Cancun is one of the most popular beach destinations in North America, but cruise ships don’t actually dock in or near Cancun. In fact, the nearest genuine port of call to Cancun is Playa del Carmen. Playa del Carmen is a great place to spend time in and of itself, with ancient Mayan ruins and underground passageways nearby. Stunning beaches can be enjoyed right in Playa del Carmen, but if your ship docks here and you’d like to see the far more touristy and bustling Cancun, it isn’t a major hassle to get over there. However, if your time in Playa del Carmen is limited then it would be best to plan on seeing the sights right in and around this smaller and more intimate version of its neighbor up the coast.

Sightseeing & Things To Do

If you have your heart set on experiencing Cancun – but your cruise ship simply won’t be docked long enough to make it possible – do not despair or wait on the ship. Playa del Carmen and its immediate vicinity is a wonderful place to explore and learn more about. Whether you check out some impossibly ancient Mayan ruins – or if you just high tail it for Coco Beach – you will be glad that you took the time to get to know Playa del Carmen.

Assuming that you don’t make your way up into Cancun, there are plenty of lovely things to do right in Playa del Carmen. Consider one of the following:

Coco Beach

Beaches are, naturally, on practically everybody’s mind when they arrive along this stretch of the Mexican Caribbean coast. Fortunately, cruise ships dock conveniently near many fine beaches. If you’re looking for a peaceful, truly relaxing beach to while away a couple of hours on, you should consider Coco Beach. The crowds are sparser here, and the decibel level is pleasantly low. If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, there are excellent snorkeling opportunities here.

Xcaret Eco Theme Park

By visiting Playa del Carmen, you have the opportunity to visit one of the most unique theme parks in North America. The Xcaret Eco Theme Park blends an array of excellent exhibits and attractions about wildlife – including a manatee lagoon and a bumble bee farm – with educational and eye-opening displays about the ancient Mayans who once populated the region. Children will especially enjoy this theme park, and it’s a great way to enjoy an overall of the area.

Xaman Ha Aviary

Wildlife is important to the people of Playa del Carmen and Cancun, so it makes sense that a topnotch aviary is located right on the outskirts of town. The Xaman Ha Aviary boasts more than sixty different species of tropical birds. The best part? The birds are allowed to fly free in this one of a kind, open air sanctuary.


See authentic Mayan ruins up close and personally by heading over to nearby Tutum. This walled Mayan city was founded around the year 1200; much of its original layout and design remains today. Overlooking the shimmering Caribbean, Tutum is a scenic and majestic place.


Shopping is a true joy in Playa del Carmen, largely thanks to 5th Avenue. This thoroughfare has been designated as a pedestrians-only section of town, making it easy and safe to weave to and from the multitude of fine shops. There are jewelry stores, clothing shops, boutiques boasting fine works of art and other goods and a lovely assortment of cantinas and restaurants. You’ll be able to shop ‘til you drop along 5th Avenue – or at least until you duck into a restaurant to refuel.

Best Souvenir To Bring Back To the Cruise Ship

Silver is, unquestionably, one of the best souvenirs that you can bring home from Cancun and Playa del Carmen. It is incredibly cheap here, but you have to be willing to do a little bit of haggling. Otherwise, you’ll end up paying far more than the going rate.

Eating – Sample the Local Cuisine

While Playa del Carmen – as well as Cancun – has a healthy assortment of topnotch restaurants and upscale places to eat, some of the best and freshest cuisine can be found right on the street. Hit a street vendor or a food stand and sample a seafood taco to get an idea for why this region is so well known for its cuisine. Not only is this food convenient to carry around and eat, but it’s also wonderfully cheap.

When, Where, and How

When To Go

The sunniest time of year in Cancun and Playa del Carmen falls between November and February. Therefore, that is the most popular time to visit and is a wonderful time to plan an excursion here. However, any time of year is a great time to enjoy the sun, sand and surf of Cancun.

Where You’re Docked

Ships don’t actually dock in Playa del Carmen proper, but in a small hamlet called Calica. Located approximately five miles to the south of Playa del Carmen, Calica also handles a lot of ferry traffic from nearby Cozumel.

Which Cruise Ships Go Here?

Many of the major cruise lines have itineraries that include stops at Cancun or Playa del Carmen. A few of the biggest cruise lines that stop in Playa del Carmen are Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, MSC Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions and Princess Cruises. However, there are many other options available in terms of dates, ships, days in port and at sea when it comes to Cancun.