Situated between Cancun and Tulum on the Mayan Riviera lies Playa del Carmen, or simply “Playa” as the locals call it. This fun town has grown from a sleepy fishing village to the ideal vacation spot for a mixed tourist crowd as well as a loyal group of scuba divers. You’ll find miles of white sand beaches and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea to the west, while lush green jungle parallels the town to the east. There are many watersports on offer in Playa as well as a lively nightlife, great restaurants and all sorts of jungle activities.
Located along the second largest barrier reef in the world, this dive destination is becoming a popular spot for beginner and experienced divers alike. With over 15 dive sites within a 6 km radius, boat rides are minimal leaving more time for diving and relaxation. The highlight in this area is the vast and varying amount of sea life that lives among gardens of soft coral with a visibility that can reach up to 30m/100ft.
If you want to try something different you can experience cavern or cave diving in one of the many cenotes in the jungle. The area is famous for its underwater cave system and a mecca for the world’s best cave divers.
Dive Sites in Playa del Carmen
Chimenea/Xcalacoco (The Chimney/Green Wall)
This mini wall is known for its coral Chimney, turtles and 10m/30ft wall of hard and soft corals contrasted with sand mounds. A Deep dive for more experienced divers. Minimum Depth 20m/66ft, Maximum Depth 30m/100ft
Los Arcos (The Arches)
A deep dive with coral walls and arches for the experienced diver that is home to moray eels, groupers and stingrays within a delicate mix of hard and soft coral. Minimum Depth 25m/75ft, Maximum Depth 30m/100ft.
Cerebros (The Brain)
Scenic underwater landscape predominated by large brain coral formations, small crustaceans and schools of tropical fish. Minimum Depth 10m/33ft, Maximum Depth 14m/45ft.
Moc Che (The Trees)
This dive sight can be viewed at multiple depths. If taken to the limit of 30 m, turtles, king crabs and moray eels can be seen living in the large barrel sponges. When opting for the shallower portion of the reef, hundreds of fish of varying species can be found with the collection of soft coral. Minimum Depth 7 mts/23ft, Maximum Depth 33m/100ft
Large reef site filled with soft coral gardens and caverns, it is home to many schools of grunts, pork fish, spotted and green moray eels and butterfly fish.
Minimum Depth 10m/33ft, Maximum Depth 14m/45ft
A site named after it is inhabitants, this finger shaped reef leaves the diver with many overhangs to explore. Minimum Depth 10m/33ft, Maximum Depth 14m/45ft
A demanding shallow reef that is a mix of both large coral gardens and sandy terrain. This is home to large schools of snappers, spade fish and tarpons measuring 6 feet or more.
Minimum Depth 12m/36ft, Maximum Depth 18m/60ft.
Playa’s most sought after dive site due to the amount of hawksbill and loggerhead turtles that live in the flat coral garden. Minimum Depth 18m/66ft, Maximum Depth 25m/80ft
Islote (Little Island)
A delight for divers who want to see a variety of tropical fish in one area that are attracted to the soft and hard corals.Minimum Depth 20m/70ft, Maximum Depth 27m/85ft
Punta Venado (Deer Point)
A large coral garden filled with hard corals, trunk fish, tangs, parrot fish, file fish, nurse sharks and moray eels. Minimum Depth 20m/70ft, Maximum Depth 27m/85ft
A Shrimp boat sunk in 1995 to create an artificial reef within the area. This is a trip for experienced divers only. Minimum Depth 20m/60ft, Maximum Depth 30m/100ft.
Dive Global highly recommends you dive with the The Abyss Dive Shop.This friendly dive center was established in 1997 by a Canadian instructor called David and is located right on the beach of Playa del Carmen. Ask any local what dive shop to try, and you’ll probably hear the Abyss. The staff combines excellent service with loads of FUN. Their yearly “Treasure Hunt” is very popular and attracts a returning crowd from all over the world. In between dives you can hang out on the beach right in front of the shop and have lunch or a “cerveza” from next-door Parrot Inn.
The multi-lingual instructors consisting of Mitch, Diego and Selma specialize in both SSI and PADI certifications as well as guiding you around the great reefs. This is also THE place to try cenotes diving (cavern or cave diving). If you want to do a resort course, learn how to cavern or cave dive or are interested in technical diving, the Abyss offers it all.
Most of the diving in Playa is drift diving. Dive sites off Playa have northerly currents that carry you gently past the reef, so it’s easy to just float and enjoy as the scenery moves by.
The Abyss offers two daily dives (morning and afternoon) that leave from their boats right in front of the shop.
For accommodation we can highly recommend La Rana Cansada (The Tired Frog) in the center of town. It’s run by a Swedish couple who rent out 13 rooms around a pleasant garden seating area. There is a kitchen available where you can make your own meals.
The place has a lively bar called La Ranita where the locals hang out and it is “the spot” to get the latest scoop on what’s going on in Playa del Carmen.
Have a chicken or fallafel wrap or delicious salad at the Purple Onion Express next door, a great little food counter run by the cheerful Annabelle and Stacy. Annabelle used to be a chef in a three star Michelin restaurant in the South of France which was often patronized by the Royal family of Monaco, so you can imagine what the food is like! The flavors of the world are represented on the every-changing menu. With influences from India, Morocco, the Mediterranean, well, from everywhere really, you can have hummus one day and beer battered shrimp the next – and a new hangover soup every day as well. Purple Onion also has a bunch of yummy side salads, such as pesto pasta salad, quiche and curry potato salad. Not to be missed!
If you are into relaxation and personal growth we suggest you stay at the Hotel Alhambra. It has the perfect location right on the beach and the hotel’s mission is to provide a harmonious environment conducive to positive change. Try their daily yoga classes in a beautiful room on the top floor. There is nothing like doing your sun salutations while listening to the waves lapping against shore…
If the port is closed due to strong winds, try a jungle tour. You’ll have a fun and interesting day exploring the area around Playa del Carmen by ATV. While cruising through the Yucatan “selva” you’ll visit a Mayan ruin, swim in a cenote and have fun meeting people. Even Leonardo di Caprio was there!
When to Visit Playa del Carmen
The water temperature is 78 F in winter and 82 F in summer. In January and February the port is sometimes closed for the day due to heavy winds. But not to worry, there is tons to do in and around Playa del Carmen that you’re almost happy that you can take the day off from diving to take advantage of all these other activities. We recommend a 3mm shortie for summer and a full 3 -5 mm suit in winter.
If you want to dive the cenotes bring at least a 5mm with hood.
Getting to Playa del Carmen
It isn’t hard to get to Cancun. It’s international airport receives plenty of scheduled and charter flights from all over the world. There is no need to go into Cancun itself as there are number of options to get to Playa directly from the airport:
There is an hourly bus that leaves and arrives at the Playa bus station 45 minutes later. The bus station is at the beginning of the main drag called 5th Avenue or Avenida Quinta. From there it is a short walk to everywhere. There’s also taxi’s waiting to take you to your hotel. A one-way bus ticket is US $8.
By minivan (called “colectivos” in Mexico):
Minivans leave all the time and are easy to find outside of the airport. There are ticket booths right as you exit and they drop you in front of your hotel. Ticket price is $15
The most expensive option at around $60 to $60 for the hour drive.