We recently discovered the snorkeling in Puerto Morelos and it is now one of our favorite day trips outside of Playa. Puerto Morelos is located about 25 minutes' drive north of Playa. It's a small fishing village with a number of great, casual restaurants and a laid back vibe. It's easy to DIY by jumping on a colectivo or ADO bus (there are instructions for using the colectivos in the binder in the condo). Either option will drop you off on the highway, and taxis are easy to catch to take you to the water and town (about $5 USD). The taxi will drop you off at the pier and you will immediately have vendors offering to show you around or sell you a snorkeling trip on their boat.
You will also see small shops and restaurants at this point if you are hungry. We normally take off and wander down the beach to the north of the pier, talking with various beach vendors along the way until we decide where we want to stop and spend the day. You will most likely want to visit with several different vendors before selecting a snorkel boat, comparing prices and amenities. We have recently paid about $20 USD per person for a boat to take us to the reef and make two, 40 minute snorkeling stops with a guide. Be sure and verify that this includes the fee to visit the national park, as the reef here is protected, and it will normally include snorkel equipment as well. You will take about a 10 minute boat ride to the reef while you gear up and get ready to snorkel.
The snorkeling here is quite good, with gorgeous, colorful coral and a wide variety of fish. The guides know where the fish hang out and will insist that you stay with them. This is for your safety as well as a requirement of the park. The current can be a bit tough in some places if it is really windy, so pay attention to the weather on the day of your trip, especially if you have newbie snorkelers as a part of your group.
There is also a decent (so-so) place to snorkel from the beach without hiring a boat. The water is really deep, so be sure you are comfortable with that and bring your own equipment. The spot to snorkel is roped off so that boats do not enter the water there - it is located just past the street Lopez Mateos, about 7-10 minutes walk north from the pier. In the middle of the roped off area, there is a small vent where lagoon water mixes with the ocean water - you will see lots of fish hanging around this area, as well as around other rocks and small coral formations in the area.
Although most of the beach clubs along the beach will offer you food, the best food can be found "in town" in the town square where you were dropped off, or along the street one block from the beach. Next time we will probably eat first, then snorkel and relax on the beach.
This fun beach is located in the other direction, about 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, just a bit south of Puerto Aventuras. The beach club, La Playa, is a great place to hang out for the day. We took a cab on our first visit, but think we could use a colectivo next time. It is a bit of a walk from the highway where the colectivos let you off, but nothing too tiring. The entrance fee is $40 pesos per person, but this is refunded when you leave if you spend about $200 pesos per person at the beach club and present a receipt. We found the food here to be really good, and the prices equivalent to, or better than, those at our favorite Playa del Carmen beach club, WahWah's. They have a very large selection of options from nachos to seafood and hamburgers.
Although things are always subject to change, our group of 6 took over a large, permanent palapa for shade with a plastic table and 6 chairs at no charge. There were some loungers under umbrellas available for a small additional charge, but we didn't use them. We were happy at the table for the day. They also offer showers in their nice bathrooms, and plenty of space to rinse off and change clothes. Very laid back vibe and great service. I know we'll be back here again.
This beach club is located 8 kilometers north of Playa del Carmen and is one of the most picturesque and beautiful places we have spent the day. But it is a bit harder to DIY. The road from the highway to the beach club is quite long and very bumpy - we were really glad that we hired a taxi for the trip. We actually talked to several taxi drivers the day before we wanted to go and found someone to take us round trip for $400 pesos. We just gave him the time to pick us up at the end of the day and he was waiting for us.
This beach club offers a lot of activities in addition to just eating and relaxing on the beach - snorkeling tours, ATV rides, horseback riding, etc. You might want to visit their website here ahead of time to check them out. Their website is geared towards guests staying at hotels in the area, offering tours and activities as well as transportation. If you purchase one of their tours (reasonably priced to us), they will pick you up at the condo for just $10 USD per person. We just wanted a beautiful place to hang out and read for the day, so we cannot speak to any of the tours, but everyone we saw looked like they were having a great time.
This is an upscale beach club without the upscale price - everything was gorgeous and very well done. They do lots of weddings here which isn't hard to believe once you see the incredible beach and view. Extremely clean and quiet, even though there were tours being offered. The food was very good and the prices similar to WahWah's, along with very good service. Since we didn't do any tours, we enjoyed a palapa and 2 lounge chairs for free, but paid $100 pesos for our third lounge chair.