Summer is here! For most, it’s one of the high points of the year, right up there with the Christmas holidays and your birthday (if you’re still under 22). Longer days mean you have more time to spend outdoors barbecuing, having drinks on the patio, and relishing the warmth of the summer air.
As the days heat up, we are inclined to head towards water. Kids crowd around sprinklers at spray parks and boats are launched into lakes in assembly line fashion.
Lucky for you, if you have booked your summer vacation in Playa del Carmen, there is plenty of outdoor fun to be had. Being on the water is an integral part of the lifestyle in this seaside community. If you want to stay cool, just go...well in any direction in the Riviera Maya, and you’ll discover some alluring body of water you’ll be compelled to dive into. The following is a list of top ten things to do near Playa del Carmen for summertime fun.
1. Swim with Whale Sharks
I know what you’re thinking. Sharks? Really? But hear me out. This is not an extreme sport just for loco daredevils with nine lives. People of all ages have surreal encounters with these mellow sea giants every year. In fact, my three kiddos (aged 10, 8 and 7 at the time) still vote it as one of their most memorable trips since we’ve lived in Mexico.
During the summer months, the whale sharks make a pit stop on their migration route just off the islands of Isla Mujeres and Holbox in the Yucatan Peninsula. Fortunately for us, the intimidatingly massive fish prefer the taste of plankton over humans. They come to the area where their food source is plentiful and don’t seem to mind that people tag along for a magical experience.
Note: This excursion can easily be done in one full day from Playa del Carmen. Tours are offered from the end of May to the beginning of September.
2. Rio Secreto
This Trip Advisor Hall of Famer receives rave reviews for being a one-of-a-kind experience in the Riviera Maya. Only 10 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, the nature reserve and eco-park boasts a series of caves and natural limestone pools fed by the largest underground river system on the planet.
As a bona fide explorer (with helmet head lamp and all), you will navigate through waist-deep water and dimly lit pathways leading to cenotes.These crystalline pools were once considered sacred grounds by the ancient Maya. Sacrificial artifacts dating back to over 10000 years ago are still being discovered to this day.
One of the many things we love about Rio Secreto is the company’s dedication to the environment. All of the guides are passionate and educated in the science behind this natural phenomenon. As your hosts for the day, they are committed to keeping you safe, fascinated and entertained.
The tour groups are small so most of the time, it feels as though you have the whole park to yourself. All you need to bring is your swimsuit; life jackets, wetsuits, towels, and lunch are provided. This unforgettable trip beneath the surface of the earth really does seem out of this world.
Note: Recommended for ages 4 and up.
3. Yoga Paddle Board With Aloha
Can you imagine a better opportunity to connect to nature than paddling towards the sun at dawn? Picture it - you’re on the paddle board, gliding into the turquoise horizon. This early morning stillness is so far from your usually hectic routine of prepping for work, scarfing down a bowl of oatmeal and rushing out the door only to sit in traffic for an hour.
A few pelicans nearby target a school of fish and nose dive toward the water’s surface with hopes of snagging some breakfast. From behind a low-lying layer of puffy white cloud, the blazing orange and pink sun emerges.
There is nothing quite like drifting over the calm sea at sunrise. Playa del Carmen based companies such as Aloha Paddle Club offer Stand Up Paddle Board and SUP Yoga classes on the Caribbean Sea and at local cenotes. Their business headquarters is located on the powdery soft sand (talk about a hard day at the office!) at INTI Beach Club between Calle 4 and 6.
Sander, the founder of Aloha and his team, lead daily one-hour tours just off the shores of Playa del Carmen. On superior weather days, a two-hour paddle session to a nearby reef is available. On the weekends, with a group of 4 or more, Aloha offers a Tulum SUP Yoga tour which lasts about 6 hours with a stopover for authentic Mexican tacos in Puerto Aventuras.
Note: There is no minimum age requirement as younger children can sit on the board with an adult.
4. Xplor Park
This nature park, located under 10 minutes from Playa del Carmen, offers a full-day itinerary of various activities. You’ll soar like an eagle above the dense jungle on death-defying (ok, not really, but still intense) zip lines. At the steering wheel of your amphibious vehicle, you’ll cruise over forest trails and through stunning caverns. You’re mind will be blown as you paddle past stalactites and stalagmites on a raft along the vivid, blue-green subterranean river.
There are dozens of picture-worthy points throughout the vast park where you can practice your photography skills. You’ll come across waterfalls, extraordinary rock formations and even hammocks if you need a short break from the non-stop adventure.
A minimum age of 5 years is required and children must be at least 3 and a half feet tall to be permitted on the zip lines. It’s an all-inclusive park with a buffet and non-alcoholic beverages available.
Tip: Purchase your tickets online 21 days in advance to receive a 15% discount.
5. Rent A Boat And Spend The Day In ‘Heaven’
Just off the coast of Cozumel is a little piece of Mexican Caribbean heaven appropriately named ‘El Cielo’. This paradise is only accessible by boat and the clarity of the aqua blue water is shocking. It is so clear that you can see stingrays 50 meters away gliding along the sea floor.
You will most likely have an up close and personal encounter with these graceful creatures as there are quite a few at any given time in this magical bay. Along with the non-threatening stingrays, there are starfish, grouper, angelfish and sea turtles in the area. The pristine water is not only as translucent as a backyard pool, but it has the shallow depth of one as well. Only 3 to 4 feet deep, it’s perfect for all ages and is ideal for spending hours snorkeling in.
The tours typically last 4 hours and usually include snorkeling equipment, lunch, alcoholic beverages, pop and water, with two stops - one to explore the vibrant Mesoamerican Reef and the other at El Cielo. We recommend Sergio’s team from Aquatic Sports and Expeditions or cozumel-tours.net. This place is what Caribbean dreams are made of and well worth the $45USD per person. (Children’s discounts may be available)
6. Cenote and Frozen Margaritas in Akumal
With the heat at its maximum strength from June to September, you may need to double up when it comes to cool down methods in Playa del Carmen. There is an easily accessible mini cenote route 20 minutes south of the city along the 307 highway. Choose from 3 unique cenotes - Jardin del Eden, Cristalino or Azul.
Unlike some resort pools which can feel like a warm bath come mid-August, the cenote waters remain cool throughout the summer months. The water in many of these naturally formed sinkholes reaches a depth that allows divers to strap on tanks and explore deep within the mystical underwater caves.
For those of us who do not share the same passion for diving as Jacques Cousteau, you can spend a couple of hours snorkeling on the surface or jumping from modest limestone ledges into the pristine ponds. There are bathrooms, life jackets, snorkel rentals and picnic areas. Between the cost of a Colectivo (shared van taxi) and the entrance fee, you can expect to pay $100-$150Mxn pesos per person or $6 - $9.00Usd.
Just five minutes south of the cenote strip is the quaint fishing village of Akumal. ‘The Place of the Turtles’ in Maya, Akumal is a superb spot for swimming with sea turtles. The barrier reef system, which sits a few hundred yards from the shore, protects the bay, calming the picture-perfect Caribbean waters.
There is a main dive shop where you can rent snorkel equipment or book a fishing or diving tour. Along the white-sand coastline, a few restaurants present front-row seating to the captivating view.
After a day of cliff jumping, snorkeling and swimming with the turtles, stingrays, and tropical fish, you’ll be ready for a bite to eat and a cold beverage. Take a moment to watch the fishing boats bob on the bay. Witness the beauty of the setting sun’s rays piercing through the palms as you sip on your cocktail of choice.
If you haven’t fallen in love with the Riviera Maya yet, Akumal will definitely capture a piece of your heart.
7. See Dolphins and Flamingos on Holbox Island
Step aside Tulum, Isla Holbox (pronounced hole-bosh) is the latest Quintana Roo gem to be hailed by savvy travelers as Mexico’s best-kept secret. Visitors love the laid-back charm and tranquility of this rustic wonderland. Cars are a rare sighting. Instead, golf carts outfitted with heavy duty all-terrain tires taxi people to and from. However, the majority of boutique-style hotels, restaurants and main boat dock are walking distance to the ferry terminal.
Just an hour from Playa del Carmen plus a 20-minute ferry ride to the island, Holbox offers a welcomed escape from the stresses of life. The island is surrounded by the Yum Balam Reserve. Boat tours are available throughout the year, but summer is our favorite time of year to visit.
In the offseason, the tour companies take you on a 3-hour journey, which includes a stopover at Isla Pasion (a gathering spot for dozens of migratory and local birds) as well as a visit to a cenote. It seems as though you’ve stepped into your own version of the Blue Lagoon movie, but instead of foraging for your own food, there’s a friendly local family serving fresh coconuts and snacks at their little shop.
From the end of May to the beginning of September, when the island’s most revered guests, the whale sharks, are in town, a second tour option is offered. You spend the day sailing along the waters of the reserve in search of the whale sharks. On the way, you’ll spot turtles, dolphins and sailfins, also known as flying fish. The captain makes a pit stop at a deserted island paradise, where you can wade through waist-deep crystal clear water while his team prepares the most divine ceviche (cured fish) dish you’ve ever tasted. At the end of the day, the final point of interest is a sandbar, covered with hundreds of bright pink flamingos.
Surprisingly, for a small community, there is a substantial amount of eateries at which you can find savory cuisine straight from the sea as well as international fare. Since it’s such a short distance from Playa del Carmen, we recommend a day or an overnight trip to this enchanting, little nature refuge. Holbox provides an excellent opportunity to disconnect and appreciate the simple pleasures of life.
8. Find Bliss at a Beach Club
Arguably the best summertime activity, a beach day is fun for all ages. Even the little ones love the sand (although eating it is not recommended.) If lounging on a silky soft beach is your happy place, then you will find utopia in the Riviera Maya.
From Maroma Beach to the north, Lido Beach Club in Playa del Carmen and La Zebra Tulum to the south, there is a bounty of stunning beaches worthy of a beer commercial setting. Speaking of Corona commercials, Xpu Ha Beach, just 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen was used in the filming of one of their famous television ads a few years back.
For an entrance fee of $100 Mxn per person (which can be used towards your food and beverage consumption at La Playa Restaurant Xpu Ha) you can sink into your heavenly spot on the soft sand. Create your own Caribbean-inspired commercial with that turquoise and alabaster beach backdrop that most of the world only dreams about.
Bring out the snorkel gear and explore the reefs just off the shore in Puerto Morelos. Strike up a game of volleyball on Maroma’s abundant coastline. Strutt your beach style at Mamitas in Playa del Carmen where Djs spin all day and fashionistas gather. Find a daybed and chill along with a bottle of your favorite bubbly on the renowned beaches of Tulum. Anywhere you go in search of your bliss, you can’t go wrong when you choose a beach on Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
9. Horseback riding, wave runner and cenote Punta Venado
Only 10 minutes south of Playa del Carmen is a sweet little paradise few know exists. Punta Venado eco and adventure park has a long list of fun-filled activities to choose from. Begin the day with a casual horseback ride along the magnificent shore, then cool off in a cenote, tucked away deep in the heart of the jungle.
After witnessing some spectacular nature, make your way over to the Blue Venado Beach Club for some ice-cold beverages and dig into a plate of fresh tuna tostadas or Mediterranean grilled fish. Finish off the incredible day on a waverunner, cruising over the blue-green sea and soaking up the sun.
10. Hydrate and Stay Cool at La Flor de Michoacan
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, try to hydrate with more than cervezas and tequila. In the heart of Playa del Carmen on Calle 18 and 30th Avenue (across from Mega superstore) is the authentic Mexican fresh juice and ice cream shop, La Flor de Michoacan. These ice creameries are as popular with Mexicans as Starbucks is with Americans. In most cities you can find one on nearly every corner.
What makes these delicious Mexican popsicles so special is that they are made with fresh exotic fruits like Mamey, Soursop and Dragonfruit. We suggest the frozen Paleta (on the stick) de Coco (coconut), Nuez (creamy walnut) or Cajeta (rich goat-milk caramel).
Not only does La Flor de Michoacan sell fantastic ice creams but their fresh aguas (fruits and vegetables blended with water) are a perfect way to stay hydrated. Try the limon con pepino (cucumber and lime), the Sandia (watermelon) or the horchata (sweetened milky rice water with cinnamon) which is a dessert in itself!
Here are just a few of the many ways to cool off when the sun strikes in Playa del Carmen. If you see an activity that interests you and you require further information, please do not hesitate to call the Bric Vacation Rental office at +52(984) 803-3191 or 1(800) 519-2486. One of our friendly representatives will be happy to help you with the details.
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About the Author
Juanita grew up in a small town in the middle of Canada. Having experienced twenty years of ruggedly cold climate, she had seen enough snow to last her a lifetime. After moving to and working in Vancouver for thirteen years (where she was ecstatic to see the odd palm tree) she jumped at the opportunity to move with her husband and three children to Playa del Carmen. She calls it a ‘dreamy existence’ and cherishes year-round, backyard barbecues with friends, road trips and watching the sunrise over the Caribbean. She writes for Bric Vacation Rentals.