Playa del Carmen is in Quintana Roo on the Caribbean Sea in Mexico. This resort town sits near Mayan ruins and truly beautiful natural scenery and is a natural spot for tourists to visit because of the water activities and culture. The weather is gorgeous year-round, with high temperatures ranging from the 80s to 90s, and average lows in the high 60s and 70s.

In the past, Playa del Carmen was mostly where you stopped on the way to Cozumel. Now, though, it’s undergone significant development to make it into an attractive tourist destination in its own right. Lots of resorts dot the area, and restaurants and shops are popping up to serve the burgeoning tourist industry. By the way, if you can make it over to Cozumel during your Playa del Carmen trip, do. It has spectacular snorkeling opportunities.

Quintana Roo Ruins
Quintana Roo Ruins in Playa Del Carmen.

Early Morning: Find a Delicious Breakfast Spot

Papa Charly is an open-air restaurant known for its breakfast foods. The food is made fresh, so stop here when you have a bit of time to sit and relax. The French toast and omelets are especially good, but you’ll find tons of traditional breakfast foods to choose from. Papa Charly is also known for its pasta dishes, so it’s worth a stop for lunch or dinner on another day of your Playa del Carmen trip.

Head to Calle 30 Nte LB if you want to eat at Papa Charly. The restaurant opens at 8 a.m.

Stop at Chez Celine if you’ve got a little time to spare, because this popular spot ends up with a line very quickly! Tourists and locals both flock here for morning eats. The coffee and baked goods are fantastic if you want something light. Breakfast combos give you a lot of food for the price and are a great way to fuel up before heading off to sightsee.

You’ll find Chez Celine at 5ta Avenida con calle 34, and it opens at 7:30 a.m. for all you early risers.

Mid-Morning: Visit Mayan Ruins at Muyil or Head to the Beach

When you’re craving a quiet morning away from the beach crowds, Muyil is your destination. This Mayan ruin is a stepped pyramid within a beautiful nature preserve. You can go up to the observation area and see the gorgeous landscape around the ruins. You can also take a trail through the Sian Ka’an biosphere; it’s raised on boardwalks and gives you a spectacular look into the Mexican wilderness.

Near the ruins is also a lagoon where tour boats dock. You have to book tours in advance, so consider scheduling one before you arrive. If you decide not to take a tour, the dock is a nice area to visit for clear views of the water.

For beachgoers, you can’t beat spending the morning at Playa del Carmen beach. Since Playa del Carmen is relatively small, it has just the one beach area that people go to. Check with your hotel to see if you can rent beach equipment, like chairs and umbrellas, or water sport equipment like snorkels. Many hotels and resorts in Playa del Carmen are beachfront, but even if you’re not staying at one of those spots, this beach is still worth a visit.

If it’s cloudy or chilly, visit La Quinta Avenida. This main shopping street is very close to the shore and has lots of great shops for you to pop inside of.

Noon: Relax and Have Lunch

You can’t go to Mexico without having authentic Mexican cuisine for at least one meal. Make that meal lunch and head to La Coronela. It’s a small spot with delicious food. Basically everything is good, but the burritos, tortilla soup, and guacamole are especially noteworthy. If you’re extra hungry, order up a sizzling plate of fajitas! Find it at Calle 1ra Sur S/N.

You might be in Mexico, but sometimes a sunny vacation has you craving jerk chicken. If that’s the case, then your lunch choice should be Ferron’s Jerk Chicken. This eatery, located at  Av. 105 Nte Local 3, is open from noon until 6 p.m., perfect lunch hours. The menu is relatively limited: You get a portion of chicken with a bunch of delicious sides. You control your portions and your side options. Definitely don’t miss the corn on the cob!

Xcaret Park
Xcaret Eco Park in Playa Del Carmen.

Afternoon: Explore Xcaret Eco Park

About 6 miles from central Playa del Carmen is a fascinating eco tourism park called Xcaret. It gets its name from an archaeological site, and some of those original digs now sit within the boundaries of the park. The attractions are based on culture and wilderness, making this park a fantastic learning spot for kids and adults alike.

While you’re there, visit the Mayan village and learn about ancient Mayan culture. You can also do water sports, like swimming with dolphins or snorkeling. A beach area with changing rooms is available. If you don’t want to get wet, check out the butterfly pavilion, the greenhouse, or the bat cave. The park is open until 9 p.m., so if you’re having a blast, you can always skip your late afternoon activity and stay here a few extra hours.

Rio Secreto
Rio Secreto in Playa Del Carmen.

Late Afternoon: Immerse Yourself in a Secret Cave

Discover turquoise water surrounded by gorgeous rock formations underground at Rio Secreto. The view is truly magnificent, but few people actually know that the caves are there. Don’t miss out, because people who have visited have nothing but positive things to say about the experience. Plus, because it’s underground, this is something you can do even if it’s storming on the coast.

Take a tour of Rio Secreto so you can learn about the land’s history, how the cave formed, and some more about ancient Mayan civilization. By the way, tours involve wetsuits and headlamps. You actually get in the water as you’re exploring. If you didn’t rent a car, don’t worry. You can book transportation from Riviera Maya when you buy the tickets for your tour. Each tour has a maximum of 10 people, so families big and small will be able to adventure into these caves.

Consider staying to see the Salón de la Paz, a light show directly in the cave. People spend hours here soaking up the natural beauty, so if you’d rather visit caves than a wilderness park, skip Xcaret and head straight to Rio Secreto.

Evening: Discover Delicious Dinner Places

To dine in style, head to Oh Lala at Calle 14 Norte Bis #147. This upscale restaurant is a great spot for a couple’s night out or a nice family dinner. Have some fun and dress up to go here, since this is fine dining in Playa del Carmen. The menu is full of dishes with unique culinary twists, and you won’t be sorry about any of the choices you make when you order. Steak, however, is always a delicious option.

This restaurant only has nine tables and features an open kitchen. Seating is both indoor and outdoor. Because it’s popular, make sure to book a reservation before you plan to go. They open at 6:30 p.m. but start taking reservations at noon. Their website also has a reservation form you can fill out and submit electronically.

Bio Natural is a restaurant, but it’s also an intriguing organic and health food store. The restaurant is vegetarian and full of healthy options. The kitchen staff really ups the ante on flavor, so even if you’re a meat lover, you’ll find lots to love in the couscous, salads, and more. It’s open all day, so if you’d rather do vegetarian for lunch and Mexican for dinner, that’s an option, too. Discover Bio Natural at 10 Avenida Nte.

If you’re craving pizza, go to Don Chendo. This pizza spot does Chicago-style deep-dish, and if you’re skeptical about finding good pizza in Mexico, you must try Don Chendo. It’ll blow away all your hesitation. The restaurant opens at 3 p.m. and stays open until 11 p.m., so it’s perfect for an early dinner or a late night. Home cooking is the name of the cuisine game here, and you’ll also discover delicious spaghetti and meatballs on the menu. The address is Avenida 30 con Calle 24 y 26.

Playa Del Carmen Shopping
Shopping in Playa Del Carmen.

Where to Stay

For a five-star experience, try Rosewood Mayakoba, a ritzy resort hotel near the jungle and the water. Check out the long list of amenities at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, an 85-acre property that was built in 2008. Not everyone needs five-star accommodations to have fun. If you’re looking for something near the water with good guest reviews but that’s a little more affordable, Be Playa Hotel is a fantastic option.

For a moderate rate that will fit in most budgets, try One Playa del Carmen in the shopping district. If you don’t mind staying a little out of the way, the SC Hotel Playa del Carmen has great nightly rates, so you can spend your vacation money on your daily adventures and meals.

Fly Into Cancun International Airport

If you do a search for Playa del Carmen airports, one directly in Playa del Carmen will pop up. But unless you own a private jet, you won’t be able to fly there, because it doesn’t accept commercial flights at all. The closest airport for commercial flights is Cancun International Airport, about 50 minutes by car away from Playa del Carmen.

More than 21 million people traveled into and out of Cancun International Airport in 2016, and this airport gets more international passengers than Mexico City International Airport.

Transportation

Once you land at Cancun International Airport, you’ve got several transportation options to get to your end destination. Renting a car is a popular choice, so you have complete control over your mobility during vacation. You can hop on shuttle buses that will take you to hotels and resorts. Regular buses pick up passengers at the airport, too. Taxis are also available, though a taxi ride that long can get relatively expensive. The best thing to do is to arrange your transportation before you land, so you’re not tired and overwhelmed when you arrive.

Flights to Cancun International

If you’re flying from the U.S., several major airlines will take you to Cancun International. Some of the most popular are American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and Virgin America. Direct flights are available from major cities like New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles.

This is one of the Caribbean’s busiest airports, so be prepared for crowds when you land and when you depart again. Always check with the Consulate before you travel to Mexico, to find out what customs will and won’t allow you to bring into the country. If you’re from the U.S., you need a passport to fly to Mexico.

Amenities and Terminals

Cancun International Airport has four terminals, though the fourth one is under construction until early 2018. If you’re flying from the U.S. or Canada, chances are you’ll land in terminal 3. This terminal has duty-free shops, restaurants, and shopping opportunities. If you’re flying to Cancun from another part of Mexico, terminal 2 will be your stop. It will also be where you go for South American and Central American destinations. European flights usually land in terminal 3 but occasionally stop at terminal 2 instead.

Throughout the airport you’ll find lots of duty-free shops with all kinds of merchandise. Shirts, sunglasses, and souvenirs are available in Cancun International, so if you forget to pick up gifts for your family and friends at home while you’re in Playa del Carmen, this airport is your last chance to do so!

When looking for somewhere to eat, you’ll discover lots of familiar spots, like Dominos Pizza, TGI Fridays, Haagen Dazs, Johnny Rockets, and Starbucks.

Playa del Carmen is a beautiful beach destination, but the true majesty of this Mexican town is the natural landscape surrounding it. The photo opportunities are endless, and you’ll learn about natural rock formations, the surrounding greenery, and of course, the ancient Mayan civilization. Pack your bathing suit and your sunblock and get ready to travel to Playa del Carmen.