Last Updated on July 8, 2023
Playa del Carmen is one of the premier vacation destinations in Mexico, and rightfully so. It is centrally located on Mexico’s Caribbean coast midway between Cancun and Tulum. This makes it the ideal place to savor and sample all that Mexico’s fabulous Riviera Maya has to offer.
Today this once sleepy fishing village is filled with an eclectic mix of bustling neighborhoods, busy markets, boutique shops and hotels, lively bars, fancy restaurants, local eateries and more. While it is now considered a resort destination, Playa del Carmen reflects a much more distinctive Mexican authenticity than more touristy Cancun up the coast.
- Parque Los Funadores (Founding Father’s Park)
- Portal Maya Arch
- Stroll Quinta Avenida
- Swim in a Cenote
- Visit a Mayan-themed Park
- Relax at the Lido Beach Club
- 3DMuseum of Wonders
- Libations at Pez Vela
- Unforgettable Dining at Alux
- Discover Mayan Ruins
- Visit Cozumel
- Swim With Turtles
- Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen
Parque Los Funadores (Founding Father’s Park)
A great introduction to the beauty of Playa del Carmen, Parque Los Funadores sits on the sea’s edge at the terminus of Avenue Juarez. Here in this picturesque little square my wife and I observed the Danza de los Voladores (Flying Dancers), a fascinating ancient Mayan ritual with performers climbing a tall pole while dangling and twirling face-down to accompanying dance and music.
You’ll also find Capilla de Nuestra Señora del Carmen (the Chapel of Our Lady of Carmen). This lovely, small white chapel erected in 1964 graces the square with its classic Mexican architecture and beautiful ocean view altar.
Portal Maya Arch
Located at the entrance to the beach in Parque Los Funadores near the Cozumel Ferry Dock, this impressive 52-foot-tall bronze sculpture depicts a man and woman clasping hands. They are arched into the sky from columns by the twisting elements of wind and water.
The columns themselves reflect a mixture of elements from the region’s Mayan past and current times, honoring ancestors as well as today’s people. The hoops on the inside of the columns represent the traditional ones found on ballcourts at Mayan archeological sites.
Etched in the sculpture is the date December 21, 2012, marking the end of the 5,126-year Mayan Calendar. And no, the world did not end on that date. Instead, it moved onward. So, while the Arch serves as a testimony to Mayan culture and its amazing ancient knowledge, it also represents Playa del Carmen’s movement into a modern era, transforming from a small fishing village to a full-grown city.
Stroll Quinta Avenida
Nothing will acquaint you more with the vibrant street scene of downtown Playa del Carmen than a stroll down Quinta Avenida. This lengthy pedestrian avenue runs parallel to the shore linking two main thoroughfares, Avenida Constituyentes and Avenida Juarez. Here you can find everything from boutique hotels, fascinating shops, lively bars and eateries, a shopping mall, and more.
Multiple side streets from the Quinta lead one or two blocks to the beach with its many resorts and palapa establishments – open sided buildings with palm thatched roofs – so no two trips down this walkway will ever be the same. A shopping or site-seeing stroll can quickly turn into a beach outing with one quick turn and a new adventure awaiting around each bend.
Swim in a Cenote
Cenotes are deep pools from open-air sinkholes and water-filled underground grottos formed from dissolved limestone. As the Riviera Maya lacks rivers, these immense natural cisterns provided the Maya with drinking water. With chilly, crystal-clear water and fascinating cave formations, thousands of these natural phenomena are scattered throughout the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Riviera Maya sports its share of cenotes with several in the immediate vicinity of Playa del Carmen. These include Chaak Tun, Rio Secreto, and several in the Xcaret Park. The biggest cenote in Mexico, Rio Secreto has over 12-kilometers of tunnels and 15 different entrances to each various cave.
Tours take visitors to these and other impressive cenotes in the Riviera Maya, like Gran Cenote near Tulum, Dos Ojos, Cenote Azul and Hidden World Cenotes. Tour options usually include scuba diving, snorkeling, rappelling, ziplining and more.
Everyone who has explored and swam in these mystical Mayan natural wonders describe the experience as ‘other-worldly’ and utterly unforgettable. And each is its own unique experience.
Visit a Mayan-themed Park
One of the biggest tourist draws of the Riviera Maya are the Mayan and water-themed parks of Xcaret, Xenses and Xplor near Playa del Carmen and Xel-Ha further down the coast. These parks blend exploration of natural wonders, underground cenotes, and meandering waterways with slides, rafting, tubing and interactive nature exhibits. Mayan cultural immersions, native food and wildlife exhibits add to the experience. Spectacular evening performances and night-time shows are phenomenal.
Each park has subtle differences with unique attractions and appeal. Most visitors end up experiencing more than one. These are all first-class cultural experiences that brilliantly blend entertainment, learning and adventure together seamlessly. Packages offer many levels of interaction with transportation provided.
Relax at the Lido Beach Club
Today, despite the fact that Playa del Carmen beaches are considered public, much of the waterfront is consumed by private clubs and resorts making a relaxing beach stop a pricey undertaking. Yes, they are lovely and convenient if you are staying there, however, the Lido Beach Club is a refreshing exception to this trend.
At the Beach Club, visitors can spend as much time as they wish admiring the beach without cost. The lounges, bathrooms, and showers are free to use and you only have to pay for what you order from the club’s extensive menu, even if it’s just a margarita or piña colada. Reviews of the food offerings and beachfront ambience are universally top-notch, giving Lido Beach a big thumbs up.
3DMuseum of Wonders
Need a break from the heat? The 3D Museum of Wonders is a fascinating interactive museum for the entire family. Highly entertaining, this museum showcases astonishing creations in 3D conceptual artwork. Optical illusions immerse amazed visitors within the art, making them part of the exhibits themselves.
This is a museum like no other. With over 60 3D wide-ranging paintings to admire, the Museum creates masterful illusions that will make you question everything you see. You can pretend to be surfing on a painting, be stuck inside a bubble, or be part of da Vinci’s Last Supper. Guests are encouraged to bring their cameras and take photos with their favorite exhibits.
Libations at Pez Vela
Quinta Avenida has more than its share of bars and eateries, but there is no better place to enjoy an inexpensive meal, relax with a refreshing frozen margarita, or share a bucket of cold Coronas than Pez Vela. With its tropical, open-air atmosphere, make a stop along your stroll down the Quinta pedestrian walkway.
What appealed to me most was their unusual and entertaining swinging bar stools. Suspended from the ceiling by ropes, these bar-side wooden swing seats are in high demand and a lot of fun.
Unforgettable Dining at Alux
You haven’t lived until you’ve dined in a 10,000-year-old cavern reputedly haunted by mischievous spirits. Romantic? Definitely. Diners at this hidden underground jewel in Playa del Carmen are surrounded by numerous stalactites and flowstones that decorate the interior of the cavern. Water flows gently down in rhythm to the slow jazz music playing in the background.
Their specially designed menu offers a unique taste of Mexican cuisine combined with international touches that make each entrée extraordinary. Just keep an eye out for the restaurant’s namesake – the Alux. According to Mayan beliefs these elfin-like spirited sprites dwell in caves and are known to wreak havoc on humans with their pranks and antics. According to the staff, they are very active in this fascinating underground dining abode.
Discover Mayan Ruins
Indigenous Mayans still make up a large part of the region’s population and reminders of their ancient culture are scattered throughout Riviera Maya. Artifacts within Playa del Carmen include small shrines and Xaman-Ha, a ceremonial shrine where Mayan women would pray before canoeing to Cozumel to worship Ixchel, the Mayan Goddess of Fertility.
For those who want a more expansive ancient Mayan experience, Chichen Itza, Coba, and Tulum all contain remarkable ruins. Three hours away, Chichen Itza with its massive temple pyramid of Kukulcán is the most impressive. Closer by, recently excavated Coba is the oldest and most extensive Mayan ruins. Tulum, to the south, situated right on the coast is uniquely remarkable as the Mayan’s only walled city.
Cozumel, the biggest island of the Mexican Caribbean sits just off-shore Playa del Carmen and is a premier Caribbean destination in its own right. Easily accessible by ferry, Cozumel offers relaxation or adventure. The endless activities include jeep and catamaran tours, fishing, snorkeling and diving, tequila-tasting, shopping, and even a visit to a pearl farm.
Swim With Turtles
Akumal, a half hour drive south, is a vacation destination in itself. Its lovely name means “place of the turtle” in the Mayan language. Snorkeling here, you’re likely to see more than one swimming near you, but they are not to be disturbed as touching them is prohibited by law.
In the crystalline waters of Akumal you’ll definitely find coral formations and beautiful tropical fish. The beaches and beachfront restaurants are among Riviera Maya’s finest. Akumal also boasts a nature preserve, cenotes, and a Monkey and Animal Rescue Sanctuary so visitors can easily make it an entire relaxing day here.
On the Mayan Riviera, Playa Del Carmen has indeed become a top-rated destination. She is blessed with a unique landscape, rich marine life, Mayan ruins, and loads of Mexican authenticity. It’s no wonder the seductive atmosphere here bewitches and beguiles visitors to return again and again to this tropical treasure.
Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen
Rovology recommends staying at this exceptional Playa del Carmen vacation rental resort steps from the sand with a rooftop pool. Other hotel accommodations can be found using the map below.