Top things to do in Playa del Carmen
As some of you may know, I’ve just come back from a Doug-less honeymoon – two weeks in Playa del Carmen, a coastal town in Mexico…
The area has beautiful beaches, plenty of shops, bars and restaurants and a lot of places to explore. The area itself is pretty touristy, though I’ve read it’s not as busy as areas like Cancun (yet) but that means that a lot of the tours and experiences are pretty pricey. We didn’t have a huge budget for the trip, but we found ways to see and do almost everything we wanted to do for a fraction of what it could have cost, so I thought I’d share five of the best things we did on our honeymoon, and if you ever visit the area, I’d highly recommend all of these!
Cenotes are basically natural swimming holes that are formed when limestone bedrock collapses, and the word kept popping up when we were planning what to do during our time in Mexico. There are literally thousands in Mexico, and this was high on our list of things to do.
There were plenty of leaflets and tour guides around the area offering excursions to them, including one that was recommended to us by our hotel – a tour of five cenotes and an underground river for $79USD per person (around £60 each). This was the one we were planning to do, but we were hesitant over the price. A quick Google search, and we found that only 30 minutes away were three other cenotes that looked absolutely beautiful, and only cost £4 each. We got a taxi (around £12) and headed to Cenote Azul. It was absolutely beautiful, and as the weather had been a little hit and miss, it was very quiet. We jumped off rocks into the water, swam into caves and just enjoyed the crystal clear waters.
A few minutes walk down the road is Cenote El Jardin del Eden. With ledges to jump off, the option for diving and snorkelling trips, this cenote was a bit busier, but still much quieter than we’d expected. It’s surrounded by plants, and there are large rocks in the middle so you can sit just under the surface of the water if you need a break from swimming.
The other cenote nearby is Cenote Cristalino, but it was raining very heavily by this point, so we didn’t get to go unfortunately, but this cenotes trip was probably my highlight of the honeymoon. Also, you know that spa treatment where you pay to have little fish nibble your feet? Go to these cenotes and the fish in the waters do it for free!
Swimming with turtles
Sam suggested we go and visit a place called Akumal, around 30 minutes from Playa del Carmen, which has a beautiful beach and lots of sea turtles. As we were walking to the beach, we were stopped by a guy informing us that we had to know the rules of the beach before we could go down, and he led us over to a sign. He told us about the regulations surrounding snorkelling and swimming on the beach due to the need to protect the turtles etc, which all sounded great. This obviously then went on to become a sales pitch to do their turtle snorkelling tour for $25USD each. We said we would come back later as we weren’t sure, and although they were very insistent, we walked off.
The beach was absolutely beautiful, and the waters were so calm, and we both really wanted to go snorkelling anyway, and saw that there was an area a little further down the beach where you could swim…for free. You could hire snorkel gear and a life jacket (around £8) or bring your own and so we chose to do that. There are a few rules on swimming over the coral and in the area as well, which everyone was being very respectful of – you cannot wear fins in case of damaging the coral, and you can’t go within a couple of metres of the turtles if you see any. Within a few minutes of swimming, we saw a giant sea turtle. It was absolutely amazing (I attempted to take a few photos but they aren’t very clear) and we loved watching him just potter around, and he swam to the surface a couple of times too.
If you’re doing a tour, you’re allowed to go further out into the sea, and I was pleased to see there are some fairly strict guidelines to protect the turtles, and I’m sure you’ll spot more turtles, but we were quite happy swimming around where we were.
This was one where we did pay for a tour, in part because of the distance from Playa del Carmen, and also because we thought it would be really interesting.
The tour included a visit to the Tulum archaeological site, lunch, and the archaeological site at Coba. It also included an unscheduled stop at a roadside where basically all the tour drivers chatted and smoked for 45 minutes while we all stood around waiting…
The Tulum ruins are absolutely amazing. Our tour guide was brilliant and very informative. The ruins are located on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, and the city was a seaport.
The ruins at Coba were unbelievable. The ancient Mayan city is absolutely huge, and one of the biggest attractions there is Nohoch Mul Pyramid, which until next year, can still be climbed. It stands at 137ft and while the climb up was okay, the climb back down was pretty terrifying! The views of the jungle are absolutely amazing and I’d definitely recommend doing the trip if you get the chance.
Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue, is a long strip that runs parallel to the beach. It’s a busy street, filled with bars, restaurants, hotels and shops. I was surprised with the mix of shops, there were your typical souvenir shops, but there was also a Sephora, a Rolex store, some sports shops and a Bath & Body Works. There was also a store we discovered called Bloomish, which was similar to Lush, but everything is made in Cancun, it’s cruelty-free and smelt amazing. We bought a bath bomb and an avocado soap (which is purely for display purposes) and they both made it back to the UK in one piece!
There was also some incredible street art around Quinta Avenida that Sam and I really enjoyed spotting.
It sounds like an obvious one, but there are some absolutely stunning beaches in the area. There are a lot of resorts along the beach, and many of them have exclusive areas with their sun loungers out on the beach, but we tended to just take a towel and sit down by the sea. There are some beach clubs where you can rent sun loungers for the day, one day we paid £12 each for a sun lounger and they gave us £6 each back in food and drinks vouchers, and they have table service (well, sun lounger service) so we were pretty happy with this.
We spent a lot of time walking down the stretch of beach to some quieter areas, exploring, walking through the sea, it was so lovely – you don’t need to spend any money to enjoy that!
What kind of things do you like to do on holiday? Do you enjoy exploring or prefer to relax on the beach?