How to Take a Cheap Day Trip to Playa del Carmen

Things to Do — By Susan Vincil on April 30, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Cancun is surrounded by beautiful, interesting places and many can easily be visited on a day trip during your vacation. One of the more popular day trip destinations is Playa del Carmen, a quaint seaside town located about an hour south of Cancun. The city’s famed Fifth Avenue (Avenida Quinta) is lined with souvenir shops, boutiques, restaurants, and small hotels. All of the action along Fifth Avenue, the laid-back attitude, and beautiful beaches are just some of reasons the town is such a popular destination for vacationers and day-trippers.

Playa del Carmen’s proximity to Cancun and the availability of public transportation make it an easy spot to visit for the day, on your own, if you are vacationing in Cancun. To get to Playa del Carmen on your own (without a tour group), the cheapest way to get there is via ADO bus lines. They depart out of the bus terminal in downtown Cancun and buses run every 15 minutes from very early in the morning until midnight.

From your hotel, in Cancun’s hotel zone, simply hop on any bus that says R-1 in the window.  Take it all the way through the hotel zone and into downtown Cancun. Once the bus makes a very sharp right turn, onto Avenida Tulum, start paying attention to where you need to get off the bus. The bus will continue down Av. Tulum and will pass a flea market, several banks, and Cancun’s city hall building before arriving at a traffic circle that has a large white work of art in its center.  Just after the traffic circle, you need to get off the bus. There is a Comercial Mexican supermarket just after the traffic circle and it’s an easy landmark to spot, since the store’s logo is large and brightly colored.

Comercial Mexicana supermarket at the intersection of Av. Tulum and Av. Nader, in downtown Cancun. | Photo by Susan R. Vincil

Once you exit the bus, near Comercial Mexicana, you’ll need to cross over all 8 lanes of Avenida Tulum.  The safest and easiest way to do this is to go to the crosswalk located near the parking lot to Comercial Mexicana. You’ll see traffic stopping to go over the large speed bump that is, in fact, the cross walk.  If you are new to Mexico travel, note that you often have to step into the crosswalk before traffic will even consider stopping to let you pass.

As you are crossing the street, you will see that ADO terminal off to your left.  Here are photos of the terminal (which show both sides of the building but, if you are coming from the direction of Comercial Mexicana, you will see the view shown in the first photo below):

Cancun's bus terminal. This is the side nearest Av. Tulum and Comercial Mexicana. | Photo by Susan R. Vincil


Cancun's Bus Terminal, located in downtown Cancun | Photo by Susan R. Vincil


Walk into the terminal and go to the ticket booth exclusively for people traveling to Playa del Carmen. It will be on the right side of the terminal, away from the usually-crowded ticket lines on the left end of the building. Tickets are $42 pesos, one way, and the buses depart every 15 minutes. You simply get in line to get your ticket and then continue on into the area where the buses are parked. The driver will be in front of the bus collecting tickets. You hand him your ticket, he rips off part of it and returns the remaining portion of the ticket to you. Then, you board the bus and head off to Playa del Carmen. The ride from Cancun to Playa del Carmen is approximately 70 minutes.

Buy your bus tickets to Playa del Carmen at this ticket booth. | Photo by Susan R. Vincil

This is what the ADO buses look like. | Photo by Susan R. Vincil

Interior of an ADO bus. Buses are air conditioned and seats recline & are equipped with seatbelts. | Photo by Susan R. Vincil

Once you arrive in Playa del Carmen, you will walk right out of the bus terminal and onto Fifth Avenue. Fifth Avenue is closed to traffic and it’s usually filled with tourists from around the world. It’s the place to be in Playa del Carmen.

Just across the street, diagonally, from the bus terminal is this lovely chapel, which is just a block from the beach.

Chapel on Avenida Quinta (Fifth Avenue) in Playa del Carmen | Photo by Susan R. Vincil

Just beyond the chapel is a park and just a few steps from the park, you will find a gorgeous beach filled with lounge chairs, covered tables and chairs, and a beach bar.  The ferry dock where you can catch a ferry over to the island of Cozumel is a short walk from the chapel and the adjacent park.

One of the Playa del Carmen's beaches, just a short walk from the bus terminal. | Photo by Susan R. Vincil

The ferry dock. Ferries from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel run approximately every hour throughout the day. | Photo by Susan R. Vincil

A bar on the beach in Playa del Carmen. | Photo by Susan R. Vincil

If hanging out at a beach bar isn’t how you want to spend your day in Playa del Carmen, don’t worry. You will find more than enough shops and restaurants along Fifth Avenue to keep you busy for hours.

Playa del Carmen's Fifth Avenue filled with tourists. | Photo by Susan R. Vincil

Along Fifth Avenue, you can find popular American chain restaurants like McDonald’s and Dairy Queen, as well as street vendors selling homemade ice cream (the coconut ice cream is out of this world and only around $1 for a single scoop) or handicrafts. There are also boutique hotels, gourmet restaurants, pizza joints, fine jewelry stores, souvenir shops, bars & nightclubs, and most anything else you could ever want or need. Even if you have no intention of shopping, it’s still fun to walk up and down the street and do some people watching. If you tire of strolling along that avenue, make your way down to the beach and check out some of the restaurants and beach clubs there. To find your way around Playa del Carmen, or to quickly locate a hotel or restaurant in town, don’t forget to pack your Playa del Carmen map from They are wonderful and give you so much more information than a run-of-the-mill map.

One of the many shops along Playa del Carmen's 5th Avenue | Photo by Susan R. Vincil

A restaurant in Playa del Carmen | Photo by Susan R. Vincil

A small hotel, cafe, and bar on 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen. | Photo by Susan R. Vincil

A funky little shop on Fifth Avenue | Photo by Susan R. Vincil

A hotel covered with plants. | Photo by Susan R. Vincil

At the end of the day, after you’ve explored much of Playa del Carmen, make your way back to the bus terminal, buy your ticket (there is a big sign that says “Cancun” so you know that is the right place to make your ticket purchase), board the bus and head back to Cancun.

Playa del Carmen bus terminal on Fifth Avenue. | Photo by Susan R. Vincil

Ticket counter in Playa del Carmen bus terminal. | Photo by Susan R. Vincil

In Cancun, there are taxis waiting at a taxi stand in front of the terminal. These taxis will charge you higher prices than you may get if you flag down a taxi on the street but, in this instance, you are paying for convenience. You can either take a taxi back to your hotel from downtown Cancun, or walk a few blocks to the nearest bus stop where you can catch a bus back to the hotel zone.

If you wish to take the city bus back to your hotel, simply exit the bus terminal and go to the left. Cross the street and turn left. You will pass a restaurant called Sanborn’s and, on your left, you will see a large traffic circle. Continue down the street until you have moved past the traffic circle.  There is a Banorte bank on the corner, after the traffic circle.  Just past Banorte, there is a speed bump/crosswalk. That is a good spot to flag down a bus since they have to slow down for the speed bump. Look for an R-1 bus that says “hotels”, “hoteles”, “zona hotelera”, or something that tells you the bus is headed where you need to go. Flag down a bus and make your way back to your hotel. Bus fare is now 8.5 pesos per person, per trip.

This entire round-trip will cost you less than $10 USD, even if you include round-trip bus fare from the hotel zone to the bus terminal in downtown Cancun. A much more expensive option for this day-trip would be to take a taxi right from your hotel to Playa del Carmen, but that will run you around $100 USD for the round-trip service and won’t really save you that much time, in the end.

Tags: cancun, cancun maps, Playa del Carmen, things to do in cancun

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