This blog may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.
The bustling tourist town of Playa del Carmen is the perfect place to base yourself for a holiday in the Riviera Maya because it’s home to awesome beaches, a vibrant downtown area filled with lively bars and restaurants, and plenty of fun activities.
We tend to sway towards staying in Playa del Carmen when we visit the Yucatan Peninsula because we can fill most of our days on the busy main beach here, also called Playa del Carmen, as well as enjoy the many water activities on offer like parasailing or a catamaran cruise.
But for the days when we want some peace and quiet, it’s an easy day trip to some lesser-known gems like Puerto Morelos or Isla Contoy! That’s the unique selling point of Playa del Carmen – it’s close to so many incredible activities and destinations making for epic day trips!
Playa del Carmen is also the perfect place to stay if you want a base to explore some other popular areas like Cancun or Tulum, as both are an easy drive from Playa del Carmen!
So, to ensure you have the time of your life in this area, I’ve come up with this varied list of 21 of the best day trips from Playa del Carmen! I’ve included something for every type of traveler, from the historically important Coba Mayan ruins to the awesome Xplor Adventure Park, plus one of the most Instagram-worth cenotes in the Yucatan – Cenote Suytun! I assure you – armed with this awesome list, you will never be bored when staying in Playa del Carmen!
I won’t keep you waiting any longer – here are 21 of the BEST Playa del Carmen day trips!
The BEST Day Trips from Playa del Carmen
1. Cozumel Island
First up on the list of the best day trips from Playa del Carmen is the popular island of Cozumel, which is conveniently located just a 45-minute ferry ride away!
Cozumel is famous for its crystal clear waters, coral reefs, and stunning beaches – so if you’re a beach-lover, this is the ideal day trip for you! And thanks to the clear, calm waters here, one of the best things you can do on Cozumel is snorkel or scuba dive. In fact, the coral reef surrounding the island is the second largest in the world (the biggest is the well-known Great Barrier Reef in Australia!) So, as you can imagine, scuba diving and snorkeling tours are in high-demand here!
If you’re a novice scuba diver, then Cozumel is the perfect place to learn, and there are heaps of highly-recommended dive tours on offer. For beginners, we highly recommend this Private 3-Hour Introductory Scuba Course! Whereas if you’ve dived before, this 4-Hour Two Tank Scuba Tour is the ideal choice, and it takes you to two different dive sites!
In addition to snorkeling and diving, there are heaps of other activities to keep you busy on Cozumel, including fishing and kayaking. You can also explore the island’s main town – San Miguel de Cozumel, which is lined with great restaurants, stores, and art galleries. A must-visit in San Miguel is the beautiful Iglesia de San Miguel, which is the oldest and largest church on the island! For food, we loved Cerveceria Punta Sur, an awesome microbrewery with excellent craft beer and yummy food.
The cheapest and most popular way to get to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen is by ferry, which typically costs around $200 MXN ($10 USD) for a roundtrip ticket. Two ferry companies operate the route – Ultramar, and Transcaribe and as I mentioned above, the journey takes 45 minutes each way.
Another option is to book a full-day guided tour to Cozumel. This particular tour includes your return ferry to the island as well as a buggy tour. On the tour, you’ll be taken to some of the best attractions on Cozumel, including Playa El Cielo, Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park, and Faro Colerain Ecological Reserve. Snorkeling is another activity included in this full-day tour!
2. Sailing Tour
Playa del Carmen’s coastline is one of the prettiest in Mexico, so one of the most memorable day trips you can take from the city is a sailing cruise which takes you out onto the turquoise water where you will be able to see abundant marine life like dolphins, turtles, and sea birds and maybe even stop at an island!
If you’re short on time, you can opt for a sailing tour that’s just a few hours long, or if you have more time, an all-day or even an overnight cruise is a great option! Many of the all-day cruises from Playa del Carmen will include a stop at the stunning Cozumel Island!
While staying in Playa del Carmen, we did this luxury sailing and snorkeling cruise, and we loved it! Firstly, it’s super-reasonable at $129 USD. Secondly, the boat is a gorgeous catamaran that was made in France, and lastly, it includes an open bar! Yep, all your drinks, as well as a yummy gourmet lunch, are included in that price!
During the boat ride, your captain will stop off so that you can go swimming and snorkeling in the warm, clear water – keep your eyes peeled for brightly-colored tropical fish, stingrays, and sea turtles!
Another of the most popular spots that tourists tend to stay at on the Yucatan Peninsula is Cancun; I’m sure you’ve heard of it! It’s well-known for its stunning beaches and epic nightlife. And at just under an hour’s drive (68 km), it’s a great day trip option from Playa del Carmen!
There’s so much to do in Cancun that it will be easy to fill a full day worth of activities; in fact, you may want to leave Playa del Carmen early to experience the best of this resort city!
We recommend starting your day in Cancun by visiting El Rey Mayan ruins, an important archaeological site that was once a city from the years 1200-1450 A.D. Although it’s not as big or as famous as Chichen Itza, it’s still well worth a visit, and considering it’s located in the middle of the Cancun Hotel Zone afterward, you can easily visit one of the incredible beaches nearby!
Afterward, spend some time relaxing at Playa Delfines, which is one of the most popular beaches in Cancun. Its name literally translates to “dolphin beach” because you will often see pods of dolphins frolicking in the water from the shore! What’s great too is it’s a large beach, so you’ve plenty of space to spread out (away from crowds of people!) And if you prefer to relax in the shade, there are plenty of palapas dotted along the beach!
Before you head back to Playa del Carmen, try to fit in a tour of the Cancun Underwater Museum. It’s one of the best tours in Cancun and boasts over 500 different sculptures submerged underwater. You’ll also see abundant marine life here too, like dolphins, seals, and tropical fish! Or instead (and provided you have the time), you could book on a whale shark tour from Cancun!
If you’re not in a rush back to Playa del Carmen and have a designated driver, why not visit one of Cancun’s iconic nightclubs? Coco Bongo is perhaps the most famous and is a Cancun institution – so listen to some great music and dance the hours away before a late-night drive back to your hotel!
Related Read: Check out the best restaurants in Cancun!
4. Cenote Kantun Chi
One of the best things to do on the Yucatan Peninsula is to visit some cenotes. If you’re not familiar with the term – a cenote is essentially a natural pit filled with water, and the word is only associated with the Yucatan Peninsula. Interestingly, cenotes were used as a water supply by the Mayan people as well as for sacrificial offerings!
You’ll find cenotes throughout the Yucatan, from the Guatemalan border all the way to Merida. And luckily, there are heaps of cool cenotes to check out near Playa del Carmen – so why not spend a day at a unique cenote while you’re in town? We think this is one of the best day trips you can take from Playa del Carmen.
One of the best cenotes near Playa del Carmen is Cenote Kantun Chi, which s just a 30-minute drive from downtown. Here, there are not one but five cenotes, so it’s a great place to view the different shapes and sizes of cenotes in one place. You can book a range of different tours here, from a snorkeling tour to an underground river experience. The basic cenote tour is $44 USD per person, including lunch. Cenote Kantun Chi is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day.
Or you could book a full-day guided tour to the cenote such as this one, which includes return transport from Playa del Carmen and Cancun. It also includes a guided tour of the Tulum Ruins and a buffet lunch!
5. Chichen Itza
We can’t make a list of the best day trips from Playa del Carmen and not include the UNESCO-listed Chichen Itza. This ruined Mayan city was built in the year 500 and is, in fact, the most visited archaeological site in the country, with over a million visitors exploring this fascinating site annually!
Chichen Itza is 180 km (a 2.5-hour drive) from Playa del Carmen, so if you plan to self-drive, leaving early is essential as this tourist site tends to get very busy from 10 am!
Chichen Itza covers a massive area of 4 square miles, and one of the most iconic buildings here is El Castillo. This is the most photographed structure at the site, and it was this historic Mayan city’s main temple! It’s huge at a whopping 30 meters tall, but that’s not the most interesting thing about El Castillo – it’s the fact that this temple is essentially one giant man-made calendar! Each of the four sides of the structure has 91 stairs, which, when added together, equals 364; add on the platform at the top, and you get 365, which is the number of days in a year!
The Great Ball Court is another must-visit area within Chichen Itza; it’s the largest of its kind in Mesoamerica, measuring 168 by 70 meters (551 by 230 feet.) The Mayans played a team sport here known as Pitz, which is a mix of basketball and soccer and is said to be the first team sport ever invented!
You can choose to drive yourself to Chichen Itza from Playa del Carmen or join a guided tour like this one, which includes transport! The tour includes an English-speaking guide, your entrance ticket, and breakfast and lunch. As part of the tour you will also visit Cenote Ik-Kil and the Coba Mayan ruins!
Related Read: if time allows the Chichen Itza Night Show is well worth booking! It’s an incredible experience!
Just under an hour’s drive from Playa del Carmen is the bohemian town of Tulum, which is one of my favorite places to visit in all of Mexico. That’s why I think it will make a great day trip from Playa del Carmen – Tulum has everything you’d want from a day trip – beaches, cenotes, and Mayan ruins!
Even though Tulum isn’t built along a beach like Cancun and Playa del Carmen, thankfully, there are lots of excellent beaches nearby. One of my favorite beaches on the Yucatan Peninsula is Paradise Beach which is just a 20-minute bike ride or an hour’s walk from town. Or you could grab a taxi here for less than $10. Spend a few hours mid-morning relaxing on the white sand with a good book and swimming in the warm waters here before enjoying lunch or a snack at one of the amazing restaurants along the beach!
After an early lunch, head to a nearby cenote, some of the best cenotes in Tulum include Cenote Calavera, Cenote Zacil-Ha, and Dos Ojos. And Dos Ojos is one of the most famous cenotes in the region thanks to its bright blue water and the fact that from land, it looks like two different cenotes. Interestingly, the name means “two eyes” because, from the land, it looks like two bright blue eyes! Dos Ojos is just a 20-minute drive from Tulum and entrance costs 350 pesos.
And finally, end your day at the Tulum Ruins, a stunning cliffside Mayan archaeological site that is also home to another of the best beaches in the region, Playa Ruinas! A fun fact is that the pyramid here was once used as a lighthouse. The Tulum Ruins cost 80 pesos to visit, and you will need to pay a further 45 pesos if you wish to use your camera there.
If you don’t wish to drive to Tulum or you don’t have a rental car, your best option is to book this full-day tour to the Tulum ruins and Cenote Zemway from Playa del Carmen. Included in the price is a knowledgeable guide who will teach you so much about this fascinating Mayan site!
Related Read: if you want to have lunch or dinner in Tulum you should first check out my blog post about the best restaurants in Tulum!
7. Cenote Suytun
Another incredible cenote that you simply have to visit on a day trip from Playa del Carmen is Cenote Suytun. Located 146 km (an hour and 45-minute drive) from downtown, it’s well worth leaving early so that you can get here before the bus loads of tourists arrive (ideally before 10 am). It is one of the most shallow cenotes in the region, and it ranges in depth from 3.5 feet to 16.5 feet!
Cenote Suytun is also possibly the most famous cenote in Mexico, and that’s thanks to the power of social media – Instagram specifically, where you may have seen photos of this breathtaking cenote! This cenote is just so photogenic because of the circular platform in the middle, and if you visit at the right time of day (mid to late afternoon is best), a beam of light shines down on this platform, making it look like something from another planet!
In fact, this cenote is so popular now that you will have to line up to take a photo similar to the one above!
What’s great is the entrance fee is still reasonable despite the cenote’s popularity, and it will cost you just 150 pesos ($7.70 USD) at the gate or 130 pesos ($6.70 USD) if you pre-book online. Cenote Suytun is open from 9 am to 4:30 pm daily, and if you want to avoid the crowds, get here early! This cenote is located just a 15-minute drive from the historic city of Valladolid, and if you have time, we highly recommend visiting it!
This full-day tour (it’s 12 hours long) departs Playa del Carmen at 7 am and includes a visit to Chichen Itza, as well as Cenote Ik-Kil and Cenote Suytun! So, that’s three awesome sights in one tour! It includes snacks, lunch, limited beverages and a knowledgable guide!
8. Xplor Adventure Park
And now something for the adrenalin junkies reading this, a day trip to Xplor Adventure Park is sure to satisfy your need for excitement. This huge theme park is part of the Xcaret Brand and is a 109-minute drive from Playa del Carmen.
Spend a full day here enjoying the many thrilling activities on offer, from ziplining to rafting to a four-wheel buggy tour! There are 14 different zip lines within the park, which cover a whopping 2.4 miles over two circuits. As well as that you can go rafting or swim through caves with stalactites! Or why not try out my favorite thing to do at Xplor Adventure Park – driving a four-wheel buggy through the lush jungle as well as flooded caves?
A ticket to Xplor costs $130 USD, which is good-value-for-money considering it includes all the activities listed above (ziplining, swimming in cenotes, driving a 4-wheel buggy), and more! Plus, lunch is also included! The cheapest way to visit Xplor is to drive yourself, but hotel pickup from Playa del Carmen is available if you book an organized tour.
The park is open from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Saturday!
To ensure you’re not disappointed, you can book this all-inclusive Xplor package in advance. The package costs $133 USD but includes lunch, your entrance fee, and a heap of extras not included in the regular ticket price. Plus, if you’re not in a rush to get back to Playa del Carmen, you should book the Xplor Fuego, which is a fun night experience!
Another fun day trip from Playa del Carmen is the famed Xcaret – an archaeological eco-water and amusement park where you can enjoy a whole host of activities such as swimming in a Caleta, snorkeling, watching some incredible live performances, and exploring Mayan pyramids! There’s even a large aquarium here!
Plus, if you want to turn this day trip into a truly bucket-list-worthy experience for an additional fee, you can swim with sharks, dolphins, and manta rays here!
You can drive to Xcaret yourself from Playa del Carmen, but we advise booking your ticket in advance to avoid disappointment. Alternatively, hop in a taxi, which will cost you approximately $12 USD.
And finally, another great option is to book this shuttle bus run by Xcaret that also includes your entrance ticket! If you have a slightly bigger budget, then I highly recommend booking the Xcaret Plus service because it includes a lunch buffet and other handy services like dressing rooms, lockers, and snorkeling equipment.
A 141 km drive (an hour and 45 minutes) from Playa del Carmen is the colorful city of Valladolid, home to colonial churches and brightly-colored buildings. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this city will give you a true feel of Mexican life. What’s great, too, is that it’s rated one of the safest destinations in Mexico, and the locals here are so friendly! Therefore, we say visiting Valladolid on a day trip from Playa del Carmen is a no-brainer!
One of the best things to do in Valladolid (especially if you’re a chocolate lover like me) is to visit Choco-Story, a fascinating little museum that teaches you about the history of Cocoa and its importance in Mayan culture. Situated in the heart of Valladolid, it has 12 different rooms to explore. It will take about 30-45 minutes to walk around, and the displays are in multiple languages, including English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, and Chinese. And at the end, you’ll get to enjoy the chance to sample some delicious chocolates. Choco-Story is open from 9 am to 7:30 pm every day, and the entrance fee is 165 pesos ($8 USD) per adult.
Another activity we loved while we were staying in Valladolid was the free walking tour which takes you to some of the most iconic sights in this colonial city, like the Convent of San Bernardino of Siena and the San Gervasio Cathedral. These free tours leave from the Central Plaza at 10 am, 5 pm, 6 pm, and 7 pm every day. Just look out for the red umbrellas, and you’ve found your group. It’s important t note that although these tours are complimentary, you should tip your guide as he/she relies on tips for his/her wage!
While one of the most unique things you can do in Valladolid is to visit the Xkopek Beekeeping Park, which is home to various different species of bees, Mayans have a deep respect for bees, and they used their honey to help treat infections and diseases. The park is a short 5 min drive from central Valladolid.
On the bee tour, you will visit a dry cenote where you have the chance to see the different bees in their natural habitat, and you can also see these little creatures and their hives close-up via special viewing boxes!
11. Scuba Diving
Another awesome, memorable way to spend a day away from Playa del Carmen is to book a scuba diving tour. The clear, calm waters surrounding this beachside town are perfect for diving, and it’s a popular place for newbie divers who come here to master the sport! But it’s also a great spot for advanced divers, with many dive sites available a short distance from Playa del Carmen! We say get away from the hustle and bustle of Playa del Carmen and instead explore the underwater world here on this bucket-list-worthy day trip option from Playa del Carmen!
For beginners, we highly recommend this discovery dive with an experienced instructor. It includes dives in two locations with an experienced guide, so you will feel safe at all times before you head out into the open water though you’ll be taught the basics of scuba diving in a pool! No certification is required for this particular activity!
If you want to get PADI certified while staying in Playa del Carmen, then this 3-day PADI certification course includes a full day of learning outside the water and two full days of diving. All equipment is included in the price, and you will be granted a certification card upon completing the course. With this card, you can dive up to 60 feet anywhere in the world! If your itinerary allows, more advanced 5-day courses are available too.
While if you’re already PADI certified, then you can go diving on your own, but we recommend booking a guided dive tour as that way, you’ll have the knowledge of a local guide who can take you to the best dive spots. For example, this two-tank dive for certified divers offers the opportunity to dive at two completely different sites, where you’ll see plenty of marine life, like sea turtles, tropical fish, and maybe even dolphins. You can also opt for a wreck dive or a night dive if you’re after something different!
12. Akumal Beach
Playa Akumal, or Akumal Beach, is one of the most popular places in Mexico to see and swim with sea turtles. The beach’s name means “place of the turtle,” and if you prefer not to go swimming, not to worry, you will likely see these gorgeous creatures swimming close to the shore. However, if you’re after a truly memorable experience, you can hire a guide from the beach to take you swimming within the sectioned area, which is where most of the turtles are. You can, of course, go swimming for turtles without a guide, but you will not be allowed to enter the sectioned-off area without one; instead, it’s best to swim to the East of this area in search of them!
It’s worth noting, too, that because swimming with the turtles within the sectioned-off area is limited to just 200 people, it’s best to get here early to nab yourself a guide to take you!
Playa Akumal is 39 km from Playa del Carmen, and the easiest way to get here is by renting a car and driving yourself or hopping in a Colectivo. It will cost you $3 to park here for the day, and the entrance fee to the beach costs $6 USD!
Or you can book an organized tour with a guide like this half-day Akumal snorkeling experience which includes transport to/from Playa del Carmen. A boxed lunch and snorkeling gear are included in the price, which is $109 USD per person!
13. Akumal Monkey Sanctuary
If you’re after a unique, family-friendly day trip from Playa del Carmen, you should consider the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary! This small sanctuary houses a troop of howler monkeys and is just 35 minutes from Playa del Carmen.
But there are plenty of other animals who call this sanctuary home, too, including zebras, ostriches, snakes, and a variety of birds. Interestingly, many of the exotic animals found here were donated to the sanctuary after Mexico introduced a law that banned the use of animals in live shows!
Of course, the main attraction here is the monkeys, and on a visit here, you will get the opportunity to see them up close and learn some fascinating facts about these cute creatures! And no need to worry about getting close to these cheeky animals, this type of monkey is very friendly, and they just love interacting with visitors!
The Akumal Monkey Sanctuary is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
14. Go Swimming with Whale Sharks
Playa del Carmen is one of only a few places in the world where you can go swimming with whale sharks. And although their name sounds terrifying, these huge creatures are actually known as the “gentle giants of the sea” because of their timid nature and the fact they only eat plankton! Plus, despite their name, they’re not actually part of the shark family and are more commonly known as the biggest fish in the world. Yep, the whale shark can measure up to 10 meters long and weigh a whopping 19,000 kg!!
Considering all of the above information, it won’t surprise you to learn that swimming with whale sharks is one of the best things you can do in Playa del Carmen. And you can only swim with them on a guided tour like this one! It’s a full-day tour (approx. 7 hours long) and includes pick-up from anywhere on the Riviera Maya. But I think the best thing about this specific tour is that it includes an expert biologist who will teach you so much about these fascinating creatures before you jump in to swim with them! Your lunch (which is served off the coast of the idyllic Isla Mujeres) and all snorkeling equipment is included in the price!
Whale shark season in Playa del Carmen starts on the 15th of May and ends on the 17th of September, with the optimum time to go swimming with them being in the middle of those dates.
15. Isla Contoy
A lesser-known gem on the Yucatan Peninsula is Isla Contoy, and I don’t know about you, but when I vacation at a busy tourist resort like Playa del Carmen, I like to escape the hustle and bustle and find some peace and relaxation. And on the teeny-tiny island of Contoy, you will definitely find that! This island is just 8.5 km long, and it was, in fact, given National Park status in 1998. It will take about 2.5 hours to reach this paradise island from Playa del Carmen, and it’s important to note the only way to visit it is on a guided tour!
Isla Contoy is completely uninhabited by humans and instead is home to thousands of sea turtles who come here every year to lay their eggs. As well as the turtles, you will spot over 170 different types of birds, and should you go swimming or snorkeling here; you may see over 250 species of fish. As I mentioned, the only way to visit the island is on a tour, and because only 200 people can visit the island daily, it’s essential to book this day trip from Playa del Carmen well in advance!
This catamaran tour from Playa del Carmen and Cancun is highly rated and includes breakfast, buffet lunch, and drinks, as well as all snorkeling equipment. The tour is 7 hours long.
An important tip to remember is that you can’t wear sunscreen when swimming off Isla Contoy because it may harm the sealife here. Instead, you should wear a rashguard for sun protection.
16. Puerto Morelos
Another fantastic day trip option from Playa del Carmen is Puerto Morelos, a bohemian fishing town located just 35 km (22 miles) from downtown. It’s very different from the more popular tourist towns I have recommended above (such as Cancun and Tulum) – because it’s an authentic Mexican town with very few tourist facilities, and the locals here speak very little English! But that’s why I love it – it’s “true Mexico” as I’ve heard it described in the past and is home to several stunning beaches and some incredible restaurants too!
And some of the best things you can do when visiting this lesser-explored gem is to hit up one of the nearby beaches; I love Playa Caracol and Playa Puerto Morelos.
Another fantastic activity in Puerto Morelos is this reef snorkeling tour – which is run by local fishermen who will take you out to a relatively unknown coral reef, one of the largest in the world – the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Here, you will get the chance to snorkel part of this massive 966 km (600 miles) long coral reef! The tour is reasonably priced at only $45 – $70 USD per person, and spaces are limited to just 10 people – meaning you get a more personalized experience!
Be sure too to check out the many authentic Mexican restaurants in the town, which typically serve traditional Yucatan dishes like my favorites, the Lechon Sandwich (steamed pork sandwich) or Cochinita!
If you’ve self-driven to Puerto Morelos, driving the famed Ruta del Cenote may be of interest to you before heading back to Playa del Carmen for the evening. This route is home to some breathtaking cenotes like Cenote Siete Bocas, Cenote Las Mojarras, Chilam Balam, and Cenote Verde Lucero, and it begins just a couple of minutes from Puerto Morelos.
17. Buggy Tour to a Mayan Village
If you’re looking for a thrilling day trip from Playa del Carmen, look no further than this exhilarating buggy adventure through the lush jungle outside of Playa del Carmen. Leave the beach behind for the day and spend an exciting day speeding past stunning jungle scenery on a 2-seater buggy! FYI – if you’re traveling with family or part of a group, you can opt for the 6-seater buggy!
Following a detailed safety briefing, you’ll get to drive on off-road trails and uneven terrain, and here’s hoping you’re not afraid to get dirty because, by the end of the tour, you’re likely going to be covered in dirt and mud!
Your first stop is a beautiful cenote that boasts bright blue water, and here’s your chance to rinse off some of that dirt and cool down with a swim. After this refreshing swim, you will make your way to a traditional Mayan residence where you’ll get to meet the friendly residents and maybe even enjoy a meal that they will prepare for you!
This tour costs from $107 USD, which I think is a great price, as it’s undoubtedly a day trip you won’t forget in a hurry!
18. Isla Holbox
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is home to plenty of fantastic towns and islands, but one of my favorite islands in the region is Isla Holbox, a small island with a population of only 1,000 people and a quirky, bohemian vibe! The most unusual thing about Holbox is that it’s car-free; yep, save a few trucks that are used to transport goods around the island; the only way you can get around this island is by bike, golf cart, or walking!
On this island that’s 26-miles-long and just a mile wide, there are lots of white sand beaches like Playa Holbox and Playa Punta Cocos, and it’s also home to the Yum Balam Nature Reserve, where you’ll find flamingos, herons, and pelicans! Yet the top attraction on Isla Holbox remains the opportunity to swim with whale sharks. In fact, the ocean surrounding the island is one of the top places worldwide to swim with these giants of the sea!
While we were staying on the island, we joined this whale shark snorkeling adventure tour, which was 7 hours long, and while we were snorkeling, we saw not only whale sharks but sea turtles, giant manta rays, plus an octopus! Because this tour is lengthy at 7 hours long, it may be a squeeze to fit it into a day trip only, which is why we recommend spending a few nights on Isla Holbox if possible – there really are so many awesome things to do here!
Also, you can’t visit this paradise island without spending at least a few hours on a beach. As mentioned above, my top choices are Playa Punta Cocos and Playa Holbox. With my preferred beach of choice being Playa Punta Cocos which is quieter and could be described as a bit of a hidden gem! The water here is crystal clear and shallow, and lots of hammocks in the shallows make for an awesome chill-out spot! To get here from the center of town, you can walk, which will take 30 minutes, hire a bike, or take a golf cart the 1.5 miles (2.4 km) distance – which will be much quicker, obviously!
Getting to Isla Holbox from Playa del Carmen is pretty easy; it involves an hour and 45-minute drive (122 km/76 mi) to Chiquila and then a 15-minute ferry to the island. As a day trip from Playa del Carmen, you’ll need to allow for four hours of travel (two hours each way!). So, if you have time, maybe opt to stay a night or two if possible. Otherwise, book a guided tour.
19. Coba Ruins
Another Mayan archaeological site that is definitely worth visiting on a day trip from Playa del Carmen is the Coba Ruins. Although lesser-known than Chichen Itza – Coba is home to the highest pyramid in Quintana Roo, so it’s definitely a good idea to spend a few hours exploring one of the top Mayan ruin sites in Mexico. Especially considering it’s just a 90-minute drive (108.5 km) from Playa del Carmen.
Coba also boasts the largest network of sacbes (aka white roads), which were used to transport goods in the ancient Mayan world! Would you believe over 50 of these sacbes have been discovered at Coba, and 16 of these can be seen on a tour of the site? You can either walk, rent a bike, or hire a bike-taxi to explore these sacbes! And due to the discovery of these white roads, it is now believed that Coba was one of the most important Mayan cities in history.
What we really loved about Coba is the fact that you can climb to the top of the pyramid here for an impressive view of the surrounding jungle, unlike at Chichen Itza! And also because many of the ruins here haven’t been properly excavated yet that if you come on a quiet day, you will feel as though you have just discovered them!
The Coba Ruins are open daily from 8 am to 5 pm, but it’s worth getting here early to avoid the crowds! The entrance fee to Coba is 80 MXN ($4 USD), and if you drive here yourself, you will need to pay a 50 MXN ($2.50 USD) parking fee. Or you could book a highly-rated guided tour like this one which includes round-trip transport from Playa del Carmen and a visit to Cenotes Tamcach-Ha & Choo-Ha.
20. Isla Mujeres
Another island that’s well worth a day trip from Playa del Carmen is Isla Mujeres which is just a short ferry ride from Cancun. We recommend leaving Playa del Carmen early to drive the 68 km to the ferry port so that you can get a full day on this island because, despite its small size, it sure packs a punch in terms of awesome things to do. Of course, this paradise island is home to plenty of incredible beaches, and water activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, and a sailing tour are insanely popular here; the downtown area has plenty of fun things to do, too, such as shopping! Wandering the streets of the small town here will give you a true sense of Mexican island life and in the town is where you’ll find the best Cafes and restaurants!
As for specific beaches on the island – Playa Norte is one of the best beaches in Mexico, if not the whole world. As the name suggests, it’s situated on the north side of the island and is only a 10-minute walk from the ferry port. With soft, white sand and crystal-clear turquoise water, this beach is everything you could hope for from an island beach. While a quieter option is Na Balam beach which boasts a big hotel and restaurant – Na Balam Hotel serves up some yummy local cuisine. Na Balam beach is also a great place to meet locals!
Isla Mujeres is also one of the best places in the country to go snorkeling, and when we visited the island, we made a great choice in booking this Isla Mujeres Snorkeling Tour, which includes snorkeling stops at three different spots. On the tour, you’ll get the chance to see the largest coral reef in the region – the Manchones and an underwater museum where there are 500 sculptures set up on the ocean floor!
Once you arrive in Cancun, I recommend taking the Ultramar ferry from Puerto Juarez, as this fast ferry gets you to the island in about 30 minutes. The ferry departs every hour from 11 am to 9 pm, and tickets cost approximately 460 pesos ($23 USD) for a round-trip.
21. Rio Secreto
And finally, I leave you with a fantastic short day trip option from Playa del Carmen – Rio Secreto, a gigantic cave system with underground rivers that’s just 15 minutes from downtown! Rio Secreto is a whopping 38 km (23 miles) long, and most of the cave system is yet to be explored!
On a tour of Rio Secreto, you will need to wade through the shallow waters within the caves while taking in the cool rock formations you see along the way. You can even swim in the clear (but cold) water if you wish! There’s lots of unique fauna in the caves too, and you may even spot some interesting spiders. But, no need to be afraid of them – they are harmless.
Because the cave system here is dark, it can be a little scary while you’re wading through them, but it’s a completely safe thing to do in Playa del Carmen and tends to be very popular with families, especially! Plus, because the tour is in a cave, it can be done in any weather, yep the rain doesn’t need to hinder your plan to visit Rio Secreto!
You can drive to Rio Secreto yourself and book the tour when you get there – this tends to work out cheaper. Or you can book a tour like this one!
Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen
Choosing a place to stay in Playa del Carmen can often be overwhelming – trust me, I’ve been there. The selection of hotels is huge and cater to all sort of trips, budgets, and ages. I won’t be able to mention every place I love, but I do have some favorites, depending on what you’re looking for.
For budget travelers, Che Playa Hostel and Bar is one of the best hostels in Playa del Carmen. The hostel is located in the heart of town and comes with a small rooftop pool and bar, a social atmosphere, clean facilities, and helpful staff. The rooms are cheap, and you can book them on Hostelworld or Booking.com.
When I’m traveling on a moderate budget and want a nice place, not in a resort, I love Soho Playa Hotel. The hotel has a fantastic location, a pool, free breakfast, a restaurant, and a really clean and modern design. Honestly, for the price, this place is a gem! If it’s not luxurious enough, I also like The Palm at Playa, which is in a similar price range.
For luxury travelers, The El Taj Oceanfront and Beachside Condo Hotel offer a great central location that’s still secluded. The hotel is oceanfront, has a pool, is located in the heart of town, and they offer a huge variety of rooms, including one, two, and three-bedroom apartments.
Renting a Car in Mexico
Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get around Mexico is in a rental car.
I struggled to get around by bus and taxi for the longest time. But after renting a car in Mexico in 2019, I never looked back. It allowed me to explore the country without worrying about tours or taxis. It was why I fell in love with Mexico and eventually decided to live here periodically.
I refuse to use local services whenever I rent a car in Mexico. The truth is they sometimes can’t be trusted or come with hidden fees (or costly insurance that doesn’t make sense.) There are even rental car scams! So instead, I use Discover Cars, the company most experienced travelers or ex-pats in Mexico recommend.
The rates on Discover Cars are cheap, too, with the average rental costing around $25 USD per day. Full coverage insurance can be added for an extra $10 USD a day too.
Driving in Mexico also only requires a driver’s license using the Roman alphabet. If yours uses another like Japan and China, you simply need an international driving permit.
Insurance is required, but if you book with Discover Cars and get the full coverage, that’s all you need! Oh, and being over 18 is required, and if you’re over 25, your rental will be much cheaper!
Thanks for reading!
What a list! I hope you enjoyed reading about the 21 best day trips from Playa del Carmen as much as I enjoyed writing it! In fact, I’m just itching to revisit this vibrant beach resort – it really is one of the best tourist destinations in the world!
Thanks so much for reading! I hope you learned something from this huge blog on the best day trips from Playa del Carmen. If you did, then keep planning and check out more of our great guides to other destinations in Mexico, such as:
15 BEST Restaurants in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico