Get The Most For Your Beach Vacation Buck With This Divine Destination Duo
Playa del Carmen is one of the world’s top sunny leisure destinations. Due to its central location, it offers easy access to remarkable Riviera Maya highlights. Within an hour or so, you can dive the Mesoamerican Reef, swim in the turquoise waters of sunken limestone pools, and walk the sacred grounds of Mayan cities from the Classic period. Also nearby, enchanting islands await to be discovered and are just a short and scenic ferry ride away.
Of course, we’d love to keep you to ourselves in Playa del Carmen throughout the duration of your Mexican vacation. However, we admit it would be selfish to not encourage you to experience other divine destinations in this marvelous region.
For this reason, we’ve come up with the perfect combination beach vacation itinerary. This Playa del Carmen/Holbox guide allows you to savor time in two of North America’s most desirable tropical oases. While both locations offer divine seaside respite, each showcases a unique flavor all its own. In addition to a taste of the vibrant upscale air of Playa del Carmen, you’ll become enchanted by the simplistic allure of Holbox.
Arriving in the Riviera Maya
With a host of international flight options to choose from, Cancun International (CUN) is the preferred airport when visiting the Riviera Maya area. Located just 40 minutes north of Playa del Carmen, you can choose either taxi service, private van shuttle, or the ADO bus as the most economical transfer.
In Playa del Carmen, there are two bus stations— Alterna and Playa del Carmen, Q. Roo. While both are central (the first is on 20th Avenue & Calle 12, the latter is on 5th Avenue, the city’s principal dining and shopping district) you may need to hail a taxi depending on your property location and the number of suitcases you’re lugging.
A one-way bus ticket is $216 Mxn or about $10USD. However, if you’re traveling with a small group, a taxi or private van shuttle will get you to the doorstep of your destination much faster. You can expect to pay approximately $45-65 USD for a one-way trip via taxi or private van.
4 Days In Playa del Carmen
Beach Day – Soak Up The Sun Caribbean Style
Vacation mode is fully activated and you can’t wait to sink your toes into the sand. Lido Beach Club, between Calle 10 and 12, presents the quintessential Mexican Caribbean vibe. Relax on the shaded loungers, nosh on fresh seafood selections from its casual menu, and listen to live music sessions in the afternoons featuring the best local talent. Grab a fresh coconut to sip on and enjoy the Caribbean views.
If you’re looking for a seaside spot where you can park your own blanket and cooler of cold cervezas, Playa Shangri La on Calle 38 is a top public beach. Conveniently, there’s an OXXO corner store a few steps from the sand, where you can stock up on cold cervezas and snacks.
Alternatively, Punta Esmeralda beach is a little farther north, just past the round-a-bout on Calle 110. It’s a long trek, so catching a taxi or acquiring a bike for the day through Playa Bike Rentals is recommended. The 20-minute bike ride takes you down the tranquil north end of 5th Avenue. Along the way, you’ll pass several vibrant murals, which makes the easy-paced journey even more delightful.
After a day of exploring Playa del Carmen’s renowned coastline, you’ll be ready to sample the delectable flavors of the city’s superb gastronomy scene. For authentic Mexican, visit Axiote on Calle 34. This upscale eatery features traditional dishes with a contemporary twist. Combine a rich tortilla soup, or an order of duck tacos or cochinita pibil pizza with a top notch mezcal and you have a 100% Mexican dining experience.
Plunge Into The Nature Of A Pristine Ecological Park
The Riviera Maya boasts a long list of extraordinary parks, nature reserves, dive sites, and turquoise cenote swimming holes. Thus, when it comes time to pick a day trip, the choice can be overwhelming.
For an all-encompassing nature-lovers experience, complete with a dash of culture, our number one suggestion is a Xcaret Park. Situated just 7 minutes from Playa del Carmen, it is a stunning paradise for travelers of all ages. You’ll spot flamingos, tapirs, and macaws. Snorkel with manta rays and schools of tropical fish. Climb into a human-sized birdcage and feed the region’s most brightly colored winged creatures. Plus, there’s ample opportunity to witness some of the sacred ceremonies and learn the history of Mexico through Xcaret’s captivating nightly show.
For a more intimate encounter with nature, we love the less crowded Chikin Ha Park, about 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen. For around $20 USD, you can spend the day riding bikes over jungle trails, rappelling into centuries-old caverns, zip lining over the jungle canopy, and cooling off in refreshing cenotes. You’ll also participate in a Mayan ritual dedicated to offering gratitude to earth. The tour lasts about 3 hours, but you are welcome to stay until the 6pm closing time if you like.
When in Mexico…tacos and tequila are an authentically delicious combination. El Fogon is one of Playa del Carmen’s best taco joints. For about a buck each, you can devour their popular tacos al pastor. Pastor is marinated pork, cooked all day on a flaming, rotating spit. Served with a sweet touch of pineapple, choose your topping and accompanying margarita for the ideal traditional Mexican meal.
Food Tour And Live Music
Photo by Eating with Carmen Food Tours
There’s no better way to get to know the heart of the city than by tasting its flavors and meeting the people who live and work in the community. Eating with Carmen Food Tours offers an immersion into the local cuisine and culture with a 3-hour walking tour. Sample authentic Mexican favorites such as tamales, empanadas, and you guessed it— tacos, in hidden gems around the city. In addition to the popular standard tour, the company also provides vegan or seafood tours on their list of experiences. Even more than a sensational culinary adventure, this is a great opportunity to mix with visitors and friendly locals alike.
After satisfying your tastebuds, there are a slew of lively places with musicians that will delight your ears. From Cuban bands at La Bodeguita del Medio to acoustic at Freaky Tiki Bar & Grill to salsa nights at Zenzi, there are plenty of live music options in town.
Sunrise Paddle Session, Souvenir Shopping And Off To Holbox
It’s a beach vacation sin to leave before witnessing one of Mother Nature’s most impressive spectacles. Although catching the sunrise anywhere is an incredible sight, seeing it paint the sky blue and orange over the Caribbean will leave you breathless.
Without a doubt, Aloha Paddle Club presents the best “front row seat” to this magnificent display. Not only do you get a healthy dose of Vitamin sea, but this early morning paddle session will be another Playa del Carmen highlight you’ll remember forever.
Soon, you’ll be off to the enchanting island of Holbox. But before you leave the Riviera Maya, be sure to make time for a stroll along 5th Avenue. Lined with restaurants, pubs, boutique and brand name stores, this famous cobblestone street is Playa del Carmen’s main tourist hub. Here, you’ll discover silver merchants, tequila stores, and street vendors selling everything under the Mexican sun from hammocks to conch shells.
Next Stop: Holbox
In similar fashion, taxis are available for the 1.25-hour drive for about $65 USD. As well, you have the private van option starting at around $100USD or the ADO bus for about $18USD. Since Holbox is an island, you will book your transportation to Chiquila where you’ll catch a 15-minute ferry. Ferries run every half hour during the day and cost $220 MXN pesos (or $11 USD.)
Upon disembarking from the ferry from Chiquila, you’ll definitely notice the more rustic and laid-back charm of Holbox. You can either walk under 10 minutes from the ferry terminal to the water, where the downtown area is located. Dotting the coast with its jade-colored waters, are the best hotels on the island. You won’t find music-thumping all-inclusives on the island. Rather, there are magazine-worthy boutique hotels and thatched-roof bungalows sprawled across the powdery-soft sand.
Book a Bike or A Golf Cart
On land, there are no movie theaters, no traffic lights and basically no trace of cosmopolitan life. Instead, you’ll find endearing family-owned kitchens with a few plastic tables for patrons, dirt roads, and friendly locals willing to take you out on their boats for the day to explore the marine life of the absorbing Yum Balam Nature Reserve.
This slow pace is one of the main draws for tired and weary travelers. Holbox is an exotic getaway replete with hammocks for lazing in the water, golf carts for getting around, and aromas of lobster pizza in the air.
Famous for its lobster pizza, the island is littered with pizzerias. While most do well to provide a worthy fresh lobster pie experience, there is one that stands above all. The thin crusted, garlic-laden, cheesy lobster pizza at Roots is as delicious as they come. The atmosphere is also notable, encompassing the casual vibe of island life. Furnishings made out of tree stumps are surrounded by a lush garden. Even more, the staff is as warm as the tropical air.
If you’re visiting during the months of end of May to early September, reserve your spot for a Bioluminescence tour. This astounding phenomena is created by microscopic plankton that glow fluorescent blue in complete darkness when the water is stirred. You’ll be dazzled by this rare marvel, which only happens in a few places in the world.
Witness the Whale Sharks
The idea of swimming with sharks does sound intimidating, especially when these beasts can be as long as 12 meters! But anyone who has had the pleasure of gliding alongside these gentle giants of the sea, will declare you have nothing to fear.
During the 4-6 hour magical marine encounter, you have the opportunity to see not only whale sharks, but dolphins, sea turtles, flamingos, and one of the most stunning secluded bays on the planet. All part of the unforgettable experience, the day begins with a search for the whale sharks. When the captain has caught sight of them, you have the awesome opportunity to get into the water with these massive and fascinating creatures.
Later, the captain stops for fresh fish (literally minutes from the sea) by pulling up alongside a fisherman, yes right in the middle of the sea. Then it’s on to the deserted island where you can go ashore and wade in the crystal clear waters. Meanwhile, the captain dices the fresh catch and drowns it in a heavenly citrusy sauce. This wholesome ceviche with its secret recipe sauce is an excellent climax to this memorable aquatic excursion.
Finally, on your last evening, you want to finish your Mexico vacation off with an extraordinary meal. Despite its rustic, boho feel, with modest wood tables set in the alabaster sand, Luuma presents an anything but simple dining experience.
Opposite to the stunning hotel, Casa las Tortugas, which has been featured in such publications as Vanity Fair, The New York Times, as well as Travel and Leisure, sits this exotic, culinary paradise. Sip on crafted cocktails and nibble on thoughtfully curated dishes including stoned baked whole fish or pork belly served with corn and leek in a demi-glace.
Photo by Luuma Holbox
Breakfast And Back To The Airport
For one final meal before you leave this island paradise, Las Panchas is THE prime spot for an authentic, Mexican breakfast. Don’t let the plastic tables and chairs deter you, it’s a longtime local favorite. The empanadas, stuffed with various choices of filling from shark to manta ray to cheese, are a must try. Centrally located, the humble, open-air diner is just a short walk to the ferry terminal.
Photo by Las Panchas
Although this is adios for now, we hope that this 7-day itinerary is a helpful guide when planning an outstanding beach vacation you’ll forever remember. Our hospitality team has recommended this combination trip many times over the years as it’s always a hit. If you can make it happen, you too will leave enamored with these beloved seaside gems.