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Playa del Carmen is Cancun’s relaxed little brother. Just an hour south of Cancun’s resort area and international airport, Playa del Carmen has a completely different vibe. You can still find mega resorts on the outskirts of town, but it’s best to visit Playa del Carmen on your own by booking a hotel near the beach and visiting all of the great restaurants Playa del Carmen has to offer while saving money to truly experience the area. If this is your first resort free vacation in Mexico, this three-day guide to Playa del Carmen has you covered.

RELATED: 3 perfect days in Tulum

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Day 1: Beach and town day

Spend your first day in Playa on the beach. We say Playa because everyone drops the ‘del Carmen’ part. If staying right on the beach, the hotel should have chairs set up in the sand for lazing the day away in front of the Caribbean’s turquoise waters. Staying away from the beach is cheaper, but then you’ll have to rent a chair. There are plenty of places to rent one and also restaurant/bars that offer a free chair with a minimum drink or food purchase. A few of the most popular placesto grab a beach chair are Mamita’s Beach Club located at Calle 30 or Carolina’s on the Beach near Calle 26.

If the beach isn’t your thing there are a handful of rooftop pools that have relaxed day clubs high above the city. Similar to the beach chairs for rent, the use of most of the rooftop pools is complimentary with a minimum drink or food order. Lots of the rooftops have live DJs and periodic day parties. Here is a list of some of the best rooftop pools:

BPlaya – 10 ave & Calle 26
The Palms – 10 ave & Calle 8
The Rooftop at Thompson’s – 10 ave & Calle 12

Finish your day of lounging and exploring by sitting down to a borderline life changing plate of al pastor tacos at local favorite El Fogon. This restaurant typically tops the lists of best places to eat in Playa. However, what most don’t know is there are actually three small El Fogon locations in town. The most popular will have a line down the street in high season, but the other two will be busy yet always have a table open.

Day 2: Mayan ruins & ancient cenotes

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A true wonder of the world – Chichen Itza – Photo by GettingStamped.com

A two-hour drive from Playa is one of the Seven Wonders of the New World, the Maya ruins of Chien Itza. The main pyramid is one of the most beautiful in all of the Mayan Empire. This perfectly symmetrical structure was built with such perfection it can tell the exact moment of the solstices. Tours to the ruins can be arranged from the many tour agents in town, but a better way to explore is to renta car and drive yourself. Renting a car may sound intimidating, but outside the city, there are only a few roads and hardly any traffic. Plus rental cars in Playa del Carmen are super cheap!

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Ik Kil cenote, outside of Chichen Itza one of the great day trips from Playa del Carmen Photo by: Gettingstamped.com

Get an early start when visiting Chichen Itza because around 10 o’clock tour buses start to pull in from all the resorts and surrounding cities, whereas an early arrival means having the site nearly to yourself. It also helps beatthe crowds at the next stops. Just a few minutes drive from the ruins is a beautiful cathedral cenote that pairs well as a day trip with Chichen Itza. All the  the tour buses come here too and it can get full.

If you have been to the Yucatan before and have already checked Chichen Itza off your list, make your way to the Coba Ruins. Although the main pyramid may be slightly less impressive, the site is massive and full of interesting things to see. Another bonus is that you can still climb all the way to the top of the very tall main pyramid.

To finish your day away from Playa del Carmen, make a stop in the beautiful Spanish colonial town of Valladolid. This charming town has many lovely cafés and restaurants to sit and relax at after a busy day exploring the ancient Mayan ruins. A favorite is the Restaurante El Meson del Marqués’ with a quiet courtyard setting and offering many local Yucatan specific dishes.

Day 3: Explore Tulum or sail to Cozumel

There is more to see in the Yucatan than you can cover in just three days, but two good options are to continue to explore on land by visiting Tulum or hit the seas and see Cozumel.

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The powder white sands of Tulum – Photo by: GettingStamped.com

Tulum is another step smaller and more relaxed than Playa del Carmen is compared to Cancun. Tulum has grown into a very inviting, chic beach spot. You can find lots of small boutique hotels and beach bars situated on one of the finest beaches in all of Mexico. The sand and the water here are out of this world. Another good stop along the way between Playa and Tulum is Akumal Bay which is absolutely full of sea turtles.

If Cozumel sounds more appealing, head down to the main ferry terminal in Playa del Carmen located on the beach at the end of Juarez Street. Here you can catch the boat to Cozumel. There are three companies that continuously run boats to the island. The trip takes about an hour and costs around $10 each way. It’s best to buy tickets directly at the terminal, everyone and their brother will sell you a ticket on the street, for an inflated price of course. Once you are on the island the best way to see it is to rent a car and just cruise around the ring road that follows the coastline. There are many snorkel spots and beaches along the way to stop. A local favorite snorkel spot is right in front of the Money Bar Beach Club on the west side of the island.

Writer’s note: This guide was written by someone who lived in Playa del Carmen for the past six months. In case you’re thinking Mexico isn’t safe, the Yucatan Peninsula is very safe (as is most of the rest of the country for that matter).

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Hannah & Adam | Getting Stamped Bloggers
Hannah & Adam are travel writers & photographers who have called the road home since 2013. Their passion for adventurous travel has brought them to 60 countries and counting. They blog about their adventures on their travel blog GettingStamped.com.

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