We lived in Playa del Carmen for one month. Let me share with you a list of our favorite free or inexpensive things to do with kids in Playa del Carmen! But first, I want to add a disclaimer to our advice.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned while traveling with a child is that we can’t do it all. But you can do a lot!
Whether it’s a diaper blow out, a toddler meltdown, or a preschooler who wants to do everything by themself, kids slow everything down.
For super planners, this means doing less than you probably would if you were childfree. Fewer activities not only per day but per trip. You may not be able to do everything on your wishlist, but you can do some of it. Prioritize those Must See and Can’t Miss activities, and just accept the fact that you won’t (can’t!) see it all.
Traveling with kids also likely means that the types of activities won’t always align with what you would otherwise enjoy. Anyone else mark all of the nearby playgrounds when visiting a new city? I definitely didn’t do that before becoming a mother! You’ll likely seek out entertainment options aimed specifically at kids, such as theme parks, zoos, and parks, while skipping many of the bars, clubs, high thrill attractions, and physically strenuous activities.
With kids, I have come to believe that less is more.
Schedule less and allow for more time between activities. Everyone will be much happier. Fewer fights, less tension, more smiles, more peace.
I also have learned it’s important to be prepared to spend less time doing the activities thanks to childrens’ short attention spans. Gone are the days of leisurely strolling through a park or taking my time reading all of the signs at a museum. But that doesnt mean I can’t take my kid to an ancient Mayan ruin; I just need to adjust my “how long” with “how soon”, and lower the amount of time I’d like to spend there. Balance is key and needs flexibility.
So as a sanity-saving measure, I encourage you to seek simple activities that can appeal to family members of *all* ages.
Kids don’t need to be constantly entertained.
A little boredom goes a long way to foster imagination. Boredom forces someone to get creative. I like to practice with it myself but find that my ability to let myself disengage has deteriorated with age. Devices encourage this behavior. Waiting at the dentist, sitting at the airport, standing in line… I have to fight the urge to reach for my phone.I don’t remember being like that when I was younger. So I want to better cultivate my *own* creativity, and encourage Skyler to use his brain instead of relying on external entertainment.
I packed relatively light for our trip, but still brought a bunch of entertainment options for him. Dry-erase tracing books, magnetic puzzles, magic water painting books, small fidget toys…
When we got there, I bought him a cheap set of beach toys, and that he did play with. Shocking no one, he didn’t use any of those ideas. He’d whine about being bored when he had stacks of activities to choose from. But he finds a leaf next on the ground and makes up a little scene, occupying himself quietly for 15 minutes
Don’t get me wrong: we let him use his tablet plenty. Any parent trying to work remotely with their child whining non-stop in the background will know the relieving sensation of handing your kid a device: instant silence.
But we don’t like defaulting to devices, especially when we’re out and about or spending time together as a family. Next time we go somewhere, I’m not taking any toys or activities for him (or very few) nor will I cave to his adorable face when he asks me for a new puzzle at the bookstore. (The puzzle is too hard for him so he only wants to do it with us. Not the desired effect.) He does so much better when he’s forced to fend for himself!
Our advice for entertaining youngins will focus on flexibility, affordability, and simplicity.
You’ll find that a lot of our recommendations for things to do with kids in Playa del Carmen are not specific activities or ticketed entertainment options. We tend to focus on more open-ended freeform ideas to cultivate togetherness and exploration of your destination. Again, the idea centers around balancing your desires with the needs of your kid(s).
Do less; enjoy more.
With “less is more” in mind, I wanted to share my family’s recommendations for free or inexpensive things to do with kids in Playa del Carmen.
Free or inexpensive things to do with kids in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico
I value working smarter, not harder. I also have to watch out for anxiety triggers. I don’t want to overwhelm myself, create unnecessary mental load, or over-schedule my family to a point of burnout.
So a lot of my recommendations are based on how much effort is required by the parents. These ideas are listed in order of effort, from lowest effort to highest effort.
We also have personally done all of these things with our son, who was almost 4 at the time of our visit.
Lots of pool time.
Chances are that no matter where you stay in Playa del Carmen, you will have access to a pool. It seems every condo complex, even the smaller, more local places include at least a plunge pool. And from some cursory trip planning in other regions, the same seems to be throughout much of Mexico.
Take advantage of the pool as much as you can. It’s free child entertainment! And yes, while you should be alert while hanging out with your kids near any body of water, it can be pretty low effort (especially if your kids already know how to swim).
Anytime Skyler was interested in playing in the kiddie section of our hacienda’s pool, we said yes because he mostly entertained himself. This gave us a chance to read, talk with other residents, or just sit quietly.
One Sunday, we hung out with some of my husband’s family who also happened to be visiting PDC. Their condo had a fantastic zero-entry pool with a huge shallow section, perfect for kiddos. Skyler would have happily spent all evening splashing if we had let him.
Walking up and down Avenida Quinta.
One of our favorite ways to get to know a new city is to walk around so our kid is accustomed to schlepping about with us. As a baby, we wore him as often as possible, but as he’s gotten bigger, we push him around in a stroller. The stroller is great because if he gets sleepy, he can just nap, buying us much appreciated quiet time.
Plus, something that may sound boring on paper, like going for a walk, could actually be one of the most fun things you do together. You never know what surprises you’ll find along the way!
Skyler loves being pushed around in the stroller, just looking at the world go by. We went on so many family walks after work and on weekends, not counting the twice daily walks to and from school. Even when our Threenager was in a crabby mood, he never said no to going for a ride in the stroller.
The stroller is a REALLY great way to let the kid see the sights. We never give Skyler anything to play with when he’s in the stroller. He loves being pushed around, and we encourage him to look around, people watch, and point out interesting things he wants to look at. Now that he’s older, we try to get him to help with navigating. “Which way do we need to turn now, Skyler?”
During our month in PDC, we would often close out a work day by walking around the touristy Fifth Avenue, or Avenida Quinta. While the shopping and overpriced restaurants didn’t appeal to us, it was an easy way to stretch our legs, get in some steps, and entertain the child. Many of the bars and restaurants had things that were appealing to kids, like music, bright colors, and table games. It was also the *easiest* street to walk on, despite the crowds.
The sidewalks in PDC are not stroller-friendly in the slightest. On our daily treks to and from his school, Skyler would often have to hop out of the stroller to cross a street or avoid a particular obstacle.
So we often walked on the edges of the streets, past speeding traffic. By comparison, the masses of tourists on 5th Avenue were easy peasy. And honestly, it was never as crowded as we expected.
Visit the big slide just past Calle 14 on 5th Avenue.
Parents, mark this big slide on the Google map that you make for your trip with kids to Playa del Carmen. Allow this brilliant feature of the Calle Corozon shopping mall surprise and delight your children of all ages. Take a seat, rest your weary feet, and enjoy a brief respite from the heat, the crowds, your children’s whining.
Heck, buy a drink from one of the nearby bars and enjoy a cool beverage while you sit and watch your kids ride the escalator up and slide down forty two times in a row. It is open from 11 am to 11 pm, 7 days a week.
I couldn’t begin to tally up the time we spent here during our four weeks in Playa del Carmen. I am grateful for this wonderful tobogán. Can more places include unexpected, kid-sized fun features in their design?
Hang out at the playground on Calle 8 at Palacio Municipal.
It’s not a big playground and not even a particularly nice one, but you wouldn’t know that from the crowds of kids it attracts. It was never empty when we visited, and the park usually had some other activity going on. For parents of littles who need to burn off some energy before bed, make note of this playground.
The Palacio Municipal (City Hall) regularly hosts events like food festivals, concerts, and makers markets. The surrounding public space includes fountains and commemorative sculptures, and this playground which may seem underwhelming at first but will prove to be useful as it’s the *only* playground near Centro Playa del Carmen.
Eat dinner in the Mega parking lot.
This sounds sketchy but hear me out: the best taco stands in PDC are in the parking lot of the Mega on Calle 14 at Avenida 30.
Every night, you’ll find between 2-5 taco stands, each blasting their own music and offering cheap delicious eats. We never paid more than $20 pesos for a taco. So 7 tacos between the three of us would cost us $140mx, which at the time we were there came out to just under $8 USD. Can’t beat that.
In addition to the low price tag and good food, the atmosphere is so lively! There seemed to be a good mix of locals and tourists, with lots of languages being spoken. Skateboarders would practice along the side of the parking garage. People would bring their dogs. Kids would stumble around dancing to the music or chasing the dogs. The constant activity is a great distraction for everyone in the family.
Keep in mind that there’s no bathroom to quickly access so make sure everyone goes potty before you come! Or plan to run into the Mega when nature calls!
The beach (Parque Fundadores, Playa Encanto, Playa Mamitas, literally any street).
The beach goes pretty high on my effort list for a number of reasons but the worst is SAND. I love looking at the beach but I don’t love dealing with the beach.
But my kid loves playing in the ocean, despite his protests of not liking the beach. Every time we asked if he wanted to go, he’d say no. Then the times we would take him without his swim trunks, he would end up soaking wet from having fun in the waves. Unpredictable to say the least.
However, from what I understand, other children consistently enjoy the beach. And there’s no shortage of beach access in Playa del Carmen. Just follow nearly any Calle east, until you hit water.
Fair warned: the beaches are quite a bit smaller than the large, sprawling, white beaches of Cancun. It’s often only a few feet deep, and large swaths are full of beach club chairs and umbrellas. On the larger beaches, like the one near Parque Fundadores, there is not much shade to be had, and it’s claimed early in the day. So it can be hard to find a good spot to set up if you don’t plan ahead.
There’s also the schlepping factor. You have to take a lot of stuff to the beach. And for us, it always felt like the days that we intentionally set out to hang out at the beach, prepared with bags of stuff, were the days we spent the least amount of time actually being there.
But when the kid enjoys the beach, he enjoys the beach. So it always felt worth it in the end.
There are many pros to making the effort and going to the beach with your family. The beach is a cheap place to relax. You can BYOB or purchase it from a beach club or bar. You can bring snacks. You can bring beach toys or outdoor games. There’s always something interesting to see, whether it’s performers of traditional dance or a man lugging a tuba around in the 85 degree sun. Plus, the ocean water is just stunning.
It’s also worth noting that this area of the Riviera Maya can suffer from loads of stinky sargassum seaweed. In fact, when we were there, the area was experiencing a massive bout earlier than usual. There was so much seaweed, crews could not keep up with it. And it smelled like sewage. This was far less of a problem on the larger, more spread out beaches. These tended to be the more populated beaches where the crews focused their efforts, so the stench wasn’t too bad up by Parque Fondadores.
Parque la Ceiba
Skyler and I ended up spending a couple hours here one Saturday, and it ended up being one of my favorite activities. Parque la Ceiba is beautiful, peaceful, shaded, and just a lovely respite from the hustle of the city.
The entrance to Parque la Ceiba is located on the corner of 60 Avenida Sur and 1 Calle Sur. From Avenida 15, it was about an 18 minute walk, a 6 minute drive, or a 5 minute bike ride straight up Avenida Benito Juarez. Not technically far from Centro, but far enough that it’s not a heavily touristed park.
Getting to this park can be simple but I understand if the trek up past the highway seems too far for those with a short trip. If you plan to drive a car, keep in mind there’s no dedicated parking. So you could search for street parking, or you could do what we did and park in the Super Chedraui parking lot. We walked the two blocks to the park entrance.
The park is less of an open space and more of a beautifully shaded meandering pathway with multiple possible routes. One side has a playground that Skyler didn’t want to leave. Another side contains a large tree where they host aerial yoga classes.
Also: public restrooms! Yes, Parque la Ceiba has public restrooms easily accessible in the middle of the park. There you will also find a little cafe and a bookstore, and a large covered platform where we saw a yoga class underway. On Saturdays, there’s usually some sort of market, which was still setting up when we walked through.
One of the other things I loved about this park was its educational nature. There were tons of signs throughout the park reminding you of the importance of recycling or pollination. And there was a bee colony!
If I lived in PDC or frequented this town, I know we’d spend a lot of time in this peaceful corner of town. If you are coming to town with kids, venture north of the highway one afternoon and do as the locals do. You won’t be sorry to miss the crowds. (For context, we stayed in Playa during the peak of high season, February and March. And this park felt rather empty mid-day on a Saturday.)
Visit cenotes in the surrounding areas.
If you rent a car, can wrangle your family onto a tour bus, or feel like braving a collectivo, then you’ve gotta get out of town and check out a cenote. There are SO MANY in the Yucatan region near Playa del Carmen that you can’t really go wrong in choosing one. Most of the entrance fees that we saw were all under $15 USD, some less popular cenotes having a lower entrance fee. Many cenotes will offer free entrance to small children.
The cenote we chose to exert the effort to visit on a Saturday was Cenote Azul and it did not disappoint!
We chose Cenote Azul near Playa del Carmen because it was less than 30 minutes away, the entrance fee was pretty low compared to some of them, and it looked the best for our kid who is still a bit wary of water.
It’s one of the biggest and most spread out cenotes I read about, with tons of areas to explore and plenty of shallow entry points if your kids are up for getting in the water. For the more adventurous of spirit, there’s cliff jumping. We went up to the cliff to check out the view, but it was way too high for us to try jumping, ha!
Another bonus of visiting Cenote Azul turned out to be the rampant wildlife! We saw so many iguanas and a brood of coati, an adorable raccoon-esque animal who will certainly steal your snacks!
Visiting a cenote is high on my list of effort because you need to plan ahead and likely get up early to beat the crowds. Pack like you would going to the beach, bring snacks, and plan to get wet!
Also note: if you’re chasing littles around, you’re going to be on high alert to make sure that they don’t fall and crack their skulls open on all of the rough rock and coral.
If you find yourself in Playa del Carmen with kids anytime soon, please tell me how it goes. Add a few of these things to your list and share your experiences. Other parents will appreciate your advice!