The Riviera Maya is a beautiful place to visit, with a TON of things to do. It can be hard to decide how to spend your days here, especially if you’re trying to stick to a budget. Tours and excursions can be easy to find, but none would be considered to be cheap day trips! Here’s my recommendations for low cost but high value Cancun and Playa del Carmen excursions!
The Best Cancun & Playa del Carmen Excursions for Low Budget Travelers
1. Isla Mujeres
Location: 15 min off the shore of north Cancun
Cost: $65mx roundtrip ADO from Playa, $40mx taxi to ferry station, $300mx roundtrip ferry, $700mx for 4pax golf cart all day, optional Food & Drink
Isla Mujeres is a little island about 6 miles off the coast of Cancun. It’s only a 15 min ferry ride over, so makes for one of the easiest low budget Playa del Carmen excursions.
There are a number of ferry stations you can choose from, but we use Puerto Juarez.
Take the ADO from either station in Playa (Juarez & 5th Ave or Calle 12 & Av 25). Right now it’s $65mx per person to Cancun centro.
Once you arrive in Cancun, cross over to the McDonald’s and catch the R-1 bus going north ($9mx each) that will drop you right at the ferry station, or grab a taxi to Puerto Juarez (No more than $60mx).
The ferry is $160mx each way, or $300mx roundtrip. We buy roundtrip because you don’t have to commit to a return time, so it can be used at any time you’re ready.
What to do on the island
You’ll notice the abundance of golf carts driving around. This is by far the easiest and cheapest way to get around the island. A rental will run you $250mx/hour, or $700mx for the day. It only takes about 50 min to drive around without stopping, so renting for an afternoon is ideal. You’ll love the freedom to stop for photos, a swim, a drink or something to eat.
Be sure to head to Punta Sur, the south peak of the island. Here you’ll find iguanas walking around, some breathtaking views, a restaurant, a small ruins site and a monument of Ixchel, the mayan goddess of fertility.
Another must-stop is Playa Norte, one of the nicest beaches in Quintana Roo. The soft white sand and bright blue water is an iconic piece of the Caribbean. You’ll want to spend all day here! Vendors walk along the beach offering their wares for sale, things from woven purses to jewelry to sarongs. And there are a couple beachfront restaurants to grab a bite or a drink.
From Playa Norte you can walk across to Miguel Hidalgo Street to browse the market street. This street is closed to traffic, so it makes for a relaxing afternoon walk.
For dinner try out Javi’s Cantina on Juarez and Av Francisco, Madero, or one of the other many establishments in the area. We aim to stay off of the beach front strip because those restaurants are typically more expensive than the ones a street or 2 back.
Budget Travel Tip: when checking menus, I always look for the price of guacamole.. I know that $50-60mx is a good, low price for it. So I use that number as a gauge for whether a restaurant is expensive or not 😉
If you’re on the island near sunset, be sure to head towards Playa Norte to watch the sun go down. It’s one of the most beautiful sights in the area, so definitely worth staying for!
Isla Mujeres is one of my favourite low budget Playa del Carmen excursions. I will never get tired of seeing that Island!
Location: 30 min off the coast of Playa del Carmen
Cost: $167 ferry roundtrip, optional cost of excursions and food & drink
Cozumel is a quick 30 minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen. A round trip ticket is only $167mx, so it definitely qualifies for this list of low budget Playa del Carmen excursions!
While on the island there are many things to do, but the most popular is snorkeling, especially since it’s one of the most famous diving & snorkeling locations in the world.
You can hire a tour company to take you off shore, but that’s not necessary to see some awesome sights. You can easily snorkel directly from the shore almost anywhere on the island. When you get off the ferry you can go left and walk until you see palapas on the beach, and have a bite to eat or a drink before/after you swim. Or if you make a right from the ferry dock, you can head into Hotel Barracuda for a drink and snorkel from their beach. There are many other places to get into the water, these are just a couple suggestions.
Rent a scooter, car or golf cart and head to the other side of the island for some amazing beaches, away from the tourist area.
You can even watch turtles lay eggs, or help in the recovery of their nests after they’ve hatched! We did this in the fall of 2016 and it was beyond amazing. Contact the Ecology Department of Cozumel through the information found in this blog post if you’d like to donate or participate.
Location: 15 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, 75 min south of Cancun
Cost: $80mx roundtrip colectivo from PdC. $80-100mx each for admission
You’ll find several cenotes around Playa del Carmen and Cancun. For a good day trip I’d recommend heading about 15 minutes south of Playa del Carmen and visiting the group of 3 cenotes on the west side of the highway. Cenotes Cristalino, Jardin del Eden and Azul are all located side by side, so they make for an easy Playa del Carmen excursion.
Eden and Cristalino are both currently 100mx per person, and Azul is currently 80mx. Each give a bit of a discount for kids under 12. Cristalino is the only one that offers a life jacket for no charge, but the other 2 offer them for rent. You can also rent a mask and snorkel at all 3.
To get there from Playa, head to the colectivo queue on Calle 2 and Av 20. Get on one heading to Tulum, and let the driver know which cenote you want to get dropped off at. It’ll cost 40mx per person. On your way back, there may be a colectivo waiting near the entrance to one of the cenotes, or you can run across the highway (be smart, but it’s not as scary as it sounds!) and wait at the side for one to pass.
All 3 cenotes are beautiful and worth a visit. I can’t recommend one over another as they all hit very different points of interest, but I will say that Azul is my personal favourite! There are more shallow places to sit and stand in the water, but also lots of opportunity for snorkeling and cliff jumping.
Location: 50 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, 1.75 hours south of Cancun
Cost: $80mx roundtrip colectivo from PdC ($160 from Cancun), $65 ruins admission, $40mx taxi to town, optional food & drink
Tulum is home to some amazing beaches, beautiful cenotes, picturesque ruins, delicious food and a relaxed, artsy vibe. Head down on the colectivo (or ADO then colectivo, if coming from Cancun), and spend an afternoon exploring the town and visiting the shore.
Head down early to hit the ruins before the heat of the day, and before it gets busy. Use this guide to plan your visit there. After the ruins make your way down to the beach to get a break from the heat! Then grab a taxi back into town for some lunch. Be sure to spend some time wandering the streets and taking in the peace and authentic-ness that is sometimes harder to find in the larger cities!
You can also visit a cenote or 2. Grand Cenote and Cenote Zacil-Ha are both about 5 min west of Tulum, on highway 109 towards Coba. Catch a taxi from Tulum for around $50mx each way.
Definitely add Tulum to your list of Playa del Carmen excursions while you’re here!
Location: 1.5 hours west of Playa del Carmen, 2.25 hours southwest of Cancun
Cost: $270 ADO transportation, $70mx admission, $500mx tour guide (optional), $50mx/person bike rental (optional)
Coba is a bit further away than most of these options, but still completely do-able as a low budget Playa del Carmen excursion. There are many tours offered from both Cancun and Playa, but they can be quite expensive. If you’re looking for a cheaper option, this is it!
Take the ADO from Cancun or Playa for under $300mx roundtrip. The bus will take you directly to the front gate of Coba. You can hire a guide for $400-500mx, but we didn’t find we learned much that we couldn’t have found in a few minutes online. So I wouldn’t call it necessary, or worth the price.
Once inside the gate you can rent a bike or hire a driver to bike you around on their cart. It’s about 1km from the entrance to the main pyramid, so a bike is an excellent option to tour the grounds.
Be sure to hang a right just inside the entrance to explore those buildings! They don’t look like much from the path, but they were the coolest part of the whole site!
There are some shops and a few restaurants just outside the parking lot in the town where you can shop or have lunch overlooking Laguna Coba. There’s also 3 cenotes nearby that might be a fun addition to your afternoon. This site has an awesome explanation of each, and how to get there!
Location: 30 minutes south of PdC, 1.5 hours south of Cancun
Cost: $80mx roundtrip colectivo from PdC ($160mx from Cancun). Equipment rental- $73 lifejacket, $100 mask & snorkel
You may have heard about swimming with the turtles, but aren’t sure where to do it. Well this is the place! Sea turtles often come to this bay to feed, so you’re likely to see several if you don a mask and snorkel and head out into the water.
Swimming with turtles isn’t the only reason to visit this beach, though! Because it’s a Bay and the coral reef extends along the mouth of it, the waters are much calmer than anywhere else along the coast. This makes for a nice calm beach to swim and relax at. And if you feel ambitious, you can always make the swim out the the reef!
There’s a beachfront restaurant right at the entrance to the beach that’s the perfect place to escape the sun and grab a drink or a bite to eat. It is somewhat pricey though (by Mexico standards), so we usually opt to bring our own snacks, sandwiches and drinks to have a beach picnic. Akumal is the perfect location for low budget Playa del Carmen excursions.
Location: 1.75 hours from PdC or Cancun
Cost: $400 roundtrip on ADO from Cancun or PdC. + Optional excursions, Food & Drink
Valladolid is the oldest town in the Yucatan state, and the second largest (after Merida). It is a town full of Mayan charm. It is a beautiful destination for low budget Cancun or Playa del Carmen excursions. Take a walk through the streets and enjoy the bright colours and old gates and doorways.
Hang out in the town square and grab a snack from one of the many food vendors. Buy an embroidered handkerchief or headband from one of the Mayan ladies. Take in the beauty of the San Gervasio Church that towers over the square.
From the square walk down Calzada de los Frailes, a street built in the 16th century to connect the town of Valladolid with the village of Sisal Indians. It is lined with colourful buildings and old cars. At the end you’ll find the Convento de San Bernardino de Siena, built in the mid-1500’s, that is definitely worth a look inside. This is also where you’ll find the colourful letters to take a photo with!
You can also choose to swim in Cenote Zaci near the town center, or take a ride out to Cenote Dtiznip. Or visit the Mayapan tequila distillery to see the agave fields and take a tour.
If you’re interested in an overnight adventure that includes a stop in Valladolid, check out my post about the Pink Lakes of Mexico!
8. Playa Delfines & El Rey Ruins
Location: Cancun hotel zone, Km 18
Cost: $50mx per adult, kids are free; $15mx each for bus from Cancun centro; $40mx Colectivo from Playa, each way
El Rey is a pretty small ruins site, but since it’s located in the Cancun hotel zone and directly across from Playa Delfines, it’s a pretty easy and worthwhile afternoon visit. You probably won’t need more than an hour to walk through this site, but definitely bring water and maybe an umbrella because shade is hard to find. At $50mx for each adult and free for the kids, it’s well worth it. Here you’ll find an abundance of iguanas lounging around and wandering the grounds. These guys are pretty cool in themselves, nevermind the ruins! Each building has a plaque that explains what it once was, which is a nice addition and gives some depth to your self-guided tour. If you chose to, there is a man at the entrance offering a guided tour for about $100mx. We decided against this because it was such a hot day that we just wanted to explore for a bit then head to the beach.
Once you’re done at the ruins, exit and head across the street and north a bit to get to Playa Delfines. It’s a beautiful beach with the picturesque blue water you want to see in the Caribbean. There are washrooms and public showers here, as well as a few locals selling waters and juices. This was a welcome find since we had forgotten our bottle at home!
I hope these options for low budget day trips give you inspiration for planning your own Cancun or Playa del Carmen excursions! If you’ve done some that aren’t on this list, leave a comment and let me know!
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