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Playa del Carmen Destination Guide

Playa del Carmen beach

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Are you planning to travel to Playa del Carmen? This is my complete Playa del Carmen destination guide, which is a great place to start learning about Playa del Carmen and where you can easily navigate to many of the posts on my blog for more detailed information. After living solo in Playa del Carmen for two years, I learned so much about the destination and have a lot of useful information and insider travel tips to share.

Free Bonus: Scroll to the bottom of this page for a free digital download of this Playa del Carmen guide!

Playa del Carmen Overview

About Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is a Mexican beach town that originated as a small fishing village and has developed rapidly in recent years to become one of the most visited tourist destinations in Mexico.  With tropical beaches and tons of tours and activities, Playa del Carmen is an incredible destination for a relaxing or adventurous getaway.

Known simply as “Playa” to locals, the town is relatively small and has a very laid-back, go-with-the-flow kind of vibe.  Almost everything in Playa del Carmen is centered around Fifth Avenue or “La Quinta Avenida” in Spanish, which is pedestrian-only street that spans for more than 20 blocks. This is where you’ll find the majority of the restaurants, bars, nightlife, and shopping in Playa del Carmen. Fifth Avenue is a lively place and fun to visit but I would also recommend venturing away from the more touristy areas to really get out and explore the destination.

Best Beaches in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen Quick Facts

  • Time Zone: GMT-5 / Eastern Standard Time (No daylight savings)
  • Currency: Mexican peso (MXN)
  • Language: Spanish and indigenous Mayan languages
  • Electric Plug: Same as United States
  • State: Quintana Roo
  • Municipality: Solidaridad

Where is Playa del Carmen?

Playa del Carmen is located on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, just 45 miles south of Cancun on the Caribbean coast.  It’s about an hour drive from the Cancun International Airport. Playa del Carmen is also considered part of Riviera Maya, which is the name of the coastal resort district that spans from Cancun to just south of Tulum.  The name of the entire state is Quintana Roo.  

Playa del Carmen on the map
Playa del Carmen Location
Riviera Maya map
Riviera Maya Map

Weather in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen has a warm tropical climate all year round. It can get very hot and muggy during the summer months when the humidity is most intense. The rainy season occurs during the months of June-October and can reach average daily temperatures of 95-100oF. But even during rainy season, storms can blow over quickly and there can still be plenty of sunshine.

During the winter months of December-February, it does get drier and cooler, but still has an average daily temperature around 75oF. It’s still very warm during the day but can get much cooler at night, so you’ll want to bring a jacket or sweater if you’re visiting during this time. The sea temperature is warm enough to swim in all year round.

Best Time to Visit Playa del Carmen

Because Playa del Carmen is warm and sunny all year round, there really isn’t a bad time to visit. However, there are seasons where it is drier and there is less humidity. High season is considered to be during the months of December–February, when the weather is still very warm and sunny but much less humid. This is a great time to visit but is also the most expensive and crowded time of the year.  

I’ve found that the months on the border of high season (March/April and October/November) are still great weather-wise but will be less expensive and have much less people. You can also find some great hotel deals during this time.

Playa del Carmen Beach

How to Get to Playa del Carmen

The closest and most accessible airport to Playa del Carmen is Cancun International.  There are many direct international flights, which makes Playa del Carmen an easy destination to reach from many cities in the United States and Canada.  You can also fly into Cozumel International airport and take the ferry over to Playa del Carmen but flights are generally more expensive. 

After landing in Cancun, it is about an hour drive south to Playa del Carmen.  Many resorts in Riviera Maya offer complimentary airport transportation or transportation assistance so be sure to check with your resort concierge for more information.

If you are traveling solo, the most economical mode of transportation is the ADO airport bus, which is a comfortable charter bus that costs about $10 USD per person.  Private and shared transportation can also be arranged for larger groups.  I would avoid taking a taxi from the airport as they are usually overpriced and can be a hassle to arrange.

How to Get Around Playa del Carmen

There are many transportation options in Playa del Carmen, which makes it easy to get around even if you don’t have a car. Playa del Carmen is a relatively small town so you can easily walk almost anywhere in the downtown area outlined below, known as “Centro”. Other popular ways to get around include:

  • Biking: Bicycles are a popular mode of transportation and can be rented to get around town. In addition, Biciplaya is a bike rental service that can be used for short rides.
  • Taxis: Taxis are abundant and can be easily hailed in downtown Playa del Carmen. Note Uber and other ride sharing services do not exist in Playa del Carmen.
  • Public Transportation: If you want to travel further away from Playa del Carmen, you can take public transportation, known as a “colectivo”, which is a shared van service that runs continuously along the main highway to go north to Cancun or south towards Tulum.
Travelista Tip: Credit cards are not accepted in taxis or on public transportation so make sure you have enough cash on hand.
Getting Around Playa del Carmen

Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen

There are hundreds of hotels in Playa del Carmen to fit every budget and type of vacation that you’re looking for. Below are the areas that I would recommend staying in Playa del Carmen and the nearby Riviera Maya.

Downtown Playa del Carmen

If you want to be close to 5th Avenue and the restaurants and nightlife in Playa del Carmen, I would recommend staying in downtown Playa del Carmen, known as “Centro”. Even if your hotel is not on the beach, pretty much all of the hotels in downtown Playa del Carmen are less than a 20 minute walk to the beach. Below are my favorite Playa del Carmen hotels:

Mahekal
Beach Resort

Mahekal Beach Resort Playa del Carmen
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Grand Hyatt
Playa del Carmen

Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen Resort
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Hotel HM
Playa del Carmen

Hotel HM Playa del Carmen
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Riviera Maya

If you’re looking for an all-inclusive option, there are many beautiful resorts in Riviera Maya, where you’ll find more widespread beaches, landscaped grounds, and expansive pools. This is an easy booking option that includes all of your food, beverage, and alcohol, but keep in mind these are resorts are located further away from downtown Playa del Carmen. You can definitely still visit the city center but it just means you may have to take up to a 30 minute taxi, which can be costly going back and forth.

Playacar

If you like the idea of staying at all-inclusive resort but still want to be close to the liveliness of downtown Playa del Carmen, I would recommend staying in Playacar, which is a gated community just south of downtown Playa del Carmen. There are many all-inclusive resorts and rental homes in Playacar, and they also have some of the best beaches in Playa del Carmen. Plus, visiting downtown Playa del Carmen is just a 10-15 minute taxi ride away.

Top Things to do in Playa del Carmen

Relax at some of the world’s best beaches

Playa del Carmen is known for its amazing beaches with powder white sand and clear turquoise water. There are several beautiful beaches in Playa del Carmen and some even more incredible beaches that are just a little further away including Playa Xpu-Ha and a stunning secret beach called Playa Xcacel. Many of the beaches offer beach clubs and restaurants where you can rent lounge chairs, or you can bring your own beach gear.

Playa Xpu Ha
Playa Xpu-Ha
Playa Xcacel
Playa Xcacel

Go shopping on the famous 5th Avenue

If you’re looking for a more leisurely activity, shopping in Playa del Carmen is a great way to explore the vibrant 5th Avenue, which spans for more than 20 blocks. You’ll find hundreds of shops and stalls with Mexican souvenirs, authentic handicrafts, boutique clothing, and handmade goods.

Travelista Tip: Pesos or USD are accepted as payment but you will get a better exchange rate if you pay in pesos.
5th Avenue Playa del Carmen

Mexico Backpacks

Swim in a freshwater cenote

Cenotes are freshwater lagoons or sinkholes that are very common in the Yucatan peninsula, unlike anywhere else in the world. There are hundreds of cenotes of all shapes and sizes that can found throughout the region. Each cenote is different but you can typically swim, snorkel, or scuba dive to explore the underwater fish, plants, and caves. These are the best cenotes to visit near Playa del Carmen, and some of my favorites are Eden Cenote, Cenote Azul, and Cenote Cristalino.

Eden Cenote

Eden Cenote
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Cenote Azul

Cenote Azul
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Cenote Cristalino

Cenote Cristalino
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Visit ancient Mayan ruins

There are many impressive Mayan ruins near Playa del Carmen, with the most popular being the Tulum Ruins and Chichen Itza, which is further away. Visiting the ruins is a really interesting experience and a great way to connect with the history of the destination. You can book an all-inclusive tour to visit the ruins with a tour guide or choose to visit them on your own.

Tulum Ruins
Tulum Ruins
Chichen Itza Pyramid
Chichen Itza

Take a day trip to Cozumel

Located just 15 minutes away from Playa del Carmen by ferry, Cozumel is a small island known for its picturesque beaches and incredible reefs for snorkeling and scuba diving. A day trip to Cozumel is an easy excursion from Playa del Carmen, where you can spend the day on a snorkeling tour, relaxing at a beach club, shopping in downtown Cozumel, or just exploring the island.

Playa Palancar Cozumel
Cozumel

Visit the island of Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is a tiny island off the coast of Cancun, and while it takes longer to get there, a day trip to Isla Mujeres is definitely worth it. The most popular beach on Isla Mujeres is Playa Norte, which is one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. In addition to visiting the beaches, you can go snorkeling or explore the downtown area.

Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres

Go on a snorkeling tour

If you’re looking for a more adventurous activity, there are many tour options for snorkeling and scuba diving.

  • One of the most popular snorkeling tours near Playa del Carmen is visiting El Cielo in Cozumel, which is a sandbar where you can see a surplus of starfish and snorkel in the most crystal clear turquoise water.
  • If you’re visiting during the months of May-September, you can swim with whale sharks off the coast of Isla Mujeres, which offers an up close encounter with some of the world’s largest fish.
  • Another great place for snorkeling is in Puerto Morelos, which has an amazing coral reef.
El Cielo Starfish
Whale Shark Isla Mujeres

Sea Turtle

Visit an adventure park

Riviera Maya is home to numerous adventure parks, where you can zipline, swim in cenotes, explore underground caves, and participate in a number of adrenaline pumping activities. The most popular adventure parks are operated by a Mexican company called Grupo Xcaret. The newest Xcaret park is called Xavage, where you can spend a full day on an intense ropes course, monster trucks, a high speed jet boat, and white water rafting.

Xavage
Xavage Xcaret

Playa del Carmen Food & Drink

Restaurants in Playa del Carmen

While there’s no shortage of Mexican food, the restaurants in Playa del Carmen actually offers an amazing mix of both Mexican and international cuisine. You can find a great selection of casual and upscale restaurants featuring many tasty dishes from around the world. And the best part is that many of the restaurants offer outdoor dining so your meals can be enjoyed al fresco.

If you venture off of the touristy 5th Avenue, you’ll find some of the best restaurants and they will likely be less expensive and more authentic. And of course you can’t travel to Mexico without getting to try some authentic tacos! For a casual bite or late night treat, check out these taco joints for some of the best tacos in Playa del Carmen.

El Doctorcito Playa del Carmen

Bars and Nightlife in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is a vacation destination and is known for its bar scene and vibrant nightlife. You’ll definitely want to avoid the 2×1 drink specials on 5th Avenue, which are often watered down and overpriced. Instead, check out some of these bars in Playa del Carmen, with the best drinks and coolest atmosphere. Or chill out at a beachfront bar for a more relaxed night with your toes in the sand.

If you want to experience the nightlife in Playa del Carmen, head to 12th Street, which is where all of the late night bars and clubs are located. Or check out a chic rooftop club like Clandestino to dance the night away under the stars.

Best Bars in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen Tipping Guide

  • It’s customary to tip 10%-15% when dining in restaurants.
  • It’s not expected to tip taxi drivers.
  • When staying at hotels and resorts, it’s not required to tip the resort staff but it’s nice to leave tips at the end of your stay for housekeeping or for any employees that have made your stay special.
Travelista Tip: It is illegal for restaurants to add automatic gratuity to your bill so be sure to check your bill thoroughly before paying.

What to Pack for Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is a warm beach destination, with high humidity for most of the year. You’ll definitely want to pack light, breathable clothing including shorts, tank tops, and dresses, as well as a swimsuit, coverup, and sandals or flip flops. Playa del Carmen is much less conservative that other cities in Mexico, and it’s not uncommon to see visitors wearing swimwear and minimal clothing walking down the street. In addition to your clothes and personal items, I would also recommend packing:

  • Biodegradable sunscreen: Regular sunscreen is prohibited at cenotes and should always be worn when swimming in the ocean in order to protect the coral reefs. I would recommend purchasing biodegradable sunscreen before your trip as it’s much easier to find online than in Playa del Carmen.
  • Water Shoes: If you’re planning to visit a cenote, you’ll definitely want to bring water shoes as the rocks in and around the water can be very painful on your feet.
  • GoPro or waterproof camera: There are so many water activities in Playa del Carmen that you’re going to want to capture. I would recommend bringing a GoPro or waterproof camera if you have one.
  • Sun Hat: The sun is extremely intense all year round in Playa del Carmen, so you’ll want to bring a sun hat or visor to protect your face and neck while you’re at the pool, beach, or simply walking around.
  • Comfortable walking shoes: Aside from sandals and flip flops, you’ll want to bring some comfortable walking shoes, especially if you plan on visiting the Mayan ruins, where a lot of walking is involved.
  • Insect Repellent: The mosquitos in Playa del Carmen can be extremely pesky, especially at night. I would recommend bringing insect repellent spray or bracelets.

If you end up with more space in your suitcase, check out some of these essential items to throw into your beach bag.

Basic Spanish Phrases

While Playa del Carmen is a tourist destination and many of the locals speak English, there are still many people that do not. I would definitely recommend learning a few basic Spanish phrases, which will make it easier to get around, especially if you’re exploring some places off the beaten path. It’s also a great way to connect with the locals.

  • Hola = Hello
  • Adiós = Goodbye
  • Gracias = Thank you
  • Buenos días = Good morning
  • Buenas tardes = Good afternoon
  • Buenas noches = Goodnight
  • ¿Cuanto cuesta? = How much does it cost?
  • ¿Como te llamas? = What’s your name?
  • Me llamo… = My name is…
  • Cerveza = Beer
  • Baño = Bathroom
  • La cuenta, por favor? = The check, please?
  • Playa = Beach
  • Quinta Avenida = Fifth Avenue
Portal Maya Playa del Carmen

How to Stay Safe in Playa del Carmen

While crime does exist in Playa del Carmen, I haven’t found it to be any more dangerous than living in a big city in the United States.  And that’s saying something because I used to live in Chicago! As in any city, it’s important to always be vigilant of your surroundings and keep a close watch on your personal belongings.  The downtown area is usually full of people which makes walking around generally safe for female travelers.

Here’s a few Playa del Carmen safety tips I learned:

  • It’s best not to travel with large amounts of cash, and I would recommend wearing a crossbody purse or anti-theft bag while out and about. 
  • Keep your valuables and at least one credit card locked in your hotel safe. That way you can still have access to funds if your wallet were to get stolen. That happened to me in Mexico City and I definitely learned my lesson!
  • You’ll also want to keep your passport locked in your hotel safe. Instead, you can carry a photocopy of your passport or have one saved as a picture on your phone.
  • Taxi drivers are known to overcharge especially if you look like a tourist, so always confirm the price of the taxi before getting in.
Fusion Beach Bar

Download your free guide now

I really hope this Playa del Carmen travel guide is helpful and that you come to love Playa del Carmen as much as I do! I know this is a TON of information to digest so I’ve condensed all of this info into a handy two page Playa del Carmen digital destination guide. It’s completely free and you can download it and save to your phone, laptop, or tablet and that way you can easily reference it before or during your trip. Download below to get your free guide now!

Playa del Carmen Digital Destination Guide