Things to Do in Playa del Carmen
Rio Secreto, or the “Secret River,” is a series of caves carved out by the flow of an ancient underground river in Mexico. While the reserve is most famous for its large half-sunken cavern—a popular diving spot—you can also explore eerie passageways, swim in the river, and admire dripping stalactites, stalagmites, and colorful mineral formations.
Tulum, the site of a Pre-Columbian Maya walled city and a port for Coba, is one of the best preserved coastal Mayan cities in the Yucatan, in tandem with Chichen Itza and Ek Balam. Highlights of this archaeological site include the Temple of the Frescoes, which has spectacular figurines of the 'diving god.'
In the heart of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula lie the ruins of Coba (Zona Arqueológica de Cobá), an ancient Maya city considered to be one of the most important settlements in Mesoamerican history. During its peak between AD 500 and 900, Coba housed 50,000 residents and was the central terminus for the complex Maya system of roadways. The jungle site is still being excavated, but visitors can experience the already discovered remains of thesesacbes, or stone causeways, as well as a number of engraved and sculpted monuments.
Isla Mujeres (the “Island of Women”) is known for its rich marine life and pristine beaches. Here you can snorkel at Manchones Reef, scuba dive in the Cave of Sleeping Sharks, or stretch out on the white sands of North Beach (Playa Norte). On land you’ll find bustling nightlife, with oceanside bars and restaurants serving fresh seafood.
Set in the middle of the Yucatan jungle, Xplor Park allows visitors to experience Mexico’s environmental treasures firsthand. Here you can raft down a stalactite-filled underground river, swim in cenotes, ride in an amphibious vehicle, or zipline above the canopy. There’s also a nighttime option to explore after dark.
One of the New 7 Wonders of the World, Chichén Itzá is among Mexico's most visited and iconic archaeological sites. Known for its main central pyramid, this impressive Maya site—once the ceremonial center of the Yucatán—also features temples, ball courts, and a cenote (freshwater sinkhole).
The pedestrian-only Fifth Avenue (Quinta Avenida) runs parallel to the ocean in downtown Playa del Carmen. This bustling tourist strip provides easy beach access and is within walking distance of shops, restaurants, bars, and clubs. Lining Fifth Avenue are shops aplenty, including those selling artisan crafts, fine jewelry, and cigars.
From circus performers swinging from the ceiling and dancers crowding the floor, to celebrity impersonators and Broadway-style musicals, Coco Bongo is a nightclub unlike any other. At the Playa del Carmen location, you’ll find extravagant stages, multiple bars, VIP table service, and a dance floor known to rock through the wee hours.
Explore the life—and contextualize the legacy—of Mexican surrealist artist and feminist icon Frida Kahlo at Playa del Carmen’s Frida Kahlo Museum (Museo Frida Kahlo). At one of the city’s first cultural spaces, learn about Kahlo’s work, illness, and tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera by way of interactive and sensory exhibits.
At Cenote Chaak Tun, outside Playa del Carmen, venture inside hidden subterranean caves that the ancient Maya believed were sacred portals to the underworld. Follow the beam of your headlamp into an enormous cenote, where centuries-old stalactites drip from above, and swim and snorkel in its fresh water rivers and pools.
More Things to Do in Playa del Carmen
With unparalleled access to the Caribbean Sea and all of its bounty, a visit to the Xcaret eco-archaeological park is a must when on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Snorkeling, ziplining, river rafting, exploring underwater rivers, and hiking tropical trails through jungle ruins are all options within this natural adventure park, which gives fast access to many of Cancun’s greatest attractions.
Built around the cenotes and jungle of the Riviera Maya, the Kantun Chi Ecopark is a subterranean playground of cenotes, underground caves, and grottoes. Filled with stalactites, stalagmites, and ancient columns, it offers a unique way to explore the dramatic natural scenery and learn about the region’s long Maya history.
Jump into the art at Playa del Carmen’s 3D Museum of Wonders. Created by a visionary American artist, this interactive museum is truly in a genre and mind-bending class of its own. It doesn’t take long for reality to blend with illusion, and pretty soon you’re splashing beneath a waterfall, surfing a wave, or trapped inside a bubble.
Named after a Mayan word meaning “the place where the waters are born,” the Xel-Ha aquatic park encompasses 14 acres (5.7 hectares) of jungle and ocean just south of Playa del Carmen. A must-visit family-friendly attraction, Xel-Ha is home to cenotes, a lazy river, fish-filled lagoons, and other natural attractions.
Playacar is a gated community just south of Playa del Carmen, Mexico, which is known for its all-inclusive resorts and private beachfront villas. It's ideal for those who want to stay right on the sand and still be close to the excitement of Fifth Avenue. Playacar’s wide and not-too-crowded beaches are some of the nicest in Playa.
Located just off the ferry dock, Fundadores Park (El Zócalo) is the center of Playa del Carmen. This beachside park sits along Playa del Carmen’s famous Fifth Avenue, and it’s the main square from which the rest of the tourist area branches out. From El Zócalo you’ll have a gorgeous view of the ocean and easy access to the beaches.
Filled with crystal clear water and lined with limestone stalactites, Cenotes Sac Actun is the world’s largest known underwater cave system. The freshwater cave is home to colorful fish, bats, and animal fossils. Sac Actun is simultaneously one of the most impressive and least crowded cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Cirque du Soleil brings its award-winning magical theater to Mexico’s Riviera Maya with Joya, the troupe’s first resident production in Latin America. From dazzling theatrics and incredible acrobatics to otherworldly costumes and death-defying stunts, this fantastical show is truly an unforgettable experience.
Just 30 minutes off the coast of Cancun near Isla Mujeres lies a popular diving destination called Cave of the Sleeping Sharks, which has baffled marine biologists everywhere. Sharks must constantly be in motion in order to breathe through their skins, but in this cave the sharks can use bubbles from underwater springs to breathe, allowing them to "sleep" completely still.
The Cave of the Sleeping Sharks was discovered in 1969 and lies about 60 feet (20 meters) underwater, formed by coral formations that allow divers to get close to the resting sharks. Nurse sharks are most commonly seen in the cave and although they are harmless it is still exhilarating to be able to swim so close to them.
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef stretches just off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula all the way down to Honduras. It's the largest coral reef in the western hemisphere and half the length of the Great Barrier Reef (the world's largest). Also commonly referred to as the Great Maya Reef, it’s a must-see for nature and wildlife lovers.
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