Planning a trip to Cancun, Mexico? Here’s a few things to do in Playa del Carmen, right outside Cancun!
One great thing about Playa del Carmen is that it’s close enough to Cancun (a 30-45 minute drive) to make visiting a major urban area possible, but far enough away to get out of the metropolis when you want that. The area has changed a TON since we last visited – the town is full of upscale malls and American stores, which we usually skip over – but it still has great restaurants, adventure activities, and access to Cozumel.
The Royal Haciendas
We stayed at the Royal Haciendas, just outside Playa del Carmen. Less than ten minutes out of town, it felt like we were miles from civilization. We fell asleep to the sounds of waves, not cars. There’s plenty to do at the resort, but it’s not a non-stop big party scene either. The place is idyllic, whether you want beach access, poolside reading, swim up bars, or natural beauty!
My favorite activity at the Royal Haciendas is the ceramics painting. They have a spot where you can buy an unfinished ceramic figurine/plate/bowl/vase and paint it. Best of all, after you’re done they finish it off with clean lines and beautiful swirly details, making my kindergarten-level art look almost professional!! It’s both really fun to paint and oh-so-gratifying to be able to take something home that’s actually fit to be displayed.
There are tons of active options: volleyball games every day, snorkels and flippers to borrow, and even a place to plan scuba adventures! We took the kayaks out one morning and played in the waves with Logan’s brothers. If you want to try the kayaks, make sure to reserve them a day in advance, otherwise they’ll be booked up!
Things to do in Playa del Carmen
My favorite thing about traveling with my in-laws is that they are big believers in adventurous travel. We are not never-leave-the-resort tourists, but usually sit down the first afternoon and talk about what everyone wants to see and do! Here are a few of my favorite things we’ve done in the Playa & Cancun area:
Jungle Touring in Miniboats
I have no idea what they call these boats, but picture this: driving your own mini speedboat (mini in size, not in speed) through miles of lagoon, ending up in the ocean where you snorkel far from shore. So much fun! It’s guided, but every pair gets their own boat to pilot. This remains one of my favorite things we’ve ever done. The trip leaves from Cancun, so it’s easy to access regardless of where you stay!
Catamaran to Isla de Mujeres
Always a crowd pleaser, it’s SO MUCH FUN to take a boat across the stunning turquoise waters to Isla de Mujeres. It’s a small island, compact enough to rent golf carts or scooters and circle the island in less than an hour. There’s scenic overlooks, shops, beaches, and one of the most unusual houses I’ve ever seen! If you’re interested, the house is now available on Airbnb.
Xcaret is part water park, part zoo, and part cultural experience. It’s got something for everyone: a lazy river, caves to explore, snorkeling, dolphin swims, tanks of exotic fish, picturesque chapels, and recreations of 19th century buildings and art. It’s a great family activity, even if everyone has diverse interests. A day at Xcaret culminates in their nightly cultural show: a Disney-level performance that goes through Mexico’s history and various regional cultures. The sheer variety of music, dancing, and costumes are amazing, and a fantastic introduction to the many facets of Mexican regional culture. My favorite part is when they play a traditional game, kind of like basketball except that players can use only their hips to bounce or pass a kickball-sized ball and score in small rock hoops on the top edges of the court.
Xcaret’s more adventurous little brother. Xplor is smaller and more focused: the main activities are ATVs, zip lines, cave paddle boats and cave swims. The ATVs are legit – no dinky cars on tracks here. You drive a 4×4 through 3 miles of jungle and caves. There’s a path (and clear instructions not to leave it), but its sharp turns and length means it blows any American go-kart track out of the water. Bonus: there’s two tracks, so you get twice the fun!
The zip lines were my favorite: two series of zip lines cross the park. Each gives you the length (one was nearly a minute long!) and average speed, along with the option to ride tandem with someone else if you want. One track includes getting wet: you’ve been warned! Although honestly, you’re going to get wet doing everything here. Plan on it.
A nice bonus is that your ticket includes all you can eat food & drinks: no hassles for lunch! Plus the food is actually good, way better than I’d expect for a “lunch included” eco park.
More interested in the cultural things to do in Playa del Carmen? The Mayan pyramids are 100% worth seeing if you’re in the area.
Opinions are my own & I didn’t receive compensation for my writing. The links above contain affiliate links, which means I get a few cents (at no extra cost to you) if you book or buy something via that link. This helps me keep costs down & posts up! All images copyright Teaspoon of Nose.