It is probably safe to say that the vast majority–if not all–of visitors to Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya love the water. The gorgeous beaches and picturesque Caribbean Sea are a huge draw, making this southeastern tip of Mexico one of the top tourist destinations in the world.
Many of us are just happy to bask in the sunshine, work on our tan and relax; with an occasional dip in the sea to cool off. But some of us lounge for a little while and soon realize we’d like some activity.
When it comes to the various activities to do in and on the water, there is no shortage of good times to be had in this area!
The second largest barrier reef in the world runs from Cancun all the way down to Honduras. That makes this area home to some world-class diving. There are healthier and prettier sections of the reef you can dive plus there are various other exciting dives you can choose from, depending on your skill level.
Puerto Morelos (a small town located halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen) has some beautiful shallow reef dives. You’ll feel like you’re in an aquarium, with stunning color and schools of fish and sea life around you. The reef is protected as a National Park and is quite healthy. You’ll likely see sting rays, turtles, lobster, and maybe even nurse sharks here. There’s also a decent wreck dive, at a depth of about 90 feet.
If you hop the ferry out of Playa and make the short trip to the island of Cozumel, you’ll experience why this is one of the world’s top dive destinations. Here you can explore some of the largest reef walls on the planet, in 80 – 100 feet of visibility. The popular dive sites are mainly on the sheltered western side of the island. Everything you’ll want to see is fairly easy to access by boat, and there are several shore dives as well. Some dives are strong drift dives and require more advanced experience, but are well worth it.
If you a more experienced and adventurous diver, you can dive the underground labyrinths of the cenotes in the area. These subterranean fresh water rivers that flow from one pool to the next throughout much of the jungle make for exciting, but sometimes chillier, underwater exploration.
If you love the water but are a bit nervous about diving, snorkeling lets you see the underwater beauty without much equipment. All you need are fins, and a good-fitting mask and snorkel (and maybe a life vest to help you float). This is a fun time without a lot of effort required!
A great thing about being here in the warm Caribbean is that you can wade out and snorkel from many beaches along the coast. Some of the best snorkeling, where you’ll see a lot of marine life, is off the western shore of the island of Cozumel. The reef in that area is especially vibrant and healthy.
There are other good snorkel sites near the small town of Akumal. Here you can wade into the water in the bay and snorkel with sea turtles, which is a big attraction for many tourists. (Akumal is about 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen). There is also a large shallow lagoon here called Yal-Ku that has a huge variety of fish. It makes for a fun day with the kids!
If you’re up for a drive, check out some of the more private beaches south of Playa del Carmen, such as Xpu-Ha and Paamul. Here you’ll find the reef is healthier and there is an abundance of sea grass, which attracts fish and turtles.
This part of Mexico is close to a sport-fisherman’s paradise, and for a unique reason. The deep waters where the big game fish swim are not far off shore from the Yucatan Peninsula. That means you don’t have to boat long distances to reel in some tasty big fish.
Throughout Playa del Carmen, which itself began as a fishing village, you can find scores of small fishing vessels called “pangas”. These little boats are simple, with a molded fiberglass hull. They aren’t very comfortable but will be your cheapest option and are usually captained by very knowledgeable local guys.
If you want to go out on a nicer, more outfitted rig, you will more than likely launch from either Puerto Aventuras to the south or Puerto Morelos to the north. Puerto Aventuras is the main marina in the area and definitely home to the biggest fishing community. You’ll find many experienced captains and crew, with vessels ranging in size and luxury and pricing options to fit any group’s style.
One of the most exhilarating experiences you can do in your lifetime is swim with these gentle giants of the sea. As soon as you see them from your boat (no matter how you choose to downplay it in your mind), it’s pretty much guaranteed your heart will be racing. Then once you put your mask and flippers on and get in the water, just try and keep up with these amazing, massive creatures!
This is an all-day event, as there is a fair bit of traveling involved. The best whale shark sighting spots are from the islands of Isla Mujeres and Hol-box (both are a couple hours’ travel from Playa del Carmen).
Whale sharks migrate through the Yucatan Channel, and the season runs from May – September.
If you are even half way tempted or interested in this, DO IT! It is well worth it and something you will not soon forget.
This is a bit more on the relaxing side but still fun if you’re okay with heights. Glide a couple hundred feet above the water and beaches and get a bird’s-eye view of the beauty before you.
Parasailing is popular with all ages, as it’s low-impact and safe. You can choose to go by yourself or with a buddy in a tandem chute. Once harnessed in, you’ll slowly be let out on a cable behind a boat. As the specially-designed chute fills with air, you’ll gradually lifted up higher and higher. The half-hour ride allows you to take amazing photos or just relax and enjoy a peaceful moment.
Private Yacht Tours
For a fun time, book a day trip to Cozumel and visit private locations like El Cielo. Or there are yachts you can charter out of Puerto Aventuras for a scenic tour and some snorkeling thrown in. Launch out of Cancun and visit the stunningly gorgeous north beach of Isla Mujeres, with the most vivid aqua-blue water around.
The waters on the Caribbean side of Mexico are a little less protected than the Pacific side, so the waters can at times be a little rougher. Keep your eye on the winds and weather forecast if you have fears of sea sickness. If you go out on the right day, this is an unbeatable experience.