Best Playa del Carmen Excursions: A Perfect 24 Hours

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Greetings Internet Stranger! You glance at your To Do list for the day. Buy groceries. Attend that meeting. Pick up some paper towels and cough syrup at the CVS. But what if your To Do list for the day involved exploring a secret cave and eating tropical ice cream? What if you were spending 24 hours enjoying Playa del Carmen Excursions, delighting in the shopping and other amazing things to do?

During this 24 hours with Playa del Carmen Excursions, we’re going to get away from the crowded beaches and learn what makes this stunning part of Mexico so very special. Plus, we’ll be visiting Playa del Carmen on board Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, one of their biggest ships! So even after we return to the cruise ship, we’ll never run out of things to do. Follow me!

playa del carmen shopping and things to do

Playa del Carmen Excursions

Morning: Rio Secreto

Since I visited Playa del Carmen as a shore excursion from the Royal Caribbean Cozumel cruise port, I booked one of their shore excursions to the flabbergastingly stunning underground river known as the Rio Secreto. Yes, booking a shore excursion can be more expensive than booking a tour on your own.

But I always book a shore excursion through the cruise line because if something goes wrong, the cruise line is responsible for making it right. For example, if your guide on the shore excursion gets you back to the ship late, the cruise ship has to wait for you.

But if you’re enjoying the Playa del Carmen Excursions on your own, you can visit the Rio Secreto anyway. Just book a tour through their website. For a small additional fee, they will pick you up from Playa del Carmen. I was very impressed with this organization because it was extremely well organized and oodles of fun.

And now that the boring preliminaries are out of the way, let’s get straight to the fun with…

Three Fun Facts: Rio Secreto

playa del carmen shopping things to do
1) Is it Scary in the Underground River?

Well, that depends on your tolerance for darkness and coldness, Internet Stranger! But I personally do not think most people will find the tour scary. Our guide, Angel, was with us the entire time, and he was expert at leading us around the magical underground caves.

As for the darkness and coldness, the gear that the Rio Secreto company gives you will help take care of that. When you arrive at the Rio Secreto, you’ll be given a wetsuit and a helmet with a light on it. You will also get a locker so you can keep all your valuables and clothes safe and dry while you journey to the center of the earth! The wetsuit really will help you stay dry and warm, even though the water underground is freezing because it’s stuck where the sun don’t shine.

cozumel shopping things to do

But the greatest proof that the Rio Secreto isn’t scary can be found on my face. Does this look like the face of terror or the face of glee? And if you think I’m just an exceptionally adventurous person, keep in mind that there were two little boys in our tour group, and they loved the Rio Secreto as well!

rio secreto

2) What is the History Behind this Cave?

Angel told us that people were living in these caves 10,000 years ago. We don’t know much about the indigenous people who lived in this area back then because they didn’t keep written records or have Instagram.

But eventually a group known as the Maya became the dominant group in this area. They used the cave for two purposes: water and religion. Apparently, the Maya believed that if you could survive a journey through this dark underground pit, that would prove you were a Real Man.

Cozumel shopping things to do

If you feel like exploring the Rio Secreto with our modern conveniences like flashlights and wetsuits is a challenge, think about what it would have been like for the Maya! They were only allowed to bring one torch with them, and it wasn’t even electric! If it went out, good luck Little Maya! You have to find your way back out of the cave in the dark. I am grateful for so many things in this life, but mostly I am grateful that I’m alive in 2020 and not 1020.

playa del carmen shopping and things to do

3) Any Interesting Science in These Caves?

Meep morp, Internet Stranger! That’s robot language for, “Of course! There’s always science”. The most beautiful part of the caves are the elaborate stalactites and stalagmites that grow throughout. Angel said they are created by the interaction between the limestone and the rainwater that seeps into the cave.

cozumel shopping things to do

We all know about stalagmites that grow up from the ground and stalactites that grow down from the ceiling. (You can remember the difference because stalagmites has g for ground, and stalactites has c for ceiling.) But the Rio Secreto was the first place I ever saw stalagnates, which are columns created when a stalactite and stalagmite meet and grow together. I was amazed at their beauty–but disappointed that now I have another cave related science term to memorize.

cozumel rio secreto

If you’re more into gross animal facts, consider the bat. All the animals who live deep in the cave are blind, so they can’t venture outside the cave to get food. Their nourishment needs to be inside the cave. So most of their beasties feast on…bat guano! For the non-scientific among you, that’s a fancy way of saying bat poop.

I’m sure glad I’m not a blind creature living in this cave! Having to survive on bat turds is even worse than having to survive in an underground cave without even a torch!

Playa del Carmen Excursions

Afternoon: Explore!

Once your tour of the Rio Secreto is over, your guide will take you back to the locker area so you can change and pick up your valuables. Then it’s time to explore!

You’ll have a little time to hang out near the Rio Secreto, grab some lunch and do some shopping. Then we’ll be able to explore Playa Del Carmen! Allow me to guide your exploring with…

Approximately Top 5: Playa del Carmen Excursions

Playa del Carmen Excursions
1) Lunch Time and Shopping!

Whether or not you book the tour through the cruise line, lunch will be included with the price. It’s a buffet style lunch, and the line moves pretty quickly, so you won’t need to waste time waiting for your meal. There’s an entire Playa del Carmen to see out there!

The food is a little bland, but fortunately there’s lots of salsa available to jazz it up. Watch out for the yellow habanero sauce because it has a serious kick!

playa del carmen shopping

There’s also plenty of shopping available at the Rio Secreto. If you’re wondering why my photos on this blog post are so gorgeous, it’s because I bought their package full of photos of me, the underground river, and the surrounding nature. It’s pricey but worth it because there’s no other way to take photos in the underground river.

Another great souvenir is xtabentun, a traditional liqueur from the Yucatan made from anise. You’ll get a shot of it for free at the end of the tour, so you can see if you like it first. But at the very least learn how to pronounce the word. (It’s shta-ben-toon).

playa del carmen
2) Paleta Time!

After lunch and a little shopping, you’ll be driven straight back to Playa del Carmen! Now you’ll have time to explore and find other fun things to do. But if you’re anything like me, the first thing you’ll want to do is grab a little dessert.

Fortunately, the Artik Pop stand is just a short walk from where the Rio Secreto people will drop you off. This stand is a Mexican company that serves tasty and refreshing ice cream and sorbet pops. They even have vegan and gluten-free options. I am neither vegan nor gluten-free, so I recommend the indulgent caramel and coconut. When you bite into this tropical treat, the grey walls of any office cubicle couldn’t seem further away.

playa del carmen shopping and things to do
3) Playa Del Carmen Shopping

Playa del Carmen is unfortunately full of tacky shops full of useless plastic gee-gaws that cater only to idiotic tourists. But we’re going to steer clear of those, Internet Stranger! Only the best for my readers and me! And there’s wonderful places to shop in Playa del Carmen if you know where to look.

My favorite shop in Playa del Carmen is the Gaston Charo Gallery, located in this whimsical secret garden off Playa del Carmen’s famous shopping street, 5th Avenue. They have artwork at every price point.

You can drop a serious chunk of change on one of Gaston Charo’s pieces, or you can find a smaller piece from one of the lesser known artists featured in the gallery for mere pennies. (That’s a slight exagerration, but I got a stunning blue photograph of some Mayan ruins for 25 dollars.)

playa del carmen shopping things to do

I also like some of the shopping at the Paseo del Carmen shopping area, located at the beginning of 5th Avenue. But I recommend the smaller little kiosks instead of the big chain store.

I suggest that every traveler begin collecting something because it makes traveling more like Pokemon Go, and everyone loves Pokemon Go. You can collect normal things like magnets, snow globes, or shot glasses, but my collecting passion is earrings. They take up almost no space, and I use them every day. I got these beauties made from recycled glass at one of the kiosks in Paseo del Carmen. It’s right near the Harley Davidson store, so you can’t miss it!

playa del carmen
4) Beach it Up!

You won’t want to go on Playa del Carmen Excursions without hitting up the beach. After all, “Playa” is Spanish for beach! But unfortunately, parts of the beach at Playa del Carmen are so crowded, you won’t be able to relax!

I suggest walking down 5th Avenue until you see this giant green statue called the Portal Maya dedicated to the Mayans. These Mayans seem to be having more fun than those poor schmoes who got stuck wandering about a pitch black underground cave with nothing but pooping bats to keep them company.

playa del carmen beach

See! The crowds at the beach here are much more managable! Of course, that might be because the tide is high and there’s very little sand, but you can’t have everything. Don’t be afraid to dip your toes in that turquoise water, Internet Stranger!

playa del carmen shopping things to do
5) Voladores!

Shopping and beaching are the only fun things to do in Playa del Carmen. If you’re in luck, you’ll see a performance of voladores in the Parque Los Fundadores, located just next to the Portal Maya.

The dance of the Voladores is a traditional performance from Mexico and other parts of Central America. A small group of men attach themselves to a large colored pole with ropes. Some of the men climb the pole, while others stand around it. Then they take turns jumping off the pole and swinging about like birds. Between this and the cave diving, those Maya sure knew how to live dangerously.

I had seen voladores before in New Mexico, but most of the tourists around me had no idea what was happening and were opening gawking and blabbing in confusion. Now that you’ve read this blog post, when you see the voladores, you’ll get to feel just as smug and superior in comparison with the other tourists!

giovanni's table allure of the seas

Playa del Carmen Excursions

Evening: Dinner at Giovanni’s Table

So since we’re really spending the evening portion of our 24 hours with Playa del Carmen Excursions on board Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, I suggest getting dinner at one of their speciality restaurants. They cost more than the meal in the main dining room (which costs nothing), but the food is better and the atmosphere is more fun.

We had a light buffet lunch, so why not indulge a bit at the Italian restaurant Giovanni’s Table. Who doesn’t love Italian food? Sad, lonely people.

I suggest starting with the buffalo mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes. It is the height of indulgence to eat Italian mozz’ and fresh tomatoes in the middle of the Caribbean, where neither of these things are naturally available. How do they get them on board the ship and keep them fresh??? I assume ninjas are involved some how.

cozumel shopping things to do

24 Hour Treat: Double the Pasta, Double Your Fun

One slightly hidden secret on a cruise is that you get to eat as much food as you want. So you could order every single dish on the dining room menu every evening and not pay an extra meeting. At Giovanni’s Table, this meant I got to eat two different types of pasta for the price of one. Talk about living the dream!

giovanni's table allure of the seas

I try to stick to the classics on a cruise ship. This isn’t necessarily the place to try squid ink pasta with a ragu di tonno. (Not that that’s an actual dish.) Keep it cozy with a spaghetti bolognese and a pasta carbonara. As you can see from the photo, the sauce on the carbonara wasn’t too rich, which I prefer. No one wants to eat pasta glue-bonara.

giovanni's table

Cannoli are my all-time favorite dessert, so there’s no way I was passing these babies up. The filling wasn’t too sweet, and the shell was crunchy, not soggy, which are two things I look for when eating a cannoli. Plus there were three cannoli, and three cannoli are better than two cannoli, as my grandmother used to say.

royal caribbean allure of the seas

That’s the Best Playa del Carmen Excursions!

What would you do on the Playa del Carmen Excursion? Which is better, eating two pastas, three cannoli, or even one bat poop? And doesn’t this towel bunny look like the bunny from Donnie Darko? Pleasant nightmares! And please leave your thoughts below!

Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours with Playa del Carmen Excursions, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours with Playa del Carmen Excursions. If you want other itineraries for different places in the Caribbean, I have you covered here!

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