Travel guide to Playa del Carmen, Mexico

beach in Tulum, Riviera Maya besides Mayan ruins
Beach in Tulum, Riviera Maya

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This travel guide will help you organise your trip to Playa del Carmen in the Mayan Riviera (Riviera Maya)

In summer I went to Playa del Carmen to scuba dive with my family, we were already certified and wanted to visit the famous cenotes. I also offer activity ideas for non – scuba divers.

Activities and Destinations

  • We were there for 10 days, I think the time was perfect since we had days to relax and we also had the chance to visit the places we wanted to visit
  • The first day we visited Chichen Itzá and hired a tour guide at the entrance. This was ideal because he explained everything we saw and showed us things that we would have missed otherwise. Doing this the first day was great because what we learned helped us understand other things that we saw throughout the rest of the trip.
  • On our way back from Chichen Itzá we stopped at Valladolid, a colonial town. It is very pretty and is in the way back so you won’t lose time.
  • On another day we went to the Coba ruins. Here we didn’t rent a tour guide because we already knew the story of the Mayans. Instead we rented bicycles because the area is very big and its more effective to get from place to place in a bike. They also had taxi-bike available if you are too tired to pedal. 
  • When we left Coba we took a small detour to Punta Laguna. Here you can see “spider monkeys”, they are free and come in the afternoon to this sanctuary to eat. You can see them roaming around. In this same place there is a beautiful lake where you can see the sunset. The reflexion of the sky in the lake is beautiful and photo-worthy.  
  • The Tulum ruins are beautiful. They are against the sea so the view is amazing. If you want to have a great first impression, once you’re in you’ll find the wall, don’t enter through the gate were everybody enters. Keep walking and you will find a smaller entrance, that is were you should go in.
  • Map of the mayan ruins in Tulum
    Follow the red arrows to go in through the best entrance.
  • La Quinta is the most popular street in Playa. It is filled with restaurants and shops. It is very pretty and has a nice ambiance but it tends to get packed with tourists. 
  • Swimming with the whale shark  was definitely the most amazing experience for me. Almost anyone can do it and it is totally worth the money. They take you on a boat to search for the sharks and when they see them many other boats start gathering around. With a life vest or a wet suit and a snorkel you jump into the water and start swimming besides the enormous animal. It is a once in a lifetime experience and I completely recommend it. The season to see whale sharks is only from May to September.
  • One day we went to Akumal, a place were you can swim with turtles that are free in the ocean. It is full of people and tourists and I wouldn’t really go back or completely recommend it. If you do decide to go, I recommend NOT hiring a tour guide since it is unnecessary. It is better if you have your own snorkel and fins but you can rent them there if its necessary. Supposedly you are not allowed to swim with the turtles if you have no life vest but I saw people doing it anyways. It is probably better to rent one so you won’t have any inconveniences.

Scuba Diving

  • We did our submersions with Me Dive Center, they were very kind, responsible, professional, and the equipment was in perfect shape. There are many other diving centers around Playa or you can also find more online. 
  • Our first submersion was in Playa del Carmen in the open sea. It is beautiful and full of life. Then we scuba dived near Cozumel, an island near Playa. This was probably richer in life and just as beautiful. These four dives (2 in each place) allowed the instructor to understand our level and ability. 
  • The first cenote was Kukul Kan it was a good one to start with because we understood what cenotes where and grew comfortable with the different environment.
  • On the same day we did cenote Chac Mol, it is located in the same place. This was one of my favorites. You can see stalactites and stalagmites and the roots of the trees coming from the surface. It is amazing. 
  • My favorite cenote was El Pit, I won’t tell you why because I’ll ruin the surprise, but you should definitely go and try getting there before the other divers (try to head out at 8 am).
  • Our last dive was in cenotes Chikin-Ha and Taj Mahal which are relatively close to each other. Of the two Taj Mahal was my favorite. 
  • All the cenotes have something unique and special about them, although my personal favorite was El Pit, other may say they like Taj Mahal or Chac Mol better.

Restaurants and Hotel

  • My two favorite typical mexican restaurants were (they are also farther away from the touristy area which is great): 
    • Chitlepin Marisquillos where they have exquisite ceviches, tacos, tapas, and many more. They have two locations: Ave. 34 Esq. 20 Ave and Ave. Constituyentes between 25 Ave. and 30 Ave.
    • Los Aguachiles where I recommend the aguchile with mariscos and callo de hacha. It is located in Calle 34 Norte.
  • We rented a small apartment in the Pure Mareazul condominium. It was great in the sense that we could cook and had two bathrooms, two rooms, and a terrace. It was also kind of empty so the pool was not full of people like the usual all-inclusive hotels. The beach was very nice and close to the hotel room. We payed for the breakfast for everyday beforehand and its the only thing we regret. There was not a lot of variety and since they only opened at 8am sometimes we missed it because we headed out to scuba dive or to the ruins early. If you stay here I recommend just buying a few things to do your own breakfast in the apartment.

Tips

  • We did rent a car, and it was very helpful. Sometimes it will actually be cheaper to rent a car for the entire stay than to pay for taxi rides and tour buses. Getting to the ruins and to places in general was easier and you have more independence than when you have to go on tour buses. We rented the car in Mexico Car Rental , they do not have their offices in the airport so you have to tell them your flight beforehand and they will pick you up at the Cancun airport in a van.
  • Buying a cheap cellphone or a card for your phone is a good idea. It saved us when our car started failing. We called the rental place and they came to replace the car. You can buy the cellphone or card in OXXO stores that are almost in every corner.

If you have any questions, doubts, comments, etc. comment down below. I hope this travel guide was helpful! 

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