Playa del Carmen is best enjoyed from a lounge chair on the sand or during an evening strolling Quinta Avenida, paralleling the beach for 20 blocks north from the ferry pier. The area around the ferry terminal, predictably, is rife with trinket emporiums and chain eateries, but right around the plaza you'll find a small church with an ocean view and vendors selling sliced fruit and tasty tacos. Heading north, the avenue mellows into bistros, cool bars, sweet clothing shops, and sophisticated restaurants.
Playa's most active pursuits revolve around simply enjoying the good life. The hippest sandy beaches for swimming, sunning, and people-watching are north of Avenida Constituyentes; Central Playa's beach is more popular with local families and fishermen, and is home to several inexpensive hotels and restaurants. The best stretch of sand in this area, offering a breather from encroaching hotels, is Playa El Faro, between calles 8 and 10. The most beautiful beach, though -- and unfortunately the most crowded -- extends from Constituyentes north for 5 blocks to Las Mamitas and Kool beach clubs, between calles 28 and 30. Its gradually deepening waters and breaking waves farther out provide ample fodder for water play. The sublime sands farther north are increasingly being squeezed by condo developments.
Playa's offshore reef offers decent diving, though it doesn't compare to Cozumel or Puerto Morelos. Its primary virtue, which has earned it scores of dive shops, is access to Cozumel and a chain of inland cenotes. Reef dives generally cost $45 to $55 for one tank and $70 to $75 for two; two-tank cenote trips are around $110 to $120. Prices for Cozumel trips vary more and are noted below. (Cozumel dives almost always require you to take the ferry on your own and board the dive boat on the island.) Dedicated divers should look for the discounted multi-dive deals and dive/hotel packages offered by many shops. Cyan Ha (tel. 984/803-2517; www.cyanha.com), one of the first shops in Playa and still one of the most respected, has a second site at the Petite Lafitte Hotel. Tank-Ha Dive Center (tel. 984/873-0302; www.tankha.com) takes divers to Cozumel directly from Playa. Yucatek Divers (tel. 984/803-2836; www.yucatek-divers.com) specializes in cenote diving and in dives for people with disabilities. They also run snorkel trips to Isla Holbox north of Cancún from June to September, when whale sharks migrate just off the island's shores. The entire trip takes about 12 hours (including at least 3 hours travel each way) and costs $220. The Abyss Dive Center (tel. 984/873-2164; www.abyssdiveshop.com) has its own hotel. You won't go wrong with any of these.
Snorkeling isn’t good in Playa since you can’t reach the reefs by swimming from the beach. If you really want to snorkel, you’re better off in the waters around Akumal and Xel-Ha.
Countless watersports outfitters line the beach and La Quinta, offering excursions inland to cenotes, ruins, and adventure parks. Banana boating, tubing, and jet-skiing are just a few of the (pricey) watersports you can enjoy in Playa's calm waters.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.