It’s no secret that in recent years, large amounts of seaweed have arrived on the once pristine beaches of the Riviera Maya. While living in Playa del Carmen, I witnessed firsthand some of the worst seaweed ever experienced in the region.
In this post, I’m going to be as real and honest as I can about the Playa del Carmen seaweed situation. But have no fear because I’m also sharing some insider tips and resources for dealing with it, as well as top places to visit to avoid the seaweed.
Playa del Carmen Seaweed FAQs
Technically the seaweed that has arrived in Mexico is called sargassum (“sargazo” in Spanish), which is a type of brown algae that floats in huge masses and washes up on the shore. Here’s some of the most frequently asked questions about the sargassum in Playa del Carmen:
What’s the seaweed like in Playa del Carmen?
I’ll be honest, the seaweed situation in Playa del Carmen can be bad. Like REALLY BAD. At its worst, there can be mountainous piles of coarse brown sargassum on the beaches with an overpowering rotten eggs smell that makes you want to hold your breath.
And the worst part about it is that it’s totally unpredictable. See below the two pictures are of the same beach 😳
When the Riviera Maya seaweed levels are really high, the water and beaches will be full of brown sargassum making them pretty unswimmable.
However, at lower levels, the seaweed just ends up on the beach which can be manually cleared away and the water can still be pretty turquoise and clear.
Where does it happen?
The sargassum can show up on almost any of the beaches in Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and the Riviera Maya. Some of the beaches have more natural inlets that shield them a little better from the sargassum (like Playa Xpu-Ha for instance) but it’s never a guarantee.
In downtown Playa del Carmen sargassum tends to be the worst in between the Cozumel ferry and the Constituyentes ferry.
Where does it come from?
Sargassum has been around for centuries, but the exact cause of its enormous rise in recent years is still not clear. Scientists speculate that it is due to an increase in nutrient sources polluting the ocean, which fuels the sargassum and helps it to bloom. It’s also greatly affected by shifting weather patterns.
When is seaweed season?
Honestly the seaweed season is pretty unpredictable. It’s been known to be worse in the summer months (April-August) but it can still show up at any time of year.
But one silver lining is that the seaweed conditions can literally change overnight. Honestly I have seen instances where there has been brown murky water at the beach one day, and the next day the water will be completely clear. The drastic change can actually be quite shocking.
I wouldn’t bet on that happening everyday but it’s important to know that things can change for the better and it really just depends on the weather patterns and sea conditions.
How do they deal with the seaweed?
Most resorts in Riviera Maya will have a crew that clears the seaweed away from the beaches every morning. Depending on the amount of seaweed, this often involves a lot of heavy lifting using a bulldozer, dump trucks, rakes, and shovels to clear it away.
The hotels and beach clubs will do their best to clear the seaweed that’s washed up on the beach but if it remains in the water, there’s not really much they can do to get rid of it.
Aside from the resorts, the Mexican government has also tried many tactics to rectify the seaweed situation as it has the potential to have a major impact on tourism in the state of Quintana Roo.
Basically they tried to do anything they could to prevent losing tourism dollars from visitors deterred by the state of the beaches.
This included everything from installing floating seaweed barriers to sending in the Mexican navy. But alas, nothing really helped and the levels have since just kind of ebbed and flowed with the seasons.
Should I rebook my trip?
As disappointing as it can be, I strongly believe the seaweed conditions shouldn’t discourage you from visiting Playa del Carmen or the Riviera Maya.
The seaweed ebbs and flows and there’s just so many amazing things to do in Riviera Maya that you CAN AND WILL still have an unforgettable vacation experience in Mexico.
But do your research on where you’re planning to stay and if it’s a deal breaker for you, then at least you can make an informed decision.
Since the sargazo has arrived in Playa del Carmen, a lot a great online resources have popped up to share information. These are a few of the best online resources I’ve found to check for up to date seaweed conditions.
Seaweed Updates Riviera Maya
One great resource for checking out seaweed conditions is the Sargasso Seaweed Updates Riviera Maya Facebook group. This group is solely dedicated to sharing information about seaweed conditions in Riviera Maya.
It’s a good place to find current seaweed conditions in Playa del Carmen as members will frequently post photos of what it looks like at specific beaches and resorts on a particular date.
Another popular Facebook group is called Red de Monitoreo del Sargazo de Quintana Roo. This group is in Spanish but they post really handy infographic maps showing the seaweed levels in Riviera Maya with color coded ratings for each beach like excessive, abundant, moderate, very low, and without seaweed.
These infographics are posted daily and pinned to the top of their feed for easy access. You don’t really need to know Spanish to interpret the Rivera Maya sargassum seaweed map.
Resort Specific Facebook Groups
Another thing you can do is join a Facebook group that is dedicated to the specific hotel or resort you are planning to stay at.
Many resorts have Facebook groups that are used as an online forum for hotel guests, which is a good way to gauge conditions from actual guests on the ground.
Another option to view the sargassum Playa del Carmen conditions is to check out some of the live webcams in the area. Here are a few of the most popular Playa del Carmen seaweed webcams:
- View from El Taj Condo in downtown Playa del Carmen
- View from Hotel Xcaret Mexico
- View from Playacar Palace near Cozumel ferry
Where to go to avoid the seaweed
The good news is that there are beaches in Riviera Maya where there is little to no seaweed. These are great places to go for a day trip or even an overnight stay if you want to escape the seaweed and experience some really stunning Caribbean beaches. It’s never a guarantee but these places are your best bet for seaweed free beaches:
If you want to escape the seaweed in Playa del Carmen, the closest place to go is Cozumel. Located just 15 minutes by ferry from downtown Playa del Carmen, Cozumel is a tropical island known for its beautiful beaches and incredible coral reefs for snorkeling and scuba diving.
The beaches on the west side of the island rarely get hit with seaweed because they are blocked by the other side of the island.
My favorite beach on Cozumel is Playa Palancar, which is about a 30 minute drive from the ferry terminal. It’s a super gorgeous beach with lots of amenities and a fun place to just spend the day chilling out at a beach club. You can find more info on how to get there in my full guide to visiting Cozumel here.
Another place known for its seaweed free beaches is Isla Mujeres, which is a tiny island just 15 minutes off the coast of Cancun. It’s further away from Playa del Carmen, so you’ll want to take day trip or book an overnight stay.
The absolute best beach on the island is Playa Norte, which is probably one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. Another fun option for visiting the island is booking an Isla Mujeres catamaran sail, where you’ll get to set sail on the most unbelievably turquoise water.
You can find more info on how to get there in my full guide to visiting Isla Mujeres here.
Located on the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, Holbox is a stunning tropical island and one of Mexico’s most underrated beach destinations. Because of its northern location, Isla Holbox delivers unbelievable beaches and tranquil turquoise waters for a seaweed free escape.
It’s located further away from Playa del Carmen (about 2.5 hours) so it’s best for an overnight stay. Check out my complete Holbox travel guide to learn how to get there from Playa del Carmen.
Located just a few miles off the coast of Cancun, Isla Contoy is an uninhabited tropical island that will leave you with a jaw dropping first impression. I’ve seen a lot of pretty beaches while living in Playa del Carmen and Isla Contoy is simply the best I’ve ever seen, AND it pretty much never has any seaweed.
Isla Contoy can only be visited by a boat and cannot be reached on your own. The easiest way to get there is by booking a tour which will take you to Isla Contoy, in addition to stops at nearby Isla Mujeres and snorkeling at Ixlache reef.
Top Seaweed Free Activities
If you don’t want to travel to one of the nearby islands, there are still many amazing seaweed-free tours and activities that can be enjoyed in the Riviera Maya. These are my top recommendations:
Visit a freshwater cenote
The Yucatan peninsula is known for its incredible cenotes, which are freshwater swimming holes where you can swim, snorkel, or just hang out in a beautiful natural setting.
There are literally thousands of different cenotes in the region, unlike anywhere else in the world. These are my favorite Playa del Carmen cenotes to visit, which are all perfect places to cool off and escape the seaweed.
Chill out at a rooftop pool
When the seaweed gets bad, the pool is gonna be your best friend. Luckily Playa del Carmen has some pretty incredible rooftop pools, where you won’t have to bother with any seaweed, sand, saltwater, or obnoxious beach vendors.
Plus, you’ll have all day access to comfortable lounge chairs, an umbrella for shade, and poolside food and beverage service. Not to mention some killer ocean views.
Explore ancient Mayan Ruins
For a more cultural experience, I would definitely recommend visiting the Tulum Ruins, which are the closest Mayan ruins to Playa del Carmen and an incredible oceanfront fortress.
For larger and grander ruins, head to the archaeological site of Chichen Itza, which is about 2.5 hours away from Playa del Carmen and makes for a fun day trip.
Go on a snorkeling or scuba diving tour
When the seaweed levels are high, it’s usually the worst closest to the beach and the rest of the ocean is more likely to be clear. This makes snorkeling and scuba diving still a viable option for water activities.
The best snorkeling I’ve done in Riviera Maya has been at El Cielo in Cozumel, which is popular excursion for snorkeling with starfish. Another impressive spot for snorkeling is at the coral reefs in Puerto Morelos.
Visit an adventure park
If you’re feeling adventurous, I would definitely recommend trying one of the many Xcaret adventure parks in Rivera Maya. These parks are all-inclusive and offer a variety of adventurous activities like ziplining, ATVs, water slides, and white water rafting.
These are my favorite Xcaret parks:
- Xplor: Ziplines, amphibious vehicles, stalactite river swim, and underground expedition
- Xel-Ha: Snorkeling, water slides, cenotes, and water activities
- Xavage: Ropes course, ziplining, white water rafting, monster trucks, kayaking, and a high speed jet boat experience
Seaweed Survival Tips
These are my top tips for surviving the Mexico seaweed:
- Don’t let it ruin your trip: As I mentioned, I strongly believe you shouldn’t let the seaweed ruin your trip. Sometimes the conditions can change overnight. And if they don’t, there’s plenty of other amazing things to do in the Riviera Maya.
- Don’t stress about it: Stressing about the conditions won’t do anything to improve the Playa del Carmen seaweed problem. I’ve seen a lot a people post in the Facebook groups anxiously asking what it will be like for their trip 3-6 months from now. It’s completely unpredictable so it won’t do any good to stress about it ahead of time.
- Always have a plan B: It’s best to always have a backup plan for any of your planned activities in case the seaweed conditions are less than ideal. Keep some of the seaweed free activities I mentioned in mind as alternatives.
I hope this seaweed survival guide was helping in explaining what’s it’s really like in Playa del Carmen! Like I said, I think it’s important to know the facts but I definitely wouldn’t let it discourage you from visiting.
Mexico is such a hospitable place with a vibrant culture, incredible cuisine, and unforgettable activities that you are sure to have an amazing time.
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