take a look at the very best things do in Playa del Carmen.
Whilst most top attractions are outside of town, we’ll mention some of the things to do in Playa del Carmen (close to 5th Ave) as well as where to eat and drink.
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 while in the vicinity.
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. Those interested in swimming with Whale sharks love visiting this Caribbean region of Mexico.
For adrenaline seekers, you can land on the beach after skydiving over the deep blues of the ocean.
Best day trips from Playa del Carmen
Below we will explore some of the very best day trips from Playa del Carmen which you can do during you stay.
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.
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 drink. 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
- Cenotes (Ik Kil, Dos Ojos, and Suytun)
It is also worth noting that when visiting Playa del Carmen, having an interest in learning about Mexican culture can help to enrich your trip here.
Also, try learning some Spanish to help you when using taxis or collectivos as being able to communicate in Spanish goes a long way here too.
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.
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.
Events in Playa del Carmen
It’s true that the bustle and 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
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 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 fewer crowds.
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Traveling to Playa del Carmen Guide
That is all for our guide on traveling to Playa del Carmen.
This thriving town is one of the most popular on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast. Here you’ll find many accommodation options, restaurants and nightlife to satisfy all.
It’s also the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the best sites within the Riviera Maya region and to even transport yourself to other nearby regions in Mexico.
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.
Enjoy your time in Playa del Carmen and be sure to take a look at some of our sustainable travel tips to see how your trip can have a more positive impact.
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