Playa del Carmen is a stunning coastal resort town located in the Riviera Maya, Mexico. Mexico is known for its white-sand beaches, warm weather, and wonderful hospitality. The capital of Mexico is Mexico City, and it’s also one of the most populous cities in the world. Mexico’s rich history pulled us towards it and we booked a flight to PDC. Read about all the best things to do in Playa del Carmen itinerary 4- 5 days.
You can very well use this itinerary to create your own ideal beach vacation in Playa del Carmen. Each attraction or activity is listed by duration and we have included something for everybody. Enjoy!
Best Things to do in Playa del Carmen Itinerary 4- 5 days
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An ideal Playa del Carmen Itinerary should include ample beach relaxation time, great food, and pool parties. Set aside a day or two for exploring Mayan Ruins like a day trip to Chichen Itza, Tulum, or Coba or all three (we did all there – a day each).
There are many underwater activities to enjoy in and around Playa del Carmen – you can do it your own or allot for one day to Xcaret or Rio Secreto (all equipment will be provided or can be rented, more details below). Also spend half a day strolling the city centre or 5th avenue!
4 to 5 days in Playa del Carmen Itinerary: At a glance
- Day 1: Arrive in Mexico. Cancún International Airport is your entry point. Cancun to Playa del Carmen is 45 minutes away. Check in to your all inclusive resort, enjoy your pool and suite
- Day 2: Explore Quinta Avenida (city centre), hit the beach or the pool, and then hang out at the Fifth Avenue (in the evening)
- Day 3: Take a day tour to Chichen Itza
- Day 4: Visit Tulum and Coba ruins. Swim in a cenote
- Day 5: Puerto Morelos Reef National Park (half day), OR Xcaret (full day)
- Optional: Day tours to Cancun, Cozumel, snorkelling adventure and more (below)
Choose an awesome Resort in Playa del Carmen Mexico
Cost: $ 89- 500+ USD (per night, double occupancy, all inclusive)
First things first – book an awesome resort to spend an amazing beach vacation. Although there are many hotels and vacation rentals to choose from, look for an all-inclusive resort (which means meals and airport transfers from Cancun Airport will be included).
Amenities to consider before booking is access to private beaches, pools, Mexican and multi-cuisine restaurants to name a few.
In an all-inclusive resort, you are treated like royalty. Whether it’s a 3 star or higher, you can expect great service. We stayed at the Gran Porto Real Resort. It was a 3 star- reasonably priced resort. Gran Porto Resort has a beach and over 5 restaurants.
Located near the Royal Plaza, you also have access to their property and beaches. The resort’s new name is Panama Jacks Resort.
Here are some other favorite resorts in Playa del Carmen below. We drove around some of the listed hotel properties and they are lovely!
Pro tip: Choose the right resort. Ensure it’s all-inclusive, includes airport transfers in your vacation package. Choose a centrally located resort to access all tourist areas (like the public beaches, Mayan ruins, museums, shopping district, etc)
- Paradisus La Esmeralda All Inclusive Playa Del Carmen
- All-inclusive luxury hotel
- Great service and location
- Pools, private beach, and multiple bars and restaurants located on-site
- BOOK YOUR STAY HERE
- Hilton Playa del Carmen – An All-Inclusive Adult Resort
- 5-star all-inclusive resort
- Amazing scenic views and beach staycation
- Pools, restaurants, and luxurious suites
- Free parking
- Indoor and outdoor parking
- BOOK YOUR STAY HERE
- Playacar Palace® All-Inclusive Resort
- 5 stars all-inclusive resort
- Airy quarters with in-room whirlpool tubs
- The hotel property has pools and a spa on site
- A 9-minute walk from Playacar Beach
- Free parking
- BOOK YOUR STAY HERE
Search for more Playa del Carmen hotels here on Booking.com
Quinta Avenida – Playa del Carmen City Centre (a few hours to half day)
Visit and stroll the streets of Quinta Avenida, which is the city centre of Playa del Carmen. This area is filled with shopping malls, restaurants, bars, and more. This is a perfect place to unwind have a drink, go shopping, buy souvenirs or just walk and experience the Mexican nightlife!
Chichen Itza – Check off one of the seven wonders of the new world (Half day or full day activity)
Cost: Priceless, for us (otherwise $65 – 150+ USD for a tour)
One of the major bucket list items for us was to see Chichen Itza. We booked an early morning access tour to explore the Mayan Ruins.
The tour included the return trip from the resort to Chichen-Itza, entrance fees, a guided tour with a historian, and lunch. We had a small group of 5 travelers. Our guide was a Mayan expert, and he was so engaging. Read our Chichen Itza Tour experience
Tip: The key to taking amazing, tourist-free pictures at Chichen-Itza is to start early. When we reached the complex, we had lots of time in hand to get some amazing shots.
Chichén Itzá is a complex of Mayan ruins with the El Castillo or Temple of Kukulcan as its prime structure. There are stone carvings and other structures like the ball court, Temple of the Warriors, and the cenote nearby.
The entire complex can be explored in 2- 3 hours plus the travel time. So you can definitely do this as a half-day trip. If you decide to explore this full day, ensure you add a lights show or a sunset tour to completely experience the beautiful Mayan Pyramids. Every night lights and sound show make the pyramids illuminate with complete symmetry. Book your Chichen Itza tour – with lights and sound show
Packing tip: Carry bug spray, sunscreen, sunglasses.
Note: The Chichen Itza site has lots of souvenir stalls. Be sure to bargain for the best prices. I bought a small napkin/handkerchief embroidered by a Mayan lady (I didn’t have the heart to bargain with her, so much love and respect for the ancient Mayans).
Take a day trip to Tulum (Half or Full Day)
Cost: $115+ USD for a tour per person
One of the picturesque places that we have to, in Mexico – welcome to Tulum. Currently a resort town, Tulum is home to the youngest of the explored Mayan Ruins. The 13th-century, walled Mayan archaeological site at Tulum National Park overlooks the sea.
The Tulum complex is very huge. There are many architectural ruins that you will walk by, before reaching the cliff edge that gives you breathtaking views of Playa Paradiso. The Templo de las Pinturas, with a partially restored mural, is located in Tulum.
This photo above – an iconic symbol of Tulum is the House of God of winds.
You can explore the Tulum ruins in 2-3 hours. Then head to Paradise Beach and spend a couple of hours there. You can snorkel and dive at the beach. The cost ranges from $50 to $100 USD.
We booked a tour to take us to Tulum. This all-day tour included a light breakfast, lunch at a local Mexican restaurant, and sightseeing. Read our Tulum Ruins Tour and one day Tulum Itinerary
READ > Different ways to travel from Playa del Carmen to Tulum
Climb the Coba Pyramids and swim in a cenote
Cost: $80 USD+
Other than Chichen Itza, there are many Mayan Ruins that are unique in their own way and deserve a visit. Of them, the oldest one is Coba Ruins.
The Cobá archaeological site has pyramid-shaped temples with views over the surrounding jungle. This site is huge and it’s advised to either bike or rent a tricycle. We rented a tricycle and boy! it was fun.
Coba is the only pyramid where tourists are allowed to climb up to the top. (We were not allowed to climb Chichen-Itza). This pyramid has 120 steep steps in total. It was a breeze climbing up, but coming down was quite a task.
We also took a tour for exploring Coba Ruins and we were told there could be thousands and thousands of such pyramids scattered all over the archaeological site. So what you see in Coba is just 1-2% of all that exists in the archaeological site.
BOOK TOUR > COBA RUINS TOUR WITH CENOTE SWIM AND LUNCH
You can either visit Coba by itself on a one-day tour or club with Ek Balam or Tulum or with a cenote. It can be done in one day from either Cancun or Playa del Carmen)
Swim or dip in a Mayan Sinkhole – Cenote Choo Haa
Don’t miss visiting a cenote or a sinkhole in Riviera Maya. An exciting part of our Mexico tour was experiencing a cenote for the first time. A cenote is a sinkhole.
Its water is often very clear, as the water comes from rainwater filtering slowly through the ground and therefore contains very little suspended particulars.
The groundwater flow rate within a cenote is very slow. The word cenote means “well” in the Mayan dictionary.
The cenote we visited was Cho-Haa. A steep stairwell led to the cenote. The inside of the cenote was dark but beautiful. This cenote consists of underground rivers and it had just one floodlight present inside (and little to no sunlight). The water was turquoise blue and there were beautiful rock formations all over.
There are 3 other cenotes located close to Coba. Cho-Ha is one of them and it is very beautiful. The water here is connected to all the cenotes.
- Chichen Itza and Cenote Ik-Ill can be explored on the same day
- Tulum and Cenote Dos Ojos can be explored at the same time.
If you plan on taking a dip in the water, ensure you take a shower in the nearby stalls. The Mayans still use the cenotes as a source of drinking water and hence avoid jumping into the water, when wearing perfumes or sunscreens.
They also consider cenotes to be sacred, so it’s advisable to not consume alcohol or heavy food before jumping into a cenote. Life jackets are available for a small cost, for those who can’t swim.
Enjoy caves, underground caves at Rio Secreto (one day)
Rio Secreto is located just 20 minutes away from Playa del Carmen. It is one of the few places in the world to display such an extraordinary beauty of an underground river.
At Rio Secreto, you can hike and swim along with marine life in an underground river, surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites.
This recommended full-day tour from Playa del Carmen is includes everything that an adventurous soul is looking for. Once you arrive at the Rio Secreto, you are provided with breakfast and then you will be biking into the deep forests.
Your route will be full of natural habitat and light and darkness as you make your way to the Jungle Camp. Thereafter taken into the underground rivers for a swim. The underground cave and the forest is a must-visit when in Playa del Carmen.
All the equipment including wet suits is provided at Rio Secreto for the price of the tour.
BOOK > BOOK YOUR TOUR HERE.
X-caret for a day’s adventure (one day Playa del Carmen itinerary)
Xcaret Park is a theme park and a resort located in the Riviera Maya. It is situated approximately 6.5 kilometers south of Playa del Carmen.
It is named after the nearby archaeological site Xcaret, a settlement constructed by the pre-Columbian Maya. In this park, you can quench your thirst for adventure sports (ziplining, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins and sharks, Adrenaline – aquatic sports ride), take your kids for an amazing time.
Enjoy some cultural exchange and watch traditional dances, exhibitions, and more. Visit Hacienda Henequenera – Mexico’s living history museum (you can take amazing pictures here).
Snorkel tour with whale sharks (one day)
From any hotel in Playa del Carmen Riviera Maya, you can take a 6-7 hour snorkel tour to experience a unique marine life underneath the Caribbean. You can experience and see/swim the world’s biggest fish and shark.
On this recommended tour, you will enjoy lunch at Isla Mujeres Playa Norte beach along with diving time. All snorkeling gear will be provided as part of the trip, including park fees and local guidance.
BOOK > WHALE SNORKEL TOUR HERE
Swim with turtles and colorful fishes!
Swim with green turtles and other pretty marine creatures in Akumal. Akumal is located a 30-minute drive away from Playa del Carmen. Check out this recommended tour.
Note: If a tour is not for you, you can still enjoy snorkeling and diving in the Yucatan peninsula with certified instructors. Aloha Paddle Club is a great place to start and they also offer snorkeling and diving gear for rent in Playa del Carmen.
Puerto Morelos Reef National Park for diving enthusiasts (half day)
Puerto Morelos is located between the Riviera Maya resorts of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. The Puerto Morelos Reef National Park has many offshore dive sites.
5th Avenue Shopping District (2 hours to half-day)
The locals call this place “Quinto” – that’s the bustling shopping district of Playa del Carmen – 5th Avenue. There are restaurants, souvenir shops, malls, art exhibitions, tour agencies, local crafts vendors, etc
At 5th Avenue – you are in the heart of the shopping and entertainment district. This place is lively in the evenings, as it’s frequented by tourists. There are street performers, tons of lights, and music and there is a special air of excitement in the area.
It is safe to move out and about in this area at any time of the day. You will see police vans patrolling the area, but that’s mainly for public safety and precaution. Read more about 5th Avenue here
What to buy in Mexico? Mexican silver (Taxco, .925), blankets, vanilla extract, handicrafts are some of the things to buy in Mexico. Silver is cheap and also one of the most sturdy and beautifully crafted.
Beach – Relaxation Time
Tourists visit Mexico for its coastline – the turquoise waters and the white sand. Whether you like to stay in a resort and enjoy the private beach or go to public beaches like Playa Paradiso (Tulum – 45 minutes from Playa del Carmen). Either way, you will love it and have a great time.
One of our favorite things to do in the evenings at the resort was to stroll by the warm beach, with a frozen margarita in hand. It was a beautiful feeling to enjoy and be at peace, in a gorgeous paradise.
Some of the finest beach clubs are also located in Playa del Carmen. Beach Clubs are awesome relaxing by the beach and enjoying the sun and music. Inti Beach Club, located on a beach between 4th & 6th Streets is an awesome place to rejuvenate in nature’s lap listening to the sounds of the beach waves – ah heaven!
Pool Party and other nightlife ideas (day to evenings)
If you have an excellent choice in selecting an all-inclusive hotel, you will experience entertaining evenings with live DJ music, traditional folk recitals, and social mixers. But Playa del Carmen takes nightlife on a different level.
Typically night clubs are open from 10:30 pm to 4:30 am and no minors are allowed, adults only. An entry fee applies.
Some of the popular nightclubs are
- Palazzo Playa del Carmen – Decently priced drinks, awesome laser show, and music
- Coco Bongo – Live music, great ambiance
Beach or pool parties are a great way to enjoy your Caribbean Vacation. Many beach clubs offer live music, great food, and a guaranteed party atmosphere. Mamitas Beach Club is a good option, located on 28th Street and Beach and they are open every day.
Enjoy Mexican Food – Restaurants in Playa del Carmen
Let me start by saying that Mexican cuisine is delicious. I love the ingredients that they use to prepare their meals. Jalapeno, corn, avocado, tomatoes, etc make a dish so fresh and delicious.
In one of the Yucatan tours, we had a lunch pit stop at a local restaurant. Decorated with colorful frills and balloons, this served the best tacos and grilled spiced chicken. La Piramide is a good place for lunch before embarking on the Mayan journey.
Common and popular Mexican food is Tacos (corn-made soft and hard shell), Burritos (wrap with filings of pinto beans, chicken/beef/pork, sour cream), Pozole (pork soup or stew), Chilaquiles (square tortilla pieces served with salsa), Huarache (dough made with beans, served with salsa), Cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork dish), Menudo, or pancita (soup, made with beef with red chili pepper), Taquito (taco with filling), Quesadilla (flour tortilla filled with cheese), Tripas (small intestines of farm animals boiled and grilled used as filling for tacos)
Popular Mexican drinks include – Paloma (made with tequila, grapefruit, lime, and soda), Pulque (milky fermented drink), Margarita, Cerveza (beer cocktails), Horchata (a creamy mix of almonds, rice, and cinnamon), Michelada (lime and beer with chili powder, Tabasco sauce), Agua Fresca (refreshing cool drink) and of course Mexican Coffee.
You can taste real Mexican food by stopping by any local restaurant. We savored some Mexican delicacies at small countryside restaurants while doing our day tours
Also on 5th Avenue, there is a beautiful mural of Frida Kahlo in PDC. There is a restaurant named Frida Kahlo Restaurante, very chic and beautiful inside.
More Day Trips from Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is located in the state of Quintana Roo, it’s known for its beaches and coral reefs. Being a coastal resort town in Mexico, it is a popular tourist destination. Being a central spot within the Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen runs from south of Cancún to Tulum and the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve.
Cancún – With a travel time of 1 hour, you can reach Cancun from Playa del Carmen to enjoy some of the best beaches, cuisine, and water activities like snorkeling. Some of the beaches include Playa Gaviota Azul, Playa Caracol.
Public transportation leaves frequently from Playa del Carmen. You can take a bus, shared transfers, or hire a private transfer for a day trip.
Isla Mujeres – Known for Playa Norte, one of the most pristine beaches, Isla Mujeres is located about 1.5 hours from the hotel zone in Playa del Carmen.
It is a good idea to opt for an organized tour unless you are feeling adventurous with traveling on a ferry. At the island you can rent a bicycle and travel up and down the island; enjoy the view plus the ancient Mayan ruins of the goddess Ixchel at Punta Sur and unwind with cold beers on Playa Norte.
Cozumel Island – A 40-minute ferry cruise from Playa del Carmen will take you to Cozumel Island. One of the best diving regions of the world – you can dive to see underwater coral reef!
Rio Lagartos & Ek Balam – You can hop on to Rio Lagartoes to see flamingos, float in pink-colored water. Thereafter, visiting Ek Balam for Mayan ruins and cenote.
Sian Kaan Biosphere is located about 80 minutes from Playa del Carmen. At the biosphere, you can opt for a tour to visit the Mayan ruins of Muyil. Thereafter you can walk through the jungle or take a boat ride in the lagoon.
Chichen Itza, Tulum, Coba are also excellent day trips from Playa del Carmen as seen above. All the organized tours range from $70-200+ USD for a return trip, guided tour, and lunch.
The Pink Beach aka Las Coloradas – The Pink Beach aka Las Coloradas is a unique spot to visit in Yucatan, the pink beach is 50% natural and 50% man-made. It is located about 2 hours from Playa del Carmen. Opt for this day tour if you have ample time on your hands, it’s very tricky to reach this place, with no hotels and gas stations on its way.
Quick Travel Tips for your Mexico Trip
READ > Full guide on Traveling to Mexico Tips
Use these travel tips to plan your trip to Mexico Playa del Carmen
The nearest airport to Playa del Carmen Quintana Roo
Cancun International Airport is the nearest airport to reach Playa del Carmen. It is 45 minutes away. You can take taxis, ADO buses or colectivos to arrive in Playa del Carmen.
You book an airport transfer to reach PDC here
Different ways to travel within Yucatan
Guided tours are a great option to explore the major sightseeing attractions in the Yucatan peninsula. We have listed our favorite tours above.
Renting a car is an option as well. We only recommend renting and driving if you are in Playa del Carmen for a long period of time and will be traveling far and wide. If it’s your first trip, maybe avoid driving this time.
Driving rules are the same as other places in North America – the US and Canada. Car rental rates are around 30-40 USD for a medium-size car. Definitely add car insurance. Roads are safe and highways are usually patrolled by police.
ADO buses are transit buses ideal for long journeys and for carrying luggage, say you are traveling from Playa del Carmen to Tulum for a few nights. Typically fare is 70 pesos one way from PDC to Tulum. ADO bus office is located on 5th avenue.
Colectivos are minivans used as shared travel medium. This is one of the cheapest ways to travel in the Yucatan and fares typically cost 20-45 pesos. Do not bring big bags on your trip in a Colectivo, because it’s a shared ride.
Colectivos are safe and they operate long hours starting from 04:30 am to 11:30 pm – you just have to flag one by 307 highway and let the driver know where you are going. Once you reach your destination, you pay in pesos.
The national currency of Mexico is Mexican Pesos. US Dollars are widely accepted here.
We carried cash (in USD) and used that to make purchases. Any change was returned in Pesos and we used that for the next transaction. Although USD is stronger than Pesos we didn’t notice a big saving when it came to making purchases at fine dining restaurants or souvenir stores especially in the Riviera Maya area as it is a tourist zone.
Safety: Travel Safety in Mexico
Currently, there is a travel advisory issued by the US government for 11 Mexican cities (2018).
Before our trip to Mexico, we read the travel advisories for Mexico on the Government of Canada and US websites.
Canada (2019) clearly says “ due to high levels of criminal activity, as well as demonstrations, protests and occasional illegal roadblocks throughout the country” exercise caution.
In the resort areas, especially the Riviera Maya area (Playa del Carmen included), rest assured they are safe. Mexican authorities take all possible measures to keep those hotel zones free of crime or tourist trouble.
In our humble opinion, make yourself aware of these warnings, but as long as you stay in a resort or a known Airbnb and avoid unknown areas you should be fine.
We were in Mexico post-hurricane and after the earthquake in Mexico City. We took tours to visit the Yucatan forests in small groups and also walked in and around the resort zone in Riviera Maya, we felt safe.
As a tourist, we didn’t face any issues. Occasionally while strolling the streets of Playa del Carmen people pulled us to listen to their sale-sy pitch for tours, but we had our itinerary all planned out and booked online, so we smiled and walked away.
It is very normal to see police patrolling the highways in the Riviera Maya or 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen. As always, be aware of your surroundings, adhere to local safety instructions in case of emergencies.
Learn a Few Phrases in Spanish
Mexicans speak Spanish and you will find it useful to learn a few words/phrases to communicate with them. In the resort areas in Playa del Carmen, most people speak some English, but you might encounter people in certain areas with no English.
Tip: Download Google Translate or Duolingo app to learn Spanish.
Mexico is a beautiful country. The people here are very welcoming and down-to-earth. The hospitality that I have experienced here is unmatched.
Mexico has lots to offer – beaches and relaxation, water sports and adventures, nature, history and culture, and amazing cuisine and time!
Mexico awaits you and you will not be disappointed! <3