Playa Del Carmen definitely has something to offer for everyone. You can find everything from beautiful underwater coral reefs to gorgeous beaches, ecological water parks, to ancient Mayan ruins. Here are some of the top Playa del Carmen attractions:
The Great Mayan Reef
The Great Mayan Reef extends a long wall of coral reefs, the world’s second-largest. About 100 meters away from the Playa del Carmen seashore, the reefs start at Catoche Cape, continuing through Guatemala and Belize. They hold plenty of flora and fauna and they work as a huge barrier against the surf. They soften it and form peaceful natural pools, perfect for aquatic sports like snorkeling and scuba diving.
Your visit to Playa del Carmen will not be complete without visiting its lovely beaches. Enjoy the white, lukewarm, fine sand and take a dip in the refreshing glasslike waters. The beaches are bordered by enormous walls of coral reefs, appeasing the currents and lulling the waves. The most popular beaches include Coco, ideal for swimming because of its calm waters; Chunzubul, popular among snorkelers for its deep beauty; and Alejari, Shangri-la, and El Faro, which showcase a stunning surrounding scenery.
Ecological water parks
Ecological water parks are one of the top Playa del Carmen attractions. Xel-Ha is a snorkeler’s heaven, offering an amazing range of fish and flora. You can swim with dolphins, but prepare to shell out some huge amount of money. Xcaret has many kinds of wildlife, from butterflies to crocodiles, to jaguars. It also offers different shows daily.
Playacar Complex is one of the most important tourist centers of the Mayan Riviera. It is filled with exclusive and elegant hotels, a golf course, commercial zones, and spacious residential areas. Its architectural feature takes its inspiration from traditional designs, with stunning trunk beams and palapas (or sunshades that are made of palm leaves and wood). Eco-tourist concepts that seek to preserve the surrounding forests have been imposed in all installations.
Chichen Itza, the former Mayan capital, houses the largest concentration of Mayan ruins in all of the Yucatan peninsula. Here, you can climb the main temple of El Castillo, which is well-known because of the autumnal and vernal equinoxes. The sunlight bathing the western part of the main stairway of the pyramid is a sight to behold. It gives the illusion of a serpent’s body that moves lithely down the structure until it joins with the serpent headstone carving at the bottom.
The Mayan site of Tulum is also one of the more popular Playa del Carmen attractions. While not as grand as Chichen Itza, Tulum is still an imposing sight. It is, in fact, the smallest but also the most scenic Mayan site. Coba is a less known, but impressive site. It is rather large, having the tallest temple (140 feet) in the northern Yucatan as its major attraction. You can climb the remarkable temple steps and have a superb view of the surrounding lakes and jungle.
The Mayan Riviera is a wonderful and wild place, with many beautiful ecological attractions. In Playa del Carmen and in many places in the Yucatan Peninsula, a movement is happening toward sustainable tourism – many tours embrace the culture and natural environment. The area builds tourism around the remarkable things that it has, rather than building tourism over these things.
Tourism in Playa del Carmen embraces Mayan culture and involves the people and their villages in it. In addition, tourism brings employment to the Mayas, instead of displacing them to make way for attractions. Here are some ecotours that Playa del Carmen offers:
Sian Kaan Biosphere
Sian Kaan is a wildlife paradise covering 1.6 million acres of the natural environment. Its vast diversity of flora and fauna has made it to the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. The Sian Kaan biosphere is home to more than 350 species of birds and more than 100 species of mammals, many of which are endemic to this area. Highlights of the tour include: taking a boat trip through the mangroves, swimming in the glass-like water of a natural pool, visiting Cayo Culebras (ecological heaven), and snorkeling on virgin coral reefs.
Rio Lagartos is a wetland well-known for its natural beauty and its huge population of pink flamingos. It stretches over an enormous area of roughly 155 square miles. Rio Lagartos houses more than 375 species of birds and much other unique wildlife. A tour to this rich wetland takes you on a boat expedition and for a cleansing dip in the famous pink salt baths.
Ek Balam is truly a treasure in the Riviera Maya. Your guide will educate you about the fascinating culture of the Mayas and also their legacy. Visit a Mayan Village and immerse with the local people and observe their ways of life. You will also surely enjoy home-cooked dishes in an authentic restaurant that serves sea trout fillet, shrimp crepes, and grouper fillet with grilled or battered shrimp.
Isla Holbox is world-famous around for I’s whale shark migration. Every summer, a huge population of such sharks visits the shimmering waters of Holbox to feed on the plankton. In fact, it is considered to be the world’s largest gathering of whale sharks. During your Isla Holbox tour, you will get to swim and snorkel side by side with the biggest fish in the world, giving you a truly memorable experience.
Adventure tours are huge in Playa del Carmen. Such tours expertly mix some of the most incredible experiences nature can provide with some adrenaline-pumping kicks and a taste of local culture. From rappelling into cenotes and swimming side by side with the world’s largest fish to flying high on zip lines above the jungle floor, these adventure excursions will surely keep you entertained. Adventure tours are very safe and are fun for the entire family.
Tulum plus zip line
Enjoy the exhilarating Mayan zip line, while at the same time learning more about the mystery and of the Mayan ruins of Tulum. This archeological site is one of the most visited of its kind in the Mayan Riviera. Tulum is unique for its breathtaking clifftop setting, overlooking the beautiful azure waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Tour highlights include: guided tour of the ruins and its small pueblo village, visiting a Mayan ranch where you can immerse with the Mayans, witnessing a traditional Mayan purification ritual, snorkeling through stalactites at Chikin Ha Cenote, mountain biking through the Mayan farmland, and flying on three zip lines.
Your Coba tour could be your finest Mayan experience in Playa del Carmen. Here, you can mingle with authentic Mayan guides and families, who will take you on a sustainable tourism adventure through the Mayan ruins, villages, and jungles. Rappel into cenotes, canoe across lagoons, explore archeological sites and experience the past and present intrigue and culture of the Mayan empire.
The Isla Contoy tour is one of the newest excursions in Playa del Carmen. In this tour, you will swim and snorkel with the largest fish in the world in the open ocean. You will board a boat that will take you to Isla Contoy, where hundreds of these colossal creatures (up to 60 feet long) gather every summer to feed on the summer plankton bloom and also to breed.
Swimming side by side with whale sharks is one of the most incredible experiences nature can provide. Nowhere else in the Caribbean can you have a great experience like this – only in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, including Playa del Carmen.
Organized jungle tours are popular in Playa del Carmen. In such excursions, an ATV, a 4×4, or a jeep safari is usually used to explore the Mayan jungle floor. A number of agencies also offer horseback riding tours to discover the area.
A movement is afoot in n Playa del Carmen toward sustainable tourism. Jungle tours in this paradise embrace Mayan culture and involve them and their villages in tourism activities, while giving the Mayan people employment, instead of uprooting their heritage rather give way for attractions. Here are some jungle tours worth considering:
A jungle tour in Playa del Carmen would not be complete without a visit to beautiful caves and cenotes. Cenotes are sinkholes where the ground has fallen away, revealing the fresh and cool water underneath. The eastern half of the Yucatan Peninsula houses thousands of natural springs. The ancient Mayans considered these geological features sacred entrances to their spiritual world.
Nohoch Jungle Crossing
This jungle tour will take you down the jungle trails and dirt roads of the Riviera Maya and Playa del Carmen to the Mayan village of Rancho San Felipe. Prepare for a once in a lifetime snorkeling adventure, through the glass-like freshwater caverns of the Nohoch Chich Cenote system. It is one of the world’s longest explored underground river systems. See for yourself the renowned limestone stalagmites and stalactites from under the water in all their splendor.
Back in the safari truck, take a short hike to Yaxmuul cenote. Here, you can relax in hammocks or swim in the cool and clear waters. Along your way, your tour guide will introduce you to the Mayan jungle’s rich biodiversity. Also, enjoy home-prepared Mayan meals cooked by the Mayan women of the ranch. It is the perfect time to appreciate the value of today’s Mayan community and also to embrace their history and culture.
Discovery Jungle Park
Discovery Jungle Park is one of the latest attractions added to further boost Playa del Carmen’s tourism. This jungle theme park takes you off the beaten path. Tours usually start off with a fast and fun ATV ride through 10 miles of jungle trails and dirt roads.
At the Discovery Jungle Park, prepare yourself for some more actions as you fly from big zip lines high above the jungle ground. You can fly backward, upside down, and even Superman style! Then cool off by taking a dip in a cenote before getting back on your ATV for a fast and furious ride back.
Compared to its more popular sisters like Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba, Ek Balam is rarely visited by tourists and you may end up walking around all by yourself among the temples and jungle. This little treasure a Mayan city is a little off the beaten path because it is located about two hours and 30 minutes from Playa del Carmen. But if you are really fascinated by Mayan history, culture, and art and architecture, visiting Ek Balam should be included in your itinerary.
Ek Balam is the Mayan term for “black Jaguar”, in itself a very powerful name. It used to be an influential and important city. Whereas many other ancient cities in the Yucatan Peninsula had a life span of 500 to 600 years, Ek Balam thrived for around 1000 years.
Construction of the city began in 100 BC to 300 AD (late Pre-Classic period) and continued into 700 AD to 900 AD (Late Classic period). Ek Balam may even have been inhabited as late as the time when the Spanish conquistadors came in the 1500s.
Further evidence for Ek Balam’s importance is its monumental buildings. El Torre is considered as one of the largest Mayan structures in all of the Yucatan Peninsula. The tower measures more than 500 feet long, 200 feet wide, and towers 100 feet. The ancient city also has a wall not high enough to function as a protective structure; the wall probably was built specifically for ceremonial purposes. Ek Balam also has other ceremonial features such as the ball court where important Mayan ball games were staged.
A road network has also been found. Sacbe (“white road”) and their roads are paved, wide, and built perfectly straight – further evidence of the greatness and precision of Mayan engineering. The road’s wide system suggests frequent interaction with other Mayan cities. Many archaeologists theorize that Ek Balam was originally the agricultural center in the northwestern part of the peninsula. Today, the area still produces honey, corn, and vegetables.
Only a few principal structures have been excavated and restored at Ek Balam, but the grand size of this archeological site will give you remarkable examples of what the Mayan people were capable of.
Mexico is one of the most popular destinations in the world – thanks to its colorful part and fascinating culture, welcoming weather, divine cuisine, gorgeous beaches, beautiful people, lively nightlife scene, and exciting activities.
Some of the major attractions in Mexico are its stunning archeological sites. And you can reach a number of well-known Mayan ruins in the country from Playa del Carmen. One of the more popular sites near Playa del Carmen is Coba.
The archeological site of Coba is unique – the ancient place was constructed in between two lakes. Its main pyramid, the Nohoch Mul Pyramid, is world-renowned because it is the tallest in all of the whole Yucatan Peninsula. It towers 140 feet and overlooks the rainforest area. Climb the amazing 120 temple steps and marvel at the Maya carved shell-like forms on the steps.
When you reach the top of the Nohoch Mul Pyramid, you will be treated by a magnificent view of the surrounding jungle and lakes. Coba is over 80 square kilometers of remains and buildings. Another major attraction in the area is a round pyramid.
It is a good idea to bring lots of water, bug repellent, and some skin protection as this archeological site is in the jungle. The trails through the jungle are well maintained and are accessible not only to adults but also to children as well. This makes Coba a perfect family excursion. We suggest that you arrive early since the jungle can get extremely hot during the day.
Many visitors say that Coba is their most favorite ruins to visit from Playa del Carmen. You will definitely like the peace and serenity that surround the area. This archaeological site is made more mysterious and interesting by the fact that many mounds have not been unearthed. You will never know what those mounds hide.
The modern history of Yucatan begins with the expedition of Francisco Hernández de Cordoba, who discovered the east coast of the Peninsula in 1517 while on a slave-hunting expedition. Juan de Grijalva followed the same route in the following year. In 1519, conquistador Hernan Cortes and his men clashed with the Cozumel Island inhabitants.
The conquest of the Yucatan Peninsula was led by Francisco de Montejo in 1527, who discovered the remains of a high and rich civilization that had long since suffered a decline. There were deserted cities falling into ruins, and others, including Tulum, which were still inhabited by remnants of their former Maya populations.
Tulum used to be part of the Tankah-Tulum region, composed of Tankah, Xel-Ha, and Tulum. The ancient city’s original name was Zama, which means dawn or sunrise. Its major attraction includes the spectacular view of sunrises and sunsets.
This archeological site is simply chock-full of Mayan ruins that will give you a stunning view of the Caribbean Sea. The pristine blue beaches stretch for miles and miles. It is exquisitely poised on the 15-meter-high cliff overlooking the shimmering Caribbean. When the Spanish conquistadors first set foot on Tulum in the early 1500s, they considered it as beautiful and divine as Sevilla in Spain.
Combining the splendor of its beaches with the mystery of an ancient culture, this ancient city is definitely a picturesque place in the Riviera Maya. It is the smallest archeological attraction in the peninsula, but it is the most scenic Mayan site in the area. You should not miss this beautiful and mysterious site when you visit Playa del Carmen.
Perhaps the Spanish colonizers were misled by their dreams of El Dorado – may be because of the glory of Tulum’s position and the brightly painted facades of its architecture. Many thanks to its setting, this Mayan ruin sticks in your memory like no other.
Great Mayan Reef
The Great Mayan Reef Surpassed, also known as the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, is the world’s second-largest barrier reef. It is second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. This reef system runs between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel for hundreds of miles. It extends from the Bay Islands of Honduras to the southern part of the Yucatan Peninsula.
The ancient Great Mayan Reef is largely responsible for the development of communities and civilizations that emerged along its magnificent shores. During the period of the early Mayan people, passages and trade routes were created in this area, greatly boosting their trade and commerce.
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived, the Great Mayan Reef became the safe sanctuary of pirates, It functioned as a maritime gateway for the colonizers as well. At present, the reef system’s rich marine life (including various fish species and 500-year-old coral formations) is a major enticement for local tourism, and also to draw in international tourists.
The tourism that the Great Mayan Reef brings improves the economic gains of Playa del Carmen to greater heights. In addition, it plays an important role in protecting coastal landscapes. It also serves as feeding and breeding grounds for most of its marine life.
If you are into scuba diving, whether you are an experienced or novice diver, you will be astounded as you explore to get to experience what the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System has to offer. The composition of its reef types, the rich diversity of its corals and other related species, as well as its length, are some of the most important aspects that contribute to the reef system’s special distinction in all of the Western hemisphere.
This tourist attraction in the Yucatan peninsula is not only one huge single barrier reef; it is a chain of coral gardens, drop-offs, and shallow patch reefs. It also serves as an abode to islets, fringing reefs, and coastal sandbanks. The waters of the Great Barrier Reef boasts more or less 100 dive sites, half a thousand species of fish, and four species of sea turtles.
Playacar is an upscale and private development area located in the southern part of Playa del Carmen. This area was developed with the intent of establishing a stylish and refined environment in a relaxed tropical setting. This secured community is divided into two major areas: Phase One (oceanfront) and Phase Two (along the golf course).
Playacar is a gated neighborhood that houses all-inclusive large hotels, resorts, and spas. It also boasts a stunning 18-hole, par 72 golf course designed by famous architect Robert Van Hagge. It is also home to an aviary, some interesting Mayan ruins, and a number of condominiums and private homes. What’s more, Playacar Complex has a hodgepodge of malls, bars, clubs and restaurants, and many other nightlife establishments.
In addition to the luxurious environment and the gorgeous white-sand beaches, another treasure in Playacar that is absolutely worth visiting would be the Xaman Ha Tropical Bird Aviary. Here, about 60 species of birds, which range from the common ones to the extraordinary ones, live harmoniously with one another, with various other animals, as well as with the rest of their surroundings.
The aviary is an open-aired, cageless habitat that endeavors to simulate the natural environment of the birds and other animals while giving them protection from harm and providing them with shelter at the same time. The Xaman Ha Tropical Bird Aviary is a very nice place to visit if you feel like observing, exploring, or communing with nature.
But if you are feeling more adventurous, you can play a game of golf, try out the world-class fishing on offer, scuba dive and snorkel, enjoy numerous watersports, play a bit of good tennis, or visit ancient Mayan archaeological sites. Playacar will keep you very busy once you get there. It is true, time is not enough for the many things to do and see in Playacar.
La Quinta Avenida
La Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) is the main thoroughfare in Playa del Carmen. This pedestrian walkway is parallel to the ocean, running more or less 500 meters away from it. This world-famous avenue traverses hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts, timeshares, rentals, as well as cafes, restaurants, bars, clubs, and shops.
Intersecting with La Quinta Avenida are streets that lead straight to the beach. What is good about these streets is that each house convenience stores, dive shops, tour operators and travel agencies, more hotels, money changers, Internet cafes, bars and clubs, and nice restaurants.
This vivacious avenue provides a wide range of shopping, dining, and entertainment to choose from. Most of the restaurants you will find here are trendy and upscale and serve international cuisine like Italian, French, and American cuisine. But if you have a very tight budget, take heart. La Quinta Avenida has eateries that serve delicious but reasonably-priced authentic Mexican food.
Also, the shops in the strip sell almost everything you can think of. You will find here trendy clothes, Cuban cigars, Mexican handicrafts, souvenir and gift items, and many more. La Quinta Avenida radiates an exciting and vibrant atmosphere, like that of a carnival. In addition, if you get lucky you may even see wild animals, mimes, fire breathers, clowns, and many other characters parading down the street.
The avenue buzzes with even more life when the sunsets. At night, the bars and clubs along the strip come to life and create an exciting and memorable party atmosphere. You can still see some nightlife venues situated by the beach and away from many resorts and hotels (due to the noise level) in full swing even after midnight.
La Quinta Avenida is a major tourist zone, so most things here are quite expensive. But as you go away further from this area, you will notice that things become cheaper. You will come across some of the best restaurants serving traditional Mexican food and drink. You will also find fascinating shops that sell everything and anything you can think of.
Xaman Ha Aviary
The Yucatan Peninsula is home to many bird species. When you are in Playa del Carmen, you will be amazed at the beauty and diversity of tropical birds that live in the Xaman Ha Aviary. This aviary is not your typical zoo. Unlike a traditional zoo wherein animals live inside cages, Xaman Ha Aviary serves as a natural habitat for birds and much other wildlife that make the aviary their home.
The birds at Xaman Ha Aviary are indigenous to the peninsula. The species in this aviary include flamingos, ducks, macaws, parrots, storks, and so much more. They live in pleasant harmony with other birds and other animals like butterflies, iguanas, squirrels, and the like. This results in a colorful, lively, and often noisy environment that is truly a pleasure to behold.
The open-air sanctuary of Xaman Ha Aviary gives a natural setting that enables every visitor to see the birds and other animals in their natural habitat while walking through trails. However, we have to say that the concept can get too natural for comfort for many visitors.
Some visitors get pestered by excessively assertive winged creatures as they stroll along the path. But of course, this is a part of the experience. Visiting Xaman Ha Aviary will give you a very rewarding experience that will inspire an appreciation and love for the winged and non-winged creatures of the world and their natural habitat.
Located in Playacar, this aviary is for the family. The aviary is open from 9 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon. What is the best time to go and see the birds? We suggest you visit Xaman Ha Aviary is from 9 to 11 in the morning and from 4 to 5 in the afternoon. If you want to inquire, you can contact the aviary through the following telephone number: 984-873-0593.
Xel-Ha literally means “a place where water is born.” This ecological park is a magical and stunning slice of heaven in the Mayan Riviera. Xel-ha is a natural aquarium set in a splendid backdrop of limestone formations and it is home to tropical fish of all colors and shapes. This park will give you a great opportunity for relaxing and nature tripping.
The meeting of the ocean with fresh water currents of the springs and underground rivers results in a wonderful ecosystem. Xel-Ha is a fairyland of inlets, thick jungle, lagoons, caves, plus archaeological sites. The park also houses more than 350 species of plants and flowers, including Caribbean palms and zapote and Chechen trees.
The crystal-clear waters of the Xel-Ha inlet are also habitat to stunning marine flora and fauna. Experience an aquatic adventure and discover the marine ecosystem. Try helmet diving, which allows you to get close to schools of fish while feeling very safe. You can even swim with dolphins! We also suggest that you try “snuba”, a combination of snorkeling and scuba diving.
Other attractions in this site include a Mayan cave, the Xel-Ha River, mangrove trees, Hammock Island, archeological sites, tree nursery, and floating bridge. Xel-Ha has a number of cenotes or sinkholes. Take a dip and have a magical and mystical experience.
Take a refreshing splash at the Xel-Ha River. This river is home to colorful fish and is fed by underground fresh-water springs. Mangrove trees are also a good attraction. Mangroves are trees that thrive in saltwater, providing refuge to marine life. Xel-Ha also has a tree nursery, where most of its flora, especially the endangered species, is raised and preserved.
Want to chill out after all the exhilarating activities? Then feel the sand and the ocean breeze while lying in a hammock in Hammock Island. Xel-Ha also features an 80-meter floating bridge, providing an extraordinary view of the cove. Not only is the park blessed with unparalleled natural wonders; Xel-Ha also has some fascinating Mayan ruins.