If you think spending a week in Playa del Carmen is too long, I think you’re wrong. We’ve written all about the Riviera Maya town before, and I’m sure we’ll write about it again. Because there is so much to see and do near this attractive beach town, just one hour south of Cancun.
I recently spent a week in Playa del Carmen for my friend’s birthday, and I could have easily stayed another week just to do all the activities we came across. And while I don’t want to bore you with the details, I do want to share some of the highlights that will hopefully prove helpful!
(Note: There had been a lot of violence reported in Cancun just before our trip to Playa del Carmen; however, I never felt unsafe walking through the town or on any of our tours. There was a relatively noticeable police presence, but it wasn’t overwhelming. And while I’d encourage you to take the sensationalized reporting with a grain of salt, always put your safety first.)
Here is how I spent a week in Playa del Carmen:
DAY ONE: Get Settled In
Our group of seven all arrived in Cancun around 8AM. Since there were so many of us, we decided to hire a Super Shuttle for a round-trip fare of $120. Plus it was nice not to worry about arranging our ride back.
After about an hour, the driver let us out at the four-bedroom AirBnB we’d rented in Playacar. This is a nice gated community interwoven with the Hard Rock Hotel’s golf course. While it was a little ways from the bustling main strip, it was also a welcome reprieve. We had our own pool to lounge in privately and it was quiet at night. Of course there are a lot of options for accommodations in the area. We went with an AirBnB so we could have some privacy and still be all together. In this case the property manager was very accommodating, and provided drinking water as well as the number of a reliable, private taxi service. (Of course there are other ways to get around.)
After getting settled into our rooms, having a snack and getting groceries, we finally made our way out to dinner. We’d heard the restaurant at the Frida Kahlo Museum, but it was unfortunately closed for renovations. So we ate just across the street at Mi Pueblo. This is where my tour of shrimp tacos began. The food was good and the open air made for fun and easy people-watching.
DAY TWO: Explore Your Surroundings
With everyone a little jet-lagged (except for me; I still woke up at 7:30), it was lunch time before we were all ready to go explore. So we walked into town and North of the pier to find a nice spot on the beach. And, although there was A LOT of seaweed on the shore this time of year, the beach was still beautiful and the water incredibly warm.
After a few hours, we walked a few blocks back toward Calle Quinta Avenida (5th street, a pedestrian path lined with shops, hotels, and restaurants), and went to Patio 8 for food and drinks. This place has great food and drink specials. Like most of the places we ate, its prices were comparable to American restaurants. But that didn’t keep us from sticking around for a couple of hours just eating and drinking and talking.
On our way home, we stopped to chat with the folks at Del Mundo Tours about snorkeling. They talked us into a multilingual excursion – our boat had French, English and Spanish-speaking groups – to Isla Contoy for about $120 USD per person. But we had to be up early, so it was straight to bed after that.
DAY THREE: Visit Isla Contoy & Isla Mujeres
We showed up in front of Del Mundo for pickup at 7AM (I told you it was early). They drove us to a port in Cancun, where they served breakfast and put us on a boat with about 30 other people.
Our guides, Lou Lou and Clal (who were seriously awesome), took those who wanted to go snorkeling just past the Mesoamerican Reef (the second-largest barrier reef in the world). In the span of about 45 minutes, we saw brain and fan coral, beautiful fish, and a nurse shark!
From there we stopped on the protected Island of Contoy for three hours. Here you can do more snorkeling or just float in the crystal waters until they serve a surprisingly delicious lunch. The only catch is that you’re only allowed to wear biodegradable sunscreen in order to protect the reef. And if you’re not a fan of mosquitoes, I’d suggest you skip the Island tour. The trip finished with quick, hour-long stop at Isla Mujeres before returning to Cancun and eventually Playa del Carmen.
For dinner, we had a reservation at Alux. This restaurant is a little away from town, but it’s so worth it. It’s set up in a cave that used to be part of the region’s underground river system (more on this later). They gave us a private room, let us choose our bottles of wine straight from the cellar, and even brought out a custom-made a birthday cake for us to share. As if the setting wasn’t reason enough to enjoy it!
DAY FOUR: Check Out a Beach Club
The best way to chase a birthday dinner? Birthday brunch.
We landed at Indigo Beach Club because they have a brunch buffet every day of the week from 7AM to 12PM for about $13 USD (not including drinks). Buuuuuut getting seven people to move is a bit like herding cats. So we got there for lunch instead. After food and drinks, we moved one-by-one from our table on the sand to their lounge chairs, where we continued to eat, drink, and enjoy the beach.
And this is where I sheepishly admit we spent ALL DAMN DAY at Indigo. There are two dangerous things right next to Indigo: a beach-front spa and a tourism kiosk. And we couldn’t resist either. The ladies in our group all got hour-long massages for about $30 USD (plus tip) at Spa Turquesa. And we went back and forth with the kiosk manager for a while before booking our adventure for the next day (ruins and more snorkeling!).
By the late afternoon we had migrated to their pool area (for a fee). Hear me when I say their pool is AMAZING. It’s two stories and the upper level is a hot tub with an underwater glass wall that overlooks the pool AND THE OCEAN. It’s no wonder we couldn’t leave. We ordered another bucket of beers and they brought us towels and cups and we stayed long enough to have dinner, too. (Get the chicken fajitas.)
Despite spending literally eight hours there, we only spent around $100 per person on food, drinks, and pool access. Well worth it, IMHO.
DAY FIVE: See the Ruins & the Turtles
Once again we woke early for an 8AM pickup. A private bus picked us up and whisked us away to the Mayan ruins in Tulum.
The tour we paid for included transport, admission, and a guide. Though frankly I’m not sure it was necessary; there is signage along that way that could be equally informative. After the tour, you can relax on the beach, do some shopping, or grab a bite to eat. We ate Don Cafeto Tulum Ruinas and I had the best chilaquiles of my life for $125 pesos.
From there, our bus took us to the Bay of Akumal to snorkel. Akumal is so special because the sea water merges with the freshwater from the underground river, causing different varieties of sea grass to grow. If you’re thinking, “Who cares about sea grass?” I hear you. But sea turtles come in droves to eat the grasses unique to the region.
At Akumal, our snorkel guide, Alejandro, gave us gear and took us around a roped area for about an hour. In that time we saw stingray, squid, and a handful of sea turtles—some even had suckerfish clinging to their shells! And unlike our open water snorkel, the water here was calm. It was easy to float and follow the guide while still being able to see everything going on below the surface. It was relaxing and enjoyable and highly recommended.
By the time we got home, we were so tired we ordered Dominoes for dinner, watched the rain storm, and went to bed early.
DAY SIX: Take a Dip in a Cenote
Whatever you do, do not skip the cenotes! I repeat: do not skip the cenotes!
If you don’t know what a cenote is, you’re in for a treat. Mexico’s Riviera Maya is littered with them—more than 6,000 in total—and they’re easily one of the things that make this region so special.
Basically, there is an underground river with fresh water that flows throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. As it moves, it erodes the landscape beneath the ground and creates caves filled with freshwater. When the ceilings of these caves collapse, you’re left with beautiful open-air pools surrounded by jungle. Or ocean or ruins or what have you. Most have some kind of life, like varieties of fish, and are so worth the trip.
There are so many cenotes near Playa del Carmen it can be hard to choose which one is right for you, and we tossed around the idea of going to one of the more developed parks like Rio Secreto. Ultimately, we decided to hire a car to take us to Jardin del Eden. Mostly because it was close and full of the same fish that eat your skin in fancy spas. Plus, there are two other cenotes close by (Azul and Cristalino), so we could keep exploring if we wanted to.
The entrance to Jardin is $100 pesos per person, and the snorkel rental is about $25 pesos plus a deposit you get back. Although we initially weren’t going to snorkel, I’m so glad we did. It’s really amazing to see how deep the pools are from below the surface. Jardin is also nice because they have sunbathing decks, plenty of shade, and a small cafe for when hunger strikes. We only spent a couple hours swimming around before returning to meet up with the rest of the gang.
On our way through town we passed a restaurant called Fah and eventually returned for dinner. The atmosphere was great, complete with an incredibly talented live band and a guest performer who beat-boxed like you wouldn’t believe. If you go, order the tuna tartare because it’s to-die-for. Easily my favorite meal of the trip.
DAY SEVEN: Kiss Paradise Goodbye
Okay, so maybe it’s a little less than a week in Playa del Carmen. Day seven was our last day, so we didn’t have much time.
We got up early to pack and clean house before doing some last-minute souvenir shopping at the edge of town. Our shuttle came for us at noon and we went our separate ways once we got to the airport.
And just like that, my week in Playa del Carmen came to an abrupt end. If I’d had more time, I would have definitely explored more cenotes.
Need more convincing? Check out the Planet Earth coverage on the Riviera Maya’s cenotes. And tell us how you’d spend a week in Playa del Carmen!