The best things to do and see in Playa del Carmen, Mexico
There are good reasons why every year Playa del Carmen receives more than two million visitors a year, mainly North Americans and Europeans. These are the top 20 reasons to go to this fascinating city located in the municipality of Solidaridad in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.
1. Visit Quinta Avenida and Playa Del Carmen Beach
Fifth Avenue is the heart of Playa del Carmen, but it is also its lungs, as the city breathes there. Wherever you go, at some point you will pass by the Quinta, as the locals call it colloquially. It’s an eden for shopping and solace, and its exclusive boutiques, jewelry stores, galleries, souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes have nothing to envy from its New York counterpart.
Only 5 kilometers from Playa del Carmen is this beautiful place, which is both an archaeological site and an ecological park.
The Mayas used it as a port and mercantile center, conserving the ruins that testify to it.
It was also converted into a point for the preservation of emblematic species of the fauna of the Atlantic forest region of Mexico, such as the spider monkey, the manatee and the sea turtle.
3. Walk along Paseo del Carmen
If you have already eaten your share of folklore and want to rediscover the shops, fast food (or slow food), and entertainment of the 21st century, after a day of sea, archaeology or tradition, you can go to Paseo del Carmen Shopping Mall, a modern and cozy place located south of Fifth Avenue.
4. Mayan Riviera
Playa del Carmen is a small paradise that is enough on its own to offer you everything you want on your holiday trip, whether long or short. But it’s good to know that Playa del Carmen is in the heart of a larger paradise, the Rivera Maya, a 140-kilometer-long territory in the luminous, crystal-clear Mexican Caribbean.
Both have splendid beaches, archeological sites, excellent food, fun places, shopping malls and anything you need for a pleasant trip.
Next to Xcaret, on the Cancun – Tulum road, is Xplor, another charming natural park.
It is a place to enjoy mainly underground, with cenotes, caves and caverns where you can practice your favorite adventure sport. There are facilities for scuba diving, canoeing, rustic and zip-line tours. The dense groves on the surface are impressive.
On the road from Cancun to Tulum, 50 kilometers from Playa del Carmen, is Xel-Ha, considered the largest natural aquarium in the world and one of the Natural Wonders of Mexican geography.
It is a small inlet in which the waters of a river join the Caribbean Sea, making it a place where freshwater and saltwater species coexist.
The Rivera Maya has more than 3,000 cenotes, many of them in the vicinity of Playa del Carmen. These curious flooded depressions are transitory, since the water of the subterranean rivers does not stop its action of continuous erosion in the limestone. But in the meantime we can enjoy them for swimming, diving and observing the rich marine life in some paradises of crystalline waters.
8. The Jungle Place
The spider monkey, also called marimonda and koatá, is a curious primate species that lacks the thumb. This endangered species has a special reserve on Jungle Place, an ecological park located on the road between Tulum and Playa del Carmen, very close to the small town of Chemuyil. Visitors can interact with the intelligent and playful monkeys, which are the delight of young and old.
9. Sian Ka’an
It is a biosphere reserve and a UN World Heritage protected area. It is 113 kilometers from Playa del Carmen, along the Rivera Maya highway. It has beaches and forests where you can observe the abundant wildlife native to the coastal forest region of Mexico on the Atlantic. One of the main attractions are the Petenes, huge concentrations of trees up to 30 meters high on the swampy land.
This was the Mayan name for Playa del Carmen in pre-Columbian times. One of the main attractions of the place today is an aviary, a sanctuary of 45 species of birds native to the Mexican tropical forest, most of which are at risk of extinction. Apart from bird watching and photography, other attractions are butterflies, iguanas (a lizard) and aquatic life in the cenotes.
11. Mayan Ruins of Coba
This archaeological site is located 110 kilometers from Playa del Carmen and was one of the main urban centers of the Mayan civilization, reaching 50,000 inhabitants during the classical period of that pre-Columbian culture. One of the best preserved buildings is the pyramid of Nohoch Mul, the highest Mayan structure in the Yucatan Peninsula, with 42 meters ascending in 120 steps. It is worth climbing it, both for the exercise and for the splendid view from the summit. There is a rope that helps in the ascent and descent. There are several tours like the ones offered by cancun-shuttle-transportation.com where they also offer you to swim in a Cenote.
12. Visit the Church of Nuestra Señora del Carmen
As it could not be otherwise, the most important temple of Playa del Carmen is the Church of Our Lady of Carmen, located at the intersection of 15th Avenue and 12th Street North.
Apart from the regular religious services, the parish offers the possibility of foreign weddings. So if you want to get married, this is the ideal place in Playa del Carmen to do so.
If your trip coincides with the first fortnight of July, you can enjoy the festivities of the city’s patron saint.
13. Playa del Carmen Carnival
If what you want is a pagan party, the ideal in Playa del Carmen is the carnival. It is celebrated like everywhere else in February or March, before the beginning of Christian Lent. The parades and parades of the carnival of Playa del Carmen are very picturesque because of their reminiscences of the Mayan culture. One of the most striking previous events is the election of the monarchs – the queen, the king and the court – who will preside over the festivity.