Mexico Itinerary: 1 Week in Playa Del Carmen

If you only have a week in Mexico, I recommend spending it in the Playa Del Carmen area. It’s not quite as touristy as Cancun, but there is still plenty to do and is actually closer to many of the popular attractions in Mexico. Find out how to spend 1 week in Playa Del Carmen with this comprehensive Mexico itinerary!

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Mexico Itinerary: 1 Week in Playa Del Carmen | Footsteps of a Dreamer

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A Couple of Things to Note

I want to preface this itinerary by stating that this trip was very different from all the other trips I’ve taken and all the other itineraries you’ll find on this website.

Our trip to Mexico was the first time I ever booked through a travel agency. I typically take care of all the travel arrangements such as booking the hotel and flight. However, we ended up in Mexico because we found an amazing deal on Groupon, so we figured, why not?

Also, I was personally not comfortable renting a car in Mexico. For that reason, we booked guided tours for all of our activities that included hotel pick up and drop off. This is also unusual for me because I prefer self-guided tours.

With all that said, every activity on this itinerary can be done on your own without booking a guided tour or going through a travel agency if that is what you prefer. However, we just felt that going through a travel agency and guided tours was the most stress-free route. As such, some of the things I mention may be specific to the guided tour.

Boat to Go Snorkeling at Playa Maya | Footsteps of a Dreamer
Photo courtesy of @liandelprat

1 Week Mexico Itinerary

Day 1: Travel Day / Relax

Depending on what time your flight lands, you may have a lot of time or very little to explore during your first day in Mexico.

Once you land in Cancun, you’ll need to get to Playa Del Carmen, which will take about an hour depending on how you to choose to go. Since we booked our trip to Mexico through the travel agency Vacation Express, we were also able to use them to book a shuttle from the airport to our hotel in Playa Del Carmen. If you do not book your trip through a travel agency, you can check to see if your hotel offers a shuttle. If not, Cancun Airport Transportation offers private shuttles.

Day 2: Chichen Itza & Cenote

Chichen Itza, a compound full of Mayan ruins, is an absolute must-do while in Mexico. Here, you’ll be able to learn about about the Mayan culture such as how they studied to sky to learn about weather and seasons. The nearby cenote (a sinkhole with water at the bottom) known as Cenote Ik Kil is also breathtakingly beautiful.

Chichen Itza is about a 2 hour drive from Playa Del Carmen one-way, so expect this trip to take most of the day. However, you’ll still likely be back in time for dinner, so you’ll have time to just relax on the beach or around your hotel in the evening.

You can find out more information about what it’s like to visit Chichen Itza and Cenote Ik Kil in my Chichen Itza review.

Temple of Kukulcan, Chichen Itza, Mexico
Cenote Ik Kil, Mexico

Day 3: Tulum, Snorkel, & Cenote

The Tulum ruins aren’t quite as spectacular as Chichen Itza but, being right on the Ocean, they have their own sense of beauty. Honestly, I was more interested in the Tulum area for the snorkeling. Right off the shore of the Tulum Ruins is the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef — the largest reef in the Western Hemisphere. Here, we were able to have a school of fish blow past us, swim with some sea turtles, and even see some sting rays! We ended our day at Cenote Caracol, which has both a “dry” and “wet” portion. Instead of being a sinkhole similar to Cenote Ik Kil, Cenote Caracol was actually an entire cave system that we were able to explore.

You can find out more information about what it’s like to visit the Tulum Ruins and Cenote Caracol in my Ocean Tours Mexico review.

Tulum Ruins, Mexico | Footsteps of a Dreamer
Leandro's Gallery Cenote Caracol Wet Route | Footsteps of a Dreamer
Photo courtesy of @liandelprat

Day 4: Rest Day / Shopping

When I travel, I like to go, go, go. I want to experience everything possible with the limited amount of time I have in the area. However, it’s also nice to have a day where you can just relax and enjoy your vacation. Day 4 of this Mexico itinerary is designed for you to do just that. This way the day that we took full advantage of the hotel pool and swim up bar.

However, “relaxing” doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to sit around all day… It just means that you have a day where you have absolutely nothing planned and can do whatever looks interesting. Our resort offered daily activities, one of which was salsa dancing. I absolutely love line dancing back home, so I figured why not give salsa dancing a try?

Salsa Dancing Playa Del Carmen Mexico | Footsteps of a Dreamer

Also during our “rest day,” we headed down to 5th avenue, a famous shopping street in Playa Del Carmen. It’s closed off to cars, so you can walk down the center of the street and check out all the restaurants and shops along the way. If you’re looking to pick up some souvenirs, this is a good place to do so.

5th Avenue Playa Del Carmen Mexico | Footsteps of a Dreamer

If you do nothing else this day, make sure you visit 500 Gramos and Be Ocean.

500 Gramos

By the 4th day of our Mexico itinerary, we were a bit tired of the food at our hotel and ended up stumbling upon 500 Gramos when wandering around 5th Avenue.

We were surprised to find that the owners of the restaurant – a married couple named Maury and Josie – were our waiters. How often do the owners of a restaurant actually wait on you? We struck up a conversation with them and ended up getting to hear their story…

They had been in Mexico on vacation visiting Josie’s sister, and the place where their restaurant currently is located had been really run down. Her sister made a comment about them opening a restaurant there. Later, when Josie and Maury where relaxing on the beach, Maury told Josie that they should open the restaurant, and that they should do it right at that moment because if they didn’t do it then, they would never do it. Sure enough, a few days later they had all their paperwork in order. They came to Mexico on vacation, and then just never left.

500 Gramos Playa Del Carmen Mexico | Footsteps of a Dreamer

They were amazing to talk to, and their food was even more amazing (if that’s possible). Even if you can’t visit the restaurant on day 4, I definitely recommend finding one night on your Mexico itinerary to stop by this amazing restaurant.

500 Gramos Playa Del Carmen Mexico | Footsteps of a Dreamer

Be Ocean

Be Ocean is a swimming suit shop and is actually located a couple of streets over from 5th Avenue. It’s run by the fiancé of our tour guide from Ocean Tours Mexico. Victor was one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had, so when he told us that his fiancé ran a shop off of 5th Avenue, we decided to check it out.

After talking to her a bit, we learned that Victor was actually the one who taught her how to sew, and she spent the past couple of years practicing. Now, she rand the Be Ocean store and makes all the bathing suits by hand. She had the biggest smile on her face when she was telling us how she made the bathing suits and was telling us how she was super excited (like a kid in a candy store) when the delivery truck brought her favorite avocado print fabric. You could tell it was something she truly had a passion about. Plus, she pays some of the other women in town to help her with some of the tasks, and even though the store doesn’t make her millions, she was super proud of the fact that she could give work to people.

If you’re in need of a new bathing suit, I definitely recommend supporting this local shop.

Be Ocean Playa Del Carmen Mexico | Footsteps of a Dreamer

Day 5: Rio Secreto Underground River

As the name implies, Rio Secreto is an underground cave system that has a river running through it. Tours through Rio Secreto allow you to hike and swim through this stunning cave system and admire the various stalactites and stalagmites along the way.

It’s also worth noting that there are several different routes through the cave system, so each group gets to have their own unique experience of the cave without feeling like it was crowded with tourists. Plus, it means that you can go back again and again, and have a different experience each time.

It also means that Rio Secreto can either be a half-day or full-day excursion. So, if you are feeling recharged after resting the day prior you can do the full-day excursion. Otherwise, if you would prefer to just relax, you can choose the half-day excursion and be back at your hotel in time for lunch.

You can find out more information about what it’s like to visit in my Rio Secreto review.

Rio Secreto Stalactites and Stalagmites | Footsteps of a Dreamer

Day 6: Cozumel Day Trip

Visiting Cozumel was sort of something we decided to do last minute, but was totally worth it. However, I felt our guided tour was what made the experience. More specifically, my favorite part of our Cozumel day trip was just enjoying the wind in my face and water on my feet as the catamaran zipped across the open. That’s not something I would have been able to do if we had decided to visit Cozumel on our own.

On our tour, we took a catamaran out to a popular snorkeling spot where we were able to snorkel for a little while before heading over to a sand bar. Here the water was perfectly crystal clear. I don’t think I’d ever seen ocean water so beautiful and clear. We ended our tour at Playa Mia, a large resort and water park.

You can find out more information about what this tour is like in my Cozumel day trip guide.

Catamaran Cozumel Mexico | Footsteps of a Dreamer

Day 7: Travel Day / Relax

If you have time before catching a shuttle back to the airport, I recommend just relaxing — lay on the beach, swim at your hotel, or do whatever it is you do to relax. Soak everything in and enjoy this beautiful country before heading back home to reality.

Where to Stay in Mexico

The travel package we purchased through Groupon / Vacation Express included accommodation at Reef Coco Beach All Inclusive Resort. Was it the most luxurious all-inclusive resort in Playa Del Carmen? Definitely not? Was it a nice play to stay? I’d say so. Would I stay there again? Probably.

Reef Coco Beach | Footsteps of a Dreamer

Honestly, our biggest complaint — the smell — was something that was completely out of the control of the hotel. When we went, Playa Del Carmen (and many other areas of Mexico) were having trouble with the ridiculous amounts of seaweed. It would pile up on the beach, and people were literally using construction equipment to remove it. That’s how much seaweed there was. The unpleasant smell that often filled the hallways of the hotel came from the seaweed on the beach. I have a feeling our hotel wasn’t the only one dealing with this issue.

The staff, on the other hand, were phenomenal. They always had a smile on their face and were happy to help in whatever way they could. Best of all, it was a legitimate smile. It wasn’t a fake smile that they wore because they were told they had to smile at customers. I don’t know that I’ve ever had such fantastic customer service at a hotel before.

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Mexico Itinerary: 1 Week in Playa Del Carmen | Footsteps of a Dreamer

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