Don't Miss in Playa del Carmen
5th Avenue: This pedestrian-only street is an attraction unto itself, and it's jam-packed with jewelry stores, craft shops, cantinas, upscale restaurants and more. You can easily spend several hours delving through its assorted treasures. Since the avenue runs parallel to the beach, a fresh view of those beautiful turquoise waters awaits you with each block you travel.
Tulum: If you do just one excursion during your stop, make sure this is the one. You can buy a shore excursion onboard your ship, or go on your own and buy a ticket for the ferry at the ferry terminals in Cozumel or Playa. The taxi at the end of the ferry will cost you around $36, a colectivo significantly less. Note: Tulum is 45 minutes from Playa del Carmen by car, so make sure you leave enough time to get back to your ship, especially if you are docked in Cozumel.
However, you choose to get there, you will be impressed with the site itself. The remains of a walled Mayan city that's over 800 years old, Tulum is the only collection of ruins anywhere on the Yucatan to overlook the Caribbean. With those shimmering blue waters as a background, the various temples and towers are very Instagrammable. There are also several beaches near the ruins for those who want to swim and sunbathe in a completely natural setting with no resorts, snack bars or souvenir shops in sight. There's a charge of roughly $3.50 to enter the ruin complex, and the area is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily with the last entrance at 4:30 p.m.
Cenotes: Whether you are a scuba diver or a snorkeler, no trip to this region of the Yucatan is complete without a visit to the cenotes. Cenotes are freshwater sinkholes in the jungle that formed when sea levels dropped and the ground above collapsed. They vary in size, shape and accessibility, and there are an estimated 6,000 on the peninsula. Many lie just a few minutes' drive from downtown Playa. Take your swim suit and snorkeling gear (or pre-book scuba diving) and for a small fee you can dive right in. The water is crystal clear and many have ancient stalactite and stalagmite formations under the surface. The water is a degree or two lower in temperature than the sea, and they are a refreshing way to discover the area. The most popular is Gran Cenote, which lies near Tulum. (Gran Cenote, Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico; open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Admission: $25)
<p><strong>Xcaret Eco Theme Park:</strong> Imagine an amusement park dedicated to animals, nature and the ancient Maya culture and you've got Xcaret, a sprawling 200-acre park filled with attractions. Guests can float down an underground river; visit a butterfly pavilion, a bee farm and a manatee lagoon; stroll through a model of a Mayan village; and even swim with dolphins (for an extra fee). The park is only 5 miles south of Playa del Carmen, and about a 10-minute ride by car. The park received a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2017. (Chetumal-Puerto Juarez Federal Highway, Km. 282. Solidaridad, Quintana Roo, Mexico; +52-984-206-0038; open daily 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the summer and 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. in winter. Adult admission: $59)</p>
Chichen Itza: The Yucatan's other famous Mayan ruins, Chichen Itza, is a longer trek than Tulum (around three hours each way), but it is equally stunning. The site, right in the middle of the jungle, contains a mix of temples, pyramids and carvings that date back to the seventh and eighth centuries as well as a main pyramid -- the Temple of Kukulcan -- which was recently declared one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Day trips to both Mayan sites can be booked through local tour operators; two of the most reputable tour operators are Intermar Caribe (+52-987-273-5960 or email@example.com) and Turismo Aviomar (+52-987-872-5444). You can also book day trips with Viator.com.
Note: Independent travelers should know an excursion to Chichen Itza means a long day -- including a three-hour bus ride in each direction and a ferry ride from Cozumel. This is one of the times we actually recommend taking this trip as part of your ship's shore excursion program because the logistics are so complicated.
Scuba Diving and Snorkeling: Together with Cozumel, Playa del Carmen offers some of the best diving and snorkeling sites in the Caribbean. Year-round warm waters, a healthy reef system (which forms part of the 700-mile Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-longest in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef); great visibility, an abundance of marine life and the aforementioned cenotes, all come together to create a great dive experience.
Your best bet is to book ahead -- just make sure you check you can get to the dive center in time as the first dive is often at 8 or 9 a.m. If you do wait until you arrive, you'll find that operators are located beach side of La Quinta. Keep an eye out for dive operators who post PADI Gold Star stickers in their windows; these are considered Playa's top dive establishments. One of the best is Phocea Mexico, a French-run establishment that's excellent for beginners and advanced divers alike. (Calle 10, between 1st and 5th, Quintana Roo, Mexico; +52-974-873-1210)