Did you know that the Riviera Maya is home to the world’s second largest coral reef? This is only one of the reasons why snorkeling should definitely be on your bucket list when visiting Playa del Carmen. Live an unforgettable adventure in its colorful world offshore or explore magical underground rivers. Here are the snorkeling highlights of the Riviera Maya.
Swimming in a cenote feels like an exclusive adventure and thrills are guaranteed! And their crystal clear water keeps you cool on a hot Mexican summer day.
Cenotes are natural pits, or sinkholes, that developed over millions of years. The word cenote derives from the Mayan “ts’onot”, that refers to any location with accessible groundwater. For the ancient Mayan civilization cenotes where the only source of water in the jungle. They were considered sacred, and portals to communicate with the underworld.
Some cenotes seem like a lake, others are underground, in a cave, often connected to an extensive underground river system. There are hundreds of cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula, and they all contain astonishingly crystal clear, fresh and cool water with no or very low salinity. That makes them the perfect place to plunge in and cool off on one of those infamous tropical, hot days in Playa del Carmen.
Dos Ojos – For Divers
Dos Ojos, close to Xel-Ha is one of the ten longest underwater cave systems worldwide. The name means “two eyes”, referring to the two cenotes that are joined together by caves. The local Maya community operates it as a sustainable tourism project, offering dive and snorkel tours. Expect the dive experience of your life, diving through an underground river from one cenote another . If you’re an experienced diver don’t miss the famous “Pit”, a 110 meters (370 f) deep cenote where you can see ancient human and animal remains. Or you just snorkel and swim while admiring the stalactites and stalagmites.
Gran Cenote – For Families
This cenote, about 4 km west of Tulum, is partially open-air. It has partially submerged tunnels through which you can swim to other cenote pools. Over your head, bats are hanging from the roof and between your feet little fish swim around while you explore the underwater formations. There are docks to jump down from and it’s a lot of fun for all the family, since there are also pools with less deep water and sandy ground where kids can play.
Cenote Cristalino – For Spa-Goers
The open-air cenote about 30 km south of Playa del Carmen is next to 2 other cenotes (Azul and Jardin Eden), which are all similar. Cenote Cristalino is surrounded by mangroves which gives you the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, relaxing in the nature. In the water are a lot of small fish that are not scared of humans, on the contrary, they like to suck on your skin, what tickles a bit. There’s a small shop where you can buy snacks and drinks or rent snorkel kits.
Cenote Ik-kil – For Gods
The tours that take you to Chichen-Itzá usually make a stop at this gorgeous cenote. The Mayan considered this cenote the perpetual dwelling of Chaac, god of the water and rain. Ik-kil is in fact so beautiful, that it might really be the residence of some god. The lush forest suddenly gives way to the earth and you find yourself in a hole that resembles a little piece of heaven. Swim in the clear and cold water, with the blue sky above you and water dropping from the vines hanging from the opening, creating tiny waterfalls. If you dare, jump from one of the platforms!
Rio Secreto – For Adventurers
Rio Secreto, about 5 km south of Playa del Carmen, seems to be an underground world of its own. Gear up for your spelunking experience with a wetsuit, neoprene boots, helmet and headlamps to wander through the mostly waist-deep water of its rivers and swim in the cenote pools. Besides stalactites and stalagmites you find the very rare and beautiful helictite formations. They grow out like branches, resembling bizarre icicles.
No matter what cenote you decide to visit, you’ll have a great time!
Visit one of the most unique places on the Yucatan Peninsula: the Biosphere Reserve Sian Ka’an, just south of Tulum. Spend an unforgettable time discovering hidden beaches, coral reefs, tropical forests, cenotes and exotic animals!
Sian Ka’an is Maya for “Origin of the Sky” or “The place where the sky is born”, which seems very appropriate once you get there and feel how truly magical the place is. There are many reasons why Sian Ka’an is definitely worth a visit. To begin with, it’s the region’s number one in sustainable tourism and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Covering 10% of the state of Quintana Roo and with about 120 km of coast line, Sian Ka’an is one of Mexico’s largest protected Biosphere Reserves.
Sian Ka’an has an exceptionally diverse ecosystem, ranging from cenotes (natural sinking holes), palm savannas, tropical forests, mangrove swamps, to lagoons, white sandy beaches and dunes. A special phenomenon are the “petenes”, small forested islands that emerge from the flooded marshes. Besides from this area, they are only found in Florida and Cuba. But the beauty of Sian Ka’an’s landscape not only lies in its diversity, but in the fact that the landscape remained relatively undisturbed and the well protected coastline. Its marine area protects a large part of the coral reef, with its rich marine life like sea turtles and manatees.
The diverse landscape is home to an exceptional variety of species, among them animals that are rarely found elsewhere. You’ll get to see tapirs, howler and spider monkeys, crocodiles, jaguars, pumas and pink flamingos to only name a few. Over 300 species of birds fly the sky over Sian Ka’an.
If these aren’t enough reasons to visit Sian Ka’an, it also includes 23 archaeological sites, the most famous being Muyil (also known as Cunyaxché). Muyil was one of the earliest Mayan settlements on the Caribbean Coast, being populated around 330 B.C. It’s situated close to the Muyil lagoon and visitors today can still travel through the lagoons and the ancient canal system that access the Caribbean Sea.
Want to add Sian Ka’an to your Playa del Carmen bucket list? There are several ways to get there. You can rent a car (make sure it’s a 4×4), take the 4 USD entry and explore the site on your own. If you want to be on the safe side, and make sure you’re going to see what you want to see, take a tour. There are several tour options tailored to your interests. These include general, day-long tours as well as tours dedicated to more specific interests, such as kayaking, bird watching or diving. Our staff at Playa Palms Beach Hotel is happy to help you with any arrangements!
While on vacation in Playa del Carmen, you should definitely hop down south and spend a day in Tulum. It’s only 66 km / 41 miles south of Playa del Carmen, about an hour by car. Here are the sites you should definitely visit there:
Rain? In the Caribbean paradise of Playa del Carmen? Yes, it happens. But that shouldn’t keep you from enjoying your vacation, as there are plenty of activities to do when the weather strikes. Check out our suggestions below!
Head underground and visit one of the many cenotes. Even though outside it’s pouring, you won’t feel a bit of it while exploring underground rivers.
In Rio Secreto for example you can hike and swim through canals while admiring stalactites and stalagmites. The nature reserve forms the longest partially flooded cave system in the Yucatan peninsula. Expect a lot of awe and adventure!
Also very close to Playa del Carmen is the cenote Chaak Tun. Chaak being the Mayan god of rain – maybe while you are at it, ask him to calm the pouring down a bit? The cenote is only a short cab ride from downtown Playa del Carmen and definitely worth a visit.
If you don’t mind getting wet a little and are looking for fun and adventure, Xplor might be your choice. Fly on zip-lines over the trees and enjoy the view over the Mexican Caribbean! Or drive an amphibious vehicle through the jungle and caverns, and discover the underground rivers on a raft. For a very special experience, visit the park after sunset.
Definitely worth a visit, regardless of the weather, is Xcaret. The natural park is focused on Mexican culture and has a lot to do and see. Like a beautiful Mayan cemetery, an indoor-aquarium, or a hacienda. Make sure you don’t miss the epic show at night!
Just as epic is the Cirque Du Soleil’s Joya Show. Music, dancing, animals, planets, flavors and the Mexican culture are part of the show. It can be booked with or without dinner, and why not start the evening with drink at the cenote?
Shopping malls are a good choice too. You cannot only explore the stores there, but also go to the movies. About a ten minutes cab ride from downtown is Plaza las Américas, or visit the significantly bigger Plaza las Américas in Cancun. Both malls have a cinema, you can check online what movies they are showing and if they are shown in English.
For further information or to book a tour or transportation to one of the places mentioned, just ask Carlos, our concierge.
Most importantly, don’t let the rain get you down and make the best of it. Good news is, it probably won’t last for long.