Playa del Carmen is one of our favourite places in Mexico for one main reason: it’s super fun! The coastal Caribbean location allows for the perfect blend of relaxed beach vacation and adventure paradise. With a lively city full of culture and a perfect location right in the heart of the Riviera Maya, you’re guaranteed a great vacation.
We had such a good time in Playa and could have happily spent weeks in this city. To help you plan your Mexican holiday, we’ve created this complete Playa del Carmen travel guide full of all the best travel tips. We’ve answered all your questions about the city to help you plan your trip to the Mayan Riviera.
Table of Contents
Where is Playa del Carmen?
A lot of words are used to describe Playa del Carmen’s location. You may hear “Yucatan Peninsula”, “Riviera Maya”, and even “Quintana Roo”’ and wonder what all these mean. We were confused at first, so let us help you clear it all up.
- Playa del Carmen is located in the Yucatan Peninsula – the peninsula that sticks out into the Caribbean Sea. Part of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala are all in this peninsula.
- Quintana Roo is the state Playa del Carmen is in.
- Riviera Maya refers to the coastal area south of Cancun that includes Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and more.
Playa del Carmen (“Playa”) is a stunning little city on the coast of the Caribbean Sea. It sits in the heart of the popular tourist area south of Cancun and north of Tulum. Playa del Carmen’s location is one of the best reasons to visit. The central location makes it the perfect “home base” to enjoy day excursions and different activities in the area.
How far is Playa del Carmen from Cancun?
Cancun to Playa del Carmen is 69 km (43 miles) and takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to drive depending on traffic.
How far is Playa del Carmen from Tulum?
Playa del Carmen to Tulum is 65 km (41 miles) and takes about an hour to drive.
How To Get To Playa del Carmen?
As there is no major Playa del Carmen airport, you’ll want to plan to fly into Cancun International Airport (CUN). This is the major international airport that serves this entire area and sits 55 km (34 miles) north of Playa del Carmen. You can choose to explore all Cancun has to offer, or head straight to your hotel in Playa del Carmen.
If you are staying in a Playa del Carmen all inclusive hotel, chances are they will include round trip airport transfer. If you need to get yourself to Playa del Carmen, the good news is you have a lot of safe and reliable travel options.
For backpackers and budget travelers looking for the cheapest transportation option, taking the bus from Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen is easy and affordable. The bus (ADO bus) ride takes 1 hour and 50 minutes and costs 230 MXN ($18.30 CAD/$13.50 USD) one way. I highly recommend booking your tickets ahead of time, especially if you arrive in peak tourist season (December-February).
One of the most comfortable travel methods is to book private transportation from Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen. You will take an air conditioned van from the airport to your hotel. These shuttles are fairly affordable and incredibly comfortable and convenient. You have a lot of options for shuttles from Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen and is a stress free way to get your holiday started.
Rent a car
We have an unruly love for road trips and despite the cheap and accessible transportation options in this region, we opted for the freedom that having our own wheels would give us.
There are many options for rental car companies from the airport. You can organize your rental car before you go, or you can show up at the airport and pick up from one of the many rental car companies in the airport. We rented from AVIS but really all the car rental companies are about the same in terms of price and coverage.
How to get around Playa del Carmen
It’s quite easy to navigate the streets in Playa del Carmen. Everything is close to the water – within a few blocks.
Walking in Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen does not have Uber but you’ll be happy to know Playa is a very walkable city. If you’re staying within a few blocks of Quinta Ave you’ll be able to walk to most attractions – this area is called Centro.
Streets (“calles” in Spanish) and head away from the beach – perpendicular – and increase by 2.
Avenues (“avenidas” in Spanish) and follow the beach – parallel – and go up by 5.
If you want to go further distances, there are lots of places around town where you can rent bicycles to widen your exploring. We like this eco friendly way to travel around.
Taxis in Playa del Carmen
Taxis are everywhere as well – just be careful with prices. They don’t have a set meter as they do in other parts of North America. Each driver makes their own prices and the closer you are to 5th Avenue the higher the prices will be. Plan on walking a few blocks north and settle on the price before you get into the cab (also, don’t take the first price they say).
These are an alright way to travel short distances. We would not recommend hailing one from Playa del Carmen to Cancun airport for example.
Buses and Colectivos
If you are going outside of the city, taking the ADO bus or a Colectivo are both reliable and affordable transportation methods.
- Buses will run on a set schedule and take you to many different attractions near Playa del Carmen like Xcaret, Akumal, and Cenotes. Playa del Carmen’s main bus station is at the intersection of Juarez St. and 5th Avenue.
- Colectivos are shared vans that run on their own schedule and leave whenever they’re full but are great ways to get from point A to B in the city. They also are frequently driving up and down Highway 307 which connects Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum.
Best time to visit Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen weather is exceptionally beautiful between December and April. The temperature hovers between 21°C to 27° ish (70°F to 80°F) all year long. While the rest of North America is suffering through a cold winter, Playa makes for the perfect escape where you’ll find sun, sand, and everything needed to get beautiful tans. This is also the busiest time for tourism in the area.
Our trip to this part of Mexico was in March and the weather was perfect! We had one fun stormy rainy day in the 3 weeks we were there which was a welcomed change.
Between June and November, Playa del Carmen receives the most rainfall making it not the best time to plan your trip. The highest risk of hurricanes in the region is between August and October so we would highly advise avoiding these months.
If you’re wanting to save money, visiting in the shoulder season (April, May, and November) is a great way to enjoy pretty good weather, escape the crowds, and benefit from cheaper prices.
If you’re looking for the best time to travel to Playa del Carmen based on festival season here are some big events:
- January: BPM Festival is a 10 day long EDM party.
- February/March is Carnival. Expect Playa del Carmen to be busy with parades, costumes, music and dancing on the streets.
- October 31 – November 2: Day of the Dead honours the deceased with parades and costumes.
Where to stay in Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen has many amazing areas to stay. If you want to be within walking distance of the hottest Playa del Carmen nightlife, Downtown Playa del Carmen is where you’ll want to be. Especially anywhere in the Fifth Avenue area.
You’ll be able to find everything from hostels to apartments – from budget to luxury.
Keep in mind that the further away from 5th Ave you look the better the deals will be – usually. Sometimes you can snag a deal though.
All inclusive Playa del Carmen hotels are one of the most luxurious styles of accommodations to stay in. Many of these hotels have a 5 star rating and offer private beaches, multiple swimming pools, and, of course, bottomless food and drinks. A lot of these all inclusive Playa del Carmen resorts are located in Playacar – a gated community south of Playa del Carmen that houses a golf course, 16th century ruins, stunning beaches, high end resorts, and lots of friendly iguanas.
One of our favourite luxury Playa del Carmen retreats is the Princess Family Club Riviera. Samara has stayed in resorts from the Princess family and can speak to just how high end and beautiful they are! This family friendly all inclusive has all the luxuries the parents will want like delicious food, a beachfront location, and entertain the kids with a fun waterpark and play places.
Another kid friendly all inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen is the Paradisus Playa del Carmen all inclusive. It’s one of the top rated resorts in Playa del Carmen and we can see why! For starters, the resort is absolutely gorgeous! We love that it is close to downtown Playa del Carmen so you can still enjoy the city. It has everything you could want in an all inclusive hotel: great rooms, a fun waterpark, beach access, and is kid friendly.
If you’d rather an adults only all inclusive, the Hotel Xcaret Arte is one of the best in the area. If budget isn’t a concern, you can stay at another hotel in the Xcaret family: the insane La Casa de la Playa by Xcaret which looks just amazing! Both of these beachfront resorts are sure to blow you away with stunning architecture, a ton of amenities, and delicious food.
If you’re not sold on all inclusive vacations, there are many Playa del Carmen hotels to choose from based on your budget preferences. We stayed at La Pasion Boutique Hotel and loved it! The are 3 pools on site and the location is perfect being only a few blocks from the best parts of 5th Ave. The rooftop pool was such a vibe, especially at sunset. We think this is one of the best hotels in Playa del Carmen, especially with its affordable price tag.
If you want to keep the beachfront location, Mvngata Beach Hotel is one of the best Playa del Carmen hotels. It’s the perfect way to get the all inclusive vibes for those that don’t need all the bells and whistles.
Is Playa del Carmen Safe?
Yes. Playa del Carmen is safe despite what you may hear about Playa del Carmen news. The last decade has seen a boom in tourism to the city making this one of the top vacation destinations in Mexico. Walking around, even at nighttime, is generally considered safe. Playa del Carmen is a great (and safe) place to visit for backpackers, families, and solo travelers alike. You’ll see many police cars – and trucks – which may make you feel a little intimidated but should be a sign of safety.
As with any big city you visit, we always want to state the importance of exercising some street sense. Avoid standing out from the crowd by wearing flashy jewelry and carrying piles of cash on you. Be alert when walking outside, especially at night (and say no to strangers offering you drugs – it happened to us a lot).
Is it safe to swim in Playa del Carmen?
Yes, it’s safe to swim in Playa del Carmen. This Mexican city has some of the best beaches within walking distance of downtown. Beaches in this area have many beach clubs with cabanas and beach chairs directly on the sand. When we were there we saw someone being rescued by a lifeguard on an ATV – we didn’t see what happened though.
Playa del Carmen, along with other nearby coastal cities, does get affected by the seaweed curse. Expect to see a lot of seaweed in the water, especially if visiting public beaches. While resorts and beach clubs do their best to clear and stay on top of the seaweed to keep their beaches looking more desirable, public beaches don’t have the same maintenance efforts. The seaweed is present year round but at its worst between April and August. While unsightly, it doesn’t make the water any less safe.
What are the best beaches in Playa del Carmen?
Playa del Carmen is home to some truly amazing beaches. You can find many running parallel to Quinta Ave. This makes the city the perfect beach vacation destination – you can shop and swim, eat and swim, you get the point ;).
Possibly the most famous beach in Playa del Carmen is Parque Fundadores (Playa Incluyente Playa del Carmen). It has a great location so it’s easy to get to when you’re looking to take a break from walking 5th Ave. Some other top notch beaches are Playa Mamitas, Playacar Beach, and Playa El Faro.
Playa del Carmen restaurants
You will have no shortage of options when it comes to restaurants in Playa del Carmen. No matter what type of cuisine you’re craving, you’ll be able to find it in Playa. Most hotels in the city have a restaurant attached to them that typically caters to a more western pallet. If you’re staying in an all inclusive resort, you will typically have your choice between a buffet and a few different styled restaurants in your hotel.
If you’re looking for restaurants outside of your hotel, you’ll be spoiled for choice on Playa del Carmen’s Quinta Avenida. Here you will find every style of restaurants, bars, hookah bars, and nightclubs as well as a lot of options for street food.
We had THE BEST tacos at one of the food trucks on the strip! We also ate at an amazing Greek restaurant (Ilios) that had delicious food and an entertaining Greek acrobatic performance. Carboncitos has great Mexican food on the strip too.
If you’re looking for dinner in a unique and amazing setting, head straight to Alux Restaurant Bar and Lounge. While the restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside, you will be dining in an a thousand year old cave for such a unique and memorable experience.
If you’re wanting to meet new people and bond over some delicious eats, taking a taco tour is a great idea. You’ll taste the local cuisine as a guide takes you to some of the best taco spots in the city. We love that you’ll get in on the action making tortillas and margaritas.
Best things to do in Playa del Carmen
One of our favourite things we love about Playa del Carmen is its superior location. Being so central in the Riviera Maya means you have so many options for great things to do in Playa del Carmen. You can choose a different activity or excursion every single day and never get bored. Spoiled for choice, this city is a whole lot of fun to hang out in. We love this city so much that we created this Playa del Carmen travel guide to tell as many people as we could to visit.
We could go on forever about your options for what to do in Playa del Carmen. Like Cancun water sports, Playa offers a lot of fun water activities like scuba diving with sharks, snorkeling with sea turtles, swimming in sacred underground rivers (cenotes), or simply sipping a cold one at one of the beautiful Playa del Carmen beaches. Looking for some heart pumping adventure? Head to an adventure park (like the Xplor Park or Xel Ha Park), or go ATVing through the jungle. You can also jump into culture and history by exploring the many nearby Mayan ruins like the famous Chichen Itza.
Is Playa del Carmen Worth Visiting?
Definitely – Playa del Carmen is absolutely worth visiting! In fact, it was one of our favourite places in the Yucatan Peninsula. There’s so much to see and do in Playa that you can spend an entire week here and still be entertained every single night. The central location the city holds sold us and made it the ideal spot to take day trips and excursions.
Thanks for stopping by!
Playa del Carmen is one of the best places in the Riviera Maya! We loved our vacation here and wanted to find out everything we could about this magical place. With great shopping, restaurants, day excursions, and beaches all within a few blocks from each other, it makes for the perfect holiday city. We hope we answered some of your questions in this Playa del Carmen travel guide. If you have any more leave them in the comment section below and we’ll do our best to answer them!
Hasta la vista, amigos!
Like it? Pin it!