Playa del Carmen is a great place to vacation with children whether they’re small like ours or teenagers. We spent a few months in Playa, and we rounded up the very best activities for kids for you.
Here’s our big list of things to do in Playa del Carmen with kids.
Build sandcastles and play on the beach
Playa del Carmen’s beaches are picture postcard perfect, with white sand and clear turquoise water. For the most part, the surf is gentle enough for small children (though swells may come occasionally with high tide and storms). The soft white sand is perfect for sandcastles, but the shells you’ll find on Playa beaches are generally smaller than a nickel.
Tip: If you’re planning to go to Xcaret, Xel-ha, XPlor or the other parks, we’ve found ticket prices are about 10-15% cheaper online than at the park.
The entire oceanfront near Playa is one long stretch of white sand, but specific areas of the beach have become known by the hotels or resorts nearby. The most well known stretch is Mamitas (a short walk north of the pier), named after the happening Mamitas Beach Club.
Aviary at Xaman-Ha
Kids of all ages should love checking out the birds at the Xaman-Ha aviary. It’s fairly pricey at $22/adult, considering the small size of the aviary, though many different and colorful birds can be found here. One child under 12 is free with each adult.
Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue)
This avenue, that runs parallel to the beach, is pedestrian only so it’s a great place to let your kids walk (though watch for cars on intersections with other streets). Quinta Avenida gets busy in the evenings, especially during December and January, and we found it a bit stressful to walk with our little ones then. However, during the mornings and afternoons, and anytime during low season, it was a great walk. This is the place to see and be seen in Playa and is a great place to grab a bench on the Avenida itself, or a table at one of the many streetside restaurants and enjoy people watching at its finest.
Sadly, the lovely modern playground just off the beach in Parque Fundadores on the south end of Quinta Avenida was torn down during a 2012 renovation of the parque. There’s a shaded playground at Calle 22 and Avenida 40. If the weather is rainy or too hot, there are indoor playgrounds in the Burger Kings at Calle 15 and Juarez and on 20th Avenida, and also at the McDonalds near the Chedraui grocery store (Calle 1 Sur).
There is an imaginative playground at Parque la Ceiba. Parque la Ceiba also houses a small art gallery, a small walking path and an open air cafe (located at Calle 1a and Sur y Diagonal 60).
Perfect for older kids, the Poliform is a public sports facility with tennis, racquetball and basketball courts, and two soccer fields. Poliform is on Juarez and 105th Avenida in El Ejido neighborhood. The Estadio Mario Villanueva, in downtown Playa del Carmen, also has tennis courts, soccer fields, and racquetball and basketball courts.
Cenotes are freshwater pools and make a great day trip. You can swim, snorkel and even scuba dive their remarkably clear depths. Since some are often quite deep, little kids and poor swimmers should take a life jacket with them.
Playa del Carmen has an abundance of cenotes about 20 minutes south on the highway to Tulum. There you can find cenotes Azul, Jardin, Eden, Cristalino, Chikin Ha and Kantun Chi all almost within walking distance. Gran Cenote, Cenote Azul and Cenote Cristalino have especially kid friendly access. You can go with a tour, or visit independently. Chaak Tun (with two caves and a waterfall) is also close by. Some of the cenotes offer high diving platforms and even rope swings for the more adventurous. Most are filled with colorful little fish that are sure to delight even the youngest children.
Playa can be scorching hot, making ice cream a welcome treat. Quinta Avenida has several delicious, though expensive, ice cream places including Ben and Jerry’s, but you can grab a cheaper cone at McDonalds on Quinta Avenida if price is an issue. If you’d like something a little different, try the frozen fresh fruit bars sold all over town. You’ll find them in OXXO convenience stores on almost every street corner, in small storefronts and from street vendors. It’s probably best to buy bars that are pre-packaged from a manufacturer to avoid potential stomach problems from unfiltered water.
Need some rainy day fun or want to take a break from the heat?
Hit one of Playa’s indoor, air conditioned malls. Playa’s large malls (Centro Maya mall and the Plaza las Americas) are much more than just shopping. Both malls are very family friendly. Kids will love the miniature train rides and the affordable and fun arcades. You can even go bowling at Planet Bowl in Centro Maya mall.
Centro Maya mall and Plaza las Americas also have movie theaters but most movies are dubbed in Spanish so be warned. Some movies are subtitled in English for the older kids who can read, and occasionally a movie is left in English. Both the subtitle language and the spoken dialog are usually noted at the theater on the movie listings board. If in doubt, chances are that it’s dubbed in Spanish, but ask at the ticket counter just to be sure.
Hang at the pool
Almost all resorts, hotels and condos in Playa have a swimming pool for good reason – kids love them! If your hotel doesn’t have a pool, you can usually arrange day use of the pool for a fee at many resorts. Most resorts also have a children’s playground.
The Jungle Place spider monkey sanctuary offers food, shelter and medical care to injured spider monkeys. 100% of proceeds go to the care of the monkeys. The Jungle Place is 15 minutes south of Playa del Carmen. The Jungle Place gets almost unanimously positive reviews on TripAdvisor. You must make advance reservations, and the minimum donation for a tour is $80 per person.
Rio Secreto offers a guided tour of an underground river system, where you can see stalactites and stalagmites. Children under four are not allowed. You cannot bring your own camera into the cave. $69/adult, $34/child. Check out reviews on TripAdvisor.
Day trips around Playa del Carmen
There are several great day trips less than an hour outside Playa that the kids should love.
Catch the ferry to the island of Cozumel at the south end of Quinta. Kids will enjoy the ferry ride and watching the enormous cruise ships dock in Cozumel’s port. The touristy port town of San Miguel has a quiet, leafy park in its center, and many of its pedestrian only streets have street performers to amuse the kiddos.
Grab a rental car for the whole day (or pay just as much for a short taxi ride), and take a 10 minute drive to the quieter beaches south of the main port. The beach beside Carlos n’ Charlies isn’t as picturesque as those on the mainland, but it’s a great place to grab a chair, order some drinks and snacks, and relax for the afternoon. You can use the water toys, slides and trampolines on the water at Paradise Beach Club nearby for a pretty hefty charge of around $20 per adult. If you rented a car, you can also check out the lighthouse and the marshy area near it where you can see crocodiles in the marshy lagoon from the boardwalk.
Check out the Mayan Ruins in Tulum or Chichén Itzá. The Myan ruins at Tulum, set on a cliff overlooking the clear Caribbean water, are a short hour drive or bus ride away from Playa del Carmen. We told our kids that we were going on a real life Indiana Jones adventure, and they ate it up. If your kids are bored by the ruins, they’ll love the many iguanas running around, or playing in the beautiful rocky beach at the base of the ruins. The ruins are fairly spread out and you should be able to walk them easily in an hour or two. There’s a small touristy area nearby where you can buy overpriced trinkets, and where the kids should get a kick out of seeing Mayan flyers twirl around suspended by their feet on a four story pole.
Walking around the ruins in the Caribbean sun is hot, so bring lots of water, and plan on a few breaks under the trees. Large strollers may be tough to negotiate up and down stairs. A small umbrella stroller is best, as you can fold it up, or carry it easily over stairs and other obstacles.
The town of Tulum is a 10 minute drive from the ruins, making it an easy stop for meals. The beaches (another five minutes from the town, and just south of the ruins) rival any in the world for long, almost isolated swathes of perfect white sand. There are a handful of beach clubs on Tulum’s beaches that offer beach chairs and a place to stop to eat and play.
If you feel like going a little further afield, the ruins at Chichén Itzá are beautiful, though it makes for a very long day. If you don’t have the time to see any of the bigger ruins in the area, Cozumel also has its own set of small ruins on the island that you can visit, however they can’t even compare to the larger sites.
The biosphere Sian Ka’an nature eco reserve is a great place to see animals and marine life native to the Yucatan in a protected, natural setting. You can take a boat tour, try your hand at fly fishing or bird watch on a kayak in the reserve. Sian Ka’an is about a five minute drive from the town of Tulum, and also offers lodging. Sian Ka’an reviews on TripAdvisor.
Only half an hour from Playa, Akumal is famous for its sea turtles. Its small, shallow protected cove is perfect for swimming with little ones. Grab a beachfront bite at the Lolha Restaurant or the pirate themed Buena Vida. Akumal has a small community with a pricey store and a couple of dive shops. It’s a long swim off the beach to deeper water where you’ll find turtles swimming, so bring your flippers.
Crococun is a small zoo that focuses on saving the almost extinct Yucatecan crocodile, but also displays Yucatecan deer, snakes, spiders, monkeys and other animals. Your kids can get close and pet some of the animals, with permission. Admission is a bit pricey at $25 for adults, $15 for children, and free for kids five and under, but an interactive tour is included. You can only visit while on a tour.
While you’re there, you can stop by nearby Puerto Morelos, a slow-paced fishing village makes a great change of pace from busy Playa del Carmen or Cancun. There isn’t much to do in Puerto Morelos, other than stop for fresh seafood at one of the local restaurants and play on the beach at the Hotel Oja de Agua beach club.
Playa is home to three major so-called eco parks, which can be fun (if expensive!). Make no mistake, these are touristy attractions, so you may want to stay away if crowds aren’t your thing. If you’re intrepid and budget minded, you can replicate many of these experiences by exploring Playa del Carmen independently
Xel-Ha is a waterpark probably best suited to older kids who can swim well and navigate the slippery stairways. The main attractions at Xel-Ha are snorkeling in the lagoon, ziplines, rope swings, and swimming in the cenotes and the lazy river. You can pay extra to swim with dolphins imported from Cuba. Adults $71, children $36, kids four and under are free, and there are discounts for booking online. Admission includes a breakfast, snack and lunch buffet, snorkeling equipment and unlimited drinks.
Xcaret archaeological park can be good for younger kids, with a butterfly pavilion, flamingos, macaws, an aquarium, a lagoon and beach, and a river boat to keep them busy. Night shows Xcaret at Night and the Xcaret Mexico Espectacular get great reviews. Older kids who are good swimmers should enjoy swimming and snorkeling in the artificial river. The Xcaret park is large, so you’ll be doing a lot of walking. $71/adult $35/child, four and under free, and there are discounts for booking online. You pay for your drinks and food.
Xplor Adventure Park’s major attractions are ziplines, an underground river, amphibious vehicles and rafting. Children under age five are not allowed in Xplor. $98 adult, $55 child age five and older, and there are discounts for booking online. Food and drink and all activities are included in the price.
Xplor, Xel-ha and Xcaret offer discounts if you visit two ore more of the parks and book online. Check prices now.
Do you have any other great activities for kiddos in Playa del Carmen? Share with us in the comments below!