Looking to maximize each day during your time in Playa del Carmen, Mexico? From Mayan ruins, stunning white sand beaches and some of the best snorkeling waters, there is so much to marvel during your Playa del Carmen stay.
We partner with brands we trust and travel with and may receive a commission at no charge to you should to reserve with them too. Thank you for your support!
Tulum Beach and Ruin Day Trip
Trendy beaches and a stunning Mayan ruin on the white sand makes Tulum beach a must see during your trip to Playa del Carmen.
The one hour drive time from Playa del Carmen makes it a great day tour or weekend getaway.
You can set your day trip to Tulum in one of a few ways.:
Group Tour to Tulum. The easiest and least effort is to take a group tour.
You can expect pickup from your hotel and a full day’s itinerary with a group tour. Group tours to Tulum often include a full day of excursions from the Tulum ruins, Tulum Centro and either snorkeling or a cenote.
This tour here includes all three- Tulum, Akumal + a Cenote in one day!
If you’re looking for a stress free day, I recommend taking a day tour your first time to Tulum beach.
DIY ADO Bus. The next way to explore Tulum is to DIY by taking the ADO bus, a collectivo or rent a car.
The benefits of DIY are going at your own pace. The challenges are navigating the various locations of Tulum Centro, beach and the ruins. Not impossible, of course. Very easy if you have your basics down- which you will/do!
Basics: Tulum Centro/ town and Tulum beach are not the same but everyone refers to them as “Tulum.”
Buses and collectivos will take you from Playa del Carmen to Tulum Centro/ town. Then its another 20 minutes ride to the beach area.
When I say buses, I am referring the ADO bus, ADO bus is like a greyhound bus with set stations, timetables, and departure times.
ADO buses are a popular and reliable way to explore Mexico. I and my digital nomad friends and family have all used ADO regularly.
Collectivos are more like a public bus meets a local driver of a van. The van will fill up with people going along a particularly route- your route is Playa del Carmen to Tulum (Centro). Once full, the van drives the preset route.
Along the way, the driver will stop for those select passengers that aren’t going the full route- much like a public bus would- to let them off.
Sometime you may pick up additional passengers if there is room- and in Mexico, any spare space in the vehicle- seat or not- is considered room.
You won’t have to worry about missing your stop or the van not stopping because you’ll be going the complete route to the end.
Collectivos can be an interesting experience with the locals that is always super economical- usually $2-3 USD each way.
Once you arrive in Tulum Centro, there will be another collectivo to catch to Tulum Beach. They are really close to each other and if its not obvious, ask or follow the crowd.
It is possible to get a collectivos back from Tulum beach; however, there are mixed reports of them not liking to stop for tourists. Without a collectivo to catch, you may feel stranded at Tulum beach.
The other, more reliable but expensive option, is to rent a car for the day. This is the most reliable way to explore Tulum on your schedule.
Akumal National Reserve
Between Playa del Carmen and Tulum is the Akumal National Reserve- one of the spots almost guaranteed to have sea turtle sightings!
This stunning beach not only has fewer crowds and updated amenities, it is a private reserve to sea turtles that live just off the beach.
Bring your own snorkel gear, or rent onsite, and grab a guide to this wondrous sea life area.
While technically access to the beach is free, the access to the national reserve is not. Snorkelers are required to have a guide if entering the protected area.
Have no fear, entry, snorkel gear and a guided small tour (max 6 people), can be managed for around $25 USD. Your entry will also include free locker access and restrooms to change in.
You can also opt for a day tour that will handle all your transportation to and from the reserve, making the day stress free!
Arrive early to get the clearest waters. Swimmers kick up beach sand that makes the water cloudy as the day goes on.
No matter what time of day you visit, you are almost guaranteed to see a wild sea turtle, sand sharks and other sea life during your snorkeling tour. It’s a great day tour and one of my and my digital nomad family’s favorites because it a great balance of adventure and beach day.
Inside the beach area are bars and restaurants, and just before is a series of local shops, including an OXXO in case you need water, sunblock or a low cost snack.
Day Trip to Cozumel- Shopping and Restaurants
Cozumel is my favorite day trip from Playa del Carmen because there is so much to see and do. So much to do, it makes this list twice!
The ferry ride to Cozumel is a quick and easy one from Playa del Carmen lasting around 25-40 minutes.
Ferries leave nearly every hour from the port off from Parque Fundadores at Benito Juarez Ave. and 5th avenue. If your hotel is off of 5th Avenue, you can likely walk to the ferry dock.
Grab a morning ferry over to Cozumel Island and explore!
There is plenty of shopping, bars and restaurants the moment you walk off the ferry pier. You could easily spend the day leisurely wandering the town!
If you want to take your trip up a notch grab a ride to some of the best snorkeling and sunsets in mexico!
Day Trip to Cozumel- Snorkeling and Sunsets
While Playa del Carmen has the beautiful beach sunrises, Cozumel is where the stunning Mexican sunsets are!
Cozumel is also home to some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world with crystal clear waters and a variety of ecosystems.
Grab the ferry over first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds. Enjoy breakfast in the town, just steps from the ferry stop while you negotiate your snorkel tour.
You can also reserve your snorkel tour areas of time HERE. Tours depart Cozumel pier (where the ferry arrives) at 10a, so be sur to depart Playa del Carmen in time.
Look for a tour that hits the three main spots: the starfish, the sting rays, and the reef. Confirm your entrance fees are included (there aren’t any, but in case they try) in your tour. Check if food and or drinks onboard can be included/ negotiated.
The best sunset views from Cozumel are at MoneyBar Beach Club. This well known, yet never full, beach club has great food, live entertainment in the evenings, a full bar and never a cover charge!
There’s also additional reefs and coves you can explore if you have your snorkel gear, or rent on sight.
There is a mix of dining table seating and beach lounging. All seating is first come. On Sundays after 5p. All drinks- even top shelf- are 50% off.
Day Trip to Chichen Itza
While Tulum has the beach, Chichen Itza has the glory.
This Mayan ruin is the former capital of the Yucatan peninsula and one of the largest Mayan cities. Chichen Itza is known for its size and variety of architecture.
A visit to Chichen Itza is a bit of a ride from all of the Yucatan coastal destinations (2+ hours from Cancun, 2- 2hrs 20 mins from Playa del Carmen) because it is located in the center of the Yucatan peninsula.
The drive though, is well worth it for any history buff and those curious about the Mayan history in the area. Especially if you mix in stops at Coba and a cenote.
This is one of those day trips where a tour or rental car situation is best, as opposed to trying to bus or collectivo it.
With a group tour, you don’t have to worry about the ride, or stops along the way. The itinerary makes sure you don’t miss a thing on this great day!
For a less crowded experience, rent a car and head out first thing in the morning. You want to arrive before the tour busses do- which is around 10a.
As an FYI if you rent a car for this one, police check points do occur. The police are very used to tourists in this area, just have all your paperwork should you need to present it.
Cancun Hotel Zone
Go explore the infamous Cancun Hotel Zone. The Hotel Zone is like a Vegas strip without the casinos.
The strip is lined with popular bars, restaurants and lots of shopping. You can even grab a sightseeing tour that will manage the entire day- door to door from your hotel in Playa del Carmen.
DIY option: Get there by taking the ADO Bus from Playa del Carmen to Cancun Centro, then grab a taxi to the Hotel District.
The bus ride is about 50 min- 1hr and the taxi ride is another 10-15 minutes depending on where along the hotel zone you want to be dropped off at and will cost around $20 USD.
Note: Uber cannot operate from the Cancun bus terminal. I made this mistake once. The app will not accept rides.
XCarets are theme parks each with a different outdoor adventure focus. Kind of like how Disney’s Magic Kingdom is different than Epcot, except with a Mexican outdoor adventure focus instead of characters or theme park rides.
Select from ATVs in the jungle, water activities, a trip for the senses or a mix of them and mayan cultural shows- and more.
There are currently eight Xcaret parks and each has its own focus and flare!
Xel-ha is all about nature and aqua activities. You can get in ahead of the crowds with this tour.
And you can never go wrong with the classic, Xcaret, a great mix of underground river, cultural shows, and outdoor adventure.
Check if your ticket is all inclusive too. Part of the reason the tickets may feel pricey is that you not only get activities- many include food and drink too!
Day Tour to a Cenote
Jump into the turquoise waters of a natural vertical cave by visiting one fo the naturally occurring cenotes around Playa del Carmen.
When it comes to cenotes, each location is a bit different. However, the natural wonder that cenotes are should make them top of your day trip list!
Cenotes are a natural sink hole where the ground gave way to the ocean below. Now there is isolated, crystal blue waters in these sideways caves-so to speak.
It like a private lagoon of stunning waters and a swimming experience unlike any other.
Yes, there are so many cenotes in the area, that the most instagramabale ones are the pay to enter locations. But if you wander on a jungle bike ride, you may find even more surrounding Playa del Carmen!
I love this tour because you get to see a variety in one day. Most tours take you to just one. This way you can get a real feel for the natural wonder the beauties are!
To help preserve the waters and the area, many of the cenotes have a capacity limit at a given time. While it many mean a short wait, it does mean the water won’t be crowded when you get in- and that is awesome!
Staycation in Playa del Carmen
Sometimes the best day trips are the ones where you spend more of the day living than traveling.
Playa del Carmen is full of resorts and beach clubs. Many of the beach reports offer day passes at discount rates!
If luxury and exclusivity are your thing, head to the rooftop at the Thompson Hotel in Playa del Carmen, just off 5th Avenue. This luxury hotel has a 180 degree rooftop pool with the best view in town.
Prices for entry as well as food and drink are not cheap, but they aren’t luxury hotel prices we’d see in the US- making this a great luxury day escape!