Picture yourself lying in the shade of a palm tree, sipping a coco frío and sifting fine white sand like talcum powder sift through your fingers? Playa del Carmen is the right place for this dream: one of the liveliest cities on the Riviera Maya, the seaside resort in the state of Quintana Roo and one of the Mexican capitals of night-life. Playa del Carmen boasts an enviable collection of beaches, where you can enjoy typical Caribbean relaxation and swim in an unspoilt sea, perhaps coming across turtles while you do so.
Scuba diving here is almost mandatory: this part of Yukatan is famous for its wonderful marine scenarios with one of the largest coral reefs in the world, a true mirage for diving lovers. One of the best things to see in Playa del Carmen are the cenotes, the characteristic grottoes formed by limestone sink-holes: a phenomenon that leads to the formation of natural pools with amazing colours, underground tunnels that sometimes go on for kilometres. In other places, the cenote is located directly on the beach, but the choice is endless as the region has a few thousand of them: if you don’t fancy exploring them with scuba diving equipment, you can just float in them or try a little snorkelling.
The ancient Maya ruins are close to Playa del Carmen for you to explore, where you can immerse yourself in the fascination of a mysterious culture, with its temples and ceremonial sites hidden in the jungle or looking out onto the sea: once used to sight the enemy, now a frame for some of the most spectacular bays in Mexico, like the one in Tulum. Opposite Playa del Carmen, we find Cozumel Island, famous for its endemic fauna and extraordinary beaches. If you love water sports, the backdrop is guaranteed for your favourite activity: diving, but also kayaking, windsurfing, kitesurfing and surfing.
The food on the Riviera Maya is just as attractive. Fish delicacies, tacos and papadulzes: try them in the beach restaurants and in the palapas, the characteristic dwellings with dried palm leaf roofs. The night is always young here: you can choose whether to listen to typical Mexican music or party by the pool in the trendiest beach clubs.
Here are the 10 best beaches in Playa del Carmen for you to enjoy a fantastic holiday on the Riviera Maya.
Playa del Carmen Beach
Punta Esmeralda Beach
Just a short step from the heart of the night-life, Punta Esmeralda Beach is a small blue treasure trove surrounded by a thick green backdrop. It is not just the lush vegetation that lends its name to the place, but also another “detail”: the fresh water in the cenote on the beach, which flows directly into the sea. This detail makes this small but charming bay a fantastic place to cool down in the warm, shallow water, in the shade of the palm trees.
The hues of the waters are hypnotizing and make the cove a real jewel, as it is sheltered from the chaos. Also known simply as “La Esmerlada”, the beach is free and can be frequented in total liberty: swimming, throwing a Frisbee or enjoying a picnic with a view of the sea. Punta Esmeralda Beach is wonderful for a walk too, admiring the sunset with your better half.
One of the most famous places in Playa del Carmen is Mamitas Beach, full of beach clubs that stay open late into the night. The beach attracts an international, exclusive clientèle and is the perfect place for letting loose and meeting new people. The fun never stops: you can dance on the beach and in the clubs to electronic music in all seasons. The evenings are animated by popular DJs and artists: for the most exciting events, the nights get truly hot and the energy is palpable. You don’t need to be a night owl to feel the energy: just get a sunbed and lie down in the sun, in the middle of the elegant atmosphere of Mamitas Beach.
If you want to feel like you are the king of the beach, you can choose to go into the chic lounge area with its collection of canopied sunbeds with a sea view and with the swimming pool surrounded by palm trees: this is the ideal place for a VIP experience. You can go for a ride on a jet ski, if you like, to add a pinch of adrenaline before settling back down on the beach. If you love feeling the wind in your hair, you can jump on a sailing boat to try your hand at the helm, or just enjoy the view of the nearby Cozumel Island. After trying all the attractions in Playa del Carmen you could decide to explore the island, jumping onto a motorboat or taking advantage of the daily connections: a great adventure awaits you.
Puerto Morelos Beach
Compared to other tourist destinations, Puerto Morelos Beach has a more authentic atmosphere, as it is mainly Mexican families who go there. A tranquil surrounding which enjoys some leisure time too: the beach is dotted with bars where you can sip a colourful cocktail, perhaps keeping an eye on the children while they are playing on the sand.
Puerto Morelos Beach is the perfect place for a seafood lunch: the small port is full of fishing boats that bring the fresh catch to shore. Their coming and going is a pleasant sight to watch, while getting ready for a great feast in the nearby restaurants. You can take a walk to the leaning lighthouse to digest your food, famous for having withstood two hurricanes, as you can tell from its particular “posture”.
At Artesanias Market, you can see the typical local creations and perhaps buy one of the many souvenirs that you will bring home from Mexico. The most amazing attraction in Puerto Morelos, however, is the coral reef that is a short distance from the beach, much desired by diving and snorkelling lovers for its wonderful underwater sights. The cenote called La Cueva del Tapir, located near to Puerto Morelos is a spectacular sight: it is also the perfect site for a dip or a cool swim. If you want, you can grab the zip line and cross it overhead, with a final big jump.
Playa de Akumal is one of the most popular settings to relax on the Riviera Maya, as the high number of resorts here can tell you. Positioned about half an hour's drive from Playa del Carmen, the beach is strategic for open air sports and all the other activities you can do in this area. The flow of tourists to this area originally was thanks to Pablo Bush Romero, a businessman who loved scuba diving, who turned the area - previously occupied by a large coconut plantation and only reachable from the sea - into a much-renowned destination.
Covered in powdery white sand and lapped by crystal-clear waters, the Akumal beaches stand out for the high quality of their facilities: a tropical paradise where you can spoil yourself with all sorts of treats. You can also have extraordinary encounters here: Akumal Bay is famous, in fact, for the hatching of sea turtle eggs. If wearing snorkelling equipment, you can get closer to these wonderful creatures, swimming in the dedicated stretch of sea.
In addition to basking in the crystal-clear waters, you can also try several activities, by referring to the area diving centres. Alternatively to diving, you could try windsurfing, or hire a kayak and go for a great paddle. If you want to, you can also have a relaxing massage or another beauty treatment in the amenities in the area.
Don't miss a trip to the Yal-Ku Reserve, with its wonderful coastal lagoon where fresh and salt water merge. For diving lovers, the Cenote Dos Ojos is a kind of legend: while scuba diving, you can travel several kilometres and see stalactites and unreal lights. It is no coincidence that it has been captured in several films and documentaries that have made it one of the most famous cenotes in Mexico. A short distance away, we find the Xel-Ha Park: a great water attraction that combines fun with natural environment conservation. Its habitat, which is created by the meeting of fresh water and salt water, is unique: tropical fish and turtles swim around in the natural aquarium and there is even the possibility of snorkelling with dolphins.
The perfect Caribbean beauty and archaeological treasures just a short distance from the sea: Tulum Beach is a wish come true for people who love unspoilt landscapes and the mysteries of Maya culture. Sprawled on the white sand, you would never grow tired of looking at the scenery, with its palm trees and rocks and the brightly-coloured, calm sea. The verdant vegetation frames the archaeological site of Tulum, or rather the “wall” in the Aztec language. Its walls protected the city from threats coming from the sea: one of these came from the Spanish invaders who were the first to sight the headland dominated by Castillo.
The ruins at Tulum are some of the most popular with visitors in the whole of Mexico and include several sites. The Temple of the Descending God is interesting, where only a single divinity is found, portrayed upside down in relief work in the upper frieze: unique in Maya art. Tulum Beach will be one of the best memories of your holiday in Mexico. The surprises continue with the Cenote Naval: a large pool in the jungle where you can relax amidst iguanas and small fish who peel your skin. If you fancy a bit of shopping, you can dive into the wilderness of shops in the central street of Tulum: the temptation is to buy everything, but you should really be selective otherwise you will fill up your suitcase.
While climbing the wooden staircase leading to the Castillo, the view opens up onto a truly wonderful sight: Playa Ruinas. The bay is a dazzling blue jewel, with the Maya ruins reigning supreme. You must buy an entry ticket to the Tulum site to access the beach, but it is worth it: as well as visiting one of the most spectacular archaeological sites in Mexico, you are also rewarded with the possibility of admiring one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The small bay is an authentic view, where the white beach merges with the vegetation, clinging to huge rocks leaning out towards the sea. Anyone lucky enough to swim in Playa Ruinas can do so in clear waters, enchanted by the view of the Castillo that lends a mysterious ingredient to the whole setting.
Enemy ships were sighted from here, but the building was also the backdrop to more mysterious practices, such as propitiatory human sacrifices. The view is just sensational. Most visitors crowd the archaeological site: even though the bay is not too big, you have a good chance of finding a space for yourself to relax on the beach. Do not miss the Kaan Luum Lagoon, about ten kilometres from Tulum: a gigantic natural pool set in the jungle, with mangroves and colourful butterflies. The soil is clay here, just perfect for a relaxing skin exfoliation session.
You can swim in its calm waters, or you can watch them from overhead on the suspended walkway over the lagoon: inside you will also find a cenote, which is fenced off to allow everyone to swim safely. If you really want to, you could also hire a kayak and explore the reserve on the water.
When it comes to sun-tanning, is your priority an unspoilt setting, while the facilities come second? In this case, we can only recommend Playa de Xcacel: a never-ending stretch of beach where peace and quiet is guaranteed compared to the more crowded beaches. The beach lies in a protected area with strict rules to be observed, to guarantee the safe-guarding of the eco-system. Here you enter on tip toe: in addition to tourists, the beach also welcomes sea turtles who come here to lay their eggs. It is possible to enjoy a unique experience in the turtle sanctuary: the hatching of baby turtles, taking care not to get too close so that you don’t disturb them.
With a snorkelling mask, you can also swim with these fantastic animals, without having to resort to an organised trip. Xcacel is reserved for nature lovers. You must make a few compromises to enjoy such beauty: for example there are no real facilities, such as the classic kiosk where you can cool down with a drink or find shelter in some shade. Walking around in this wild environment, however, is so exciting and unique that you will willingly go without noisy bars, that would only serve to disturb the atmosphere. Xcacel Beach also has a small cenote known as Xcacelito, which can easily be reached along a path into the jungle: the emerald colour of its waters, with mangroves too, is unbelievable.
A word of warning: there are some people who choose not to visit Xcacel Beach to prevent its fragile balance from being disturbed. If you are one of these people, you can console yourself with a thousand other attractions nearby. The Xcaret Park is one of the most popular destinations on the Riviera Maya: it is not just a simple water park, but a collection of natural treasures that continue on for several hectares. Here you will find underground rivers to travel along on giant inflatable rings, a tropical beach and all kinds of attractions: from the interactive aquarium to the butterfly area, and the shows staged to exhibit the local culture and folklore.
Isla de la Pasion
As we have seen, Cozumel Island also has its own Paradise Beach. Surrounded by coral reefs, the island combines a Caribbean soul with a unique natural heritage. Here, you can see animals such as hummingbirds, raccoons, coati and other rare and threatened species. The island is dotted with lagoons, cenotes and Maya ruins, in the forest, like the El Caracol site, located a short distance from Encantada Beach. It is hard to choose the best beach on Cozumel, but one candidate is definitely Isla de la Pasion, north of San Miguel: the prototype of a real tropical paradise, where you can see turtles and several species of wild birds. The beaches on this island offer so many ideal spots for snorkelling and diving: the wonderful coral reef is one of the largest in the world.
You can experience such wonderful adventures on Cozumel while discovering the reef, exploring it with the help of a guide so you can admire its underwater treasures in total safety. In addition to its famous beaches, Cozumel also has quieter coves, with their quiet, romantic atmospheres: freely accessible, they are very different to the all-inclusive luxury beaches that are often very crowded anyway. You can try many water sports on the island: from the most relaxing to the livelier ones, including windsurfing and surfing: lovers of this sport - or those who want to try the thrill of it - can find several spots to use a board, making the most of the perfect waves.
Set sail for Playa del Carmen with Costa Cruises
Is it impossible to resist the call of a white-sand Caribbean beach? Do you dream about relaxing in a cabana, or on a hammock hung between two palm trees? Playa del Carmen is the ideal destination with its amazing beaches surrounded by ancient ruins, lagoons and magical reefs. The area is full of nature reserves inhabited by rare animals and is a paradise for nature lovers.
Close to the more famous beaches, you can find luxurious water parks where you can enjoy the thrill of many an adventure. The food and night-life are amazing, in one of the liveliest area of Yucatan: a break in the Riviera Maya, as you will have realised, doesn't mean you have to forego anything. Be enchanted by Playa del Carmen: you can experience the most relaxing holiday with Costa Cruises, making the most sought-after beaches and colourful, lively atmospheres of Mexico your very own.