Great day trips from Playa Del Carmen
Our recent three month stay in Playa Del Carmen gave us plenty of time to visit many of the beautiful surrounding areas, such as the fabulous beaches and Maya Ruins of Tulum, amazing snorkelling with turtles in Akumal, fresh water cenotes, the cute little beach town of Puerto Morelos, the jungle-clad Mayan ruins of Coba and Isla Cozumel – Mexico’s third-largest island – all of which are within easy reach of Playa Del Carmen.
Tulum is a quite remarkable place, and although the town itself (which we didn’t visit) sits a kilometre or two inland, the cliffs that overhang the stunning beaches and clear, warm waters below hold one of the most fascinating Mayan ruins on the Yucatan peninsula, in fact this is the only site in which the Mayas built on the coast.
Although the site isn’t the largest or the grandest of the Mayan ruins that we’ve visited, it does have a number of pretty buildings to visit and the grounds are immaculately kept – but the trump card lies with the spectacular ocean-front setting, making it perhaps the most photogenic and unique site to visit on the peninsula, and when the heat finally gets to you, be sure to head down to the beach for a cooling swim and relax with the many sunbathing iguanas.
Getting there from Playa Del Carmen: We took local Collectivos (shared mini vans) that leave from Calle 2, between Avenida 10 and 15 which cost around 70 Mexican Pesos per person in each direction and take around an hour each way. When arriving, the van will drop you off on the main highway, which you then cross and walk down towards the beach – just follow the road with all the stalls, many of which have ‘information’- some even say ‘tickets here’ – ignore all of these touts and keep walking until the avenue becomes tree-lined, follow it for 10 more minutes and turn left to see the large entrance building where tickets are sold (Entry fee 58 Pesos per person Feb 2014). Tips: On the walk down to the ruins be sure to get sufficient drinks / snacks as there is little to be found in and around the site. After your visit head south along a back road before turning back onto the beach at one of the hotels for some more excellent beaches and bars.
On the same highway which runs south from Playa del Carmen to Tulum, Akumal lies around 40 minutes away by Collectivo and is a fantastic spot to snorkel with green sea turtles right from the shore, which we haven’t done since our amazing turtle snorkelling experience in the Philippines.
Getting there from Playa Del Carmen: We again took the very same Collectivos that run to Tulum, just be sure to tell the driver that you want to get out in Akumal. From the drop-off point on the highway, cross the pedestrian bridge and then walk for around 15 to 20 minutes down to the beach, just follow everyone else or ask if you get lost. It’s hard to actually get lost, but it can get confusing towards the beach with car parks etc. Unless you need to hire snorkelling gear or life jackets, just ignore all of the touts and information desks and walk right onto the beach and away you go. If you want to avoid snorkelling in a group of about 10, don’t go for a tour, just go by yourself – the turtles are everywhere enjoying the plentiful grasses on which they feed. Tips: For a really nice evening stroll after a long day of snorkelling, keep walking south along the beach for a few bays to a beach which looks deserted with only white sand and palm trees – when you get there, you’ll find that many homes sit back from the trees, but it’s a very peaceful area to enjoy late afternoon in.
Throughout the Yucutan peninsula, there are many cenotes (natural sinkholes filled with water) formed by collapsed limestone. Again on the same highway south from Playa Del Carmen towards Tulum, there are quite a few different cenotes which to visit and swim in. We visited Cenote Cristalino – a large outdoor cenote with great visibility, cool refreshing clean water, lots of good space in which to relax, good swimming and snorkelling possibilities (including going right underneath the rocks into a cave) plus a really good 2 to 3 meter jumping spot. We loved our day out here, and although it was the only cenote that we visited from Playa Del Carmen, we thought it was a great day out, despite the slightly expensive 80 Pesos entrance fee.
Getting there from Playa Del Carmen: Once again we again took the same Collectivos that run to Tulum, just be sure to tell the driver which cenote you want to get out at – they know them all.
Situated 40 minutes north of Playa Del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, is a very small but pretty little town to visit. There’s little to do here except visit the beach, which we didn’t really get a chance to spend any time on due to the high winds and the fact that it was Easter Sunday when we visited, and the entire beach was full of Mexicans enjoying their holidays – in fact it was so busy, we could barely see the sand!
Aside from the beach, there are some great little bars and restaurants to relax in, a good English bookshop, a little pier and an old, ‘leaning’ lighthouse, as well as the town square. We spent quite a while in the bookshop browsing and chatting to the woman working there, who told us about a great little seafood restaurant – away from the beaches and in fact more like someone’s house rather than a restaurant, however when we arrived we found it to be a great little secret – super fresh and delicious seafood served in the garden for a very reasonable price too – the highlight of our trip. You’ll find the restaurant on Avenida Javier Rojo Gomez, a few blocks north of the main town square.
Getting there from Playa Del Carmen: All buses, mini vans and collectivos running north towards Cancun will drop you off at Puerto Morelos – however from the drop off it’s still a few km’s to the town. Take a taxi or wait for a local collectivo.
The Maya ruins at Coba:
This was probably the longest day trip from Playa that we took, but just to visit these really well-preserved ruins in the jungle made the trip so worth while. Spread out over a fairly large area, gravel pathways led us through the jungle to each of the various sights.
By taking the first ADO bus out of Playa and hiring bicycles at the site, we were amongst the first people at the ruins and the dense jungle setting made the experience even more magical – a real Indiana Jones adventure. The huge main pyramid which you are able to climb was the absolute highlight, climbing to the top and then turning around to reveal your actual location – nothing but jungle as far as the eye can see – was an electrifying experience.
Getting there from Playa Del Carmen: We took the first ADO bus to the ruins from the main tourist bus station in the centre of Playa del Carmen. Tickets cost 218 pesos per person and entrance into the ruins is 59 pesos per person. The bus will drop you off at the large and quite beautiful lake in town, from there just turn left and follow the path around the crocodile-filled lake until you reach the entrance to the ruins. The return buses picks you up from just outside the main entrance next to a small restaurant with an ADO sign. Tips: Go early and head to the main pyramid first to ensure you get it to yourself before the tour buses arrive at around 11am, be prepared for the view to take your breath away. On Trip Advisor, we read many reports about how difficult it is to climb the pyramid, it isn’t that bad at all, we did it in flip flops! Take insect repellent, although there were hardly any mosquitos when we were there. Once inside the the entrance, find the bicycles (just 100 meters inside) and hire a bike for a few hours (40 pesos each) to ensure you can get to all the far out places – although nothing is much further than a 15 minute cycle away.
Mexico’s third-largest island evaded us for almost the entire time we were in Playa, we must have looked out to it I don’t know how many hundred times, but it was only a few days before we left that we actually made our way over, and we’re glad that we did.
There’s nothing much to see on the island. The main town has a pretty square, but aside from that there’s little to keep you occupied there, and the tiny ruin that we visited was nothing much to shout about either. In fact after we’d seen the beaches on the south of the island (which are nothing to shout about either) we began to wonder what all the fuss was about. There is some great snorkelling on the reef from these southern beaches, but for us, the very best part of our visit was the bright red 70’s convertible Beetle that we were driving along the quiet, open roads with the wind rushing through our hair, and the real gem was when we turned back north on the far east side of the island, where we were greeted with wild seas and wide empty beaches without a ‘Beach Club’ in sight. In fact we loved driving up the east coast, with its wide, deep blue ocean vistas and wild nothingness.
As we cruised the quiet highway – our car turning heads at every stop – we revelled in the freedom and the escape from the crowds – and as we caught sight of one of the most beautiful sections of beach with gin-coloured waters, we knew we had to stop for an hour of thrashing around with a hired boogie board in the crashing waves – pure exhilaration!
To top the day off, we found a great little restaurant on the beach (right before where the main highway turns back west) for a great seafood dinner before returning our little red bug to its owners and watching the sun set over Playa Del Carmen. Getting there from Playa Del Carmen: Just walk down to the main ferry terminal (ignoring the touts selling ferry tickets on the way – buy your ticket 324 pesos each, return) at the pier. Tips: One of the main reasons why we made the trip was just to be able to drive an old VW Beetle, and we found a great deal online at www.islacozumel.net. Our bright red car was brilliant and for just US$35 for the day it was a great price for what was one of our best memories of Playa and the surrounding area. When returning the car, ensure you watch what the guys in the petrol station are doing when they re-fill the car as they often don’t re-set the pump from the previous customer, when they see a rental car rolling in. We got stung by this trick and so we paid not only for our petrol, but that on top of whatever the previous customer had too – although this still only equates to a few dollars, but be sure to ask them to re-set the pump before they put your fuel in!
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