When traveling to a new destination, investing time in research prior to your arrival can take a trip from fine to phenomenal. Scouring official tourism sites, state guides, or articles from seasoned travel bloggers can save you a lot of money. Plus you’ll also have a great database of information to help you discover the best a city or country has to offer. Not to mention, expert advice can shed light on unexpected surprises so you can prepare for a stress-free vacation.
The Travel Time From Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen
The time it takes to get from the airport to Playa del Carmen can be surprising. There’s a sprawling all-inclusive resort every couple of kilometers in the Riviera Maya. If your booking includes transportation, be prepared for a long haul from the airport to your hotel. These shared transport buses make several stops. Depending on where you’re staying (if it’s one of the last stops,) tack on an extra hour or two of travel time.
If you have booked a vacation rental and a transfer is not already included, ask the reservation agent to schedule a private van service. These spacious vans can accommodate up to 8 passengers and offer direct routes (40 minutes) to Playa del Carmen.
An additional option for direct transportation is the ADO bus. The air-conditioned buses provide service to and from one of 2 stations (both are central) in Playa del Carmen. You can hop on from Terminal 2, 3, or 4 every half hour at a cost of $208 MXN ($9.05 USD) one-way. Payments are accepted in pesos (there are ATMs inside the terminal) at the pickup point or credit at the ticket counter.
Driving In Mexico
Driving in the Riviera Maya is simple and having your own car allows you to see the endless sites on your own schedule. Road signs are in the metric system (kilometers) and the highways are in excellent condition.
There are a couple of points you should know about driving in Mexico. Firstly, the topes (speed bumps) are sometimes camouflaged and they tend to sneak up on you. Just beware as you approach any town, there will be several to watch out for.
Police checkpoints are common along major roadways. The main thing to keep in mind is to abide by the laws so they do not have a reason to pull you over. The rules are similar to anywhere else in the world. Avoid using your cell phone when driving and if you plan to consume alcohol, don’t drive. The alcohol tolerance in Quintana Roo is 0% and breathalyzers are in operation. As anywhere else on the planet, the laws state that you wear your seatbelt at all times and respect the speed limits.
Don’t be alarmed if you encounter one of these permanent or random road checks. Slow down well ahead of the checkpoint and put on your hazard lights. If the officer does not signal for you to stop, smile, and continue on. Should you be motioned to pull over, be polite, remain calm, and answer the officer’s questions. If it’s a random inspection, you will be sent on your way within a few minutes.
Gas Pump Scams
Unfortunately in Mexico, most make barely enough to afford the cost of living. One adverse outcome of this sad reality is gas pump scams. Attendants have devised clever ways of “earning” extra money. Of course, not all gas stations have shady attendants. Nevertheless, it does happen, especially to expats and foreigners.
There are precautions to avoid being the target of fraud or scams. When fueling up, watch the pump to make sure it’s at $0.00 so you aren’t charged for gasoline you didn’t receive.
Secondly, watch for the ol’ switch a roo. Spread your bills when handing them to the attendant to make it clear you know exactly what you paid. There have been cases where the attendant quickly switches the bills from a $500 to a $50, for example. The person returns to tell you that you’ve made a mistake and hands the $50 back, asking for a $500 bill instead. This trick is very effective since as a foreigner, you may not be familiar with the money, prompting you to second guess yourself.
Thirdly, never hand over your credit card to the attendant. This gives the person the opportunity to scan your card. The best way to avoid this is to physically get out of the car. Accompany the attendant to the machine, insert the card yourself, and complete the transaction.
Finally, if you are filling up your vehicle, keep an eye on the pump amount at the moment it stops. Sometimes, if you aren’t paying attention, the attendant can scroll back and charge you for a previous fuel amount that was higher.
Basically, just be mindful at a gas station. Distracted customers are easy targets; observant ones can same themselves from the nuisance of being scammed.
Strolling Along Playa del Carmen’s Famous 5th Avenue
Lining the city’s principle stretch of cobblestone, are hundreds of boutique hotels and brand name and artisan stores, jewelry and souvenir shops. Not to mention the endless eateries, galleries, and pubs, you’ll find the options are limitless as far as things to do on Playa del Carmen’s 5th Avenue. Understanding what lies ahead as you stroll Playa’s most important artery, will make your dining and shopping experience as pleasant as a walk in the park.
Don’t carry open liquor. Hey, it’s Mexico. Everyone’s here to have a good time, right? While that is the goal of a Playa del Carmen vacation, walking in a public place with an open beer can get you in trouble. You could get fined, but typically, the patrolling officers will let you off with a warning. In any case, it’s better to wait until you’re on private property before cracking open a cold one.
Vendors can seem aggressive as you pass by the shops on the effervescent strip. Keep in mind that they’re just doing their best to grab your attention within a sea of competition. Kindly shake your head and say “Gracias,” if you are approached and they will move on to the next passerby.
When perusing the shops for a special memento, if the item has no price tag, that’s your cue to practice your negotiation skills. While offers are accepted, it’s important to be fair and polite with your suggested price rather than choosing the borderline offensive route. By remaining personable, you’re more likely to wheel and deal your way to the best price.
Although many visitors are happy to stick to browsing what’s in store on the dynamic 5th Avenue, unique eateries just off of the tourist hub are worth straying for. Follow the tantalizing aromas around the corner. From Italian to French to Thai and vegan to mouthwatering Mexican cuisine, you’ll discover another world of superb cuisine.
Some banks, such as CI Banco on 5th Avenue, will exchange your currency, but others require you to have an account with them (Scotiabank.) There are, however, dozens of Casas de Cambio (exchange houses) at which you can change your money. If you need some pesos, bring your passport with you. You may be asked for identification, depending on the amount you wish to exchange.
Oxxo convenience stores are on almost every block of every town in Mexico. A handy one-stop-shop for visitors staying in vacation rentals, you can pick up bread, bananas, travel games, sunglasses, ice, and alcohol. On Sundays, by law, liquor sales end early. Some stores stop selling at 2:00 pm, while others sell alcohol until 5 (at the latest.) An additional convenience for tourists is that USD is accepted at Oxxos throughout the city.
Farmacias (pharmacies) are also a dime a dozen and you would be surprised what you can buy over the counter. If you or your child are prone to earaches, medicated drops are available for purchase without a prescription. Plus you will pay at a quarter of the price compared to other places in North America. What’s more, is there are medical clinics next door to many pharmacies. For a fee of $30 Mxn ($1.35 USD), you can see a doctor for minor medical conditions.
Taking a Taxi in Playa del Carmen
In the Riviera Maya, services like Uber and Lyft are not yet in operation. The next best thing is Taxi WhatsApp Playa del Carmen. You can call or reserve through their Facebook page. The price is predetermined so there are no surprises and there is a record of the driver and taxi number on file.
Should you hail a cab from the street, it’s best to do so far enough from a designated Taxi stand. Prices are higher at these syndicated stands than they are a hundred feet from them. Always establish the price of the ride before you get in to make sure you are in agreement with the fare.
Tacos Are Addictive
When in Mexico, do as the Mexicans do – eat the tacos, drink the tequila. But enter into the mmm mmm goodness at your own risk — tacos are highly addictive! You won’t be able to stop at one, and your favorite taqueria will always leave you wanting more. Consider yourself warned.
In Playa del Carmen, you’ll want to visit El Fogon, with several central locations in the heart of the city. The next most frequently frequented taco joint is Don Sirloin, also with various locales around town. An alternative to Playa’s two most popular taqueria chains is El Gran Taco across from (east side) the Centro Maya shopping mall.
As for a taco menu, a must-try plate is the Al Pastor. Succulent marinated pork is slow-cooked on a fiery spit, shaved into a warm soft taco shell, and topped with fresh pineapple.
At El Gran Taco, ask for the carnitas with all of the toppings – cilantro, onion, a fresh squeeze of lime, and of course, a spicy salsa. If your appetite permits, sample the other traditional flavors served in a beautiful array of Mexican ceramic pots. Top recommendations are the picadillo (hamburger and potato mixture) and the chicken mole (a rich sauce with a hint of nuts and chocolate.)
The Prices of Groceries and Alcohol
Exploring the gastronomy scene in Playa is a delectable adventure. Yet, if you book a vacation rental, it’s important to stock the kitchen with the basic grocery items for a comfortable stay. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the very reasonable prices for most produce, ground coffee, or a case of beer.
Our advice — steer clear of items including flavored coffee creamer, asparagus, grapes, imported cereals, and cheeses. That is unless you don’t mind paying more than 4 times their average prices. In Playa del Carmen, it’s definitely advantageous to buy local.
For more tips and insights on traveling to Playa del Carmen, check out more articles on Bric’s travel blog page.
The Riviera Maya boasts approximately 120 kilometers of silky white sand coastline. Indeed there are few things that measure up to a couple’s walk along the beach on the romance scale. Since February is the month for celebrating love, we want to introduce you to the perfect Valentine’s Day idea: Playa del Carmen.
Besides meandering the soft coral shores hand in hand, we’ve created a list of other top romantic things to do in Playa del Carmen. From sunset cruises to highly entertaining dinner shows, here are our best ideas for lovebirds traveling to the Riviera Maya.
1 – A Day At La Buena Vida Restaurant And Bar In Akumal
Along with friendly staff, the giant thatched-roof and 180-degree view of Half Moon Bay certainly help to contribute to La Buena Vida’s sublime Caribbean vibe. Although the beach is a bit rocky, the scenery is spectacular. Bring your snorkel gear and check out the underwater world teeming with marine life. While sea turtles paddle along, you’ll also come across abundant coral colonies, schools of colorful, tropical fish, as well as the odd squid.
After navigating the bay, cuddle together for an afternoon siesta in one of the hammocks. Quench your thirst with an ice-cold cerveza. Choose from casual menu items like quinoa salads, seafood pasta, or shrimp tacos to nibble on. Finally, as the sun goes down, head up to the second-tier terrace of the restaurant for a romantic dinner. Share a bottle of wine as you watch the sunset transforms the sky from blue to vibrant hues of pink and orange. A day spent at this little piece of heaven is one you will surely treasure forever.
How to get there
Akumal is 25 minutes south of Playa del Carmen. If you have a car, head south on Highway 307 and watch for the retorno (a point on the highway where you can u-turn.) Follow the clear signage to Akumal, which is just a few minutes after Puerto Aventuras. Off the highway, follow the road east until it automatically turns left. La Buena Vida is within a minute on the right-hand side. Visitors can also take a combi (a van taxi that runs along the entire Riviera Maya.) You’ll get off at the highway; walk east until you come upon a taxi stand. A 2-minute ride by taxi will land you at the beach club.
2 – Dinner Show
There are three fantastic shows that we would recommend in the Riviera Maya.
This eco-park is a nature lover’s paradise. By day explore the exotic animals, an aquarium, a replica Mayan village, a lazy river, a Mexican cemetery, and much more. In the evening, switch from your flip flops to heels and reserve your seats for the best view of the fascinating Xcaret show.
The spectacle takes the audience on a riveting journey through time when the Spanish conquistadors invaded Mexico. Witness traditional dances and music from each state all-the-while partaking in a superb dining experience. Plus the explosive grand finale offers a perfect impression of Mexico’s enchanting nature.
Important Info: You have the option of a full meal or wine and snacks. The show begins at 7pm and ends around 9pm. If you book online 21 days in advance, you can save up to 15% off the regular ticket price.
This live acrobatic, musical theater takes place at the stunning Cirque du Soleil venue, 20 minutes north of Playa del Carmen. The location sits amidst lush jungle and tranquil waterways. You can opt to have dinner and drinks at one of the romantic on-site eateries or purchase an all-inclusive VIP ticket. In addition to reserved seating near the stage, your ticket includes dinner and champagne.
Tip: There are usually two evening shows from Tuesday to Friday and one performance on Saturdays. The theater is closed Sundays and Mondays.
You can see this wildly entertaining show in the Catalonia Royal Tulum hotel just 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen. This lively choreographed performance is a mix of cabaret, pop, and Moulin Rouge with a sensual twist. Admittedly, parts of the show, which includes a four-course dinner, wine, and bottled water, may make you blush. Nevertheless, the entertainment value and professionalism are topnotch. Doors open at 7 pm and the captivating show runs from 8-10 pm. Afterward, a DJ takes the stage from 10 pm-12 am, in case you were inspired to get your own groove on.
3 – Couple’s Massage
Side-by-side massages are an excellent way to ignite a spark of romance and stimulate connection. While at Bric Spa, you have the opportunity to engage in an ultimate session of peace and relaxation, without buzzing cellphones or other distractions.
Bric Spa features couples’ specials every February. Hence, you’ll share uninterrupted quality time together with the option to customize your own romance package. One popular couple’s service is the Rekindle Ritual, which includes wine and vegan chocolate truffles in the relaxation room. This charming rustic spa, located in the heart of the city, has rave reviews and has earned #1 spot for day spas in Playa del Carmen. Their therapists are professionally trained with experience at such notable spas as Rosewood at Mayakoba and Hotel Esencia in the Riviera Maya.
What you should know: The spa is closed on Sundays. For more information or to book your rejuvenating spa encounter, please call (984) 113-7861.
4 – Dinner With A Private Chef
In general, services like a private chef are pricey in most major cities around the world. However, you might be surprised at how reasonable these types of lavish services can be in the Riviera Maya.
If you are staying in the Playa del Carmen area, this is an idea that will without a doubt be the beginning of a magical night. Depending on the menu type you have in mind, your designated Bric ambassador will suggest the best chef for the occasion. Picture an al fresco dinner, under a starry sky, sipping wine as the waves pound the nearby shore. You receive first-rate service and dine in the privacy of your own vacation home without the hassle of cleaning afterward.
Without a doubt, a custom-curated menu and good wine with your favorite travel companion will make for an evening that will be etched in your hearts forever.
5 – Sunset Cruise
Romance blooms in the Caribbean, especially when you’re sailing the turquoise sea at sunset! No matter if you were born with sea legs or not, the clear waters and fiery sky spawn the perfect setting for passion. In the Riviera Maya, you have several options to choose from. There are catamaran or private yacht rentals that offer drinks and snacks, dinners, and even overnight stays aboard the vessels.
Tip: Many of the reputable companies operate out of the harbors in Puerto Aventuras and Cancun. However, in most cases, transportation to and from Playa del Carmen is included in the reservation.
6. – Overnight in Holbox
This sleepy, little island just 1 hour and 20 minutes from Playa del Carmen is a peaceful gem, ideal for a couple’s getaway. One night is all you need to be seduced by its charm. There are quaint hotels and adult-only accommodation options such as Hotel Palapa. Wake up to ocean views from your bed that will entice you to stay put for the remainder of the day. Alternatively, should you want to do some exploring, bike and kayak rentals are an ideal way to see the indescribable beauty of Holbox.
Islanders get around via golf carts. Unlike Cancun, you won’t see a traffic light, nor bustling malls or massive night clubs. Besides streets lined with colorful buildings painted by amazing graffiti artists, you’ll also find delicious eateries to indulge in the local cuisine. The slow pace will sweep you off to a tropical dreamland that you’ll never want to wake from.
Important Info: There are a few ways to get there that vary in price. You can rent a car, hire a van shuttle or take an ADO bus from the Cancun Airport or Playa del Carmen. For more info on getting to Holbox, visit Travel Yucatan.
7 – Late Lunch At C-Grill
The Thompson Beach House on Calle 8 at the beach offers the ultimate beach setting with its mesmerizing blue-green vista. For this reason, it’s no wonder the upscale beach club impels couples to its powdery sand for sunny lounge sessions and sips of premium Caribbean cocktails.
When the sun begins its descent, tables are lit with soft candles. You’ll love the intimate and elegant atmosphere accompanied by warm sea breezes and attentive service staff. For Valentine’s Day, C-Grill presents a special menu to further delight your senses.
8 – Dance To Live Music On The Powdery Soft Sand
Zenzi beach bar is a longtime favorite hangout for locals and visitors alike. The towering palm trees are adorned with lights at nightfall and minty mojitos are on high demand. Salsa bands take the stage every week and tend to lure you to the sandy dance floor whether you’re a beginner or experienced dancer.
Dine seaside or just go for the nightly entertainment. There is ample seating and almost as many staff to make sure you are well taken care of. Find a quieter spot in a dimly lit corner or take a spin on the dance floor with your sweetheart. Either way, a night spent at Zenzi is unforgettable.
9 – Cooking Classes At Co.Co’s Culinary School
Coty’s exceptional talent as a culinary instructor is almost as incredible as her magnetic personality. She adds a bit of flair and a touch of her spicy character into every dish she prepares. Her classes are a unique and fun way to maintain a connection with your partner as you delve into an original experience.
Due to the small and engaging classes, Co.Co’s is a highly recommended date night option. This is a wonderful chance to sample local ingredients and traditional spices, as well as test top-notch tequilas. Not only will you bring home good memories, but also a taste of Mexico for future romantic dinners!
10 – Private Day Tour To The Colonial City Of Valladolid
This is a special place to visit with a loved one. Private van services will guide you on a historical trek to discover the vivid tales of the region that date back hundreds of years. The city of Valladolid itself is safe and fairly easy to navigate by foot. There is a former convent, impressive cathedrals, monuments, and a Mexican folk art collection to explore. The town square bustles as vendors sell customary Mexican treats. Shaded benches surrounding the main fountain offer a comfortable place to people watch.
At the center of town sits the San Gervasio Cathedral. In the evening, when it’s illuminated, the colonial church offers an impeccable photo op. A divine end to a magical day of roaming and exploring is dinner at Meson del Marques. It is a centuries-old, restored mansion that has been converted into a hotel and restaurant. A woman sits at the entrance warming handmade tortillas over an open fire. Adding to the charming atmosphere is a gorgeous flowing fountain in the middle of a courtyard, not to mention the aroma of Yucatecan cuisine in the air.
What you need to know: Valladolid can be explored in one day as it is only two hours from Playa del Carmen. You can use a private van service or you have the option of the ADO bus from Playa for around $150 pesos ($8USD.)
11 – Playa del Carmen Food Tour
Trying something new together and exploring a fun city like Playa del Carmen is a great way to strengthen a loving bond. Furthermore, you can fondly reminisce about the people you’ve met and the memories you’ve made for years to come.
Chef Emily, a.k.a. The Cozumel Chef studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Now a resident of Cozumel, she offers cooking classes and authentic street food tours both on the island as well as in Playa del Carmen.
On this walking tour, you’ll have the opportunity to really dine like a local. Sample popular regional dishes such as cochinita pibil, hearty bowls of Mexican pozole, and of course tacos! The flavors will not disappoint and are as vibrant and interesting as the people of Playa.
You’ll experience delicious, authentic Mexican cuisine while seeing neighborhoods in Playa del Carmen that most visitors unfortunately never take the chance to see.
Tip: You can choose to customize the 2-2.5 hour tour based on your preferences. For example, ask to sample seafood or seasonal fare.
12 – A Beach Or Cenote Photo Shoot
The Caribbean Sea provides a stunning backdrop for a session booked with a local photographer. Similarly, there are thousands of hidden gems called cenotes (limestone sinkholes) throughout the Rivera Maya that are beautiful beyond your imagination.
Wedding photographers like Del Sol Photography in Playa del Carmen, host photoshoots at these masterpieces of Mother Nature. The finished products are nothing short of extraordinary. Not only will you visit surreal settings, but you’ll also have candid moments captured by a professional to cherish forever.
If you’re going to be in Playa del Carmen in February and one of these suggestions appeals to you, email us at email@example.com for more info. Likewise, you can stop by the Bric Vacation Rentals office on Calle 38 near the beach. If we can assist in making your romantic beach vacation even better, we’re happy to help!
Summer in Playa del Carmen sizzles. Luckily for visitors, you can always find inviting turquoise waters or glistening pools within close range. Built upon shores of powdery soft coral, Playa borders the shimmering blue-green waters of the Caribbean. This Riviera Maya city is most popular for its picturesque coastline. However, vacations here offer far more than cocktails on the beach.
This article sheds light on five of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen during summer vacation. These sensational outings will fill your memory bank with epic Yucatan Peninsula travel stories to tell for years to come.
Discover Paradise at El Cielo
Located a few hundred meters off the southern tip of Cozumel is El Cielo, meaning ‘Heaven.’ From Playa del Carmen, a 45-minute ferry delivers you to the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean. Upon arriving in Cozumel, you will board a smaller boat to transport you on an unforgettable 4 to 5-hour journey. As you sail south along the island’s sublime coastline, you’ll anchor at two flourishing coral reefs of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. During these snorkeling sessions, you will explore some of the clearest sea waters and meet a host of breathtaking aquatic animals.
No notice from the captain is needed, as it will become crystal clear (literally) when you arrive at El Cielo. The waters in this isolated diamond in the Caribbean rough are in the ranks with those of the Maldives. Although you won’t encounter over-the-water huts, majestic manta rays, starfish, and sea turtles will surely capture your attention.
When Mother Nature designed this extraordinary, aqua bay, she created a masterpiece too spectacular to really describe in words. Of all of the Playa del Carmen day trips available, El Cielo is a must to add to a Mexico vacation itinerary.
This entrancing water excursion is available to individual travelers as well as large groups. You can search online for local tour companies or contact your Bric ambassador to help you arrange a sublime trip to El Cielo. Included in the price are snorkel gear, beverages, and a light lunch (usually ceviche, fruit, and/or sandwiches.)
Immerse Yourself in Incredible Nature at Aktun Chen Park
This surreal experience in the heart of the jungle is an amazing introduction to local wildlife. The nature reserve offers protection to spider monkeys, coatis, iguanas, boars, and vibrant green parakeets that live within it. In addition to an up-close view of the area’s jungle creatures, you will explore an awe-inspiring cave over 5 million years old. This guided trek, voted one of the top 10 Underground Walks In the World by National Geographic, is 100% worth the 30-minute drive from Playa del Carmen.
After taking flight over the lush jungle landscape on a circuit of 10 ziplines, you will be ready to dive into the cool cenote waters. The ancient Mayan civilization believed were gates to the underworld. Even today, archaeologists and divers continue to make important discoveries of centuries-old artifacts within these limestone caves.
Wear comfortable walking shoes and only biodegradable sunscreen is permitted. Although Aktun Chen is a smaller ecological park compared to others in the area such as Xcaret or Xplor, it offers plenty of activities, at a more economical price. When you reserve with an excursion company using the booking link on the Aktun Chen page, lunch and transportation are included.
Snorkel With Turtles and Sip Piña Coladas at La Buena Vida
In the seaside village of Akumal, just 25 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, sits a tranquil bay inhabited by Hawksbill and Loggerhead turtles. One-hour, guided snorkel tours present a guaranteed opportunity to observe all sorts of marine species. Along with the turtles, you’ll see exotic fish, colorful coral fans, as well as an occasional stingray gliding across the seafloor.
Afterward, continue for 5 more minutes down the winding road to La Buena Vida, a beloved local beach bar. Request a table overlooking the bay and munch on delicious burgers, carne asada, or tangy ceviche.
While the bartender prepares another round of Caribbean cocktails, find the hammock with your name on it and settle in. If you have kids, they will love the treehouse lookout tower and pool, which are surrounded by sky high coconut palms and face an endless turquoise horizon.
Skip the hoards of vendors selling snorkel tours along the road leading to Akumal Bay. Book with Akumal Dive Shop and receive certified guides who are knowledgeable in the local laws and adhere to safety standards.
Test Your Culinary Skills At El Pueblito In Mayakoba
A cooking class with one of the country’s most engaging top chefs, Karla Enciso, offers a savory escape from the midday heat. In the air-conditioned commercial kitchen, you will learn time-honored recipes and taste unique regional ingredients. From robust salsas such as mole to guanabana (soursop) margaritas, you will be swooning over your authentic creations.
Chef Karla is an expert at blending the warmth of the Mexican culture into every dish. Her passion is infectious as she introduces visitors to an impressive array of regional flavors. This outing also makes an ideal group activity and kids are welcome! For more information, visit El Pueblito on Facebook for a schedule of cooking classes.
If you are traveling with a group, contact Chef Karla for a customized class. She is fluent in several languages and is a master at a variety of international cuisines.
Witness The Bioluminescence Phenomenon In Holbox
People from around the world flock to the Yucatan Peninsula to swim with the magnificent whale sharks. The sheer size of these spotted fish makes them intimidating. However, you have nothing to fear. Whale sharks are about as dangerous as the microscopic plankton they feed upon. Each year, these gentle giants migrate to areas off the coasts of Isla Mujeres and Holbox, an enchanting near Playa del Carmen.
Come nightfall on this sleepy island, a magical, natural phenomenon known as bioluminescence presents itself. As the water is near the shoreline is stirred, a domino effect of glowing blue light illuminates the surface. This surreal scene occurs only in the summer months from June to mid-September, when the whale sharks are in the area. Since Holbox is so close to Playa del Carmen, this once-in-a-lifetime summer outing should not be missed!
Kayak and paddle board tours are available after dark. To witness the full splendor of this sea of sparkling stars, try to plan your trip around the new moon.
That rounds out our top 5 list of best summertime activities in Playa del Carmen. Together with its lush jungle tours, ecological parks, and pristine cenotes, the Riviera Maya appeals to travelers of all ages. Not to mention the limitless day trip options to magical towns and divine islands. In addition to its superb dining scene, year-round tropical climate, and luxury accommodations. It’s no wonder Playa del Carmen remains a fixture on TripAdvisor’s Best Destinations in the World.
Being based out of Playa del Carmen, Mexico has its advantages. Besides its central location, this area receives over 300 days of sunshine per year. Due to this ideal warm-weather climate, kids can spend most of their time in the great outdoors. As any parent is well aware, children have boundless energy. Behaviorally speaking, they tend to operate at their best when they have a healthy outlet for that non-stop enthusiasm.
A Mexico vacation will not only do wonders for your little energizer bunnies but spending a week immersed in nature boosts moods all around. They’ll get plenty of fresh air splashing in the pool, building sandcastles, biking through the jungle, and engaging in a myriad of water sports. Furthermore, the dozens of eco-parks in the area offer enough exhilarating activities to keep a family busy year-round. Most importantly, you’ll won’t hear those dreadful words, “I’m bored.”
Our troop has discovered an endless list of best places to travel in Mexico with family. But in this article, we will start with 6 top family-friendly summer vacation spots in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Why Travel To The Yucatan Peninsula Is A Perfect Choice For A Family Vacation
Covering the Southeastern states of Yucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo, the Yucatan Peninsula is incredibly rich in scenic and historical routes. Scattered throughout the region are thousands of cenotes and ancient Mayan cities. Whether you plan a relaxing beach vacation, a spellbinding road trip, or a combination of both, there is no doubt your travel experience will be unforgettable.
Millions of annual visitors find that navigating this area is a piece of cake. Take for example the father and son duo I recently met in a restaurant in Tulum. The two were on their second trip to Mexico to explore lesser-visited archaeological sites such as Kabah, Dzibilchaltun, and Calakmul. With toll roads cutting travel time, 6 Pueblos Magicos (Magical Towns) and 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites to discover, the Yucatan Peninsula is bursting with hundreds of activities to easily fill a weeklong vacation itinerary.
1. Merida, Yucatan
Things to do in Merida
One of the safest cities in Mexico to vacation, you’ll fall in love with Merida and its unique union of historic, modern and artful appeal. The city’s downtown core is best discovered by foot. There are storefronts out of a 1940 country and western film, charming squares shaded by massive trees and surrounded by delightful cafes. The opera house, Teatro Peon Contreras, is an architectural masterpiece with opulent staircases. Furthermore, the Municipal Palace features stunning murals by Yucateco painter Fernando Castro Pacheco.
Located near the northwestern edge of the Yucatan Peninsula, this captivating colonial city was built upon the former Mayan city of T’Ho. When the Spanish moved in to take over, the Mayan structures were dismantled. Those same stones were used in the construction of some of the 13 cathedrals still standing in Merida’s historical zone. On Friday nights, a free, video-mapping light and sound show is produced on the façade of the grand Merida Cathedral in the Plaza Grande.
If your children are fans of the popular movie ‘Coco’, they will definitely be enthralled with a visit to the Merida cemetery. Rows upon rows of multi-colored mausoleums laden with dried flowers, candles and photos give a glance into the lives of lost loved ones.
Day trips from Merida
Izamal, ‘The Yellow Town’
- A 45-minute drive from Merida
- Famous for Pope John Paul’s visit in 1993
- Earned Pueblo Magico status in 2002.
- Visit the Convent San Antonio de Padua, which was built upon a flattened tip of a former Mayan pyramid. The mustard yellow, colonial monastery features frescos from 16thcentury and overlooks the town’s main plaza.
Uxmal, Archaeological Site
- 1-hour drive from Merida
- UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Explore the sacred pyramids including the Temple of the Magician, which legend tells, was built by a magical dwarf in one night
- Visit Choco-Story Museum to learn the history of chocolate in the Mayan culture. Handicrafts and cacao products are available for purchase as a memento
Yucatan Ring of Cenotes
- The same meteor impact that is believed to have killed the dinosaurs is also said to have created the Yucatan Ring Of Cenotes
- A 180 km band of limestone sinkholes fed by the longest subterranean river system in the world
- At least 99 extraordinary cenotes to explore, including Cenotes Santa Rosa, Bal-Min and Tzau Jun Cat
- Cost $20 – $300 Mexican Pesos ($1 – $16 USD)
Where to Stay in Merida
Hotel Victoria sits on Paseo de Montejo, a ‘Street of Dreams’-type avenue boasting awe-inspiring mansions. Built in the 1900s by wealthy henequen farmers, the stately architecture was intended to rival the most captivating Parisian streets of that period. Today, these homes operate as bank branches, office buildings, museums and one of the most gorgeous Starbucks you will ever drink a latte in.
Airbnb is also a great option as you can stay in beautifully restored colonial homes with cathedral ceilings, chequered floors, and picturesque gardens. In the city center, Hotel Mision Panamericana offers the perfect location. Walk to the Santa Lucia for dinner, have an exceptional breakfast at La Chaya Maya, and shop for spices and shoes at the Lucas de Galvez Mercado.
If your budget allows, a stay in an elegant hacienda is an experience like no other. In the 1800s, when the henequen industry thrived, landowners built their own villages behind the walls of these sprawling estates. Peruse the chapels, doctors’ offices, school classrooms and impressive living quarters that have since been transformed into luxury hotel properties.
2. Cancun. Quintana Roo
Things to do in Cancun
While Cancun does have a notorious reputation for being a rowdy spring break destination, it still has many admirable features going for it. Vast, white sand beaches and a slew of exceptional family-friendly attractions continue to attract sun-seekers from around the globe.
Get wet and wild at Ventura Park, an all-inclusive outdoor arena for fun and adventure. Teenagers can be a tough crowd when it comes to planning activities they will not yawn over. However, Ventura’s wide range of installations from wedgy-inducing water slides to go-karts and riveting roller coasters, make this attraction a guaranteed winner. Young adults, preschoolers, and adults who are teens at heart will have a great time testing the array of installations within this ultimate fun zone.
La Isla is a high-end outdoor shopping village within the hotel zone but offers much more beyond popular brand name stores. Dozens of restaurants line the serene canal and present a gorgeous view of the sunset. Thai Lounge is one such restaurant with a spectacular lagoon setting. Take in the awesome panoramic views from the Ferris Wheel and visit the interactive Aquarium where the kids can observe exotic sea creatures and dolphins at play.
Pirate Show & Dinner at Sea. Sailors of every age will become mesmerized when their ship encounters a pirate invasion. Both the actors and exquisite surf and turf menu make this sunset dinner cruise a delight. The show begins at 6:30 p.m. and lasts 4 hours. Tickets start at $70 USD; kids are half price, but book ahead online to save.
Day Trips From Cancun
Swim with Whale Sharks, Isla Mujeres
- Snorkel with the gentle giants of the sea
- From Marine Ferry Terminal At Punta Sam
- Whale Shark tours offered from June 1 until mid-September
- Children must be 5 and older
- The majority of tours last approximately 7 hours and start from $165 USD (less for young children.) Transportation, food, and water or pop is included
- Newest, most adrenaline-filled park by the top-notch Xcaret Experiences Group
- Various degrees of adrenaline-pumping features. Mild activities include water slides, kayaks and, rope obstacle courses and for the extreme adventurers, a class 3 white water rapid excursion
- Restaurants on-site, but all-inclusive packages are available
- Open from 8 am to 5 pm daily. Prices start at $107 USD for adults and half price for kids. Book ahead online for discounted rates.
- Minimum age is 5
- Xavage is located 15 minutes from Cancun
- Safe and interactive petting zoo featuring encounters with local wildlife including monkeys, turtles, iguanas, parrots, snakes, and crocodiles
- Conservation project with an initiative for wildlife preservation. Most animals are seized from illegal trade or rescued
- 60 to 75-minute guided tours
- 20 minutes from Cancun
- Adults $32 USD, Children $22 USD, Kids 5 $ under are free
Where to Stay in Cancun
The hotel zone is an optimal Cancun location if you are staying with your kids. Incredible all-inclusive hotels at every price range line the splendid Caribbean shores. Our top picks highlight the best kids clubs and offer an abundance of activities from cooking classes and a flying trapeze school to water sports. Even your teens will enjoy clubs that separate the little kids from the big ones, so they can have their own space to relax and have fun.
For the best all-inclusive family vacations in Cancun, our votes go to Club Med Cancun Yucatan, Paradisus Cancun in the heart of the hotel zone, and Moon Palace just south of the airport.
3. Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo
Things to do in Playa del Carmen
One of the things our visiting relatives love is walking along Playa del Carmen’s famous 5thAvenue, a cobblestone street blocked to traffic. It’s the perfect spot to indulge in an upscale dinner, window shop and enjoy an ice cream or a churro (a Mexican pastry sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon).
At the south end of 5thAvenue, is Parque Fundadores, where the iconic Portal Maya structure stands looking onto the majestic Caribbean. Every day, there are free cultural performances such as the ‘Danza de los Voladores’ as well as Mayan warrior ceremonies. Just 3 blocks up the street, on the corner of 15 Avenue and Benito Juarez, try the best authentic Mexican street food including tacos and empanadas.
In the heart of downtown between Calle 12 and 14, just steps from 5this El Acuario. This a chance for an up-close encounter with tropical creatures such as lionfish, seahorses, stingrays, and jellyfish. In the same neighborhood, on 10th Avenue in between Calle 8 and 10, is the 3-D Museum of Wonders. Get your camera ready to capture the amusing illusions that invite visitors to become part of the artwork.
Joya Dinner Show takes place at the beautiful Vidanta jungle venue approximately 20 minutes north of Playa del Carmen. This highly entertaining resident Circle du Soleil spectacle features theatrics, acrobatics, and contortionists. Tickets for adults start at $77 USD. However, if possible, splurge on the dinner option, which features creatively designed courses to accompany the outstanding show.
Day Trips from Playa del Carmen
- Ecological Park with over 50 natural and cultural attractions, located 5 minutes from Playa del Carmen
- Nature-lover’s paradise featuring lazy rivers, first-rate snorkeling, a giant, man-sized birdcage, Children’s World, Mayan Village, Mexcian Cemetery, Butterfly Pavilion, Aviary, Coral Reef Aquarium, and a 2-hour cultural show extravaganza
- Extra Activities for an additional cost: Snuba Family and Adventure Kids (feed stingrays)
- Open daily from 8:30 – 10:30 rain or shine
- Admission starts at $107 USD for adults and $54 USD for kids
Akumal Monkey Sanctuary
- A project aiming to educate visitors and protect rescued animals such as lemurs, goats, deer, macaws, and spider monkeys
- Guided 2.5-hour tours beginning at 9:00 a.m.
- Includes 20 minutes inside to interact with a group of primates
- Half an hour from Playa del Carmen
- The regular cost is $65 USD for adults, $45 USD for kids. Book online in advance for up to 20% discount
Chikin Ha Park
- A half-day adventure within a sublime nature park
- The 4-hour tour includes rappelling, exploring underground caves, swimming in 3 cenotes, ceremony with a Mayan Shaman, bike ride over jungle paths and zip lining
- Extra activities such as Temazcal ceremony for an additional cost
- Prices are $37 USD without buffet, $45 USD with lunch
- Open from 8:30 am to 6 pm
Where To Stay In Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen has a modest all-inclusive hotel zone and a handful of oceanfront hotels in the downtown area. The downside of an all-inclusive stay it that guests are less inclined to leave the confines of the property. Many visitors miss the chance to discover the friendly local feel and delicious authentic tastes of this magnificent region. Besides the monotony of an all-inclusive stay, parents are forced to succumb to the same bedtimes as their young children. A condo rental allows for your own privacy to unwind in your own space after the juniors are asleep.
Staying in a vacation rental does not mean that you must sacrifice amenities. Bric Vacation Rentals provides a superb inventory of properties featuring beach clubs with snack bars as well as lavish, resort-style pools. Most importantly, you receive 24/7 access to a designated or on-site Bric ambassador. This Playa expert can answer any questions you have, as well as help to arrange transportation, grocery delivery, dinner reservations, and tours. Having a trusted and knowledgeable person to show you the way to the best the city has to offer, ensures your holiday’s success.
4. Holbox, Quintana Roo
Things to do in Holbox
Jade green waters of the Gulf of Mexico surround this sleepy, little island. It is our go-to weekend getaway for relaxing and unplugging, as it is only 1 hour 20 minutes from Playa del Carmen. Consider a three nights stay in Holbox a perfect accompaniment to a few nights in the Riviera Maya.
From June 1st to September 15th, whale sharks feed off the rich plankton source in the Yum Balam Biosphere near Holbox. One of our family’s most memorable weekends since living here was an excursion to swim with these spotted goliaths. On that unforgettable Holbox boat tour, we saw sea turtles, dolphins, flying fish, whale sharks and flamingos in their natural habitats. Finally, we parked on the rustic shore of a heavenly island boasting astoundingly clear, blue waters that left us speechless. As we sipped on cold cervezas, the captain prepared us freshly prepared ceviche.
Another not-to-be-missed summertime activity in Holbox is witnessing the glowing blue nightly phenomenon. Select the guided kayak tour option, or investigate to find the best location for viewing the plankton on your own. As the water along the shoreline is stirred, these fascinating microorganisms begin to glow. This natural wonder is known as bioluminescence.
Day Trips From Holbox
Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins and Cenote Ik’il
- A full day adventure with pick up from Chiquila Ferry Terminal
- Spend 3 hours exploring one of the New Seven Wonders of The World and the site of the massive Kukulkan pyramid
- Swim in the breathtaking waters of the partially enclosed Cenote Ik’il. Kids have a chance to jump from the cliff and you will have plenty of photo-op moments
- Stop and stroll along the charming streets of the colonial town of Valladolid. Visit the stunning cathedral and taste Mexican treats from vendors in the bustling square
- Lunch included
- A private tour starting at $79USD per adult
Where To Stay in Holbox
A place we return to time and time again is Ensueño Holbox Apartments. The tropical oasis provides accommodations to fit a family of 5, with a kitchenette. The booking comes with breakfast, access to a palm-fringed swimming pool, and a discount at the nearby Carolinda Beach Club. The Caribbean vibe inspires nothing more than basking in the sun and cooling off in the hammocks in the shallow waters a few feet from the shore. There are bike, paddleboard or golf cart rentals just a 10-minute walk down the glorious coastline.
When it comes to dining, the lobster pizza at Cariocas Pizzas is a must. One of our favorite off-the-beaten-path island eateries for casual Mexican and seafood dishes is El Crustaceo Kascarudo. For lunch, sample some of the best local cuisine such as tamales, ceviche, and tacos at the quaint, 100% authentic Las Panchas.
5. Cozumel, Quintana Roo
Things To Do In Cozumel
On account of the extremely high water clarity, Cozumel became known for its superior diving and snorkeling conditions. Moreover, the close proximity of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (the second-largest in the world) presents coral reefs teeming with colorful Caribbean Sea life. In these waters, it’s highly likely to have a run-in with Nemo and Dory, along with more hair-raising creatures like sea spiders. The best aspect of staying in a Cozumel hotel or condo rental is that you can snorkel right from your property.
In the center of the western shoreline of Cozumel is Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park. Within the pristine natural setting are white sand beaches, tropical gardens, manatee and dolphin exhibitions, sea trek and snuba excursions, zip lines, and a tequila tasting experience.
Also in Chankanaab Park is the Atlantis Submarine adventure. As a passenger, you will sink to depths of 100 feet to explore the local reef. The one-of-a-kind underwater expedition gives you the chance to peer out the portholes at sunken ships, manta rays and sea turtles. If you’re lucky, you may even see a mermaid!
Where To Stay In Cozumel
Towards the southwestern shore is the Reef Residences. Choose from stylish 1 to 4 bedroom vacation homes, some of which boast their own plunge pools. Engulfed in exotic foliage, the communal pool sits at the heart of the substantial, oceanfront property. A silky sand beach is speckled with lounge chairs shaded by thatched-roof huts. Paradise Beach is just a short stroll away and has restaurants as well as an inflatable water park. You can relax and savor the view, while the kids to burn off some of their energy reserves.
Reef Residences is about a 15-minute drive to the city center, so we rent a jeep during our stays in Cozumel. Spend a full day touring laid-back beach clubs such as Palancar, The Money Bar, and Coconuts. On the southern tip of the island is Punta Sur with its lighthouse, maritime museum, and lagoons, home to toothy local residents, the American crocodiles.
Day Trips From Cozumel
El Cielo (Heaven)
- 4-5 hour boat tour to the strikingly clear bay El Cielo, which is only accessible by boat and home to stingrays, turtles, and starfish
- 2 stops at local reefs for snorkeling
- Lunch and non-alcoholic beverages included
- Snorkel gear and lifejackets included
- Starting at $50 USD/adult, $40 USD/child
6. Bacalar, Quintana Roo
Things To Do In Bacalar
Breathe deep. You’ll want to savor every magical moment of your time in Bacalar, a.k.a the Lagoon of 7 Colors. This small town, approximately 3 hours from Playa del Carmen, was once a tiny village frequently pillaged by real-life pirates of the Caribbean.
While in Bacalar, you will want to spend as much of your two or three-day visit (max) on the water. Boat tours take you to two cenotes that feed into the lake. The kiddos can spend time swinging from a rope into the refreshing waters, and then head over to the Pirate’s Canal for more dips in water as blue as the Maldives.
At Fort San Felipe Museum is an intriguing display of artifacts and historical information of the area. Read reports on the infamous pirates who once ransacked the town. Plus, be sure to get a photo next to the cannons, which line the stone rampart and overlook the dazzling lagoon.
Day Trips From Bacalar
- Spend a couple of hours allowing the mild rapids to carry you along the turquoise river in an incredibly scenic and rustic setting
- Discover Stromatolites, the Earth’s oldest, living fossils
- 20 minutes from Bacalar
- Restaurant and hammocks on-site
- $100 Mxn fee/adults ($5.50 USD)
Where To Stay In Bacalar
Villa Pehaltun is an expansive property offering a friendly atmosphere similar to that of a charming Mexican camping adventure. Yet the 3 cabanas have all of the convenient amenities you need. The hosts have every water toy you can think of and will gladly take you on the lake for an exhilarating afternoon of water skiing and wakeboarding. Go for an early morning paddle and relish the tranquillity of the calm waters in front of this prime piece of Bacalar real estate.
For an unbeatable ambiance and picture-perfect setting, request a table at La Playita. Enjoy casual Mexican and seafood dishes and choose from a vast drink menu. It’s a superb spot to end an enchanting day and to create lasting childhood memories in the Yucatan Peninsula.
One of the most beautiful destinations in the Mayan Riviera is the quaint town and coastal area of Tulum. With wide stretches of powdery white beach and translucent blue water, it’s picture perfect. Many locals agree that some of the best beaches on the Caribbean coast are found in Tulum!
Tulum also has a laid-back attitude and atmosphere all its own. The chic, bohemian vibe draws you in! Within minutes of arriving, it feels as if your worries and cares have somehow disappeared.
No matter who you are, or what your vacation style is, there is something here that’ll please everyone! It’s well worth checking out during your time in Mexico; whether for a day trip or an extended stay. Within the town and surrounding areas you’ll find lots to do and see. Between the intimate little boutique hotels and quiet stretches of pristine beach, there are charming restaurants and shops, yoga studios, cultural experiences and, of course, water sports.
Tulum is about 45-minutes south of Playa del Carmen by car (130km / 80 miles from the Cancun International Airport.) It’s a straight shot on Federal Highway 307. The divided highway goes through the town itself, and the beach is just 5 minutes away. Something to be aware of–it’s a little bit of a trek from the airport and can make for a long day of traveling!
If you don’t want to rent a car, you can catch the ADO bus from the airport and let them do the driving. Get on board from the ADO main depot in Playa, right downtown on 5th Ave and Juarez. The buses are reasonably priced, comfortable and air-conditioned. The cheapest option to get down to Tulum is by “colectivo”. These marked shuttle vans zip back and forth on the highway all day long. They’re fast and comfortable and yes, there are seatbelts and space in the back for your bags! You can catch one across from the Chedraui on the highway, or downtown on calle 2 between 15th and 20th Avenue.
Ancient Mayan Ruins
Perhaps the most well-known sight to see here is the ancient Mayan ruins. As you’re approaching town, the site is immediately on your left, well-marked with signs. (No way you can miss this—the speed bumps will slow you down for sure!)
This pre-Columbian holy city, which is perched on the cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea, is a must! The entrance fee is 40 pesos per person (slightly more for a guided tour and the option to take photos). This archeological wonder is open from 8am to 5pm. The site itself is rather spread out with several structures still standing. No climbing is permitted, sorry. Be prepared to do some walking though.
Bring an umbrella if you don’t want too much sun, and pack a bottle of bug spray if it’s calm and cloudy. You’re in the Caribbean jungle after all! The walkways are fairly easy to traverse and can accommodate a wheelchair if required. There is a stunningly beautiful beach available for your use, so you may want to bring a towel along too. Grab your camera and head down the stairs for some iconic shots of the cliffs and waves.
There is easy-access parking plus food and drink at the main entrance. (Ranging from air-conditioned, licensed restaurants to pizza and taco stands.)
Tip – Beat the cruise ship crowds of tourists by arriving first thing in the morning if you can. It’s worth it! You’ll also avoid some of the tropical heat that tends to bounce off the brick ruins.
If you want to see the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan (climbing is allowed on this one), the Coba ruins are about an hour further inland. This makes for its own excellent day trip.
Once you’re done with your archeological adventure, you’re probably ready to pull up a chair by the surf or hop in a hammock under a palm tree. Tulum has some of the best beaches in the Mayan Riviera. We’re talking gorgeous Corona-commercial perfection here. Find your favorite!
When you reach the T-intersection on the Boca Paila / Punta Allen road, which way should you turn? Looking for adventure and the virgin beach of your dreams? Go north! Want to be in the centre of the action with lots of activities, posh beach clubs, etc.? Go south!
Protected by the reef, the beaches on the north end of the road are absolutely incredible! A couple of fantastic choices are Playa Maya and Playa Paraiso (very near the ruins). Take the Boca Paila road from town and turn left (north) at the fork in the road where you see the Tulum pillar. A little further up, signs and parking mark the entrance.
These public beaches to the north are the perfect choice if you’re the more self-sufficient type of traveler. Just pack a cooler full of beverages, grab a couple of beach chairs, maybe a football, and you’re all set! (You’ll find pretty much everything you need at the Chedraui grocery store on the way. It’s on the Boca Paila road before you reach the T-intersection. Also en route is an Oxxo convenience store with snacks, playing cards, beers, ice coolers, snorkel gear and other necessary beach items!)
Kids of all ages will love wading and playing on the wide sandy shelf that is lapped by gentle waves. Enjoy some quality family time—there is plenty of space here to throw a football or Frisbee around.
At the perfect temperature, you can walk out into the water a long ways before it gets deep. Or set your lounge chair right in the water and keep your toes cool! The water is very calm and clear here. It really is the beach of your dreams!
Recommended – For lunch or dinner, check out the Mezzanine boutique hotel for authentic Thai cuisine and an array of margarita flavors!
If chilling at a stylish beach club is more your style, sun beds and cocktails are awaiting you at Ziggy’s, down on the south end of the Boca Paila road. The food and atmosphere are spectacular! The menu is gourmet and you won’t find better scenery!
Try the mango ceviche or shrimp and chipotle salbutes. In order to use their amenities, a minimum consumption of $25 USD per person is in effect. (That’s only a couple of mojitos and an order of shrimp tacos! Not bad at all for an extraordinary day to remember.) Their hours are 9am until sunset.
Another upscale but more romantic option is Villa de las Estrellas. This spot is absolutely magical at twilight!
There are more beach activities here on the south end, including snorkeling, fishing, kite-boarding and so on. Or you can rent a bike and pedal down the beach road that pretty much winds all the way south to the bio reserve of Punta Allen (about forever away). Nearly every hotel offers bike rentals; they’re easy to spot.
If you can pull yourself off of the beach, there are still more sights to see around Tulum itself. When you’re in the Caribbean, you have to do seafood! Be sure to stop in for a bite at El Camello, operated by the local fishermen’s coop. Needless to say, the food is fresh and delicious! Alternatively, La Piola is a great choice for pizza and pasta. This chain restaurant is hip and fun, with a forno oven. Both of these favorites are located on the boulevard parallel with the federal highway, right in the heart of Tulum.
A little shopping after lunch? It’s a unique experience here, with lots of artisan items and custom-made clothing and gifts that you won’t find anywhere else! A word of caution–beware of using stand-alone ATMs (the rates are exorbitantly high). Get your pesos at one of the banks in town instead. Many establishments will take American dollars (at a decent exchange rate, but not the best), and a few may take credit cards. Be sure to check before you sit down to a meal or start picking out souvenirs!
Turtles, Cenotes & Eco-Tourism
Tulum prides itself on its eco-tourism. From May to November you’ll see protected turtle nesting grounds on the beach. Seeing the babies hatch and clamber to the ocean is an unforgettable experience! All the shops and hotels on the beach road are powered by generators and wind or solar panels.
If you’ve been wanting to see a cenote, you’re in the right place. These fresh water sinkholes are all over the Yucatan peninsula. With sparkling, clear aqua water and impressive caves, they truly are amazing natural wonders! Some of the best are right around Tulum.
The Grand Cenote is breathtakingly beautiful and has phenomenal underwater caverns full of stalagmites and pillars. Definitely bring or rent snorkel gear for this one! There is plenty of parking, a picnic area, change rooms, lockers and bathrooms. It’s an ideal choice for your first cenote experience! The whole family will love it. (If you have young children, there are shallow, sandy areas for them to explore. A unique feature is the turtle zone.) This cenote located on the highway to Merida, a couple of miles west of the first major intersection in Tulum. You can’t miss it.
Casa Cenote is a little 10-minute jaunt north up the highway towards Playa del Carmen and is a nice refreshing swim. This deep cenote is surrounded by mangroves and is a favorite for scuba divers. 40 pesos will get you in. It’s not a bad idea to rent a kayak here and paddle around. No other cenote of this size is so close to the beach (literally across the dirt road), and that truly sets it apart! A few restaurants and houses dot the serene ocean bay.
Without question, this laid-back, welcoming Caribbean village is calling your name! Experience the naturally picturesque seascapes and chill ambiance that is Tulum!
If you like this article you will also love these
With direct flights starting from under $200 round-trip from several major cities, you can dip your toes in the warm Caribbean waters for much less than you think.
While some are prepping for back to school, others have the opportunity to take advantage of fantastic fall savings on flights and accommodations. Reduced prices plus this ideal itinerary equals the perfect combination for an epic vacation in Playa del Carmen!
Day 1: Settle in with Bric
If you feel overwhelmed by the deluge of options when searching for a vacation rental on sites like Airbnb, a cost-saving alternative is finding a local full-service management company like Bric. Guests will not only save money on rentals but receive special airport transfer deals and welcome treats at check-in. Booking a stay directly at www.bricrental.com can save travelers significant money.
During the fall season, guests can rent ocean view condos such as this 2-bedroom Elements luxury home for around $1500USD per week – divided by 2 couples or 4 friends, a stay at this sought-after property is an inexpensive dream!
For budget-friendly accommodation options, Bric offers a host of central properties to choose from. Our modern and spacious rentals are just steps from the city’s best eateries and a short walk to beach clubs, museums, shops and dive centers. Moreover, almost 100% of Bric’s properties feature glistening pools along with fully-appointed kitchens. When staying with Bric Vacation Rentals, your assigned concierge is with you at every step of your trip. Services you can expect include arranging for transportation and excursions, providing dining recommendations, and even planning special events.
Tip: Grocery packages are available through your Bric reservations agent or ambassador for an additional fee. Choose from a pre-arranged order or customize your shopping list with your personal kitchen staples. Allow Bric’s friendly staff to stock your fridge so that you have everything you need upon your arrival (including a six-pack of chilled beer or wine!)
A Taste Of Playa
After you have settled in, you’ll be ready for a bite to eat. Il Baretto (Calle 26 & 5the Avenue) is a great option for casual eats and cold cocktails. Their famous brick-oven pizzas are as close to authentic Italian as you can get and their pasta selection is divine.
For an upbeat authentic Playa food scene, we recommend Zitla on Calle 12 between 15 and 20th Avenue. Quench your thirst with an ice-cold cerveza accompanied by a wide selection of seafood dishes like their citrusy ceviche. Choose from the winning menu of tacos and fajitas to pub-style options including burgers, wings and guacamole. You’ll love the excellent food, super service staff, and happy-go-lucky vibe.
If you’d prefer a more elegant dining experience, Catch on the rooftop of Thompson Playa del Carmen offers tables with exceptional views of the turquoise see by day and the best cityscape view at night. The delectable fare is fresh and inventive, all within a perfectly posh ambience.
Day 2: Hit the beach!
You can hear the waves calling your name and can’t wait to feel the soft sand in between your toes. The majority of Bric’s rentals are within a 5-minute walk to the beach or right along the alabaster shoreline.
At The Elements, for example, guests have access to an exclusive beach club with a volleyball court, shaded loungers and a snack and beverage bar. Other superb properties that boast spectacular views of the Caribbean include El Faro, Aldea Thai and Magia Playa. Not only do you have the sea nearby, but also sophisticated pool areas to relax by as the warm Mexican sun kisses your skin.
One can never have too much beach time. So for dinner, your table in the sand awaits at Fuego Restaurante and Cantina on Calle 38 (turn left when you reach the sea!) The waves, the candlelight and the stars overhead create the ultimate romantic atmosphere. This is one of the few fine dining establishments in Playa del Carmen to find certified Wagyu organic beef on the menu. Plus, taste a succulent selection of seafood dishes including grilled octopus and Caribbean lobster.
Day 3: See the sensational sites of the Riviera Maya!
For this full day of fun, you will visit 3 amazing places. You’ll get dynamic insight into Mexico’s ancient history, its rare natural beauty and it’s world-renowned cuisine.
For this day trip, you have a couple of options for transportation. A rental car with Orbitz costs approximately $45USD for the day with collision insurance. Alternatively, Travel Yucatan offers affordable private tour and transportation options throughout the region. If you’re traveling together with another couple or with a group of friends, this is the way to go. You can split the cost, while enjoying the freedom that comes with customizing your own itinerary. A cooler stocked with drinks is typically included with the service. Sandwiches and snorkel equipment may be added upon request for an extra fee.
From Playa del Carmen, you’ll drive south for 40 minutes towards Tulum. The highways are in excellent condition and there is good signage for the upcoming stops on your road trip. Just 5 minutes from Tulum is Grand Cenote, a scenic limestone sinkhole fed by the world’s longest underground river system.
For a $10USD ($180 peso) entrance fee, you can spend a couple of hours taking in the breath-taking surroundings. Snorkel and swim in the alluring translucent waters and witness bats and turtles who call the cavern home.
There are hammocks scattered throughout the lush park as well as bathrooms and change rooms. Snorkel equipment and lockers are available to rent, but bring your own towel. Please use only eco-friendly sunblock to help sustain the animal life and vegetation that live within this Riviera Maya gem.
After your refreshing stop at the cenote, you’ll continue on to the recently excavated archaeological site of Coba. The entrance fee to this centuries old Mayan ruins site is well worth the reasonable $75 pesos ($4USD). Once inside, you can hire a guide ($500-$600 pesos), which is recommended. Hearing the fascinating stories of this mysterious culture and the history behind each structure brings the sacred grounds to life.
On occasion, a spider monkey family will crossover above, swinging from one towering tree to another. Likewise, you’ll get up close and personal with an iguana or two. The heart-of-the-jungle setting is very serene, especially in the fall months when there are fewer visitors.
Bicycles, a.k.a. ‘Mayan Limousines’ (tricycle taxis for 2), are available to rent for $50-$100 pesos. While the rentals are not necessary, you should know that the path leading to Nohoch Mul, is about a half hour walk. This massive 137-meter Mayan pyramid is one of the few ancient temples in the Yucatan Peninsula that visitors can still climb. The view overlooks the seemingly endless green landscape and town of Coba. Standing at the top, you can feel the peace of the jungle and this mystic city.
The final leg of your incredible day trip takes you to Gitano, one of Tulum’s chic jungle haven restaurants. Chandeliers hanging from the trees and a friendly, creative dishes and a professional wait staff come together to present an exceptionally unique dining experience.
This is your chance to test the samplings from top chefs and sip smoky mezcal cocktails prepared by innovative mixologists. You may want to ask your Bric ambassador to make a reservation ahead of time. Be forewarned that the drinks are pricey. However the atmosphere, music and cool setting make Gitano a must on the itinerary.
Day 4: Shopping on Playa del Carmen’s famous 5th Avenue
After your ambitious, yet exhilarating outing on Day 3, you and your party will be ready to put your feet up. Relaxing by the pool or lounging beachside with margaritas under the shade of a thatched palapa paint enticing pictures.
In the afternoon, when the sun begins to set and the midday heat fades, a trip to the city’s most famed cobblestone street is in order. Along 5th Avenue, you’ll discover hundreds of boutique and souvenir shops like Jula Luma to purchase a keepsake from your Mexican vacation. Or you can find a one-of-a-kind cover-up or dress from La Troupe to add to your beachwear collection. Beyond the window-shopping, there are plenty of quaint bars along the way where you can hydrate and people watch.
A local favorite to check out for dinner just off the main tourist hub is Luma Taverna del Mar on Calle 38. The service is impeccable as is their fresh menu of seafood and other outstanding entrees. The sautéed mussels are exquisite, while the steak and risotto are also prepared to perfection.
Day 5: All-inclusive hotel day plus Rauxa dinner show
25 minutes south of Playa del Carmen in the Catalonia Royal Tulum Hotel, Rauxa wows audiences week after week. Touted the best dinner show experience in the Riviera Maya, this audacious burlesque-cabaret show features acrobatics, theatrical elements, song and dance performances. The seductive show is a feast for the eyes and a flawless enhancement to the impressive 4-course dinner.
Choose to purchase dinner show tickets only, or you can buy a day pass for only $10US more. This all-inclusive pass gives you access to the hotel’s beach, restaurants, bars and pools for the day, as well as the 8pm show.
How To Get There
There are a couple of ways to get to Catalonia Royal Tulum from Playa del Carmen. You can catch a colectivo from the pick up point at Calle 2 between 15th & 20th Avenue in the morning. Listen for the assistant on the sidewalk calling out “Tulum” and board this shared taxi van. The cost is $40 pesos per person. Tell the driver that you are going to Catalonia Royal Hotel “por favor” so he is aware of your stop.
A second option is a taxi. For 1-4 passengers, a ride to this hotel costs roughly $300 – $350 pesos each way. Again, if you are with a group, splitting the fare gives you an economical means of travel throughout the Riviera Maya.
When the doors of the Rauxa show open at 7:00pm, you’ll receive a welcome drink and be escorted to your table. It’s an intimate venue so each table presents a complete an unobstructed view of the main stage. For the ensuing 2 and a half hours, there is never a dull moment. The music, the sultry spectacle, and the masterpiece menu will leave you in awe. If you’re not yet ready to call it quits by 10pm, guests of the show are invited to stay for an after party, which runs until midnight.
Day 6: Playa del Carmen Food Tour
Whether a first-time visitor to Playa del Carmen or a Playa fan looking for a unique activity, this food tour offers a full-range encounter with local flavors.
The highly recommended team of personable locals at Eating With Carmen deliver several curated tours to choose from. From vegan to gourmet to traditional Mexican cuisine, each tour takes you on a tasty expedition to the best the city offers in that category. Learn what to look for and how to order at a street food stand. Sample amazing regional food such as cochinita pibil and tamales. Compliment your dishes with a top-notch tequila or fresh fruit-infused waters. Conclude with a visit to a traditional heladería (ice cream shop.) This is a wonderful opportunity to step off the beaten path and experience the true essence of Playa del Carmen and its people. Not to mention, you can pick up a quality bottle of tequila to bring home with you.
The tours last 2.5 to 3 hours and the meet-up point is at a convenient downtown location. There is a morning or afternoon start time to choose from. But we suspect you’ll love the savory journey so much, you’ll be inclined to sign-up for another session.
Day 7: Enjoy the vista and the vibe at Deck 5 Pool & Skybar
For a change in scenery, soak up some sun at Deck 5’s dapper rooftop pool. For a minimum consumption cost, you can claim your spot by the infinity pool, which offers a mesmerizing 180-degree view of the blue-green Caribbean. Make your way down their list of signature cocktails and nibble on dishes like tangy cured prawn aquachiles, ceviches and other casual eats. It’s a lively atmosphere with terrific local DJs spinning on most days.
This trendy roof bar is atop the Carmen Hotel on Calle 8 and is open from 10am to 9pm. If you decide to go, the consumption requirement for the chairs and sun beds is less on Mondays to Wednesdays.
Stick with Bric and you’ll not only discover the perfect Playa del Carmen vacation itinerary ideas. But other perks include stays at most desirable ocean view properties in the Riviera Maya, as well as you own designated ambassador. This professional Playa and hospitality expert has one aim— to deliver the best beach vacation experience on this side of the globe. Paradise awaits!
There are infinite reasons for developing an infatuation with the Rivera Maya. You don’t have to travel far to come face to face with phenomenal natural beauty. Take Playa del Carmen for example, which sits in the heart of the 75-mile stretch of Mexican Caribbean coastline. In the backyard of this little paradise alone is an abundance of memorable things to see and do.
In fact, if you were to cross one thing off the bucket list every week, the site-seeing schedule would fill your weekends for a decade. Not to mention that each year, new attractions, adventure parks, or secluded beaches are added to the catalog. The more you discover, the more you realize the pure and undeniable magnificence of the Yucatan Peninsula and its people.
Adventure and Ancient Cities: The Ultimate Playa del Carmen Day Trip
Whether traveling with friends, family, or as a twosome, this culturally-immersive, full-day trip is for you. The journey begins at Playa del Carmen, continues to the ancient Mayan city of Ek’ Balam, then through Hubiku Cenote Park, with a final stop at the colonial town of Valladolid. You’ll climb the 106 steps of the Acropolis temple, swim in a majestic cenote cavern, explore cathedrals, and sample traditional Mexican fare.
Tip: The adventure lasts from eight to ten hours, which may be long for young children. The hiking portion might not be suitable for parents traveling with infants. As for the rest of the day trip, people of all ages will appreciate the historical and cultural aspects of this special Mexican expedition.
Aim to set off early. You’ll want to absorb every aspect of the journey without feeling rushed. The best scenario is to rent a vehicle if you are temporarily visiting the Mayan Riviera. Hertz on the south end of 10th Avenue in Playa del Carmen or booking on Orbitz.com are two good options.
Driving through the Yucatan Peninsula is very safe and enjoyable. By taking the toll highway 305, you can shave 50 minutes off your trip. You’ll forego the authentic route through small villages and their endless string of ‘topes.’ These dreadful speed bumps pop up every 100 meters within a pueblito. Not only will they increase your drive time, but they’ve also been known to scatter vehicle parts across the road if you’re not paying attention!
While a rental car is ideal, there are plenty of reputable private van services that allow you to customize an itinerary. If you have a group of four or more, a private van tour is the way to go. You can split the cost and have a personal chauffeur willing to stop whenever and wherever you like along the route. A flat rate is determined at the time of the booking and usually includes beverages and even snorkel gear.
Stepping Back In Time At Ek’ Balam
Compared to its neighboring Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba, Ek’ Balam is the least visited of the Mayan ruins in the area. Unlike at the other archeological sites, you’ll avoid large hoards of tourists. The tranquility enhances the sacred ambiance of the city said to be completed around 800 A.D.
Upon entering, you’ll notice marked native trees, particularly the fascinating duo of good versus evil. Known as the Chechem and Chaka trees, this pair grows side by side in the Central American jungle. The Chechen releases a toxic sap that when in contact with human skin, produces a flaming rash. Remarkably, the bark of the nearby Chaka provides the antidote. Another notable tree, the Baalche, is still used to this day to make the ceremonial (and mildly intoxicating) balche wine.
The first interesting structure on the site is a pointed archway erected next to the remnants of a sac-be (elevated Mayan road.) These ‘white roads’ once connected the Mayan empire and led to the nearby Coba and Chichen Itza.
A City In Ruins
Ek’ Balam was inhabited for approximately 1000 years and may have been occupied as early as 100 B.C. The initial major excavation work only began in 1985 and uncovered, not the highest, but certainly one of the Mayan civilization’s most splendid works – The Acropolis. The notable temple is 160 meters long, 70 meters wide and has a height of 31 meters. Archaeologists discovered 72 rooms within the structure, one containing the tomb of the city’s former ruler Ukit Kan Le’k Tok.
Intricate carvings two-thirds of the way up the dominant temple have revealed what is said to be a monstrous jaguar standing guard at the entrance. In the middle of the site are The Twins. The structures showcase carved pillars, which the Maya erected to commemorate important dates or events. Hieroglyphics on one of the pillars depict Ukit Kan Le’k Tok with his massive headdress.
X’Canche: A Natural Swimming Pool
Although 12 square kilometers of this ancient city have been mapped, only the central ceremonial square (about 1 square mile) can be viewed. A kilometer and a half from the site is the beautiful X’Canche cenote. You can rent a bicycle or get a ride on a tricycle, also referred to as a ‘Mayan limousine.’
A separate fee for X’Canche is charged, but the cool waters are inviting after trekking the grounds of Ek’ Balam. You can enjoy the scenic jungle views and the mystical atmosphere from the suspension bridge above the cenote. If you dare, take an exhilarating swing from the rope or zip line into the natural pool.
What to know:
- Parking is free.
- General admission is $211.00 MXN pesos for adults, $70.00 for children 4-12, $144.00 for Mexican residents, and $70.00 for locals. The ticket office accepts cash only and is open from 8 am – 4 pm daily.
- Visitors are allowed to climb the structures. Bring your camera and good walking shoes. The steps are steep and can be smooth and slippery in some places.
- There is a modest Mayan souvenir area. The people are friendly and not aggressive with their sales pitches. Also on the premises is a convenience store selling snacks and beverages.
- You can find plenty of shade on the grounds under one of the many giant Ceiba trees, or sacred Mayan ‘Trees of Life.’
- Guides are available for $500-$600 pesos, but usually, the price is negotiable. Don’t be afraid to ask if there is a valid promotion.
In a rental car, take Luis Donaldo Colosio exit and head west out of Playa del Carmen. You’ll pass the green superstore Bodega Aurrera. This road turns into 305 Federal Highway. The well-maintained road is lined with thick jungle brush and becomes 2 lanes in each direction not long after you’ve exited Playa. Pay close attention because often you’ll see a tarantula or even a monkey attempting to cross the highway.
Follow the Merida Cuota sign, which veers to the right. At the tollbooth, you’ll need to pay 250 – 270 pesos ($15USD) for a small to mid-size vehicle. From here, take the Tizimin exit to Highway 295. Just before the town of Temozon is an agave field (the spiky plants that tequila is produced from.) On the main road in town, you can grab a delicious empanada or stop at a taco stand for some authentic Mexican grub.
Continue on this principal road. When you arrive on the outskirts of the town, you’ll see Cenote Hubiku on the right. We chose to go on to Ek’ Balam first before it got too hot in the day. It’s about a 5-minute drive further down an unpaved road, just follow the signage. Go straight until the dead end and you’ll reach the Ek’ Balam parking lot.
Hubiku Cenote and Park
Next on the itinerary, Hubiku, a picturesque tropical oasis 5 kilometers before Ek’ Balam. Within this impeccable Mayan village are gardens bursting with vibrant, native blooms. On the vast property, you’ll also discover an almost entirely enclosed cenote, along with a tequila museum, hammocks, beverage station, gift shop, and buffet hall.
This is not your basic cenote visit. In addition to the exceptionally warm Mayan welcome, the grounds and facilities are in immaculate condition. The $250 peso entrance fee for foreign visitors includes a buffet lunch, a tequila tasting, cenote access, and lifejackets. Children 10 and under receive a 50% discount.
The buffet features a variety of traditional Yucatecan cuisine. You’ll have a chance to sample popular regional dishes such as cochinita pibil and Tres Leche cakes for dessert. Besides the delicious spread, you’re in for a treat. But no spoil alert here, you’ll have to go to see it for yourself.
Afterward, follow the gravel path leading to the tequila factory. A brief tour gives an introduction to the history of tequila and its production process. You’ve possibly tried añejo and reposado, but this is a rare opportunity to sip tequilas infused with peanut, coconut, and coffee flavors.
Into The Deep
Last but not least, you’ll proceed to a staircase leading to the underground wonder, Cenote Hubiku. Each step down reveals more splendor. By the time you reach the first platform, the magnitude of this beautiful, natural pool’s beauty will astound you. It’ll leave you in awe, so give yourself a couple of minutes to take it all in. A small opening in the cave’s ceiling allows just enough sunlight through. Not only does the natural light illuminate the breathtaking limestone formations, but it also highlights its clear, emerald-colored, waters.
Lifejackets and lockers are available, but you have to bring a lock. Or you can set your bags in a corner and dive in. Floating in the cool waters of this thousand-year-old cavern will be a high point of the day.
Last Stop: Valladolid
It’s hard to top the fun you’ll have had up to this point, but the magical encounters keep on coming. The grand finale takes place at Valladolid, about 12 kilometers from Temozon. This small colonial city, with its rich history and charming character, received the honor of being one of the country’s 112 Pueblos Magicos, or Magical Towns in 2012.
Valladolid was constructed in 1545 upon the Mayan village of Zaci. It is believed that the revolution that sparked the Caste War first ignited here. A monument just outside the downtown core is dedicated to six local heroes. These brave young men fought to their death to hold off the US Army at the Castle of Chapultepec in Mexico City.
In the center of Valladolid, is a picturesque square with park benches and a fountain at its heart. The bustling Parque Francisco Canton presents the perfect chance to get a taste of the Mexican life. There are vendors selling ice cream and marquesitas (crispy Nutella and cheese crepes typical in the Yucatan.) Residents catch a break from the piercing sun under the shade of the massive trees throughout the scenic plaza. On the streets surrounding the park, are multi-hued hotels, shops as well as the towering Cathedral de San Gervasio.
The City’s Dark Past
In the 19th century, Mayan natives revolted against the Spanish hacienda owners due to the mistreatment of the indigenous people. Mayan landowners along with their families who had taken refuge inside the cathedral were found and massacred inside the cathedral. Innocent bodies were scattered from the entrance to the altar. As a consequence of the horrific bloodshed, it is believed a curse was placed on the church.
Despite grim tales of its past, Valladolid maintains a cheerful and appealing allure. The quaint, walkable city boasts a myriad of charming artisan shops and restored mansions that have been converted into hotels and restaurants. There is also a museum with the largest collection of privately owned Mexican folk art called La Casa de Los Venados.
Before leaving one of Mexico’s most friendly cities, be sure to make a pit-stop at the Convent de San Bernardino. Built in 1560, the mustard-colored building features finely carved altarpieces as well as a row of archways in its frontal façade. In addition to housing the evangelical Franciscan Friars, the convent also once contained the cell that held the famous pirate Lorencillos.
What you should know about the Convent de San Bernardino:
- There’s an entrance fee of $50 pesos
- A free, historical video mapping show takes place each night on the exterior walls. At 9:00 p.m. the audio is in Spanish and at 9:30, it’s in English
- Open daily from 8 am – 7 pm
- The most advanced water wheel of its time sits in the well in the garden at the back of the property
This easy day trip from Playa del Carmen is an experience you and your travel companions will not soon forget. With historical and cultural components along with a hint of adventure, this mini getaway is a must when visiting the Riviera Maya.
So you decided to celebrate the holidays at the beach this year. You look forward to spending some uninterrupted, quality time with those who are most important to you. However, just because you’re in a different country, doesn’t mean you have to forego the festivities.
We’ve put together a list of current events happening in Playa del Carmen during the week of Christmas. We hope the information provided will give you some ideas for fun, while seeing some areas of the city you might not have thought about visiting. But our biggest wish is that these activities will help to keep you in the spirit of the season!
Taste a Marquesita at Plaza 28 de Julio
(15th Avenue between Calle 8 & 10)
This city center plaza is the location of the Municipal building where residents and visitors often gather to celebrate special events. During this time of year, the park is adorned with deep, red poinsettias and is lit up with Christmas displays including a giant tree and a manger scene. Within the open courtyard at the entrance of the Palacio Municipal building is a massive, detailed mural depicting aspects of the ancient Mayan culture as well as native animals.
Throughout the park are food carts selling authentic nibbles like Marquesitas. This thin, rolled, crispy wafer-like crepe is filled with your choice of nutella or cajeta (a toffee syrup) and sometimes sprinkled with grated cheese. It is a sweet, Yucatecan treat that you can savor while strolling through the park and taking in the festive sights and sounds.
Say ‘Hi’ to Santa at Playacar Center
Located within Playacar on the south end of the city across from the hotel zone, this shopping plaza hosts many free events. On December 22nd and 23rd, grab an ice cream, check out the artisan shops and get a photo with the jolly old man in the red suit! Santa will be on-site from 7pm – 9pm.
Christmas Celebration at El Pueblito in Mayakoba
(Along the 307 Hwy 10 minutes north of Playa del Carmen)
On December 22 from 6pm – 11pm, the charming, little Mexican village within the gates of Mayakoba, will host a holiday event. Taste Christmas cuisine prepared by renowned chefs from the prestigious Mayakoba resorts. For drinks, mezcals, tequilas, wines and craft beers will be available and live music will set the festive mood.
The admission price is $100 pesos ($5USD) and the drinks are $50 pesos ($2.50US) each. If you feel inclined, you can donate a toy to the collection for disadvantaged children in nearby communities.
Hot Chocolate and People Watching at Quinta Alegria Mall
(5th Avenue and Constituyentes)
Every night, the Quinta Alegria shopping center shines bright with its festive colors. Nearby stands a huge decorated tree and inside are brand name stores like Sanborns, Forever 21, Bebe, American Outfitters, and Aldo.
With ample outdoor seating at the Starbucks, this is a prime spot to take in some live entertainment scheduled almost every evening at this lively spot in the heart of the city. There are often artisan vendor booths set up as well in the center courtyard, which makes it convenient if you’d like to pick up some local, original products to take home as a souvenir.
Just around the corner from the mall, one block south on 5th Avenue, local artists set up shop along the cobblestone street. You can view the exhibit of striking paintings and photographs most evenings (except for Mondays).
The Jingle Run at Mayakoba
(Along the 307 Hwy, 10 minutes north of Playa del Carmen)
This event will make you feel good any way you look at it. It’s a 5km run through the scenic grounds of Mayakoba. The registration costs $100 pesos ($5USD), which will be donated to a local charity. Plus, after all of this exercise, you can treat yourself to an extra Lindt chocolate or helping of mashed potatoes without the guilt!
The run will take place on December 23 from 8am – 10am and all ages are welcome.
Christmas Day Buffet at Wah Wah (Calle 2 and the beach)
Every year, Wah Wah Beach Bar puts on a fantastic buffet of traditional holiday favorites. Enjoy turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, fresh bread and delicious, buttered, local chayote (in the squash family).
The holiday buffet will be on the 25th from 4pm – 7pm and the cost is $300 pesos ($15USD) per person.
Casa Sofia Christmas Eve Dinner
(Plaza Coba on Aviation Road near Playacar)
This popular eatery is serving an exquisite 4-course dinner, with your choice of cream soup, crustacean ravioli or pansotti, stuffed turkey or fillet of salmon and dessert. The price is $590 pesos ($29.50USD) per person and includes a glass of wine. For more information or reservations, please visit their web page.
Imprevist Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Dinner
(1st Avenue between Calle 14 and 16)
For two days, Imprevist is offering a stuffed turkey breast dinner with cranberry sauce, brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes and gravy for a cost of $17USD.
Reservations are recommended, as tables at this delightful, intimate eatery are some of the most sought-after in town. The festive dinner will be served from 6pm 11pm on December 24th and 25th.
Christmas Eve Dinner at La Casa del Agua
(Calle 2 and 5th Avenue)
We love the elegant setting at this fine dining establishment overlooking the vibrant 5th Avenue. On the 24th of December, La Casa del Agua has put together a special menu, which includes a welcome cocktail, salad, stuffed turkey dinner and dessert.
Choose from a list of over 300 select wines from 9 countries to accompany your holiday meal. The price is $550 pesos ($27.50USD) per person and reservations are recommended.
Christmas Eve Mass
If you’re interested in going to a Christmas Eve church service, there are three masses at the Catholic church on 15th Avenue and Calle 12 at 6pm, 8pm and 10pm on the 24th. At the chapel on south end of 5th Avenue at Benito Juarez, there are also three masses at 6pm, 7pm and 8pm on the evening of the 24th.
Stay In And Celebrate With Your Loved Ones
Opting to stay in to indulge in chocolates and a Christmas movie marathon might be just what a usually insanely busy family is looking for. The majority of Bric Vacation Rentals’ homes come with a fully equipped kitchen for preparing a holiday feast with all the fixings. An added bonus? Call our friendly ambassador team to have the fridge stocked with the items you’ll need and skip the lines at the grocery store!
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a joyful, prosperous New Year from the BRIC team!
Merida is full of delightful surprises as well as a familiar charm one would anticipate to encounter in a Mexican town. There is a history that the people of Merida are proud to share with visitors and a passion for cultural preservation that is evident in every meticulously restored colonial building and every exuberant festival.
Not envisioning anything of the dazzling sort, we approached the outskirts of the city with mediocre expectations. We zigzagged through the maze of narrow streets towards our downtown hotel. Eventually we arrived, thankful for the guidance Google maps had provided.
Hotel Mision Panamericana Merida was the first of the many pleasant discoveries on our weekend getaway. For any of you who have experience booking a hotel online, you know it can go either way. We’ve stayed at some that far exceeded our expectations, while others utterly disappointed and completely failed to portray the actual conditions of the property. This restored hotel was a gem, with helpful staff and a lovely courtyard with a central fountain. Its convenient location allowed for us to set off each day on foot, to discover Merida’s magic.
Tip: It’s not always easy to find a room that accommodates a family of 5. This hotel offers a spacious family room with 2 doubles and a twin bed so we were all able to sleep comfortably.
Merida has a personality like no other city I’ve experienced in Mexico. It’s a bustling urban center, with a fascinating contradiction of vintage meets modern. You can spend some time in the colorful city center amongst the centuries old cathedrals, perusing the grand mercado (a typical Mexican market) or drive along the north end of Paseo Montejo and find sprawling, ultramodern shopping centers, galleries and luxury car dealerships.
The colonial city, located just under three hours from Playa del Carmen on the new 305 Federal Highway, has become a desirable landing-place for expats from the United States, Canada and Europe. Woven through the tight-knit fabric of the Yucatecan community, a large conglomerate of international artists thrives.
Tip: The 305 Highway is a toll highway with two tollbooths from Playa del Carmen to Merida. You can expect to pay around $320 pesos ($16.40USD) one-way.
Our first order of business was the Lucas de Galvez Mercado, a 2-level market with hundreds of merchant stalls spanning several blocks. The vendors were peddling every item imaginable from flowers to apparel to jewelry. You could buy your produce and meat for the day, pick up a cloned Kate Spade bag and get a new pair of sandals in a matter of minutes. The place was a buzz with vendors enticing passersby with their wares and buyers leaving the crowded shops with a bag filled with goodies. To give you an idea of the prices, my two daughters and I came back with six pairs of shoes for $580.00 Mexican pesos, which is the equivalent to about $30USD (or 5 bucks per pair!)
Tip: The market opens early, so try to get there in the morning as the narrow aisles become jammed with people by the afternoon.
There are 13 parks within the old city center, each featuring a cathedral engulfed by an army of trees standing tall against azure skies. The picturesque trees provide nice shade for the couples, families and elders seated contentedly on the benches catching up or watching their little ones chase pigeons. Plaza Grande is the main park or zocalo in the downtown core. We came upon this area our first evening on our search for a restaurant.
This busy plaza is the location of the Palacio Municipal building of Merida. The building is a vibrant green hue with halls featuring curved archways. Inside is a gorgeous courtyard flooded by sunlight. The natural light accentuates the remarkable details of the paintings that cover the walls of the building’s interior. On the second floor, you can have respite from the heat and rest on the benches or take advantage of the prime position to view the bustling square below.
Tip: There is no admission fee to enter the Palacio Municipal. It is open from 9-6pm Monday to Friday.
Free, 90-minute walking tours with bilingual guides are offered at 9:30a.m. from this government building. Visitors are guided through the plaza and introduced to the principal historic buildings and a few other points of interest.
We opted to take in some sights via horse and carriage through the old town center. On the 45-minute tour, the driver explained each block as we passed through and told a story of Merida’s first saloon which is still operating today. The old-time bar is complete with the outdoor poles and troughs, which were used to fasten the horses and keep them watered, while their owners were inside enjoying refreshments of their own.
Tip: The cost of the horse and carriage ride was $400 pesos for the whole family. We boarded in Plaza Grande in front of the OXXO convenience store.
At dusk, people began to gather in the square in front of the stately church with its two bell towers. Curious, I asked a local about the crowd that waited outside the Merida Cathedral. He informed me that before it had been built, a Mayan city had stood in that same area. On the site and surrounding perimeter were various stone structures including a pyramid said to be taller than El Castillo at Chichen Itza. Spanish conquerors had ordered the Mayan inhabitants to dismantle their city and its palaces, and then use those sacred stones to construct the cathedral. He said that large groups assemble every Saturday evening for a viewing of the light show, which highlights the history behind the church and illuminates the massive cathedral.
By this time, we were in the mood to sit down for a cocktail and try some authentic Yucatecan food. We found a place bordering Plaza Grande on the opposite side of the cathedral, where a woman sat at a fire warming hand-made tortillas. The tortillas were great, but unfortunately the food was not. We tried dishes like cochinita pibil, marinated pork in an orange and achiote rub that is usually to-die-for but just didn’t cut it at this place. Perhaps we would have been better off sampling the tacos from one of the carts set up within the park.
Plaza Grande was a happening place that weekend. As we sat and dined, dozens of competing runners jogged by towards the finish line of the Rock ‘n Roll Merida Half Marathon. There was also a throng of Meridians erecting special tables, altars and mini palapas for Hanal Pixan. This event begins on October 31 each year and is the Mayan people of the Yucatan’s unique version of the Dia de los Muertos Festival (Day of the Dead.)
On the way back to our hotel, we quickly peeked into the impressive Teatro Peon Contreras and were awed by its grandeur. The staircases, the pillars and the early 1900s design were magnificent. In addition to hosting events such as cultural dances, children’s festivals, operas and theatrical performances, it is the main venue for the Yucatan Symphony Orchestra.
The next day while half of our crew went for a round of golf, we decided to visit the historical center of Paseo Montejo. This nearly 5 mile, immaculate main avenue is where you’ll find a striking mix of new and old. On its modern north end are sprawling shopping centers, (The Galeria Mall even has an ice rink!) Costco, and typical American restaurant franchises like Chili’s and TGI Fridays. However, as we headed south, our eyes lit up at the sight of one outstanding, restored mansion after another.
The cultural society of Merida has done an excellent job at preserving the historic legacy of these splendid buildings. Many have been converted into office buildings, business centers or museums. Banamex operates out of Casa Museo Montes, for example, which was built around 1902. A few of the rooms are open to visitors and guided tours in both English and Spanish are available for a cost of $75 pesos ($4USD). The exterior of the pristine palace alone is extraordinary, while inside are ornate furnishings, original to that time period made from precious woods.
Tip: The tours last approximately 40 minutes between 9 and 5 Monday to Friday and 9 and 1 on Saturdays.
Continuing along the scenic, tree-lined Paseo Montejo, we came upon the Monument to the Homeland. The masterpiece depicts through a great number of intricate carvings, various important aspects of the country and its history. There are images of the Maya, the eagle (Mexico’s national symbol) as well as the shield of the city of Merida.
Tip: Uber driver service successfully operates in Merida and is an economical option for getting around. Just download the app and choose from the list of available private drivers in your area.
We spent the afternoon taking hundreds of photos, sipping coconut infused horchata (a creamy, sweetened rice milk with cinnamon), and shopping near our hotel in the downtown area. It was incredible to see merchants still operating modern day businesses out of what looked like a film set from a country and western movie way back in the day.
A friend from Playa was also in town attempting to finish her project of restoring a hundred year old home. She invited us to visit her and welcomed us at the oversized metal door, which was surrounded by a concrete exterior wall with peeling paint. To our amazement, we entered the property, which seemed to go on forever. There were cathedral ceilings with exposed wooden beams, newly polished floor tiles from the early 1900s and a serene garden in the back with fruit trees and a pool.
On our last night, we ate at the highly recommended Oaxacan restaurant, Apoala in the trendy Santa Lucia plaza. The menu was vast and offered traditional Mexican dishes like mole (a rich dark salsa made with a variety of chiles, chocolate and nuts), arrachera (tender skirt steak) and even flavorful fried grasshoppers!
After dinner, the girls and I followed an enticing aroma that led two doors down to the Ki’Xocolatl Chocolate Shop. We checked out some small pieces of Mexican folk art and took our time deciding which delicious sample of fine chocolate to take home with us. Through this charming café and store, you can book a tour that takes you on an expedition to their factory and cacao plantation. Although we didn’t book this tour, it would be interesting to see the groves of cacao trees and all the work that goes into producing one of my all-time favorite treats!
My friend’s home was a perfect example of the treasures you encounter in Merida. This is just one of the city’s enamoring characteristics I fell in love with. Around every turn was an enchanting surprise. The shopkeepers, hotel staff and pedestrians we met, all presented an approachable aura. When asking for directions, one kind soul not only pointed the way, but also proceeded to walk about 8 blocks to lead us to our destination. While maneuvering through the city, other cars on more than one occasion, allowed us to cut in when we found ourselves in the wrong lane. Our Uber driver stopped a handful of times without me asking, so that I could take photos along Paseo Montejo. He seemed to be quite familiar with the history and was happy to share what he knew.
After spending a significant amount of time in Mexico and taking in the sights and sounds of several of its magnificent cities, I have to say that the colorful, colonial architecture of Merida turned me into a trigger happy photog like never before.
Unfortunately, we only caught a glimpse of the Hanal Pixan festival. But the enthusiasm to keep the Mexican and Mayan culture alive and thriving is clearly noticeable in the many free performances. The city’s packed calendar of events is also proves the city’s passion for their culture.
The deep sense of pride and the hospitality of the Yucatecan people that we witnessed on the streets, in the markets and even in traffic were as warm and as addictive as fresh out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies and I will definitely go back for more!
Tip: Make sure to leave time in your Merida itinerary to stop at the town of Izamal. Known also as ‘The Yellow Town,’ this quaint colonial city is most definitely a sight to see. There is a historic Franciscan convent constructed so that it appears to tower above and keep watch over the town. All of the buildings’ facades are painted a deep yellow and there is a street market, horse and carriage rides as well as cultural festivities on a regular basis. It was given the honor of being one of Mexico’s ‘Magical Towns’ and it is 45 minutes from Merida.
Now that Playa del Carmen is on the map as a world-class beach destination, you may be familiar with it or at least know of someone who has spent time here. Once travelers have the opportunity to absorb the majestic air of Playa del Carmen, most become repeat visitors.
Whether you’ve never been to Playa del Carmen or you’re guilty of spending an entire Riviera Maya vacation in the confines of an all-inclusive, don’t worry, we’re not going to hold that against you. But you should know, there are literally hundreds of fun-filled, enriching experiences to be had within this vast area of sublime, exotic wilderness.
The region bursts with jaw-dropping natural beauty and offers a long list of stimulating diversion for visitors of any age. Moreover, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where Playa del Carmen is located, features a safe and well-maintained highway system. Exploring the area on your own is as easy-breezy as a day at the beach.
The options for family fun and adventure are endless. Here is a sample of what your clan can see and do on a weeklong getaway in Playa del Carmen.
Where to stay
For families, a vacation rental is the highly recommended accommodation option. Younger kids can go to sleep in their designated room, while parents can still enjoy down time at night in their own space versus being cramped together in one hotel room.
Have no fear! You can still count on amenities such as a pool, beach clubs, concierge and cleaning services. But you benefit more from having the freedom to determine a schedule that works for your family rather than revolve around the hotel restaurant and activity schedule. Plus, by staying in a vacation rental, chances are better that you’ll explore beyond the property. By engaging in the local mix, you’re more likely to taste authentic flavors and encounter sights or special events that give you a true sense of the spellbinding city and its people.
Condo-hotels such as The Elements, Magia Playa and Paseo Del Sol are superb family-friendly options in Playa del Carmen. Services are available to help you plunge into vacation mode as soon as you step off the plane. Before you arrive, have your booking agent arrange for a convenient airport transfer as well as have your fridge stocked with every item you might need. You and your children will appreciate the comfortable home away from home feeling, while still being able to savour the heavenly, tropical vacation setting.
Day 1: Hit the beach!
Once the crew has settled in and slipped into casual Playa del Carmen attire, head to Los Aguachiles for a bite to eat. There are two locations, open for lunch and dinner, one on Constituyentes in between 5th & 15th Avenue and the other is on Calle 34 and 25th Avenue. The fresh menu features a variety of seafood tacos and crispy tostadas shells heaped with combinations of fish, octopus and jumbo prawns cured in lime. To compliment the delicious eats, these guys make the best carbonated lemonade (limonada mineral) and Micheladas (cold beer with lime and spices).
Tip: For a list of top restaurants on and off of 5th Avenue, check out our staff’s guide to their personal favorites.
After everyone has had their fill, pack your beach bag! It’s time to check out the glorious stretch of Riviera Maya coastline that Playa del Carmen sits upon. If you do choose to stay at The Elements or Magia Playa, the beach is a stone’s throw away. Your family will love the food and beverage service, volleyball court and ample shaded loungers at the exclusive beach club at The Elements. At Paseo del Sol, guests have access to the beach via The Reef Hotel located across the street (under a 10-minute walk away).
There are a few points in the city at which you are able to access the public beach. From the north end of Playa del Carmen, there is CTM near Canibal Royal Beach Club and The Elements. Right down from the BRIC offices on Calle 38, there is a nice stretch of beach to spread the blanket on. Mamitas Beach Club at Calle 28 offers beach beds and lounge chairs for rent and includes pool access. Lido Beach Club is located on near Calle 12 and offers a perfect beach vibe with good food and music. Zenzi is another amazing ocean front beach club and bar that features live music throughout the day and into the night. INTI Holistic Centre at Calle 4 offers a terrific zen vibe. Finally, at the south end near the ferry terminal to Cozumel, the beach is wide and the turquoise views continue on forever. As you meander past Señor Frogs, the beaches tend to become less and less crowded the farther south you go.
Wherever you choose to park yourself for the day, it is bound to be the ideal start to your Playa del Carmen beach vacation.
Day 2: Swim with turtles and see a cenote.
Just 25 minutes south of Playa del Carmen along the federal 307 highway, are a string of limestone sinkholes known as cenotes. The crystal clear, natural swimming pools present a wonderful opportunity to keep cool in our warm Riviera Maya climate. The cenotes are fed from the largest underwater river in the world so the water always provides a welcome cooling sensation.
We recommend going early in the day around 10:00 a.m. to avoid the crowds. Two hours is plenty of time to explore, snorkel and jump from modest stone ledges into the refreshing waters. Your family will be awed by these extraordinary phenomena which conceal themselves within the thick jungle brush throughout the Yucatan Peninsula.
Three top choices near Playa del Carmen are Cenote Eden, Cenote Azul and Cenote Cristalino. Most have bathrooms, change rooms, lifejackets and snorkel gear rentals. Be sure to bring pesos with you for the entrance fees, which are around $70-100 pesos ($4-5USD). Since they sit along the highway, you cannot miss them. If you do not have a vehicle, you can take a van taxi or Colectivo from Playa that will cost you approximately $40 Mxn ($2.50 US) each way per person. Just notify the driver where you want to go and he will call out your stop and let you off there.
Taxi service is convenient in Playa del Carmen, but not always the most economical. A private van that typically can transport up to nine passengers averages about $3000 pesos ($176 US) for the whole day. The service is door to door and the driver often provides a cooler with bottled water and pop. At your request, sometimes beer and snorkel equipment can be included as well. If you are traveling with a group or two families, this is the way to go as you can split the cost. The drivers are very flexible and can help you customize a memorable adventure.
Next on the itinerary is swimming with sea turtles in Akumal Bay, only 5 minutes down the road from the cenotes. This tranquil bay is protected by a portion of the Mesoamerican Reef System, where sea turtles, stingrays, a variety of coral and reef fish make their home. Being able to view such a colorful array of marine life up close and personal is a surreal encounter with nature your family will talk about for years to come.
Tours from Akumal Dive Shop on the beach offer experienced guides and snorkel equipment for children and adults. Since there is a bit of a current around the reef, this activity is recommended for children 6 and up. The guides have a life preserver ring for the children to grab hold of as they take the group to all the best locations in the bay where the underwater life thrives. Furthermore, the dive shop provides lockers for storing your valuables while you are out on the hour long tour.
A few restaurants that sit along the powdery sand serve casual fare like fish tacos, ceviche, burgers, fries, pizza and pasta. The picturesque scene from these open air eateries will captivate you as you enjoy icy cocktails and tales of your reef encounter.
Tip: Please remember to wear eco-friendly sunblock in order to preserve the vitality of the reef. Touching the turtles and the coral is prohibited. It is strongly advised that visitors keep a distance of 2 meters from the marine life.
Day 3: Enjoy down time by the pool.
After a fun-filled day on the road, your group will appreciate the relaxed setting around the pool. Prep a thermos of minty mojitos and laze about with a good read as the children spend hours splashing around in the pristine pool.
If you are staying at an ocean front property, bring a body board to the beach and ride the ways with the kiddos. Comb the shore for rare seashells or build a Mayan pyramid in the sand. Have a photo session and let the kids take turns capturing a shot or two. This afternoon of uninterrupted quality time will be something aIl of you will remember fondly.
If you have older kids, they will love a game of beach volleyball. While you are at the nearest superstore, pick up a couple of floating rings or mattresses for the pool. Your teenagers will be set for the day, content to lie back and soak up the sun.
For dinner, La Parilla on Constituyentes and 5th Avenue offers a lively atmosphere and great service. Try authentic Mexican food like enchiladas in a rich, mole sauce or tender arrachera (flank steak) accompanied by a mango margarita. We especially like this restaurant because while you dine, you’ll be entertained by live music courtesy of a traditional mariachi band.
After your delicious meal, stroll down the cobblestones on the vibrant 5th Avenue. There are plenty of shops from which you can pick up comical t-shirts or handicrafts for friends and family back home. Or if you are looking for a little something for yourself, there are endless boutique and jewelry stores as well as galleries presenting a vast selection of mementos to choose from.
Grab a sweet treat at Chez Celine (Playa’s best French bakery) or one of the many gelato cafes and that line the pedestrian-only avenue. As you walk back to your vacation home, watch the impressive street performers who dazzle the crowds with their dance shows every night in Playa del Carmen.
Day 4: Explore Xcaret Park
There are dozens of options for family-friendly eco-parks in the Riviera Maya. However, there is one that covers all the bases as far as an introduction to the culture, history, fauna and spectacular nature of this region. Xcaret Park is located just five minutes from Playa del Carmen and has so many fascinating activities and attractions that you may need two days to visit them all.
For nature-lovers, you can float along Paradise River, an underground river system that takes you through mangrove areas and stunning limestone caves. The kids will be blown away by the array of wildlife in the park, including flamingos, scarlet macaws, tapirs, monkeys, butterflies, sea turtles and over 5000 marine organisms in the Coral Reef Aquarium.
There is a replica, multi-hued Mexican Cemetery as well as a Mayan village in the heart of the jungle. In World of Children (for ages 0-12), the little ones will squeal with delight on the water slides and appreciate the refreshing waters of the cenotes.
The vast park also has a schedule of cultural shows throughout the day. The family can partake in one enriching experience after another as you learn about the history and culture of Mexico and the ancient Mayan civilization. Watch the Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flying Men), a ceremonial dance that takes place on top of a towering pole. As well, there is a remarkable equestrian show put on by stately horses and their riders – las adelitas and los charros, or traditional Mexican cowboys.
There are chapels, archaeological sites and a sensational two-hour grand finale in the evening. This awe-inspiring spectacle depicts the country’s significant historical events and cultural pride through song, dance and theatrics. To experience Xcaret Park to the fullest, requires an entire day. The crew will be exhausted by the end, but you will be glad that you made time to visit. You can explore, eat and drink to your heart’s content since the park is all-inclusive. There is a general admittance that includes the majority of the park activities. However, additional attractions such as an adrenaline pumping speed boat ride, sea trek, stingray and dolphin encounters are available for an extra cost.
Tip: To get a 15% discount, book your passes online 21 days prior. Children 0-4 are free and kids aged 5-11 are 50% off the adult price. Present your Mexican passport and you can also receive the Mexican national discount during select periods.
Day 5: Soak up the sun.
Quiet days on the beach are just what the doctor ordered after a full day of activities at Xcaret. One of the many fabulous aspects of Playa del Carmen is that there is ample opportunity to connect with nature and rejuvenate.
INTI Holistic Center and Beach Club is one of those sublime spots that transports you to a new and heavenly dimension so beautiful, it’s difficult to leave. Located at Calle 4 on the beach, INTI offers oceanfront yoga and paddleboard classes. Sander from Aloha Paddle Club is great with children and often takes his own 10-month-old daughter out on the water with him.
There is plenty of comfortable seating where the family can kick back, share plates from the fresh healthy menu and sip on cocos frios (cold coconut water right from the shell). Since you’re on vacation, ask your friendly server to bring an adult version of the coco frio with an ounce of Malibu rum. Salud!
Once the sun goes down, a visit to Alux is next on the agenda. This marvelous restaurant and bar was featured in a Buzzfeed article for being one of the 21 most insanely unique bars in the world. It’s situated beneath the earth’s surface with tables set amidst a series of caves. Chandeliers highlight the extraordinary stalactites that have formed from thousands of years of calcium deposits.
There is a lounge setting towards the back with DJs and bistro tables for drinks, but the restaurant area near the entrance is family-friendly. Alux presents a non-typical dining atmosphere you will surely only experience once in your lifetime.
Day 6: Coba Ruins and Valladolid
The Yucatan Peninsula is filled with treasures and getting to them is quite simple. If you have rented a vehicle for the week, Coba and Valladolid are an easy day trip from Playa del Carmen (under two hours away.) Begin your day at the Coba Mayan archaeological site with an optional hour and a half tour. The guides are knowledgeable and help to bring the remnants alive with their stories and historical facts.
Coba is one of our favorites for several reasons. There are many trees that provide shade from the relentless Mexican sun. Bike rentals are available for both adults and children, as well as tricycle taxis for those who would rather be chauffeured from one structure to the next. Thirdly, visitors are able to climb the main pyramid at the end of the tour. Ascending up the ancient steps of Nohoch Mul then standing at its peak, overlooking the vastness of the jungle will take your breath away.
After a couple of hours at the ruins, you’ll be ready for lunch in the colonial city of Valladolid, only a half hour drive from Coba. This Pueblo Magico (one of Mexico’s Magical Towns) has earned the reputation for being the friendliest city in Mexico. Not exactly a cosmopolitan, urban center, Valladolid, has much to offer its visitors.
Two gems worth stopping by for a bite to eat are El Meson del Marques and Yerbabuena. Previously a mansion of one of the area’s wealthy families, El Meson del Marques has been converted into one of the city’s top choice hotels. Its restaurant boasts an elaborate, open-air courtyard where tables surround a tranquil fountain and a woman dressed in a traditional Mayan huipil sits at a stone fire pit warming handmade tortillas. The cochinita pibil (pulled pork) or chile relleno (poblano chile stuffed with ground beef and cheese bathed in a mild red salsa) are two popular regional dishes to try.
Yerbabuena is a second Valladolid eatery where you can taste some of the region’s typical fare. It is open for breakfast and lunch and features delicious menu options such as chayote squash stuffed with quinoa, Oaxacan mole, and fresh chia lemonade. Choose a table in the lovely garden patio and enjoy the fresh flavours and local dishes.
Find parking near the main plaza, have lunch then walk across the bustling plaza to Valladolid’s famous colonial cathedral, La Iglesia de San Gervasio. There are dozens of artisan shops and quaint little stores to peruse around the square as well as boundless photo opportunities to remember this mini Yucatan Peninsula road trip.
Other points of interest to add to your list of things to do in Valladolid are Casa de los Venados, which hosts a large, private collection of Mexican folk art and the Convent of San Bernardino. Last but not least, take the family to Cacao, a Mayan factory and store where you can observe how chocolate is produced from cacao nibs. If your children love cenotes as much as the local kids in Playa del Carmen, there are several in the town and near Valladolid including one of the most famously photographed cenotes, Ik Kil.
Day 7: Get up early and stay out late.
Since your final day in paradise has arrived, you are going to want to soak up every last bit of sunshine, beach time and Mexican ambiance you can. The enchanting city of Playa del Carmen faces east, which means you can enjoy some spectacular Caribbean sunrises. Slide into your flip flops and make yourselves comfortable on the silky sand to watch Mother Nature put on an explosive show of colors over the turquoise sea.
For breakfast, Cueva del Chango (The Monkey’s Cave) on Calle 38 in between 5th Avenue and the beach is one of our beloved local hangouts. Try all-star Mexican brunch dishes such as chilaquiles, sopes or juevos divorciados (eggs cooked to your liking topped with half green and half red salsa.)
This long-standing eatery is known for having the friendliest staff in town and serves a delicious blended house juice made with nutrient-packed Chaya leaves. Half of the tables are outdoors, engulfed in a tropical garden setting. The others sit under a domed roof decorated with colourful glass bottles embedded within its mortar. In the center of the restaurant is a pond replete with Koi fish, lily pads and turtles.
Absorb every ray of warm Mexican sunshine in the afternoon. Breathe in the sea air and savor the blue-green views with your toes in the sand. Have a massage by the pool or finish off that book you’ve finally had the time to delve into this week.
You cannot leave Mexico without trying some authentic tacos al pastor. Eating tacos in good company is an all-time favorite pastime for Mexicans. El Fogon is our go-to taqueria with three downtown locations. The experienced cooks know how to make excellent tacos and slow roast the marinated pork on an upright spit all day long. The tender pork is shaved into a taco shell and served with a slice of pineapple, onions, cilantro and your choice of spicy green or red salsa on the side.Your taste buds will thank you, but your tongue may curse you if it is not accustomed to hot sauce. If this is the case, we encourage you to wash down the tacos with an ice-cold glass of horchata (a sweetened rice milk with cinnamon) or jamaica (a sweet hibiscus tea.)
If you can squeeze it in, Joya by Cirque du Soleil is an incredible live show that takes place in a magical venue just 20 minutes north of Playa del Carmen. The riveting show is a feast for the eyes and presents an array of colorful theatrical performers as well as contortionists and acrobats.
If you want to stay close to home, there is much to see at night along the lively 5th Avenue. Witness fire jugglers, Mayan warriors and marimba bands providing entertainment on this bustling street that stretches across the city’s downtown core.
If you have an upcoming beach vacation in Playa del Carmen, we hope these ideas serve you well when it comes to planning activities to keep your family engaged. This is a great starter guide if you have never been to the Riviera Maya. However, there are so many more options to choose from if you are looking for new experiences you will never forget. Contact our office and one of our friendly Bric ambassadors will be happy to make suggestions or help you coordinate the trip of a lifetime.