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The Ultimate Guide to Diving in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

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Head south from Cancun, and you will quickly land in Playa del Carmen, or PDC, a resort town on the Riviera Maya. Party around the clock, the fastest way to Cozumel, and some great diving await in Playa del Carmen. 

What is Playa del Carmen diving all about, what can you see, and how to plan your trip – this and more in this article!

THE INS & OUTS OF Diving Playa del Carmen

What kind of diving can you do in Playa del Carmen? 

Playa del Carmen scuba is divided by reefs, cenotes, and bull shark dives. A nice mix perfect if you are not sure yet what kind of diving you like or you want a bit of everything. Some notable Playa del Carmen dive sites include Shangri-La, Tortugas, and Jardines Reef. During my most recent dive trip to PDC, we dove at the Mama Viña Wreck and Barracudas Reef, both located off the coast of Xcaret. 

To be very honest, the reef (and wreck) diving is not as exciting as Cozumel diving and not as pretty as the reefs around Isla Mujeres. That said, it is a nice spot to check out if you are already in the area, the sites are not too crowded, and the reefs are in pretty good shape. It is also a great location to get certified or in my case, get your feet wet again after a while out of the water. 

Cenote diving in Playa del Carmen is a whole other caliber though. In case you didn’t know, I am obsessed with the cenotes along Riviera Maya and it is my number one reason for coming back to Mexico. 

What is a cenote? A cenote is a freshwater sinkhole often connected to a cavern or cave. For the Mayans, it was an entrance to the underworld. There are cenotes all around the Yucatan Peninsula and some are great for swimming and snorkeling. Others are proper caves and require cave dive training to go in. And then there are plenty that offer a happy medium and are accessible with a qualified guide if you are an Open Water Diver or Advanced Open Water Diver (depending on the cenote). 

Some beloved Playa del Carmen cenotes include Dos Ojos, Casa Cenote, and Chikin-Ha. That said, most dive centers will also take you to other cenotes a bit further from Playa. 

All about cenote scuba diving in Mexico
bull shark in playa del carmen
Photo by Chronic Wanderlust

Probably the number one reason why people choose Playa del Carmen diving over Cozumel or any other place is bull shark dives. From mid-November to mid-March each year pregnant bull sharks make their way to the waters off the coast of PDC. It is believed that the females like the fresh water that comes from the cenotes as bull sharks can generally thrive in both fresh and salt water. 

Bull shark diving in Playa del Carmen is an exciting endeavor for shark lovers – there are no cages involved! You simply descend and settle at the bottom, watching those stunning apex predators go by. 

Note that some dive centers do feed the bull sharks. There are plenty of others though that do not feed them and also avoid areas where they are being fed. This is a security concern for some but feeding also changes their natural behavior over time, something that should be avoided at best. 

I recommend you do some research before you go. My friend Vicky has written a comprehensive article on bull shark diving in Playa del Carmen

Best time to go diving in Playa del Carmen

When is the best time to go diving in Playa del Carmen? The good news is you can dive in Playa del Carmen all year long and expect temperatures between 25 ºC and 28 ºC. Bull shark season is from November to March which sees the slightly lower end of this temperature range. 

From June to September, it is hurricane season though this should not deter you. Playa del Carmen is rarely affected by proper storms. If it gets too windy though it is possible that the harbor closes and dive boats cannot leave. If that is the case, don’t worry and simply head to a cenote as they are pretty much unaffected by outside conditions. 

One thing to keep in mind: May/June to at least August is Sargassum season. This means beaches full of stinky algae. Getting on your dive boat means you may look like Aquaman and your equipment will definitely need an extra good rinse. 

What do you need for diving in Playa del Carmen? Obviously, you can rent your gear from the local dive shops though it will save you on average $25 if you bring your own. A pair of sturdy booties is a must regardless of whether you are diving in the cenotes or the Playa reefs. I struggled with the question of which wetsuit to take and in the end went with my 5mm from Scubapro. The cenotes are rarely warmer than 25 ºC even in summer and I was very happy for my extra protection. Though the ocean was warmer I was also not too warm. But I guess ultimately it depends on where you will dive most and how much space you have in your luggage!

Playa del Carmen Dive Center 

The few times I was in Playa del Carmen I went diving with Blue Life. Their prices are really good, they don’t require a minimum of people booking for a trip (meaning if you go in off-season you may just have a dive guide all for yourself), and they also offer intro packages. Their Taste of the Riviera Maya Dive Package includes 2 reef dives in Playa del Carmen, 2 dives in Cozumel, and 2 cenote dives. 

After Covid, they went into a shared space with some other dive centers in Playa del Carmen. The location isn’t really vibey like you get from many small island dive centers, but it is central and I like their guides. If you are going for cenote dives ask for Andrea – she is great and knows the best local spots for quesadillas after the dives. 

How much is diving in Playa del Carmen?

Like most other places on the Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen diving is competitive but definitely not cheap (at least for those used to Southeast Asia prices). 

For 2 reef dives in Playa del Carmen by boat you will pay at least $100. This will include your guide, tank, and weights. If you are heading to Cozumel you will pay about $200 for 2 dives. This is more expensive as this price will include your roundtrip ferry ticket, marine park fee, and snacks. 

For 2 cenote dives you will have to pay $220-$240 depending on the cenotes. Keep in mind that dive guides need to be cave certified and have special training, and cenotes cost an entrance fee. On average the drive from Playa del Carmen to most cenotes takes about an hour so the prices also include fuel costs as well as snacks and sometimes lunch. 

Note: If you want to take pictures, you will need to pay a camera fee in most cenotes. Prices vary between a GoPro and a professional setup but can quickly add up. 

Bull shark dives can cost up to $190 and are usually sold in packages with one shark dive and one reef dive. 

And as I mentioned before, equipment rental is usually about $25 for a full set. Also, check with your dive center how to pay since most charge an extra fee for credit card or PayPal payments. Some will accept a Wise transfer which is usually a lot cheaper. 

How to get to Playa del Carmen & other tips

Chances are you will be arriving at Cancun airport when you want to go diving in Playa del Carmen. From the airport, you have various options to get there.

You can either get a rental car, book a private transfer, or take the ADO bus. If you are not planning a big road trip I think a rental car isn’t necessary. I got a private transfer the first time I came to Mexico and I regretted it to be honest – it is so expensive if you are a solo traveler and taking the bus is so easy. That said, if you are traveling with a partner, friends, or family, it makes sense to take a private transfer as you can share the costs. 

Otherwise, just go for the ADO bus. You can simply get your ticket at the airport, they have counters at each terminal and yes, the bus stops at each terminal. They also leave fairly regularly so you won’t have to wait long for the next one. 

Most buses from Cancun airport will take you straight into the center of Playa del Carmen. The bus station is right on Fifth Avenue and a few minutes walk from the ferry terminal.  

Busses are airconned, with assigned seats, and sometimes even wifi. Your big luggage travels underneath the bus, and the guy loading it will usually expect a tip. 

There are also direct buses from Cancun Centro and Tulum. If you know exactly when you want to travel you can also get your ticket before online. 

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Money – In Playa del Carmen you can usually pay in both Mexican pesos and US dollars. Note that usually, prices in US dollars are higher than their Mexican pesos equivalent. 

If you are coming from the US you could just take cash. Alternatively, use your credit at the airport or in town to draw pesos from the ATM. Fees in PDC are 55-75 pesos depending on which bank the ATM belongs to. 

SIM card – Getting a local SIM card is still a pain in the ass in Mexico. There are no easy tourist SIMs available at Cancun airport. So I ventured to a Telcel store after arriving in town where it was straightforward enough to get a SIM card even with my limited Spanish. That said, I don’t know if I did something wrong but I could only get a SIM card with 6 GB and it was 600 pesos. Luckily the wifi in all the places I stayed at was great so I got by but phew…those prices.

Next time I am simply going to get an eSIM from Holafly. I usually avoid them as they tend to be pricier, but think it might be worth it in Mexico. 

Where to stay in Playa del Carmen 

Budget is everything, especially in an expensive place like Playa del Carmen. Traveling in low season will definitely make it a bit easier on your wallet but if you are used to Southeast Asia prices like me you might be in for a rude surprise regardless. 

With your budget in mind, I recommend you pick a place that is close enough to your dive center so you can walk. If you hire a private guide this won’t be much of a consideration as they will usually pick you up in the morning. 

As with anywhere, you will pay extra for a beachfront property and you have to decide whether it is worth it for you. Keep in mind that staying anywhere close to Fifth Avenue you will have quite a noise level at night. I recommend you read the reviews thoroughly to get an idea of how bad it might be and take good earplugs. I like my new Loop Ear Plugs – they are actually noise canceling. 

I stayed at Barrio Latino al Centro, just two roads west of Fifth Avenue. I didn’t realize until I arrived that it was opposite a German beer garden. So yes, I needed my earplugs. But noise aside, Barrio Latino is lovely and the price is great too. It is a beautiful little hotel run by friendly staff and Enzo, the cat. The rooms are spacious, have great aircon and wifi, and a tiny balcony with a hammock. 

On the property plenty of palm trees, cacti, and a little communal area with a kitchen. Here you can refill your water bottle and heat things in a microwave. You are also just a few blocks from the ADO bus station, the ferry pier to Cozumel, and the Blue Life dive center. 

Book a room Barrio Latino al Centro

Where to eat in Playa del Carmen

There are plenty of Playa del Carmen restaurants for all tastes and budgets. The further you venture from Fifth Avenue the more local and the cheaper it gets. 

Since I stayed close to the center I admittedly didn’t go too far to eat, I knew I was going to get great tacos in Tulum and opted for convenience over authenticity. Still, I found some pretty decent places (click on the restaurant’s name to see its location on Google Maps). 

The Lost Tiki – This was recommended to me by my dive guide and did not disappoint. They offer a fun Asian-Mexican fusion like pork belly taco, edamame with Mexican spices, and a wonderful Ahi Poke Stack. They also have ramen, wok dishes, and some amazing cocktails. I liked the Freaky Tiki and the Saturno if you prefer something more herbaceous.

Gusto Gourmet – Perfect for a quick meal (they only have bar stool seating), Gusto Gourmet offers some innovative burritos and tacos. Burritos come in two different sizes equalling two or four tacos and are filled to the brim with yumminess. Get their specialty chicken, it is delicious!

Dona Paula – My friend recommended Dona Paula for a local breakfast. And local it is! Don’t expect any English menus here but get your Google Translate out if you have to. The menu is small enough – chilaquiles are the way to go in my opinion. Chilaquiles are cut and fried corn tortillas topped with various goodies. I got the chicken version which was topped with big chunks of juicy chicken breast. Add some sauce and you got yourself a perfect breakfast plate for a really affordable price!

Cafe Italia Playa – Want to boycott Starbucks with me? Head to Cafe Italia Playa instead, a super cute tiny cafe just across from Barrio Latino. They are incredibly nice and make a really good Americano. I didn’t eat breakfast there but was told by another diver in Playa del Carmen that they make great sandwiches and panini.

Taqueria La Bombilla – Next door you will find Taqueria La Bombilla, another lovely local spot. The owner was very sweet and let me practice my Spanish with him – while confirming my order in perfect English of course. 

I had some amazing chilaquiles here this time topped with chicken and egg, and just because – red and green sauce so I could try both. 

Tacos el Tio Noy – This was probably my favorite taco restaurant in Playa del Carmen. I stumbled upon it on my way to Fifth Avenue, saw another woman sitting outside, and decided to give it a go. 

I ordered the taco al pastor special with a beer as well as guacamole and chips. They make their own blue tortillas that are used for both, the tacos and the chips. You also get a big tray with condiments like fresh pineapple, cilantro, and various sauces. It was absolutely delicious and with its proximity to Fifth Avenue an absolute bargain. 

Los Aguachiles – Admittedly I don’t frequent a lot of chain restaurants but I will make an exception for Los Aguachiles. They have two restaurants in Playa del Carmen and make amazing fish and seafood dishes. Think tuna tostada, ceviche, fish tacos, and of course, aguachiles. Their plates are pretty and anything fried is topped with enough pickles and herbs to offset any greasiness. 

They also make some nice cocktails. And if you are a vegetarian – they have delicious deep-fried cauliflower tacos!

What else to do in PDC? 

While the town lacks charme (sorry, Playa!) it is a great location if you are traveling with some non-diving buddies as there is plenty to do in Playa del Carmen. Most tourists seem to engage in a good bit of daytime drinking either in one of the many bars along Fifth Avenue or at a beach club. Those look decidedly more affordable than their counterparts in Tulum so I would say – go for it!

Alternatively, you can do a tour to go swimming or snorkeling in the cenotes, head to see whale sharks around Isla Mujeres in the right season, or hang out at Xcaret, a giant amusement/waterpark. 

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I highly recommend you do an ice bath session on the beach with Reconnect especially if you are still getting over your jetlag. 

Want to dive somewhere else in Mexico? Check out these posts:

A GUIDE TO THE BEST DIVING IN COZUMEL, MEXICO.

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR DIVING CENOTES IN TULUM.

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