15 Best Day Trips from Playa del Carmen

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Playa Del Carmen is a coastal town along the Riviera Maya in Mexico’s Quintana Roo state.

It is often chosen by visitors to the region who are looking to get away from the party atmosphere of Cancún.

The town is lined with a large beach facing the Caribbean Sea.

It is known for having a much more relaxed atmosphere than other towns in the area, boutique style accommodation and colonial architecture that give the town a very European feel.

If you are looking to get away from the town for a day trip, there are plenty of great options in the region, from natural parks and pools to Mayan ruins and cultural villages.

Here are the fifteen best day trips from Playa Del Carmen.

1. Tulum

Tulum RuinsSource: DC_Aperture / shutterstock
Tulum Ruins

Tulum is a beautiful coastal town a short drive away from Playa Del Carmen.

The beaches are vast and quiet, with a bohemian vibe adding to a relaxed atmosphere.

One of the most popular attractions in Tulum are the Mayan ruins of the old city.

These are located right next to the beach and can easily be explored on foot within a couple of hours.

After visiting the ruins, you can then head to Playa Maya for more beach relaxing, or to enjoy snorkeling and spotting the sea turtles native to the Caribbean Sea.

Recommended tour: Tulum Ruins Tour & Tankah Ecological Park from Riviera Maya

2. Cobá

CobaSource: Madrugada Verde / shutterstock

Cobá is also home to some Mayan Ruins, though these are a little more impressive than others and feature the highest pyramid in Quintana Roo.

It is a good idea to come either as part of an organized tour or quite early in the morning if you are guiding yourself, as it can get quite busy after lunchtime.

After visiting the Mayan ruins, you can explore Cobá village.

It is quite small but idyllic, and most tourists do not go into the village itself, so you can get a more authentic idea of local culture.

You can also spot crocodiles in the town lagoon – from a safe distance of course.

Available tour: Mayan Ruins of Coba: Full-Day Tour

3. Xel-Há Park

Xel-Há ParkSource: MIKE FOUQUE / shutterstock
Xel-Há Park

Located on a small inlet on the Caribbean coast, Xel-Há park combines Mayan mythology with natural history in an adventure park that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Xel-Há focuses on sustainable tourism and incorporates environmentally friendly policies into all of their attractions.

You can visit a natural aquarium to enjoy native wildlife from the neighboring seas, and even snorkel and dive amongst the tropical fish and sea turtles.

Outside of the water, there are jungle trails and a nature train.

You can also enjoy one of their many restaurants.

Book online: Xel-Há Park All-Inclusive 1-Day Pass

4. Isla Mujeres

Isla MujeresSource: Fairy Lens / shutterstock
Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres may seem like an idyllic hideaway on the surface, but it has an extensive and at times bloody history that you can learn about on your visit.

You can either drive to Cancún and take a ferry or join one of the catamaran tours that sail directly from Playa del Carmen.

On the island, you can relax on the beaches, learn about ancient Mayan history and pirate hideaways, or check out the hidden caves.

On the ferry to the island, you may also spot dolphins and sharks in the Caribbean waters.

Combo tour: Contoy and Mujeres Islands Tour with Transfer Options

5. Riviera Maya

Riviera Maya, MexicoSource: Simon Dannhauer / shutterstock
Riviera Maya

If you have a limited amount of time, you can visit a few of the areas on this list in a single day trip along the Riviera Maya.

Playa del Carmen is just one of the many towns and villages along the coast, and each place has its own special charm.

The region is known for the most beautiful beaches in Mexico and the villages are packed with local culture and craftsmanship.

The area is known for its natural beauty, with a neighboring forest to explore and plenty of opportunities to snorkel and dive if you want to check out the marine life.

There are both coach and boat tours of the region available, but even simply driving your own car can provide a unique day-trip.

Unique tour: Playa del Carmen 3-Hour Dune Buggy Tour and Cenote Swim

6. Contoy Island

Isla Contoy, MexicoSource: Maciej Czekajewski / shutterstock
Isla Contoy

Contoy Island is a protected nature reserve close to Isla Mujeres.

You will need to book a tour to take the day trip there, as visits are limited to a handful of tour companies and only 200 visitors are allowed per day.

Whilst on the island, you can enjoy the native birdlife and learn about the conservation efforts taking place on Mexico’s islands.

Most boat trips on the way also stop at Ixlache Reef for you to snorkel and explore one of the most beautiful reefs in the Caribbean.

The island is also home to the region’s largest colony of sea turtles.

Combo tour: Contoy and Mujeres Islands Tour with Transfer Options

7. Sian Ka’an

Reserva de la Biosfera Sian Ka’anSource: Inspired By Maps / shutterstock
Reserva De La Biosfera Sian Ka’an

Sian Ka’an is another sustainable tourism destination along the Riviera Maya.

It is designed to minimize en-masse tourism, so numbers are limited every day to give you a much more relaxing experience away from the main tourist traps.

A variety of activities are available, including birdwatching, snorkeling and exploring coastal wetlands.

You can take a boat tour down the Sian Ka’an canal and indulge in some fly fishing along the coastal areas.

If you prefer, you can arrange your own tours and only pay a simple entry fee, or you can get tailored tours depending on your interests and needs.

Amazing tour: Sian Kaan Boat Trip and Snorkel Adventure

8. Chichén Itzá

Chichén ItzáSource: Pakhnyushchy / shutterstock
Chichén Itza

The second-most visited archeological site in Mexico, Chichén Itzá is well known as one of the best-preserved Mayan ruins in the country, with a famous pyramid in the center.

The Kukulkan Pyramid was named one of the new seven wonders of the world in 2007 and draws millions of tourists per year.

This is one of the best places in Mexico to learn about ancient Mayan society and the impact the Spanish invasions had on these societies.

It is a bit further away from Playa del Carmen than other sites on this list but is easily reached as part of a day trip and well worth the traveling.

9. Punta Laguna

Monkey in Punta LagunaSource: DouglasDepies / shutterstock
Monkey in Punta Laguna

If you like monkeys, Punta Laguna park is the trip for you.

Located around an hour and a half drive from Playa del Carmen, this nature reserve is a great place for you to safely interact with the native monkey population.

You also have the opportunity to swim in the lagoon located within the reserve and explore the vast forests the region is known for.

There are Mayan ceremony experiences and zip-lines through the park.

If you have your heart set on seeing the monkeys, it is advised to book with a tour guide, as they will know the best places for you to meet them.

Recommended tour: Punta Laguna and Coba Day Trip

10. Holbox Island

Isla Holbox, MexicoSource: BlueOrange Studio / shutterstock
Isla Holbox

Holbox Island is a small, inhabited islet off the coast of Quintana Roo.

There are no cars allowed on the island and tourism is limited, but you can visit yourself by flying from Cancún or as part of a guided tour.

Like all other islands in the region, it is lined with gorgeous beaches; however, it is also a sanctuary for flamingos and pelicans, as well as a host of other native wildlife.

It is a true off-the-beaten-path destination due to low tourism numbers, and you can experience the unique local culture in Holbox village with the local fish markets and day to day life.

Suggested tour: Holbox Island Tour with Transfer Options

11. Rio Secreto

Río SecretoSource: getyourguide
Río Secreto

Rio Secreto is an underground river system with wide caves and clear waters.

You can only visit the rivers with a guide for safety reasons; however, you get to experience abseiling, river walks and caving whilst on tour.

The caves are filled with stalactites and the tour guides are knowledgeable about the local ecosystem.

Like many other places in the region, Rio Secreto is an ecological tourism destination and they pride themselves on providing sustainable, environmentally friendly tours.

The caves are also a great place to experience local wildlife.

Suggested tour: Rio Secreto Underground River Tour

12. Cancún

CancúnSource: Christopher Lin / shutterstock

Probably the most famous city on the Yucatán Peninsula, Cancún is famed for its nightlife, casinos and bustling beach life.

Away from the main tourist strip, however, there are more secluded and quiet spots for families and other tourists to explore.

There is an interactive aquarium to learn more about the marine life, and a Mayan museum if you are more interested in cultural activities.

For a slice of local life, you can visit the street markets and test out your haggling skills.

There is something for everyone in Cancún, so do not be put off by its party town reputation.

13. Cenotes

Gran Cenote, TulumSource: Byelikova Oksana / shutterstock
Gran Cenote, Tulum

Cenotes are natural sinkholes and pits that allow you to access ground waters.

You can swim in them, or simply check out the native flora and fauna that thrive alongside the pools.

The largest cenote – Gran Cenote – is in Tulum, and from here there is a trail along the Riviera Maya known as Ruta de los Cenotes.

If you are unsure about the safest cenotes to swim in, there are plenty of tours leaving directly from Playa del Carmen.

Nevertheless, for the more adventurous, you can find plenty of information online to compile your own tour.

Many of the best ones have trails allowing you easy access.

14. Valladolid

Valladolid, MexicoSource: Eddy Galeotti / shutterstock
Valladolid, Mexico

A popular option for visitors to Chichén Itzá who are looking for a less touristy town to explore, Valladolid is quite a sleepy town where you can relax and take in the local culture.

The central plaza is filled with beautiful native plants and surrounded by colonial architecture.

You can visit the Museo de San Roque and check out the colonial and Mayan artifacts.

You can also visit markets that surround the central plaza to pick up some local handicrafts as souvenirs of your trip.

Modern art is also available at Yalat Boutique, where you are encouraged to browse at your leisure and purchase anything that catches your eye.

15. Cozumel

Isla CozumelSource: Ramunas Bruzas / shutterstock
Isla Cozumel

Cozumel Island is only a short ferry ride away from Playa del Carmen and is a great day trip option if you do not want to spend a lot of time traveling to the destination itself.

Like others in the region, the main draw of this island is its beautiful beaches and snorkeling opportunities.

However, you can also opt to explore the main village on the island to enjoy the unique Caribbean culture experienced by locals.

There are smaller Mayan ruins dotted around the island, and even some great nightlife spots if you opt to stay the night.

15 Best Day Trips from Playa del Carmen:

  • Tulum
  • Cobá
  • Xel-Há Park
  • Isla Mujeres
  • Riviera Maya
  • Contoy Island
  • Sian Ka’an
  • Chichén Itzá
  • Punta Laguna
  • Holbox Island
  • Rio Secreto
  • Cancún
  • Cenotes
  • Valladolid
  • Cozumel