What to do in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Wondering what to do in Playa del Carmen? Our family loves outdoor excursions, but we like fun city adventures as well. While in Riviera Maya, we wanted to give our kids a taste of local city life as well as geological wonders, so we spent an evening on Playa del Carmen‘s safe 5th Avenue. This pedestrian-only street spans approximately 10 blocks and is lined with shops, restaurants, bars, and souvenir stands. You can find everything from authentic Mexican handicrafts to cheap touristy t-shirts along 5th Ave, plus glimpse plenty of local color, street performers, and live music.

shopping in playa del carmen

Have your cab driver drop you off at the beach and playground area at the top of 5th Avenue (any driver will know to take your there), and start with a snack of fruit kabobs or watermelon spears from a vendor while admiring the sand sculptures on the beach and watching the cruise ships off the shore. Kids will enjoying playing on the large beach play structure, and teens can poke around the open-air shops lining the beach.

Playa del Carmen beach

Continue down 5th Avenue stopping in stores along the way. Our sons used the experience to souvenir shop with their own money, which meant a lesson in bartering with street vendors. After some successful purchases, we headed into some of the high end shops lining the avenue to window shop as well. Look for ‘fish spas’ where tiny fish nibble at your toes for $15 (didn’t try it for that price!) and avoid posing with exotic animals (their handlers will try to persuade you to buy photos of your kids with them, and the practice perpetuates illegal animal trafficking).

Playa del Carmen

Throughout 5th Avenue, you’ll find street performers such as Mayan dancers and magicians, and plenty of restaurants vying for your patronage. For the most authentic Mexican cuisine, head all the way down the avenue to the end (you’ll know the block by the large fountain in the center of the intersection) and eat at La Cueva del Chango.

fruit stand

La Cueva del Chango is tucked away down a side street at Calle 38 and known (and loved) by locals. The ambiance of the restaurant is as big a draw as the food: diners enter a lush garden setting where they’re seated either in the shade of beautiful vegetation or under the open-air thatched roof building of the main restaurant. With only a few dozen tables, the location is intimate. The open kitchen is fun to view, and the wait staff is bilingual, the better to help you make your selections.

La Cueva del ChangoThey offer breakfast all day (a good option for kids who may be pickier eaters) but our waitress was excellent about steering us toward good options for the kids on the dinner menu, too. (Kids can also order amazing smoothies.) I ate the most delicious halapeno cream soup, then finished with grilled tuna steak. The kids settled on a Mexican specialty: molletes. This dish is simply grilled cheese with pinto beans, which can be topped with salsa and/or guacamole. Everything we ate was amazing, and in the glow of candlelight in our (seemingly) own Mexican garden, we felt worlds away from lively 5th Avenue.

Date last visited:

August 2013


Getting here is easy. Hire a cab for about $10 from any Playa del Carmen or Playacar location, and pick up another from any of the many taxi stands located at cross-streets along 5th Avenue.

Disclaimer: as I disclose whenever applicable, our family ate at La Cueva del Chango as guests of the restaurant, for the purpose of review. This hospitality came with no expectation of a positive review.

Photo credit: Homeaway.com