Playa del Carmen is a beautiful coastal beauty located in the country of Mexico. Mexico is known for its white sand beaches, warm weather and wonderful hospitality. Capital of Mexico is Mexico city, and its also one of the most populous city in the world.
Mexico’s rich history pulled me towards it. I had read so much about the Mayan civilization and its majestic pyramids. Considered as one of the wonders of the modern world, I had a strong desire to visit Mexican Mayan ruins.
Fly to: I flew to Cancun from Canada (on an all inclusive WestJet Vacations package)
Stay: I had the option to stay at Cancun, but decided to stay at Playa del Carmen to explore this coastal beauty. Cancun to Playa del Carmen is about 1 hour by road.
Accommodation: Gran Porto Resort, PDC (central location – near 5th Avenue, Playa del Carmen)
Mexico has lots to offer – beaches and relaxation, water sports and adventures, nature, history and culture and amazing cuisine and time!
Beaches : Time to Relax
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.
Enjoy a beer and soak the sun
At Playa Paradiso, you could opt for snorkeling, diving, etc. Services are offered at the beach itself and cost wise can range from 50 – 100 USD
Tip: Carry swimwear, umbrella, slippers, sunscreen, sun-glasses.
Chichen Itza – Off My Bucketlist
Cost : Priceless, for me (otherwise 56 USD)
I was excited to visit Chichen Itza. This was my major bucketlist item. I 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, guided tour with a historian and lunch.
We had a small group of 5 travelers. Our guide inside the ruins, was a Mayan expert, and he was so engaging. I felt like I was in my history class – so interesting.
You can only marvel how the ancient Mayans knew so much about the position of the stars, without the use of any metals. Very observant, the Mayans documented everything, except “how” they built these monumental structures. That makes this race one of a kind.
Note: The site has lots of souvenir stalls. Be sure to bargain for best prices. I bought a small 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).
Tip: 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.
Exploring Coba Ruins
Cost: 70 USD+
Other then Chichen Itza, there are many Mayan Ruins that are unique in their own way and deserves 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 its 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.
Our tour guide mentioned that there could be thousands and thousands of such pyramids scattered all over the archaeological site.
Note: You can either visit Coba by itself on a one-day tour or club that with Ek Balam or or Tulum or with a cenote . It can be done in one day from either Cancun or Playa del Carmen)
Exploring Tulum and Cenote
Cost: 115+ USD
I had a tour booked through a local operator to take us (me and my husband) to Tulum. This all day tour cost us was about USD 115 per person and included a light breakfast, lunch at a local Mexican restaurant and sightseeing.
One of the picturesque places that I have to, welcome to Tulum. Currently a resort town, Tulum is 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 pass by, before reaching the cliff-edge that gives you the breathtaking views of the Playa Paradiso. The Templo de las Pinturas, with a partially restored mural, is located in Tulum.
Tulum’s location, by the Caribbean coastline makes it the most popular site in Mexico.
Read about diving in Tulum
Exciting part of my 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 rain water filtering slowly through the ground, and therefore contains very little suspended particulars. The groundwater flow rate within a cenote is very slow. The cenote that I visited was underground with just one flood light present inside (and little to no sunlight).
The cenote I visited is called Cho-Ha. A steep stairwell led to the cenote. The inside of the cenote was dark. But it was beautiful – the water was turquoise blue and there were beautiful rock formations all over.
There are 3 other cenotes located close to Tulum. Cho-Ha is one of them and it is very beautiful. (Cenote Ik-Ill is another cenote which is very beautiful). The water here is connected to all the cenotes.
Note: If you plan on taking a dip in the water, ensure you shower in the nearby stalls. The Mayans still use the cenotes as a source of drinking water and hence avoid jumping into water, when wearing perfumes or sunscreens. They also consider cenotes to be sacred, so its advisable to not consume alcohol or heavy food before jumping into a cenote. Life-jackets are available for a small-cost, for those who cant swim.
Shopping at 5th Avenue
Cost: Free (access)
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
If you are staying in Playa del Carmen, I do recommend visiting the 5th Avenue. Here you are in the heart of the hip shopping and entertainment district. You can book for tours from operators in 5th Avenue as well. This place is lively in the evenings, as its 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
Tip: 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.
Cost: 89- 100 USD (per night, double occupancy, all inclusive)
If you decide to stay in a resort, always book an all-inclusive. These resorts treat you like royalty. Whether its a 3 star or higher, you can expect great service.
I stayed at the Gran Porto Real Resort. It was a 4 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.
One of my favorite thing to do in the evenings at the resort was to stroll by the warm beach, with a frozen margarita in hand. It was beautiful feeling to enjoy and be at peace, in a gorgeous paradise.
This all-inclusive resort also invited us for a pool party. And it was so much fun. Music, dancing, pool and good Mexican food, what else!
Tip: Choose the right resort. Ensure its 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)
Food and Restaurants
Let me start by saying that Mexican cuisine is delicious. I love their 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 to lunch before embarking on the Mayan journey.
Common and popular Mexican food are 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 a 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 restaurants. I savoured some Mexican delicacies at small countryside resturants while doing my day tours.
Also in 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.
Xcaret Park is a theme park and a resort located in the Riviera Maya. It is situated approximately 6.5 kilometres 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, swim with dolphin 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).
Read more about Xel-Ha & Xcaret Experience
Day Tours 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 organised tour, unless you are feeling adventures with travelling 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 the Cozumel Island. One of the best diving regions of the world!
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 an 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 organised tours range from 70-200 USD for a return trip, guided tour and lunch.
The Pink Beach aka Las Coloradas – 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, its very tricky to reach this place, with no hotels and gas stations on its way.
Read more about this beautiful place here. A complete account by blogger Anna Anywhere.
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 awaits you and you will not be disappointed! <3