Playa del Carmen activities generally fall into one of two categories: the ancient world and the modern world. Listed below you’ll find a number of Playa del Carmen activities that enable you to explore Playa del Carmen as it was during the classic period of the Mayan civilization from 250 BC through 850 AD. Mexico is full of captivating old ruins, hidden wonders, and natural treasures!
Yet, modern Playa del Carmen things to do appeal to a wide audience of travelers looking for fun in the sun, enjoyment of the arts, and unique festivals that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. You’ll find the modern list of cultural things to do in Playa del Carmen and Riviera Maya, Mexico is a delightful surprise.
Located about 156 miles west of Playa del Carmen, Chichen Itza was one of the largest Mayan cities and is currently the second-most-visited Mayan archeological site in Mexico. The Kukulkan Pyramid, standing more than 78 feet high, was voted as one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World.” It’s hard to believe this marvel of ancient engineering was built more than 1,000 years ago. The busiest time to visit Chichen Itza is during the spring and autumn equinoxes, when the sun casts a serpentine shadow just off the 364 steps of the El Castillo pyramid. No matter when you travel, you won’t want to miss the observation towers, stone warriors, mosaic masks and colossal steps of Chichen Itza!
Tulum was one of the last built and inhabited cities of the Mayan civilization dating back to 564 AD, but entering its height of historic significance between the 13th and 15th centuries. The walled city of Tulum was one of the most important centers of the Mayan culture as a commercial port, a home to kings, and a site of ceremonial rituals. It features incredibly well-preserved architecture and is one of the most-visited Mayan ruins in the world. The attraction is divided into an archaeological site, a town, a hotel zone, and a biosphere reserve known as Sian Ka’an. Tourists love Tulum because it’s compact enough to see in a day — not to mention, conveniently located 39 miles from Playa and less than two hour’s drive from Cancun.
Xcaret Park is an archeological and cultural experience park with aquatic activities, shows, world-class restaurants, year-round events, and natural beauty. It is a magical environment between the silence of the Mayan ruins and the exciting attractions vacationers come to expect. Swim with dolphins, nurse sharks and giant rays. Explore underground rivers, step inside a pavilion filled with gentle butterflies, or visit islands filled with large wild cats like jaguars and pumas. Stroll through an old Mayan village or visit a unique seven-story stone cemetery. Watch Mexican dancers, horses and rowers offering fine displays of culture passed down through the ages. Xcaret, Mexico is 6 miles south of Playa and can be reached by car, taxi or bus.
Xel-Ha Park is the perfect place for snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, snuba (combination of snorkeling and diving), cave exploration, boat tours, grotto swimming, and cliff-diving. The natural open-sea aquarium is a water wonderland located two miles south of Playa. In addition to the water activities, choose from a plethora of dry land activities, such as zip-lining through the jungle canopy, playgrounds for children, wildlife bike tours, and spa treatments.
The Mayan ruins at Coba are nestled in a peaceful archeological site deep in the jungles of the Yucatan, about 68 miles from Playa. The ruins were once a city and religious center, used between 600 and 900 AD. Tourists flock to Coba to see one of the largest stone causeway networks in the ancient Magan World, as well as sculptures and engravings depicting the ceremonial life of the Late Classic Period. Coba is a unique ruin in that much of it has been restored and can be fully explored. Unlike Chichen Itza’s Kukulkan Pyramid which can only be viewed from the ground, visitors can actually climb the Ancient Pyramind of Coba all 130 steps to the top. The area surrounding Coba offers several hotels, campsites, restaurants and craft shops.
Isla Mujeres, Spanish for “Island of Women”, is a privileged place in Mexican and Mayan history. Mayan goddess of childbirth and medicine, Ix Chel, had a temple here in pre-Columbian times. Hurricane Gilbert damaged much of the remaining structure in 1988, but this beautiful island (55 miles from Playa) still combines the beauty of the Mexican Caribbean, the Yucatan tropical jungle, and Mayan heritage. Though it’s a small island, Isla Mujeres has been called a “foodie’s paradise,” with restaurants serving fresh fish and seafood prepared using traditional recipes. Hidalgo Street is the island’s main dining and entertainment hub. Other popular attractions include the sea turtle sanctuary and MUSA, the world’s largest underwater sculpture museum. Transportation is provided by ferry to the island then by taxi, golf carts or moped scooters. Learn more about all there is to enjoy at Isla Mujeres.
Snorkeling is one of the most popular activities in Playa del Carmen, with the warm, crystal-clear waters, breathtaking coral reefs, and ample marine-life, from turtles and dolphins to rays and tropical fish. Strapping on a mask and sticking your face beneath the refreshing Caribbean waters is an intriguing and interesting way to explore the underwater world associated with this truly beautiful part of coastal Mexico. Popular places to snorkel in Playa del Carmen include: the barrier islands between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, Cerebros, Jardines, and Chun-Zumbul.
Swimming with dolphins is one of the most memorable experiences for children and adults alike. Make your swim with dolphins a dream come true. There are multiple locations near Playa del Carmen to experience the wonder of these beautiful mammals, including Dolphin Discovery and Maroma Adventures. These large dolphin habitats are located a 10-minute drive from Playa del Carmen, offering a friendly swim with the dolphins for less than $200 USD.
The emerald beauty of the Caribbean is on grand display in Playa. Charter boats for amazing fishing, watercraft such as jet skis, banana boat rides, parasailing and dinner cruises are all available. White sandy beaches, water adventures, romantic sunsets, and deep-sea fishing — Playa del Carmen has many experiences on the Caribbean waiting to be enjoyed. Contact Sea Side Reservations at 1-888-262-4508 to find the perfect setting for your Maya Riviera dream vacation.
The Yucatán Fair is the most famous event of the peninsula and a draw for millions of visitors each year. Climb aboard the sets of your favorite kids’ movies, from Cinderella to Monsters Inc. See a Las Vegas style magic show full of illusion and sleight of hand. Board a moving theme park and go back to the Mesozoic era for an educational dinosaur experience like no other. See jugglers, trapeze artists, wire walkers and acrobats at the Circus Adventure. Meet birds and butterflies up close and personal. Your experience at the Yucatán Fair is one you won’t soon forget! Other popular events in and around Playa del Carmen include the Autumn Cultural Festival, the annual Riviera Maya Jazz Festival, and a Riviera Maya underground film Festival. Learn more about the fairs and festivals of Playa del Carmen.
Playa Del Carmen is full of history and relaxing escapes, but the host of goings on can keep any vacationer busy for days – and nights – on end! Few other areas of Mexico can compare when it comes to all that the Yucatán Peninsula has to offer visitors. Playa Del Carmen was a sleepy fishing village a few decades ago, but now you’ll find a variety of bars, discos, beach clubs and nightlife along 12th Street and 5th Street. If you’re not sure where to go, you can hop on one of the local pub crawls to see all the best the area has to offer.