Tips on Riviera Maya, Mexico: Playa Del Carmen

Playa Del Carmen is about 45 minutes south of Cancun (Cancun has good clubs but is very touristy), and a little more laid back.

To see the sights around Playa Del Carmen, you can book day-trips via a tour operator (every hotel will have one) or get a cab and buy your own tickets. Some of the must see attractions are Xcaret (a theme park) and/or Xel-Ha plus Tulum, Chitzen-Itza, and Ek-Balam (Mayan culture and architecture).

Xcaret is a couple of miles south from Playa del Carmen. It’s kind of a theme park with cool shows, ruins, animal exhibits, and an underground river that you float in for 45 minutes. The evening show is very good there. Tickets are $59 for adults. Before you go to Xcaret, put on your sunblock. A friend of mine was not allowed to bring in any sunblock. I’m told that there are perfectly acceptable biodegradable products.

Many travelers recommend Xel-Ha over Xcaret. Xel-Ha’s river is cleaner for swimming and snorkeling. Plus you can go swimming with the Dolphins. At Xcaret, there were two “rivers” to snorkel in, an underground river and another. The underground one had no wildlife. It was fins and butts in front of you and somebody’s head smacking your fins to the rear. At Xel-Ha, you entered a river at the mouth of an underground river and floated along with the current. Wildlife was much more plentiful. So, if you care about a more satisfying snorkeling experience, Xel-Ha might be a better choice.

If you really like to snorkel, take the ferry over to Cozumel and do a snorkel trip from there. Some of the best snorkeling in the Eastern Hemisphere is along the Palancar Reef. All day with drinks, and a stop for lunch is around $75 p/p.

Of course some people never leave the hotel. If you’re in one of the high-end resorts, they have everything that you need for a laid back vacation. One friend says that the only thing he recommends is going into Playa central for a day. There are some neat little restaurants and some cool shops. Don’t do any of the “shopping” day trips, as they are total ripoffs.

Speaking of resorts, Royal Hideaway has more luxurious accommodations than other nearby resorts and a reputation for the best food. The only observable downside is that their beach is quite small compared to other resorts. They make up for it with a cool looking pool beachside. Some people say the hurricane actually made the beach bigger but I don’t know anyone who has seen it.

If you’ve been to Riviera Maya, please leave a comment!

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  1. Courtney says:

    My husband and I were in the Riviera Maya for our honeymoon and then again 2 years later. We stayed at two different all inclusives: The Bahia Principe and The Grand Paladium. They were both amazing. The second time our family went with us and it was the best vacation we have ever had. I read the blog about the jungle being sold; it is funny because we had such a wonderful time we often joke about retiring in Mexico (at an all-inclusive resort). I highly recommend a vacation to this area.

  2. dallas says:

    we were in playa in feb.Had a blast went on a day trip to xel-ha. Going back in july with the kids.We stay at the riu (tequila) A.I. the only way to go for us, didn’t care much for the pushy shop owners on 5th ave. but met some nice ones too.The snorkling is great at xel-ha…

  3. Playa Del Carmen says:

    The last time I was in Playa del Carmen was about 18 years ago. I was on a scuba trip to Cozemel and I took some time to see Cancun, Playa and the ruins. It was awesome and the Riviera Mayan is one place I’d like to get back to see again someday.

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