This flourishing city by the sea in the Riviera Maya is not your typical Mexican town. It is difficult to believe that only three short decades ago, this now renowned, metropolitan center consisted of just a few dirt roads carved through dense jungle brush.
Although it was a late bloomer compared to Cancun, Playa del Carmen’s rise to fame was fast and furious. Over the last few years, it has cultivated a worldwide appeal attracting millions of tourists each year. Travel bloggers flock here by the dozens. Even some social media influencers who have roamed nearly the entire planet choose this tropical paradise as their home base.
It’s no wonder since this top choice vacation destination has much to offer. Visitors can choose from a superb inventory of luxury accommodations along a picture-perfect Caribbean coastline. Foodies can eat their way through a thriving gastronomy scene. Families, nature-lovers and adventurists can partake in endless activities. Once explorers venture out to encounter the land’s rare beauty, history and regional culture, unforgettable memories are etched into hearts and repeat customers are created.
With this ever-increasing popularity, expensive tourist traps are bound to rear their ugly heads. But we’re happy to tell you that there are still many options for fun and adventure in Playa del Carmen that cost less than a Starbucks!
Here are 13 activities for under $100 pesos or $6 Usd:
1 )Take a yoga class and shop the artisan market at Kava Kasa
Kava Kasa is a yoga studio located in Hotel Aventura Mexicana on Calle 24 in between 5th and 10th Avenue. The instructors are top notch and classes are by donation. On Tuesdays at 11:00am, local artisans gather here to sell baked goods, organic products such as honey, jam and soaps as well as handcrafted items like jewelry and clothing.
2) See a live performance at the Teatro de la Ciudad
This state-of-the-art venue hosts riveting events throughout the year such as acrobatic shows, theatrical plays, cultural dance performances and tribute concerts. The best part is that there are no entrance fees to many of these professional shows. You are however, required to pick up your tickets after 12pm on the day of the event. The box office is outside the theater beside Wal-Mart on 115th Avenue, just north of the Plaza Las Americas mall.
3) Grab a churro and watch a live cultural show at Parque Fundadores
A churro is a doughy pastry rolled into a long, thin rod and deep-fried. It is dusted with sugar and can be filled with your choice of a sweet chocolate, vanilla or caramel cream. You can find booths that prepare these Mexican treats on the south end of 5th Avenue near Parque Fundadores. You’ll know this park by its famous Portal Maya structure near the beach. During the day, you can see free traditional Mayan performances such as ceremonial dances and the Dance of the Flying Men.
On the sand near the giant mermaid structure is a play park with a fort, monkey bars and swings. Take a load off and park yourself on one of the benches as you watch the kids burn off some of their boundless energy.
4) Buy some exotic fruit and walk the beach
In this same park near the charming chapel on 5th Avenue and Benito Juarez, Mayan women set up fruit carts heaping with colorful, fresh fruit. Quench your thirst with a cup of juicy sliced pineapple, watermelon and papaya or sip on cold coco water right from a ripe, green coconut.
From this area of the beach, you can walk south on the expansive shoreline about an hour until you come to an incredible secluded beach that not many know about. This scenic journey offers a chance to connect with nature and enjoy the blue-green vistas that seemingly go on forever.
5) Visit a cenote
If you have a car, head south on the 307 highway about 25 minutes until you see the signs on the right-hand side to Cenote Cristilino, Cenote Azul and Cenote Eden. These remarkable limestone sinkholes feature crystal clear waters ideal for snorkeling, diving or just cooling off on a warm day.
There are bathrooms, picnic areas and modest cliffs for jumping into the alluring waters. Thousands of these natural phenomena dot the Yucatan Peninsula. Some are covered caverns, while others are pristine, open pools. Bring a towel and a snorkel set along with some pesos for the entrance fee, which typically range from $70-$100 Mxn or $5 Usd.
Note: If you do not have access to a car, use a colectivo or van taxi that travels up and down the Riviera Maya main highway. A one-way ticket to the cenotes will cost about $35 pesos.
6) Indulge in a creamy gelato and check out the artwork on Thursday nights
Every Thursday night is Caminarte on 5th Avenue. Beginning from Calle 18 before the Quinta Alegria shopping mall in the downtown center and heading north to Calle 34, local artists display incredible paintings and photographs along the pedestrian-only, cobblestone street.
Stop by Bendito Pecado on the corner of Calle 28 and 1st Avenue (one block from 5th) for a scoop of cheesecake or Ferrero Rocher gelato to delight in while perusing the stimulating outdoor gallery.
7) Enjoy the ocean views and cervezas at Wah Wah Beach Bar
Located on Calle 2 and the beach, Wah Wah offers free beach chairs and ice-cold beer for $50 pesos. This spot presents a great opportunity to people watch as there is always a lot happening on this ample stretch of white sand beach. Live musicians play from 1pm into the night, while horseshoe, soccer and volleyball players gather for some friendly competition.
8) Shop for pottery on 30th Avenue and Calle 38
This fantastic, outdoor pottery store is the place to find beautiful hand painted pieces of pottery at reasonable prices. Pick up some mementos from your Playa del Carmen vacation such as beautiful coffee mugs and salsa dishes. Guests at your next theme party will be charmed when they see the authentic Mexican bowl your guacamole is served in.
9) When in Mexico, eat tacos!
For a genuine Mexican experience and delicious eats, step away from the resort, at least for one night. You may have noticed a stand slow cooking meat on an upright spit at various taco joints around the city.
This marinated pork bursts with flavor and is so tender that once you’ve sampled one, you’ll definitely want to order more. El Fogon is one of the top choices for tacos al pastor in Playa del Carmen. There are three locations – one on Constituyentes near 30th Avenue, a second on Calle 6 and 30th near Wal-Mart and a third on 30th Avenue near Calle 32.
There is also a park on 15th Avenue and Benito Juarez just down from the ADO bus station where tacos vendors set up shop on a daily basis. As you’re walking along 5th, just follow the savory aroma coming from the quaint park. We recommend washing the tacos al pastor down with a glass of Jamaica (a cold, red, sweetened hibiscus tea pronounced Ha-my-ca) or Horchata (a cold, sweetened rice drink with a hint of cinnamon.)
10) Explore the amazing street murals
One of the many pleasant surprises in Playa del Carmen is coming upon the plentiful murals that add to the town’s artsy vibe. Talented Graffiti artists have left their marks on buildings, bridges and streets, resulting in works of art as colorful as Playa’s vibrant community. These intriguing exhibits often showcase striking details of the Mayan culture and can be found throughout the city.
Stop by Nativo on 30th Avenue and Calle 22 for a fresh, exotic blend of juices, and then set off by foot or bicycle on a treasure hunt for these artful masterpieces. You can start your search on Calle 34 then work your way down to Calle 8 between 5th and 10th Avenue and onto Benito Juarez near the bus terminal.
11) Go to a movie
Going to the movies is not exactly a cultural experience, but can be a good option for a rainy afternoon. There are two movie theaters in Playa del Carmen - Cinemex in the Centro Maya shopping mall along the federal highway on the south end of town, or Cinepolis in Plaza Las Americas Mall on CTM Avenue (which turns into Calle 75 Bis Norte) heading west from the highway. The cost of a general admission pass is $50 pesos or $2.85 Usd.
The malls do not offer a huge selection of stores, but there are a few clothing, shoe and accessory stores to browse through. At Centro Maya, stop for a creamy, 100% natural coconut ice cream paleta (popsicle) at Michoacana just outside the mall entrance.
12) Start your day off with a famous coffee from Obregon Obregon
Located in Plaza Las Perlas on Constituyentes and 20th Avenue, this restaurant prepares delicious coffee - lechero style. A robust shot of espresso is poured into a 12 ounce glass, then from a second long-spouted pot, a server pours warmed milk from 2 feet above the glass. Add a touch of brown sugar and this famous coffee and milk blend is heaven for those who like to begin their day with a cup of joe. To accompany your brew, there is an array of traditional Mexican sweet breads to choose from. If you have children, they’ll love the indoor play area at the back of the restaurant.
13) Get up early, get out to the beach and watch the sunrise
Even if you’re still half asleep from a late night of tequila and dancing, you won’t regret dragging yourself out of bed to watch the sunrise. The sky above Playa del Carmen is set ablaze with deep oranges and pink hues. The sight of the sun surging upwards over the Caribbean Sea will take your breath away. One of Mother Nature’s greatest spectacles and it just happens to be free of charge.
That completes our list of things to do in Playa del Carmen that cost less than a Starbucks. Checking off some of these items may require you to step out of your comfort zone, but your memory bank (and your wallet) will be so glad you did!
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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.