Are you considering a beach vacation in Mexico? If so, I recommend the Riviera Maya on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, especially for first-time visitors to Mexico. Stretching from Puerto Morelos south to Punta Allen, this tourism district along the Caribbean Sea encompasses Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, and Tulum.
Known for its beautiful beachfront resorts and ease of travel from Cancún International Airport, this region is also home to ancient Mayan ruins, crystal-clear swimming holes called cenotes, and one of Mexico’s best fine-dining destinations.
After staying at the all-inclusive Hotel Marina El Cid Spa & Beach Resort in Puerto Morelos for a girls’ getaway in April 2015, it was easy to see why the Riviera Maya is such a popular beach vacation destination. After you visit the best beach in Playa del Carmen, I think you’ll see why visitors love vacationing here, too!
Whether you are seeking sandy beaches, poolside margaritas, or natural and cultural landmarks to explore, a trip to Riviera Maya on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula may just be your ideal getaway.
As you consider booking your own Riviera Maya vacation, our guest blogger Meg D. Gonzalez shares five tips for visiting Playa del Carmen and the Tulum ruins based on her first and life-changing trip to Mexico.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate advertising. When you purchase a product from one of these links, I may receive a small commission. Of course, this is at no extra cost to you. As always, all opinions shared are my own.
Five Tips for First-Time Visitors to Playa del Carmen
Who knew that one night of salsa dancing could change the course of a life?
When I accepted Alan Gonzalez’s offer to dance, I began a journey that pulled me out of my sheltered life and into a big and beautiful world.
When he took me to Mexico for the first time, he first introduced me to the tourist side of Mexico in Playa del Carmen. Located just south of party hot spot Cancún, Playa del Carmen is a quieter (and some say classier) alternative.
Tip 1: Search for hotels with multiple branches in the area
We got a great deal on two rooms across the street from the beach for only $100 a night. Since our hotel was partnered with another hotel on the beach, we could access the beach for free. It’s important to note that many beaches are privately owned in this region of Mexico. Luckily, we could use the beachfront hotel’s lounge chairs and beachside service. Meanwhile, we got our room just across the street at a fraction of the price!
Tip 2: Avoid hurricane season
The best time for travel in Mexico is between November and mid-May, which is when we went. Any later than that you risk running into the nasty weather of hurricane season.
We lounged on the beach for days, soaking up the sun, and enjoying the fabulous restaurants along the main strip in the evening. Toward the end of the week, we traveled to the nearby cenotes, which are freshwater lagoons. It was absolutely gorgeous! You could swim around in water so clear you could see straight to the bottom. There was a small cliff from which we could jump into the lagoons and so many fish.
Tip 3: At the cenotes, feed the fish with care
We bought fish food from a stand at the entrance to the cenote we visited. The fish swam away from us until the first pinch of food hit the water. Then they swarmed! It was pretty cool, though a little alarming. A few of the more adventurous ones nibbled on my toes! It tickled so much I laughed and swallowed some water. Within 30 minutes, I was feeling ill.
Tip 4: Don’t Swallow the Water!
Okay, you’ve probably heard this one, but it’s no joke. I was seriously sick for over a week, which was really unfortunate because that night Alan proposed!
That day, we also visited the ruins at Tulum, which I highly recommend, especially if you haven’t seen Mayan ruins before.
Tip 5: Bring a swimsuit to Tulum
Tulum was built into cliffs as a major seaside trading town. Steps have been built into the cliffside to allow visitors down to its fabulous little beach!
Alan then took me to the house in which he grew up for a big, Mexican-style engagement/birthday party. Alan’s family and friends had hired a cook to make amazing traditional tacos and quesadillas. His friends also pitched in to get him a mariachi band for a few hours. Everyone sang along to the songs, and we danced.
One of the first things that struck me was the warmth of all his friends and family. The immediate attitude was, “We love him, therefore we love you.” They welcomed me with open arms … after they got over the shock of him coming home engaged to a girl they had never met. 😉
It was a whole new side of the country I’d only seen depicted in cartoons or on the news. Once Alan and I married, I moved with him to Mexico for a year. The rich culture and varied landscape captured my imagination, and I just knew I had to share.
Everything was vibrant from the food to the music to the paint on the walls. The party and later the markets and towns were so full of life. Emotions and voices run loud and unchecked. Friendships are strong and made for life. Life is lived to the fullest.
About the Author
Meg D. Gonzalez is the author of the YA novel Sketchy Tacos and a tea-sipping, adventure-seeking, pug-loving kind of girl. She’s crazy for God and wants to share His love with awesome young women around the globe. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.
Best Things to Do in Playa del Carmen
Tour Mayan Ruins
- Chichén Itzá Full-Day Excursion with Valladolid “Magic Town” and Cenote Swim
- Chichén Itzá and Ek’ Balam Tour with Cenote Swim
- Coba and Tulum Ruins Tour with Cenote Swim
Explore Natural Wonders: Jungles, Caves, and Cenotes
- Combo Tour: Tulum Ruins, Caribbean Sea Snorkel to see Coral Reef, Cave Tour, Jungle Walk, and Cenote Swim
- Rio Secreto Nature Preserve Underground River & Cave Tour
- Mayan Jungle 4×4 Buggy Tour with Cenote Swim
Visit Tropical Amusement Parks
- Xcaret Park (includes Night Show)
- Xplor Park by Xcaret
- Xplor Fuego (Xplor Park night adventure)
- Xenses Park by Xcaret
Sail, Snorkel & Cruise Caribbean Waters
- Private 4-Hour Yacht Tour with Food, Open Bar, and Snorkeling
- Luxury Catamaran Sail with Snorkeling, Paddleboarding, Lunch, and Open Bar
- Sunset Sailing Cruise
Taste Local Cuisine
- Mexican Cooking Class and Local Markets Tour
- Playa del Carmen Food Tour
- Downtown Playa del Carmen Food Tasting Tour
Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen
Wondering where to stay in Playa del Carmen? I’ve done some of the research for you, and here are my top picks!
Casa Gem B&B
This budget-friendly bed and breakfast is truly a gem as the name indicates. Highly rated for both cleanliness and customer service, this Playa del Carmen bed & breakfast has been called “cozy” and described as “like staying with friends” by past guests. The location is outside the hustle and bustle, and, therefore, renting a car is recommended. Best of all? A home-cooked breakfast each morning is included in your stay!
The Yucatan Playa del Carmen All-Inclusive Resort, Tapestry by Hilton
Put your Hilton Honors points to use on an all-inclusive vacation to Playa del Carmen! At this adults-only resort, take in the city view from the rooftop terrace, and then dip into the pool. The resort’s all-inclusive plan covers all your meals, endless drinks, and even late-night snacks. Plus, you’ll be only a short walk to bars, restaurants, shops, and art galleries. Opting for the All-Inclusive Plus package also grants you beach access at the sister resort, Hilton Playa del Carmen.
The Royal Haciendas All Suites Resort & Spa
This beachfront resort is a wonderful mid-range option for families, especially with young children. You’ll find all-suite accommodations and an all-inclusive option for onsite food and beverages (though some exceptions apply). Families will enjoy the beach, pools, small waterpark, games, and crafts. Perhaps most importantly, tired parents will also find a relaxing respite during facials and massages at the spa while the kiddos are supervised at the resort’s Kids Club for ages 4 to 12.
This all-inclusive resort offers the whole package for groups of friends, active couples, and families with teens and older kids. Hike a jungle trail, soar through the rainforest on a zipline, swim in cenotes, taste Mexican and international drinks and cuisine at 12 restaurants and 14 bars, and get pampered with a spa treatment all without leaving the resort property!
Palmaïa, the House of Aïa
For a wellness and spa retreat to Playa del Carmen stay at this luxurious, eco-friendly resort. Your earth-friendly conscious will find zen in the nutritious plant-based cuisine, healing spa services, yoga retreats, and sustainable design.
Not quite what you are looking for? Use the map below to find more hotels and resorts in Playa del Carmen!
Traveling to Mexico’s Riviera Maya?
Here are some additional resources that I recommend for your trip:
- Travel Guidebook: Fodor’s Cancún & The Riviera Maya
- Ground Transport: Cancún airport to Playa del Carmen private round-trip transportation
- Travel Insurance: World Nomads
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- Day Trip from Lima: Small Town Charms Found in Chaclacayo and Chosica, Peru
Final Thoughts on Visiting Playa del Carmen, Mexico
For an easy introduction to Mexico as a first-time visitor consider visiting Playa del Carmen in the beautiful Riviera Maya region.
In Playa del Carmen you’ll find beachfront hotels and all-inclusive resorts, but don’t forget Meg’s advice to book accommodations across the street from the beach at a hotel within the same chain for a budget-friendly alternative. Always remember to check the rules before you book, but this should grant you access to the beach at the partner hotel.
Also, from Playa del Carmen, you can visit the cliffside Mayan ruins in Tulum and swim in a cenote. Both are activities I also did while staying in Riviera Maya, and I’d also highly recommend both.
Save this Playa del Carmen vacation guide to your Mexico travel board on Pinterest!
Photo credit: Papel picado hangs in Playa del Carmen (© francescodemarco/Adobe Stock)
Have you traveled to Playa del Carmen or elsewhere in Mexico’s Riviera Maya?
Tell me about your trip in the comment section below!
Thanks for your post on Tulum. My husband and I went there last year and had a wonderful time. The food was amazing but a little expensive but there are plenty of local’s places to dine that make up for it. Definitely bring multiple swimsuits and lots of sun screen. The sun is intense and easy to burn. WE stayed at Los Amigos in Tulum and had a great time. They have 3 or 4 properties their and highly recommend them.
How funny that the fish nibble on your toes! I think it’s wonderful that your husband’s family welcomed you with open arms, and that you lived in Mexico for a year–what a great opportunity to get to know the country where your husband grew up!
I love Mexico. I have been several times and every time I don’t want to leave. We haven’t visited Tulum yet though. Looks so fun!
That is how I felt on my last day in Mexico, too! Visiting the Mayan ruins in Tulum and swimming in a cenote were certainly highlights of my trip. Hope you get there someday, too!
Stephanie | vimandvigor
great guest post and tips! pinning to my travel board 🙂
Thanks, Stephanie! Happy travels!
My hubs has been bugging me to go to Mexico for many years. Your post is valuable because I wanted to avoid anything overly touristy and I though Tulum would be much better than Cancun. Thanks for the info it was very helpful
I’m so glad you found the post helpful, Leanna. I’m sure my guest post author, Meg, has more insights on her blog as you plan your Mexico trip. I’ll also be sharing a blog post soon reviewing the resort where I stayed in Riviera Maya, so you may want to check back for that. The actual ruins in Tulum get a lot of visitors as you can see from the photo I shared of the staircase to the beach. However, if you go early in the morning, you can still get some photos without people in them (like my photo at the top of this post). That whole stretch from Cancun south to Playa del Carmen and Tulum gets a lot of visitors, but you can certainly find some quieter accommodations and authentic travel experiences there, too. If you and your husband do visit Mexico, I hope you’ll enjoy your trip as much as I enjoyed mine!
CJ | Thirty30Courtney.com
My first city in Mexico was DF and then we went to Cancun during the same trip. I’d love to get back and explore Tulum. I also think it’s great that you have some humor to your engagement story. I wouldn’t mind some… but not TOO much! lol
Cancun seems to be a common gateway to Mexico for American travelers. In fact, I even flew into Cancun’s airport for my first (and only so far, but I’ll change that) trip to Mexico. I’d highly recommend visiting Tulum when you go back to Mexico. Most of the ruins are inland, so Tulum is unique having been a Mayan port city. Plus, the cliffside ruins with the Caribbean Sea backdrop create a stunning view.
Momma To Go
Love these tips! Playa Del carmen is great. I love Xel-ha congrats on the book!
Thanks for stopping by the blog, Harmony! I’ll pass along your comment to my guest blogger, Meg. She’s also a part of our Growing Social Media group on Facebook. 🙂