Playa Del Carmen & Coba Ruins in Tulum

If you’ve been following my Mexican Road Trip Series, you would know that this will be my last blog post of the series.

Since I started my journey from Tuxtla Gutiérrez in Chiapas, I’ve moved my way eastwards, to Playa Del Carmen, over a period of two and a half weeks. It has been one hell of a journey and it turned out to be one of my best solo trips on the road.

Sunburnt & Chasing City Signs
Walking down the Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) in Playa del Carmen

Why visit Playa Del Carmen & Tulum?

Playa Del Carmen and Tulum are only 65 kms from each other. Hence, if you’re visiting one place, you should not miss the other one. Both, Playa and Tulum are very well known tourist destinations in Mexico and they are always completely jammed with tourists from all around the globe.

Good times swimming in Playa del Carmen

Things to do in & around Tulum

  1. Explore the Coba Ruins
  2. Visit the Tulum Archaeological Site
  3. Swim or Dive in one of the many Cenotes in Tulum (Gran Cenote & Cenote Dos Ojos are the two best Cenotes nearby)
  4. Experience the pure luxury of staying in an all inclusive resort
Coba Ruins
Wildlife at Coba Ruins
There are few important buildings to explore @ Coba Ruins
Climbing on the ruins is not allowed anymore
Somber weather at Coba Ruins

Things to do in Playa Del Carmen

  1. Visit and/or stay in Xcaret
  2. Dine & Shop on Quinta Avenida
  3. Bar hopping on Quinta Avenida
  4. Explore the wild side of Playa Del Carmen by partying late into the night at one of the many night clubs on Quinta Avenida
  5. Go for a Scuba Dive in Cozumel
  6. Go for a day trip to Chichen Itza
  7. Spend an evening on the beach
  8. Go Cenote Diving/Swimming (Cenote Azul is the most popular one)
  9. Watch traditional Mayan performances and acrobatics at Parque Fundadores
Cenote Azul
Pose before the jump

How many days to spend in Tulum and Playa Del Carmen?

A one week itinerary would be ideal to cover the highlights of Tulum and Playa Del Carmen and also include multiple day trips to Chichen Itza and Cozumel.

Plan on spending 2-3 days in Tulum, 2-3 days in Playa and 1 day each at Chichen Itza and Cozumel. If you have a vehicle, you may keep Playa Del Carmen as your base for the entire week, as Tulum is just an hour drive from Playa.

Your one week itinerary in Playa del Carmen and Tulum

Day 1: Visit the Coba Ruins in Tulum and explore the late night beach parties in Tulum

On your first day, you can visit the Coba Ruins in Tulum. Visit early to beat the crowd and the midday heat. There are a few interesting buildings and relics to see. Luckily, unlike the ruins of Palenque, this is a well shaded from the sun, thanks to the dense tree cover everywhere. Expect to walk on the forest floor in some sections. Keep an eye out to spot some interesting wildlife too. You would need an entire morning to see all the buildings.

Later, head back to Tulum for lunch. If you’re not hungry yet, there are some interesting Cenotes on the way where you can stop for a swim. Gran Cenote is a good one to check out.

End your day with some wild dancing and endless booze at a beach party in Tulum.

Walk in the forest at Coba Ruins
Day 2: Visit the Tulum Archaeological Site and then head to Playa del Carmen

Next morning, head to the Tulum Archaeological site. It is an interesting site as it is situated right on the coast and there’s a gorgeous view of the Caribbean Sea from the site. It is not the largest of the ruins, but being so close (or right in Tulum), it is usually busy.

After soaking in the views from the Tulum Archaeological site, pack your bags for Playa del Carmen. If you’re not already staying in Playa and driving daily to Tulum for the first two days, you would now move there for the rest of the week.

Spend the evening swimming at the Playa del Carmen beach and hanging out in Parque Fundadores. There are Mayan dance performances in the evening in front of the Portal Maya – a giant bronze statue, which is over 50 feet tall.

End your day feasting on delicious food at one of the many restaurants in the city. More on that below.

Selfie with Portal Maya
Mayan dance performance at Parque Fundadores
Day 3: Relax and shop on Quinta Avenida

After two long and hectic days, take a break on Day 3. Lounge & sunbathe on the beach or explore the various shops & cafes on Quinta Avenida.

While shopping, do not forget to book your tickets for day trips to Cozumel and Chichen Itza for next two days. There will be dozens of salespeople trying to sell you tickets for all kinds of trips and activities. My suggestion is to book the ferry ticket to Cozumel online from the Ultramar website directly.

For day trips to Chichen Itza, there is no online direct booking that I know of. But, you can explore around and talk to multiple agents and look for the best deal that looks reliable.

On a shopping spree on La Quinta Avenida
Day 4: Day trip to Chichen Itza

Today, you’ll go for a day trip Chichen Itza to explore the most visited and the famous Mayan Ruins in Mexico. It is a two and a half hour drive from Playa del Carmen.

On your way back, if you still have some time, stop in Valladolid to explore the colorful buildings and the narrow streets crisscrossing the town.

Unfortunately, I did not have a spare day to make this trip. Hence, I don’t have the first hand experience of visiting Chichen Itza to share with you.

Day 5: Day trip to Cozumel

Next day, take a short ferry ride to Cozumel Island. Ferries depart on a specific schedule. Make sure you arrive at least 45 minutes before the departure time.

Note: I’d booked the early morning ferry ticket online, to reach the island on time, for two dives. But, unaware that you also need to collect a printed ticket from the counter before travel, I just stood in the queue waiting to board just to realize that I was not allowed and had to get the printed ticket first.

By the time I went to the counter and came back with the printed tickets, boarding had already closed. So, I had to catch the next ferry, about 90 minutes later. In the process, I missed my chance of going for the first of the two dives.

Lesson Learned: Double check your ticket requirements beforehand and plan well in advance.

Cozumel Island is a diver’s paradise. Many divers visit the island, and stay there for an entire long weekend, just to dive.

For non-divers, there’s a bunch of other stuff to do & see as well. You can rent a two wheeler and head off to explore remote beaches, away from the center of the town.

If you have an extra day, you can also stay overnight in one of the many hotels on the island. But, if you’re here only for a day, do not lose track of the time to catch the ferry back to Playa del Carmen.

Spend the rest of the night partying and/or clubbing on Quinta Avenida.

Cozumel Island is a diver’s paradise
Day 6: Explore Playa del Carmen and visit Cenotes

On your last day in Playa del Carmen, visit one or more cenotes. Some of the well known and most visited ones are Cenote Azul and Cenote Chaak Tun.

Keep the afternoon free for shopping on Quinta Avenida and Paseo del Carmen Shopping Mall. Later in the evening, for one last time, enjoy the nightlife and clubbing in Playa.

Couple of caves to explore @ Cenote Azul
Day 7: Flight back home

All good things come to an end and, so does the vacation. It is time to head back to Cancun International Airport to catch a flight back home and begin planning for your next visit to Mexico!

Where should you eat?

You can hardly go wrong with food in Mexico. There are good places and then there are those that should not be missed.

Here are some of my favorite places to eat that you should not miss, in pictures (tried & tested!!).

Fine dine Italian @ La Famiglia
Chez Céline for BF in Playa Del Carmen
Burrito Amor @ Tulum

Other places, that I’ve personally not been to, but heard a lot of good reviews about, in no particular order are:

In Playa Del Carmen:
  1. Zitla
  2. Harry’s Steakhouse & Raw Bar
  3. Ictio Fish House
  4. La Cueva del Chango
In Tulum:
  1. Encanto Cantina
  2. DelCielo
  3. El Asadero
  4. Taqueria La Chiapaneca

Where should you stay?

There is no shortage of options to stay in either Playa Del Carmen or in Tulum. It really depends on what you’re looking for.

If late night parties on the beach is what you’re after then Tulum should be your choice. On the other hand, if late night parties in nightclubs and endless days of shopping is your thing, Playa Del Carmen is your best bet.

For those of you, who has an All Inclusives on your bucket list, there’s a plethora of them between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. The best one, is Hotel Xcaret. Here’s a list of the other great all inclusive resorts in the area:

  1. Hotel Xcaret
  2. Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya
  3. Luxury Bahia Principe Sian Ka’an
  4. UNICO 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya

Worry not if you haven’t won a lottery. There are many great mid-range hotels both in Playa Del Carmen and in Tulum that can cater to mid budget needs.

Last but not the least, if you’re backpacking, the entire region is scattered with hostels, where you can easily find a bed in a dorm for around CAD$20 a night.

Backpacking is The Globe Backpacker’s choice of travel, especially in Mexico, where you can save a lot of money on the hotels and splurge on other activities and stuff you would want to do in Mexico!

During my visit, I’d stayed at Boho Beach Hostel in Playa Del Carmen. Its location couldn’t be any more perfect. It was right on the beach and next to the port for ferries to Cozumel. Quinta Avenida was just a minute walk from the hostel. The best night clubs and restaurants were just a walking distance as well. I would highly recommend this hostel.

The view from the Boho Beach Hostel’s building

Conclusion

As I bid adieu to Mexico, I can definitely say that it was one of my best road trips so far. Playa del Carmen was a perfect end to the trip. The entire journey had a bit of everything – culture, nature, beach life, nightlife, clubbing and partying – everything that you’d expect from a trip to México!

One last thing that I gotta say about this destination is that it should be on any traveler’s bucket list. I’m grateful that I choose to visit this gem of a country and got to explore its culture & lifestyle from a local perspective.

I will be back to México very soon, salud!!

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