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!
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With direct flights starting at as little as $196 round-trip from Dallas and under $400 from Los Angeles, New York and Vancouver, you can dip your toes in Mexico’s turquoise Caribbean 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 the rental but receive complimentary transportation at arrival and special treats at check-in. Booking direct 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 an even more budget-friendly accommodation option for two, Bric Hotel and Spa in the downtown core presents 14 charming rooms to choose from. Its prime location means you are just steps from the city’s best eateries and 2.5 blocks from Mamitas Beach Club. The property features a plunge pool engulfed in a tropical garden, a highly rated spa as well as a hot breakfast served daily in the poolside restaurant.
When staying with Bric Vacation Rentals, guests receive exceptional services from designated Bric Ambassador’s. From arranging transportation, excursions and providing dining recommendations, to booking spa appointments and ensuring your stay is a comfortable one, your go-to Playa del Carmen expert will help you coordinate your most memorable beach vacation.
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 and let Bric’s friendly staff stock your fridge so that you have everything you need (including a cold six-pack of beer) waiting for you upon arrival.
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.
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 such as El Faro, Aldea Thai and Magia Playa, not only boast spectacular views of the Caribbean but also sophisticated pool areas to relax around while 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 as well as 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 that will give you insight into Mexico’s ancient history, its rare natural beauty and the chance to taste 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. Travel Yucatan offers affordable private tour and transportation options throughout the region for those without the desire to rent a car. If you are 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 will 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 the beach town of 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 while you snorkel and swim in the alluring translucent waters.
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 be sure to use only eco-friendly sunblock to help sustain the turtles, fish 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 if you want to hear the fascinating stories of this mysterious culture or the history behind each structure.
There is a good chance that you will see spider monkeys and you’ll most definitely get up close and personal with an iguana or two. The setting, in the heart of the jungle, is very serene and during the fall, there are fewer visitors.
Bicycles or a ‘Mayan Limousine’ (a tricycle taxi for 2), are available to rent for $50-$100 pesos. These rentals are not necessary as the path leading to the massive 137-meter high pyramid, Nohoch Mul is under a half hour walk. This sacred Mayan temple is one of the few ancient structures in the Yucatan Peninsula that visitors can still climb. The view overlooks the seemingly endless jungle and town of Coba. Standing at the top tends to leave one with a deeply peaceful sensation.
The final leg of your incredible day trip takes you to Gitano, one of Tulum’s chic jungle havens. 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 a top chef and sip on 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 a bit pricey, but 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 love the idea of putting your feet up by the pool or lying under a thatched palapa on the beach with a margarita.
In the afternoon, when the sun begins to set and takes with it some of the midday heat, there are hundreds of boutique and brand name stores to visit along the city’s most famed cobblestone street. This is a good time to purchase a piece of jewellry from Jula Luma as a keepsake from your Mexican vacation. Or add a one-of-a-kind cover-up or dress from La Troupe to your beachwear collection. Amidst 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 touristy 5th Avenue is Luma Taverna del Mar on Calle 38 just before the beach. 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 highly recommended.
Day 5: All-inclusive hotel day plus Rauxa dinner show
25 minutes south of Playa 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. It is a feast for the eyes, which the impressive 4-course dinner has a hard time competing with.
You have a choice to purchase tickets to attend the dinner show portion only, or you can buy a day pass for only $10US more and have access to the hotel’s beach, restaurants, bars and pools for the day before the 8pm show.
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 and be sure to tell the driver that you are going to Catalonia Royal Hotel “por favor”.
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 traveling with a group of 4, this is an economical way to get there when you consider splitting the cost.
The doors of the Rauxa show open at 7:00pm and you will receive a welcome drink once you are escorted to your table. It is 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 and you will be left in awe. If you are not yet ready to call it quits by 10pm, guests of the show are invited to stay for and after party, which runs until midnight.
Day 6: Playa del Carmen Food Tour
Whether you are visiting Playa del Carmen for the first time or you have been before but would like to have an authentic, local experience, this food tour is a fantastic option.
There are few different companies to choose from, but the Food Hopper Mexican Street Food Crawl in Playa del Carmen is a top-notch tour. For $65US, the personable and knowledgeable guide leads you on a tasty expedition to popular local street food stands. You will have a chance to try amazing regional food such as cochinita pibil and tamales, as well as end with a tequila tasting. This is a good opportunity to step off the beaten path and experience the true essence of the city and its people. Not to mention, you can pick up a quality bottle of tequila to bring home with you.
The tour lasts 3 hours and begins at a convenient downtown location. This gives you plenty of time before and after the savory journey, to spend some final moments under a palm tree at the beach or sip ice-cold daiquiris by the pool.
Day 7: Enjoy the vista and the vibe at Deck 5 Pool & Skybar
For a change in scenery, soak up some up the sun near the rooftop pool at the dapper Deck 5 on Calle 8 in Playa del Carmen. For a minimum consumption, you can claim your spot by the 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 pub-style eats. It is a lively atmosphere with terrific local DJs spinning on most days.
This trendy roof bar is atop the Carmen Hotel 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.
Great flight and condo rental prices, your own Bric ambassador and the perfect one-week itinerary– sounds like you have all you need to book an unforgettable Playa del Carmen vacation!
There are infinite reasons why I am infatuated with life in the Rivera Maya. The top being that quite often, an ordinary day turns into something extraordinary. One does not have to travel far to come face to face with natural beauty so riveting that it’s impossible to capture in a photo. There is so much to see and do in Playa del Carmen’s backyard, that for everyone adventure that is crossed off my bucket list, ten others are added. The more I discover, the more I am compelled to share with others, the hundreds of marvelous encounters to be had in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Whether you are traveling with friends, family or as a couple, I highly recommend this incredible, full-day trip. The journey begins at Playa del Carmen, continues on to the ancient Mayan city of Ek’ Balam, then through the Hubiku cenote park, with a final stop at the colonial town of Valladolid. Aim to start out early in the day because time flies when you’re having fun! You will be so hooked after the first stop that you will not want to miss any of the ensuing attractions on this intriguing cultural adventure.
Who will love this day trip?
Throughout the magical day, you will have the opportunity to climb the 115 steps of the well-preserved remains of a Mayan temple, swim in the intense turquoise waters of a cenote sinkhole, and tour a centuries-old convent and colonial cathedral in the Pueblo Magico, Valladolid.
Hiking a lofty temple might sound daunting, however, we were joined by fellow climbers of every age. A father held the hand of his two-year-old son and retired seniors did well to make it to the top and enjoy the breathtaking views. Life jackets are available at the cenote swimming hole so the cool waters can be tested at any age, regardless if you know how to swim or not.
That being said, the experience 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.
The best scenario is to rent a vehicle if you are temporarily visiting the Mayan Riviera. If you prefer not to drive yourself, there are a few ways to get from Playa del Carmen to the Temozon/Valladolid area.
Driving through the Yucatan Peninsula is very safe and enjoyable. Before the construction of the 305-toll highway, you could tack on an extra hour to get from Playa del Carmen to Valladolid or Merida. Believe me, the toll fees are welcomed as it means you can avoid driving through some of the small towns and their endless string of ‘Topes.’ These dreadful speed bumps pop up every 100 meters within a pueblito and increase your drive time (not to mention scatter parts of your vehicle across the road if you’re not paying attention!)
Having a car rental is an ideal way to explore the Riviera Maya and area. Personally, we have had good experiences with Hertz on the south end of 10th Avenue in Playa del Carmen or booking through Orbitz.com.
There are also several 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 beverages and sometimes snorkel gear are included.
A third option is to take the ADO bus to Valladolid from Playa del Carmen, which costs roughly $10 USD one-way. From Valladolid, you will need to take a taxi to Ek Balam and Cenote Hubiku. The current bus schedule shows the final bus from Valladolid to Playa del Carmen leaving at 8:40 pm.
This ancient city, meaning ‘Black Jaguar’ is the least visited of its neighboring Mayan cities of Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba. We arrived at 10 am and found the impressive site very tranquil with just a few other explorers amongst us.
One of the things we appreciated was that many of the native trees we hear about in this region, but do not easily recognize, bore a sign with their name on them. The fascinating duo of good versus evil, known as the Chechem and Chaka trees, grow side by side in the Central American jungle. The Chechem releases a toxic sap that when in contact with human skin, produces a flaming rash. However, the bark of the nearby Chaka provides the antidote.
Another marked tree was the Baalche, from which Mayans, still to this day, 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) that was once connected to Coba and Chichen Itza.
We learned that Ek’ Balam was inhabited for approximately 1000 years and may have been occupied as early as 100-300 BC. 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 Acropolis 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 used to erect to commemorate important dates or events. The hieroglyphics on one of the pillars depict Ukit Kan Le’k Tok with his massive headdress.
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.’
There is a separate fee for X’Canche, but the cool waters are inviting after trekking the grounds of Ek’ Balam. You can enjoy the scenic view of the lush jungle and the mystical atmosphere from a bridge that is suspended above the cenote. If you dare, summon the courage of your inner child, and 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 ‘Trees of Life’ in the Mayan belief system.
- Guides are available for $500-$600 pesos, but there is a chance that price is up for negotiation. Don’t be afraid to ask if there is a promotion on that day.
If you choose a rental, take Luis Donaldo Colasio, which passes the green superstore Bodega Aurrera heading west out of Playa del Carmen. This road turns into the 305 Federal Highway. It is well maintained and turns into 2 lanes in each direction not long after you have exited Playa. The road is lined with thick jungle brush. Pay close attention because often you will see a tarantula or maybe even a spider monkey attempt to cross the highway.
Follow the Merida Cuota sign, which veers to the right. You will come upon the tollbooth where you will be required to pay a fee of $250 – $270 pesos ($15USD) for a small to mid-size vehicle. From here, you will take the Tizimin exit to Highway 295. Just before the town of Temozon is an agave field, the spiky plants that tequila comes from. On the main road in town, you can grab a delicious empanada or stop at a taco stand to try some authentic Mexican food.
Continue on this principal road and at the outskirts of the town, you will see Cenote Hubiku on the right. We chose to go on to the archaeological site of Ek’ Balam first before it got too hot in the day. It is about a 5-minute drive further, down an unpaved road, but there is good signage. Go straight until the dead end, which is Ek’ Balam parking lot.
Hubiku Cenote and Park
Next on the itinerary: Hubiku, a picturesque tropical oasis 5 kilometers before Ek’ Balam. Within this delightful treasure is Mayan village exhibiting gardens bursting with vibrant, native blooms. Also, on the colorful and serene property, are a mostly enclosed cenote, a tequila museum, hammocks, a beverage station, a gift shop, and a buffet hall.
This is not your basic cenote visit. The Mayan welcome you receive is exceptionally warm, the grounds are expansive and in impeccable condition. An entrance fee of $250 MXN pesos for foreign visitors, $200 for locals and 50% off for children 10 and under includes a buffet lunch, a tequila tasting, a dip in the cenote and lifejackets.
The buffet features a variety of tender meat options, including a traditional Yucatecan slow-cooked, pulled pork dish called cochinita pibil. For sides, there is rice, pasta, baby potatoes, mashed potatoes with gravy and steamed vegetables. The salad bar presents delicious cold pasta and green salads, coleslaw, as well as sliced fresh fruit, baguettes and dinner rolls. At the end of the plentiful buffet table, desserts such as typical Mexican Tres Leche cakes, cookies and jellos are on display for lunch guests to sample.
The wait staff, in fact, the entire league of park employees we met, was more than personable and willing to share their knowledge, which made our visit a highly pleasurable experience. In the middle of our meal, a couple came out to do a cultural Mexican dance. All of a sudden, the music played louder over the speakers and in waltzed a woman in a white dress with flowers in her hair, balancing a tray of drinks on her head. A man joined her with a beer bottle positioned carefully on his, and they proceeded to dance gracefully around the entire banquet room.
Lunch was followed by a tequila tour where we were given a brief introduction to the history of tequila and how it is produced. Inside the store, the adults in our group had a chance to try at least 10 varieties of tequila including such flavors as coffee, peanut, coconut, and the most common types white, añejo and reposado. The white was strong enough to ignite a campfire, while the café was my favorite.
We then proceeded eagerly to the second cenote of the day. Following a winding gravel path to a staircase heading underground, we came upon one of the top three most incredible cenotes I have seen in the Yucatan Peninsula. As I descended the stairs to Hubiku, my jaw dropped when I reached the main platform. Out of the roof of the immense cave was a small opening that allowed just enough sunlight through to illuminate the breathtaking swimming hole, highlighting its clear, almost emerald-colored, waters.
Lifejackets and lockers are available, but you must bring your own lock. We set our beach bags in a corner and dove in. Floating on my back and looking up towards the natural light filtering in against the limestone formations left me with feelings of complete peace and utter awe. The exhilarating swim within this thousand-year-old cavern was definitely a high point of a day packed with memorable moments.
But the magical encounters did not end there. The grand finale of our day trip was a visit to Valladolid, about 12 kilometers from Temozon. This small colonial city, with its rich history and natural beauty, was given the status of one of the country’s 112 Pueblos Magicos, or Magical Towns, in 2012.
Valladolid was constructed in 1545 on the Mayan village of Zaci. This town is said to be where the spark of the revolution that ignited the Caste War took place. A monument just outside the downtown core is dedicated to the six, young, local heroes who bravely fought off the US Army at the Castle of Chapultepec in Mexico City, to their death.
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.
There is a story circulating of the church’s dark past. During the 19th century revolt of Mayan natives against the Spanish hacienda owners, Mayan landowners and their families, who had taken refuge inside of the cathedral, were found and massacred. The church is said to have a curse on it because of the bloodied bodies that covered the floor all the way to the altar.
Valladolid is a very small, walkable city with many 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, a visit to the Convent de San Bernardino de Siena is a must. Construction of the building was completed in 1560 and features finely carved altarpieces as well as a long row of exterior 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 is an entrance fee to the former convent of $50 pesos
- A free, historical video mapping show takes place each night, in Spanish at 9 pm and in English at 9:30 pm on the outside wall of the convent
- Opens 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 and a perfect mix of adventure, this unique, mini getaway is an ideal way to spend a day in 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.
Playacar is a gated community comprised of two phases within the charming city of Playa del Carmen. Playacar phase 1 was first established in 1979 along the region’s pristine, undisturbed coastline. At that time, Fernando Barbachano, development company owner, often hosted beach barbecues inviting his own employees as well as potential investors, including George Bush.
Playa del Carmen Beaches
These outdoor gatherings prompted a surge in visitors to the region as word spread about this virtually untouched paradise in the Mayan Riviera. Phase 1 became the first high end residential community in Playa del Carmen. Eventually two condo-hotels were constructed facing the breathtaking Caribbean Sea.
The stunning Caribbean Sea views from Playacar Phase 1 beaches
A few years later, the second phase in Playacar was developed around a championship golf course, now The Hard Rock Golf Club Riviera Maya. Today, the largest all-inclusive hotels in the city speckle the white sand beaches of Phase 2 and the budding residential area has sprouted several businesses, including two schools.
Hard Rock Golf Club Riviera Maya in Playacar Phase 2
One of the many advantages of living in this endless summer climate is that the weather, for over three hundred days a year, is favorable for outdoor living. Walking or cycling the scenic, six kilometer trail which encircles Playacar phase 2, is an excellent way to begin the day. The nearby mesmerizing, turquoise waters, the glorious Mexican sunshine and the palm-fringed sidewalk offer many opportune moments to connect with nature and attain a tranquil respite from the hustle and bustle of a busy schedule.
The scenic 6km Playacar Phase 2 path
Following the paved path painted fuchsia and red with bougainvilleas and hibiscus blooms, trekkers will come upon town home developments, striking, luxury villas, and some of Playa del Carmen’s most exquisite condo-resorts. Also lining the walkway is a bird sanctuary, home to flamingos, toucans, parrots, and over 60 other feathered species, two ancient ruin sites, spas and an outdoor shopping center. Plaza Playacar offers guests and residents convenient access to tour and rental car companies, money exchange services, and artisan shops. From time to time, cultural performances and other family friendly events are held in the plaza’s main square.
Another aspect of Playa del Carmen which makes it an ideal permanent or vacation destination, is the minimal traffic. Although the effervescent urban center is only a five minute drive from Playacar, the quaint community offers almost every convenience within walking distance. At the furthest point within the exclusive phase 2, guests can access the famed 5th Avenue by foot in thirty to forty minutes.
The Famous 5th Avenue
Inside this suburban heaven is a dozen restaurants featuring authentic Mexican cuisine and standard North American menus, two pizzerias, a French bakery, an organic restaurant, spas, a Gelato shop, two pubs, two Oxxo convenience stores and yes, even a Starbucks for those who cannot live without.
La Vaqueria – one of the many eateries in Playacar Phase 2
With a resident card, guests and Playacar occupants can access the glistening sea via the Reef Hotel which offers complimentary beach and poolside lounge chairs with umbrellas. There is also one other access point in the area which passes by an archeological site and leads to the world-class beaches of Playacar Phase 1.
The road to paradise
Four secured stations offer admittance into the desirable residential community with many services just beyond the gates. One of the city’s top hospitals, a shopping mall with a Soriana superstore, a movie theatre, hair salons, and two bulk membership stores are a leisurely walk from the Playacar highway entrance.
One of the many beautiful villas you will come across in Playacar
For those seeking a serene environment bursting with natural splendor, where golf carts are a common mode of transportation and local wildlife roams free, Playacar is a tropical haven like no other in the Mayan Riviera.
I remember the good ol’ days, when we first arrived in Playa del Carmen. On a cultural mission to test out the waters, (literally: those glistening, turquoise waters… ahhhhh) our family wished to understand and partake in Mexican traditions, to live the beach life for a year or so, and to learn Spanish. I imagined that by immersing myself into the community, I would be completely fluent in a couple of months. Four glorious years have come and gone. Yet, there are still times when my brain feels as though it’s being squeezed in a vice when attempting to converse or remember the Spanish word for kale.
Grocery shopping in those initial months was particularly excruciating! I bought the necessities and prayed that the cashier would say nothing more than ‘Buenos Dias’. The greeting I could handle, but beyond that, he could have spoken Martian and I would have understood as much. Embarrassingly for me, more questions similar to “Tiene usted una tarjeta de puntos?’ (Do you have a points/rewards card?) or ‘Le gustaría donar?’ (Would you like to make a donation?) would leave me with a blank stare and flushed cheeks.
Eventually, after spending a few consecutive months or years here, expats such as myself, are able to commune with the locals just fine, albeit in a rough Spanglish dialect. However, for visitors who are new to the area and to the language, a simple trip to a Mexican supermarket can result in utter frustration. For this reason, we have compiled some helpful suggestions and tools intended to alleviate some of the stress that may occur when navigating through a grocery store in Playa del Carmen.
Grocery Store Jargon
Translator apps can save some anguish when traveling in a foreign country. Two helpful offline apps used for quick translation are Yocoy: Intelligent Translator and WayGo. If you have a Wifi connection, Itranslate and Google Translate can help to make your experience more pleasant. But just for fun, here is a short list of common words you can keep in mind that will serve you well when perusing the grocery superstores.
|Leche- Milk||Huevos – Eggs||Queso – Cheese|
|Sal – Salt||Pan – Bread||Pescado – Fish|
|Galletas – Crackers/cookies||Sour Cream –Crema||Papel Higienico- Toilet Paper|
|Pollo – Chicken||Jamon – Ham||Res- Beef|
|Cebolla- Onion||Ajo- Garlic||Lechuga – Lettuce|
|Arroz – Rice||Frijoles – Beans||Fresa – Strawberry|
|Pimiento – Pepper||Café – Coffee||Platano – Banana|
|Manzana- Apple||Naranja – Orange||Naranja – Orange|
|Mantequilla- Butter||Azucar – Sugar||Harina – Flour|
|Pepino – Cucumber||Jitomate -Tomato||Firma – Signature|
|Efectivo – Cash||Cambio – Change||Tarjeta – Card|
Where To Find Food Products In Playa del Carmen
The gorgeous variety of vibrant, exotic fruit is as abundant as the ‘fruterias’ (produce markets) in Playa del Carmen. These corner stores often have fresh cut, multi-colored fruit salads for your convenience or delicious blends of freshly squeezed concoctions, such as carrot and orange, beet or vitamin-packed green juices.
Dac on 30 Avenue, between Constituyentes and Calle 20 offers quality fruits, vegetables and an assortment of international grocery products. If you are willing to venture out of the way somewhat, Pasca Deli on Constituyentes between 70 and 75 Avenue in the Ejidal is an excellent source of hard to find international items, baking supplies and quality food products.
Mega – Comercial Mexicana
For more selection, there are several superstores around the city including Walmart, (30 Avenue and Calle 10) Comercial Mexicana (also known as Mega), (30 Avenue and Constituyentes), Chedraui (45 Avenue and Calle 2 Sur) and Soriana (in the Centro Maya Mall on the South end of town or on 30 Avenue, between Calle 38 and 40). Sam’s Club and City Club, also on the South end of town along the Carretera Federal, provide a wide variety of bulk goods, but a membership card (usually $300 – $400 pesos annually) is required.
An Introduction To Mexican Products Worth Trying
Visiting a foreign country presents a terrific opportunity to introduce your taste buds to new flavors. Although supermarkets around the world are beginning to supply consumers with more choices in exotic and imported goods, there are many mysterious Mexican products worth getting acquainted with.
This thick, flat, oval shaped pad from a cactus plant is packed with fiber, anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals. Consuming nopales has shown to boost immune systems, optimize metabolic functions, regulate the digestive system and protect the skin from certain cancers. These firm, green paddles can be diced and added raw to salads or juiced, fried or roasted and added to tacos, scrambled eggs and stews.
The Chayote is from the gourd family and provides an adequate source of vitamins including C, riboflavin and thiamin as well as minerals such as iron, copper, zinc and manganese. Incorporating this low calorie, high fiber veggie can help to control cholesterol and aid in weight management. Julienne this pear-shaped vine vegetable and add it raw to salads and slaws or dice it in stir-fries, soups or casseroles.
These green tomatoes are roughly the size of apricots and are packed with vitamins and minerals known to reduce the risk of diabetes, increase digestive health, boost the immune system, improve vision health and increase energy levels. The sweeter, citrusy flavor goes well with slow cooked pork and is a staple in tangy, green Mexican salsas.
These dried red leaves from the hibiscus flower are found packaged in clear plastic bags or in bulk bins near the dried chile section of the market. Consuming agua de Jamaica or hibiscus tea has been proven to regulate blood pressure, as well as increase HDL or good cholesterol, which in turn lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Known as the Mayan green super food, Chaya has incredible health benefits including aiding with diabetes, acne, digestion, obesity and kidney stones. Studies have shown that chaya contains more protein and calcium than kale, while possessing twice the amount of iron and fiber than spinach. This nutrient-rich leafy vegetable can help to improve memory, vision and also prevent coughs. Simply chop it and add it to scrambled eggs or blend with whole limes, a natural sweetener and water for a refreshing beverage.
This natural sweetener is derived from the sugar cane and is an unrefined sugar. Since it has not undergone a heavy processing stage, vitamins such as calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and potassium remain intact. This unprocessed, raw sugar can be shaved and substituted for brown sugar in baking or used as a sweetener in coffee and tea.
Farm Markets, Organic and Vegan Products
Every week, vendors gather to sell local, organic and homemade goods at farmers markets around Playa del Carmen. Organic produce, fresh, homemade baked breads, empanadas, French tarts and pastries, jams, nut butters, bar soaps, lotions, and honey are just some of the products offered at these popular community markets.
On Tuesdays from 11a.m. – 1p.m, Kava Kasa (Calle 22 between 5th and 10th Avenue) hosts the first weekly market. El Papalote (25th Avenue between Calle 30 and 32) is the chosen location on Wednesday afternoons from 1-3p.m. Fridays, the market moves to Coco Beach (pool area of Condo Les Alizes on CTM and Flamingos) from 9-11a.m. Finally, every third Saturday of the month, Parque La Ceiba (Calle 1 Sur and 60th Avenue) opens its door and invites vendors to present their wares from 12-6p.m.
For organic and health food stores, Bio-Natural (10th Avenue between Calle 16 and Constituyentes), Bio Organicos (Calle 26 between 5th and 10th Avenue), Dac (30th Avenue between Constituyentes and Calle 20), Organik Boutique (Plaza Paseo Playacar in Playacar Fase 2) or Frutalesa in Paseo Tulum in Playacar Fase 2 across from the Centro Maya Mall offer the best selection in town.
Ideal Edenic offers delivery service of organic produce to Playa del Carmen. Each week they post a list of available products on their Facebook page and website. For more info or to place an order, call (998) 225-2342.
Grocery Shopping Tips
- The supermarkets here offer a high US dollar exchange rate, so save your dollars for groceries!
- The bigger chain stores are open from 7:00a.m. – 11:00p.m. Dac and the smaller markets close earlier.
- Taxis are readily available outside every main supermarket.
- It is customary to tip the people who bag your items. A rule of thumb to follow is $1 peso per bag.
- The sale of alcohol products is prohibited after certain hours but the time varies from store to store. Typically between 9a.m. and 5p.m, you can buy alcohol anywhere, except for on Sundays, many places stop selling alcohol at 2:00p.m.
- Wednesdays are commonly a much busier day than usual in Playa del Carmen supermarkets due to the specials on produce. If you are not keen to waiting in long lines, you will save yourself some time by choosing to shop on an alternative day.
- For fresh herbs such as dill (eneldo) or basil (albahaca), ask the clerks at Dac to retrieve some for you. They almost always carry herbs but they are kept in the cooler in the back of the store.
- If you find an imported product that is not easy to find in Playa del Carmen, stock up! Chances are, you will not see the rare item again for months, if ever!
Eco Market at Kava Kasa