5 Fun Day Trips Near Playa del Carmen
With a limitless amount of adventure activities, cultural expeditions and hidden gems to explore in and around Playa del Carmen, I still have yet to run out of places to discover after residing here for four years.
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is a diverse region made up of three southeastern states, Yucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo. Ancient Mayan civilizations once roamed this territory and left clues to their fascinating history in the form of hieroglyphics, legends and structures that have remained preserved for thousands of years.
Beneath the surface of the peninsula is the world’s longest, underground river system. Due to the ground’s porous, limestone composition, the river has created thousands of cave formations and sinkholes known as cenotes. Today, visitors can swim, snorkel, zip line, cliff jump and dive in these mostly freshwater swimming holes. Some are open and look like sublime, natural pools, while others are caves with impressive stalactite and stalagmites. Each one is breathtakingly unique and is often travelers’ most memorable points of interest when visiting the Mayan Riviera and area.
The jungle is vast and lush, bursting with interesting wildlife and native flora. Eco-parks speckle the region and provide a safe and organized setting by which adventurers can explore the awe-inspiring outdoors.
But if you have already been to the parks or prefer to see the land and experience the culture on your own terms, you will want to read on! In this article, we list our Top 5 day Trips from Playa del Carmen. These suggested trips are generally not where you’ll find hoards of tourists. What you will find are opportunities for enriching cultural experiences that will hopefully lead to a deeper sense of the multi-faceted beauty and history of Mexico!
Sian Kaan Biosphere
This sizeable reserve of more than 5200 square kilometers protects nearly one third of the Mexican Caribbean coastline from development. The area is made up of the sea, white sand beaches, lagoons and mangroves. After passing through the massive archway at the biosphere entrance, visitors can stop at any point along the shoreline for a private and relaxing day on a secluded beach. There is not much at all in the way of beach bars or restaurants, so you will want to pack a picnic basket and cooler with your own beverages.
The coastal pathway is pretty rugged, with potholes that will force drivers to slow to approximately 20 km per hour most of the way. If you choose to follow the road for another hour and a half to its end, it will lead to Punta Allen. There is no Wi-Fi available here, but that is the most alluring part of this quaint lobster fishing village. It is the perfect spot to mingle with locals, chow down on fresh seafood, and have an afternoon siesta in a hammock overlooking the crystal clear waters.
From Playa del Carmen, heading south towards Tulum on highway 307, you’ll come to a major intersection (just after a giant camouflaged speed bump – you’ll know it after you’ve flown over it at 100 km an hour!) There will be signs pointing to Coba, Chemay-Chichen Itza, you’ll want to turn left, or east here. When the road forks, turn to the right and you’ll enter the hotel and beach club zone of Tulum. Keep heading in that direction, which is now south until you’ve passed through the populated Tulum and enter into Sian Kaan.
The biosphere is home to over three hundred bird species, dolphins, turtles, fish, howler monkeys and crocodiles. Closer to Punta Allen, boat and fishing tours are available which take you through mangrove canals, in the turquoise lagoons, and out on the vivid Caribbean Sea. There are a few restaurants and modest hotels, but bring along cash, since credit cards are not yet accepted.
Located approximately two hours from Playa del Carmen, Rio Lagartos is famous for bird watching and the densest concentration of flamingos in Mexico. The area is one of the cleanest in the country and the roads are very well maintained. Popular with kite surfers, the small fishing village offers delicious and inexpensive options for fresh seafood. Take a boat ride to explore the mangroves, which are home to hundreds of bird species and crocodiles.
Kayak through the bio-reserve’s lagoons, take a nature tour by mountain bike to observe the natural splendor and habitats of the areas abundant wildlife or enjoy the unpopulated, pristine beaches.
Named one of the safest cities in Mexico, this friendly colonial town offers stunning architecture including a 16th century cathedral, San Gervasio in the main square. The Convent de San Bernardino de Siena offers much in the way of history with its museum of artifacts and water wheel, which was the most advanced system of its time. Centuries ago, young men from this area played an important role in the Caste War and a monument is erected to commemorate these brave heroes.
In the center of the city square is a beautiful fountain surrounded by benches, people watchers and vendors selling fruit and traditional Mayan and Mexican treats. Also located in the square is the Meson del Marques. This former mansion is now a hotel and restaurant. Visitors can stay in some of the original bedrooms that have been converted into hotel rooms. Near the entrance of the restaurant, a woman wearing a traditional, hand embroidered dress, sits over a stone fire pit, pressing and warming corn tortillas. Patrons can enjoy delicious regional cuisine such as Chile Rellenos, creamed corn or chile poblano soup and fresh guacamole prepared at the table by the excellent service staff.
Casa de los Venados is a museum of Mexican folk art within a private home turned museum. This charming point of interest showcases the largest collection of over 3000 pieces of quality art in private hands. Throughout this bustling city center area are an array of equally charming jewelry, ice cream, clothing and artisan shops.
Near Vallodolid are many cenotes including perhaps the most famous in the Yucatan, Cenote Ik Kil. A descending staircase takes visitors down toward a platform with ladder steps leading into breathtaking turquoise waters. Vines hang from the roof of the cave and the walls are covered with green foliage. This is one of the most beautiful and photographed cenotes in the world and worth the 40 minutes drive from Valladolid. This cenote is also just minutes from Chichen Itza, the fascinating, Mayan archeological ruin site.
Read more about Valladolid
While on an evening stroll along 5th Avenue, I once saw a promotional video with palapa huts built on stilts sitting above the most stunning blue-green water I had ever seen. My first thought was that it must be Bora Bora or Fiji. But we were in Playa del Carmen, so if this company was advertising, I knew it had to be nearby! After chatting with one of the tour salesman, I discovered that this heavenly setting was Bacalar, and I knew I had to see it!
This town, given the title of ‘Puebla Magica,’ is situated on a lagoon of seven colors. As the sun shines upon the water’s surface, the light produces striking shades of blues and greens that will leave you breathless. A well-preserved fortress with cannons was constructed in the 1700s to protect the city from frequent pirate attacks. Inside the San Felipe Fort is a museum with an interesting exposition on the area’s rich pirate history.
The charming town has a rustic, cottage feel. Spend the day swimming, kayaking or swinging from ropes into the inviting lagoon. Find a hammock and lose yourself in the tranquility and vibrant shades of aqua, emerald and turquoise against vast blue skies. Cool off with hand-churned gelato in the town plaza. Savor a delicious meal at La Playita, an Argentinian restaurant overlooking the water.
Visitors easily fall in love with this gem and it is often hard to leave. If you did choose to stay for the night, there are many bed and breakfast options, small hotels and casitas on the water. The drive from Playa del Carmen is just over three hours going south on highway 307.
This small city in between Cancun and Playa del Carmen is a quaint, little community popular with snowbirds. There is a pier where you can watch fishermen, snorkel just off the shore, or catch a boat that will take you on a snorkeling adventure for a cost of approximately $25US.
What you can expect when you spend a day in the laid-back Puerto Morelos, is soaking up the sun on less crowded, white sand beaches, enjoying some fresh ceviche and cold beers at one of the enchanting beach clubs that speckle the shoreline, and perusing the town’s array of artisan and boutique stores.
There is an English bookstore, Alma Libre, which offers a large selection of new and used books, a luxury in the Mayan Riviera! Another fun and interesting way to pass the day in Puerto Morelos is by booking a cooking class at The Little Mexican Cooking School. Learn from animated and experienced teachers, the secrets behind the robust flavors of authentic Mexican dishes. The classes are in English and are about three and a half hours long. A light breakfast is served and of course, for lunch, you get to eat what you have prepared in class, accompanied by a traditional Mexican cocktail!