A full Playa del Carmen experience can be had in 72 hours if you plan an itinerary that combines the outdoor activities and cultural attractions of Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Here are our top ideas for how to spend your time in this coastal destination about an hour south of Cancún.
Day 1: Explore Local Attractions and Activities
Start your trip at one of the three adventure, jungle, and eco-archaeological parks—Rio Secreto, Xplor, and Xcaret. All are located just 15 minutes south of central Playa del Carmen and offer a variety of family-friendly activities, including ziplining and swimming in underground rivers. Spend a few hours, or the whole day, at the one that best suits your group.
If you’d rather get out in the Caribbean’s clear waters, hop on a half-day catamaran tour to go swimming and snorkeling. Look for sea turtles and tropical fish and admire the scenery as the boat glides along the coast. Cruises often include drinks and lunch on board. Then, begin your evening on a food tour to learn about Playa del Carmen’s culinary culture, or enjoy Vegas-style entertainment with a Riviera Maya theme at a Cirque du Soleil show, which offers dinner and champagne options.
Day 2: Discover More Adventures
Make the most of Playa del Carmen’s location between the sea, jungle, and ancient Maya sites on a day tour that matches the interests of your group. For a mix of adventure and history, take a combo tour to the ruins of Tulum with ziplining and swimming in underground caves. If you’d rather be on the water, book a catamaran cruise to Isla Mujeres, or visit Xel-Ha aquatic park for water activities. For a shorter excursion that doesn’t take all day but still provides a little adventure, opt for a half-day jungle buggy tour, where you’ll explore the lush landscape in an open-air 4x4, stopping to swim in an underground swimming hole known as a cenote.
Back in Playa del Carmen, head out to sea on a sunset cruise before mingling with other partygoers at a few of the top nightlife venues with a nightclub pass.
Day 3: Marvel at Ancient Ruins
Take a day trip to see one of several ancient ruins of the Maya civilization, which dominated the Yucatán Peninsula before the Spanish conquerors arrived. The biggest and most popular site is Chichen Itza, located roughly 110 miles (180 kilometers) west of Playa del Carmen. Once one of the Maya’s biggest cities, it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its Great Ball Court and El Castillo, a step pyramid nearly 100 feet (30 meters) tall. To avoid the crowds and gain the most insight into the pre-Colombian culture, book an early access tour with an archaeologist guide.
If you’ve already been to Chichen Itza or prefer less travel, try a day trip to Coba, another set of Maya ruins a bit closer to Playa del Carmen where you can see the tallest pyramid in the region.