Playa del Carmen

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Like the rest of the action-packed Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen is a hotspot for major attractions. Just a few miles from the town center you’ll find eco theme parks, Mayan ruins, and dozens of water sports and tropical adventures, making this a very appealing family-friendly vacation destination, which also caters nicely to adults on romantic getaways, honeymooners, destination weddings, as well as guys- or girls-only getaways.

Things to do in Playa del Carmen

Ambar Mexicano

Shop for art and jewelry made from amber brought in from the Chiapas mines near Simojovel in southern Mexico. The golden-red resin of the amber – some of it containing "frozen" insects – is sold alongside precious stones like lapis lazuli, opals, and jade at this specialty boutique. The prices for these handcrafted jewelry items are very reasonable, the selection is truly unique, and the salespeople are very friendly and helpful.

Ave. Quinta (between Calles 4 and 6), 011-52-984-873-2357
Tags: things to do | art | shopping | jewelry

ATV Tours in Riviera Maya

Jump on a Yamaha ATV for an adrenaline-filled two hours bumping along narrow dirt paths through the dense Mexican jungle. Along the way, you'll stop to observe spider monkeys, swim in crystal clear rivers and cenotes, and explore caves and minimally excavated Mayan ruins.

Highway 307 (between Playacar and Xcaret), 011-52-984-873-1626, www.atvexplorer.com
Tags: tour | wildlife | things to do | outdoors | adventure

Blue Parrot Beach Club

The beachside bar that Newsweek called one of the ten best in the world in 1998 is still a Playa must. The 10:30pm fire show is a highlight for many, though the crowd doesn't die down until the sun comes up. It's pretty casual, with a sandy floor and lounge chairs under the open sky surrounded by palms.

At the beach at Calle 12, 011-52-984-206-3350, www.blueparrot.com
Tags: things to do | great value | nightlife | bar | waterfront | editor pick

Diving and Snorkeling in Playa del Carmen

Snorkeling and diving on the beautiful barrier reef just off Playa's shore is one of the top choices for tourists. The more adventurous divers can swim through the cenote underwater caverns, swim with whale sharks, or even get PADI certified (courses last between 1-4 days). Cyan-Ha Dive Center offers a variety of packages; their two-tank dive ($70) allows you to be under water for 50 minutes – twice the time of a one-tank dive.

Ave. 38 at the Mahekal Beach Resort, 011-52-984-803-2517, www.cyanha.com
Tags: diving | snorkeling | smart splurge | things to do | outdoors | editor pick

Horseback Riding in Riviera Maya

Sign up with Punta Venado to go horseback riding on the white sandy beaches of the Riviera Maya, near Xcaret - an outstanding ecological theme park. The experience is truly unforgettable - the ocean views are inspiring and the horses are well taken care of. Even young children will enjoy the ride atop the gentle beasts.

Carretera Cancún-Tulum Km. 278 plus 200 m., www.puntavenado.com
Tags: smart splurge | things to do | outdoors | views

Jungle Place

Sometimes called the monkey sanctuary, or kuxi k'aax in Maya, the jungle place is a 20-acre private monkey reserve where you can interact with your fellow primates. All of the dozen or so animals have been rescued from neglectful owners or were orphans, and fees go toward feeding them. It's a thirty minute drive from Playa del Carmen, just north of the city on Highway 307. For a special treat, overnight accommodations in small guest houses are available within the sanctuary for between $160 and $220 per night.

In the town of Cheymuil (between the towns of Akumal and Tulum), 011-52-1-984-116-9777, www.thejungleplace.com
Tags: family | wildlife | things to do | outdoors | family attraction

La Hierbabuena

High-quality Mexican arts and crafts are the theme of this small shop run by California expat Melinda Burns. Many of the items – ranging from clothing to pottery to wind chimes – are handmade and one of a kind.

Ave. Quinta (between Calles 8 and 10), 011-52-984-873-1741
Tags: things to do | art | shopping | souvenirs | crafts

Maya Zip-Line

This full-day adventure includes a guided bike ride, zip-lining, snorkeling, and lunch. You’ll be picked up at your hotel between 8am and 9am, and return around 2pm. During the relatively leisurely bike ride, you’ll explore jungle scenery and the farmlands of Don Silvano. You’ll then swim or snorkel within a system of cenotes, featuring crystal-clear water. Next, you’ll literally soar through the air along 160-meter long zip-lines. The entire tour package costs $119 per person, including lunch and transportation.

15 Minutes outside of Playa del Carmen, 011-52-984-803-9999; 877-437-4990, www.alltournative.com/tours-products/maya-zip-line
Tags: family | tour | things to do | adventure

Mayan Arts Gallery

Hand-woven huipiles (the traditional embroidered dresses of Mayan women) and other collectibles, such as carved wooden masks from remote indigenous groups, are what lure buyers here from around the Yucatan. Prices are not cheap, but the items are as authentic as they come.

Ave. Quinta (between Calles 6 and 8), 011-52-984-879-3389
Tags: things to do | art | shopping | souvenirs | crafts

Rio Secreto Reserva Natural

The drive to the staging area of Rio Secreto from Playa del Carmen takes about 15 minutes. From there, you’ll board an open-air vehicle that’ll take you about 20 minutes into the middle of what seems like nowhere. Here you’ll enter into a vast, stunningly beautiful underground cave complex. The guided tours last about 3.5 hours, cost $59 per person, and cover about 600 meters of caves, covered with stalactites and stalagmites. The sites are absolutely breathtaking! No cameras are allowed (you’ll need free hands at all times), but your guide will sell photos of you upon the tour’s completion, so plan for this added expense. You must be able to walk along very rugged and rocky terrain, in the dark, and have basic swimming skills (although you’ll wear a life jacket). Bring a bathing suit. This is suitable for kids (ages 8 and up) and teens, as well as adults who are brave, physically fit, not claustrophobic, and who are not afraid of the dark. Reservations are required. Last tour departs at 2pm daily. Lunch, towels, footwear, life jacket, lockers, and wetsuit (optional, but recommended) are provided.

Carretera Federal Chetumal – Puerto Juárez, Km 283.5, Quintana Roo, 011-52-984-877-2377; 800-985-2664, www.riosecreto.com
Tags: family | hiking | tour | things to do | swimming | adventure

Xcaret

The world renowned Xcaret is like an ancient Mayan ecological theme park. At times the 200-acre region feels more like a Mexican version of Disneyland, but there's no denying its appeal. Here, you can swim in an underground river, view exotic animals and tropical birds, take a dip with a dolphin (or a shark), snorkel in a lagoon, watch a Mayan dance, or kick back with a spa treatment. The site even encompasses archaeological ruins and recreated Mayan villages. Kids will love it here, although it’s equally entertaining and educational for adults. Plan on spending at least one full day exploring this massive theme park. At night, check out the Xcaret Mexico Espectacular, a massive musical and dance performance featuring 300 performers within a custom-built theater. It’s all in Spanish, but it’s highly entertaining. (The show lasts about two hours, which may be too long for non-Spanish speaking kids/teens.)

4 miles south of Playa del Carmen, 011-52-998-883-0470, www.xcaret.com
Tags: spa | family | wildlife | smart splurge | historic | things to do | outdoors | water sports | family attraction

Xel-Ha

Pronounced shel-hah, this massive nature park is operated by the same people as nearby Xcaret. Unlike the all-around entertainment spectacle that is Xcaret, Xel-Ha’s attraction is the natural aquarium cut out of the limestone shore and the tropical marine creatures that flock there. When everyone has had enough snorkeling, they can cross floating bridges, cliff dive, or check out small ruins like Na Balaam.

Highway Chetumal-Pto. Juárez, Km. 240 local 1 y 2 módulo B, Riviera Maya, 011-52-998-884-7165, www.xelha.com
Tags: spa | trendy | things to do | water sports | family attraction

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