Playa del Carmen Seaweed (Sargassum) Survival Guide (2023)
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Playa del Carmen Sargassum Seaweed Survival Guide (2023)
The beaches of the Riviera Maya have been experiencing an increase in seaweed in recent years. As a local of Playa del Carmen, I have personally witnessed some of the worst levels of seaweed in the region.
In this post, I will provide honest insights about the seaweed situation in Playa del Carmen. However, I will also share insider tips and useful resources to cope with it, along with recommendations for the best places to visit to avoid the seaweed. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!
The seaweed in Mexico, commonly referred to as sargassum (or “sargazo” in Spanish), is a large amount of brown algae that floats and washes up on the shore of the Atlantic ocean. When this brown algae accumulates in Playa del Carmen, the situation can become severe and unpleasant due to the strong odor resembling rotten eggs. Brown Algae can pile up and cover the beaches, as seen in the pictures. Unfortunately, this scenario cannot be predicted.
If the seaweed levels in Riviera Maya are extremely high, the beaches will be covered in brown sargassum seaweed, making swimming difficult. However, if the levels are lower, the seaweed only washes up on the beach and can be cleared away manually. In this case, the water remains clear and turquoise for swimming.
Sargassum can be found on many beaches in Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and the Riviera Maya. While beaches like Playa Xpu-Ha have more natural inlets that provide some protection from sargassum seaweed, it is still not guaranteed. Downtown Playa del Carmen is especially affected by sargassum between the Cozumel ferry and the Constituyentes ferry.
Although the natural phenomenon of Sargassum has been present for centuries, its recent surge is not fully understood. One theory suggests that the increase in oceanic nutrient pollution is stimulating the growth of Sargassum, leading to the formation of a “sargasso sea”. Another factor could be the impact of global warming, which causes rising water temperatures and changes in weather patterns.
Sargassum also provides a very vital habitat for many marine species on Mexico’s caribbean coast, including crabs, sea turtles and fish.
When is the peak of seaweed season in Playa del Carmen?
Sargassum, a type of seaweed, is most commonly found on the beaches of Playa del Carmen during the summer months (April-August). However, it can also appear at any time of year, making it difficult to predict the sargassum season. One positive aspect is that the seaweed situation can change suddenly, overnight. There have been instances where the beach water is brown and murky one day, but completely clear the next. This sudden transformation can be quite surprising!
It’s not likely to happen regularly, but it’s crucial to understand that improvements can occur based on weather and ocean conditions.
Are there ways to remove seaweed from Playa del Carmen beaches?
Usually, Riviera Maya hotels and resorts will have a team to remove seaweed from the beach every morning. The process can involve the use of heavy machinery such as bulldozers, dump trucks, rakes, and shovels, depending on the amount of seaweed. While hotels and beach clubs in Playa del Carmen will try to clear seaweed that reaches the beach, there’s not much they can do to remove it from the water.
The authorities in Playa del Carmen are trying to deal with the sargassum seaweed problem. They are considering two methods. The first method involves using heavy machinery like tractors and bulldozers to clear the seaweed from the beaches. However, this method is expensive and takes a lot of time. Alternatively, they could try to stop the seaweed from reaching the shore. To prevent seaweed from reaching the shore, we can install biodegradable barriers in the ocean to trap it. Some hotels and resorts have also started cleaning the beaches themselves to enhance the guests’ beach experience.
The Mexican government and local authorities have attempted various methods to address the seaweed issue, which could negatively affect tourism in Quintana Roo. They have installed seaweed barriers and even called on the Mexican navy for assistance. However, despite their efforts, the problem persists and seems to fluctuate with the seasons.
Should I not go to Playa del Carmen because of Seaweed Season?
Although the seaweed season may be a letdown, I highly suggest not letting it dissuade you from going to Playa del Carmen or the Mayan Riviera. The seaweed is unpredictable, but there are countless outstanding activities, things to do and to participate in while in beach vacation in Riviera Maya. Furthermore, there are several beautiful and seaweed-free beaches in Playa del Carmen that are worth visiting for a day trip.
Where to go if you want to avoid the seaweed in Playa del Carmen
Fortunately, there are beaches in Riviera Maya that have minimal to no seaweed. These beaches are perfect for day trips or even an overnight trip if you wish to avoid seaweed and enjoy the impressive beaches on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. While there is no certainty, here are the top beaches in Riviera Maya that are typically without seaweed:
To avoid the seaweed problem in Playa del Carmen, you can go to Cozumel which is a nearby tropical island. It’s just a 30 minute ferry ride away from downtown Playa del Carmen and is famous for its stunning Caribbean beaches and spectacular coral reefs that are perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving.
Playa Palancar is my preferred beach on Cozumel (map). It takes approximately 30 minutes to reach it from the ferry terminal. This beach is exceptionally beautiful, and it has all the necessary facilities. Moreover, it is an excellent location to relax at the beach club for an entire day. To learn more about how to get there, please refer to my complete guide to visiting Cozumel from Playa del Carmen available here.
If you’re looking for a beach without seaweed, Isla Mujeres is a great option. It’s a small island just 15 minutes away from Cancun but farther from Playa del Carmen. You can either take a day trip or stay overnight. Playa Norte is the most fantastic beach on the island and one of the most stunning beaches I have ever seen.
To add an enjoyable experience on your visit to the island, you can consider booking an Isla Mujeres catamaran sail. You’ll get to sail on the clear turquoise water, which is an amazing sight. For more information on how to reach the island, you can check out my complete guide on visiting Isla Mujeres from Playa del Carmen.
If you’re looking for a breathtaking tropical island experience, make sure to visit Isla Contoy, just a few miles off the coast of Cancun. As someone who has seen many beautiful beaches while living in Playa del Carmen, I can confidently say that Isla Contoy’s unspoiled white-sand beaches, crystal clear waters, and tropical palm trees are the best I’ve ever seen.
It is rare to find seaweed on Isla Contoy. However, you cannot visit the island without a boat, so it is necessary to book a tour that includes Isla Contoy, as well as Isla Mujeres and snorkeling at Ixlache reef.
Isla Holbox is a beautiful tropical island situated on the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. It is an underrated beach destination in Mexico that boasts stunning beaches and peaceful turquoise waters, free from seaweed due to its northern location.
It’s recommended to stay overnight in Holbox since it’s located about 2.5 hours away from Playa del Carmen. During your visit, you can relax on the beach, swim with whale sharks, and even take a tour to see the bioluminescence at night.
Top Seaweed Free Activities
If you are not interested in visiting the nearby islands, there are still plenty of fantastic tours and activities available in the Riviera Maya and Mexican Caribbean that are free of seaweed. Below are my top suggestions for seaweed-free activities in Playa del Carmen.
1. Unwind at a rooftop pool
In case the seaweed is a problem, you can enjoy a great time at the rooftop pools in Playa del Carmen. You won’t have to deal with sand, saltwater, or beach vendors. You can relax on comfortable lounge chairs, have an umbrella for shade and enjoy poolside food and drinks all day long. Besides, these pools offer fantastic ocean views.
2. Visit a Cenote
The Yucatan peninsula is famous for its stunning cenotes, which are freshwater pools perfect for swimming, snorkeling, or simply relaxing in a beautiful natural environment. With thousands of cenotes in the area, it is a unique feature not found anywhere else in the world. Here are my preferred Playa del Carmen cenotes to explore, each of which offer a refreshing break from seaweed-covered beaches.
3. Visit an adventure park
I would suggest trying one of the Xcaret adventure parks in Riviera Maya if you’re looking for some adventure. These parks provide all-inclusive packages and offer activities such as ziplining, ATVs, water slides, and white water rafting.
These are my favorite adventure parks near Playa del Carmen:
If you’re interested in experiencing culture, I suggest visiting the Tulum Ruins. They are the nearest Mayan ruins to Playa del Carmen and situated on an impressive oceanfront fortress. For bigger and more impressive ruins, take a trip to the Chichen Itza archaeological site. It’s around 2.5 hours away from Playa del Carmen and ideal for a enjoyable day excursion.
5. Go on a snorkeling tour
When the seaweed levels are high, the water near the beach is usually worse than the rest of the ocean. However, you can still enjoy water activities such as snorkeling and scuba diving. One of the popular snorkeling excursions in Riviera Maya is El Cielo in Cozumel, where you can see starfish and other marine life.
Playa del Carmen Seaweed Expert Tips
Here are a few tips that will make your stay better during seaweed season:
Relax and don’t worry too much about it: Worrying about the seaweed conditions will not solve the problem on the beaches of Playa del Carmen. Many people on Facebook have been asking about the conditions for their trip in 3-6 months. However, the situation is unpredictable, so it is not useful to stress out about it beforehand.
It will not ruin your trips or experience: I want to emphasize that you should not let the seaweed affect your trip. It is possible for the conditions to improve quickly. However, if they do not improve, there are still plenty of other wonderful activities to enjoy in the Riviera Maya.
Always have a list of alternative pland: To ensure preparedness, it’s recommended to have a contingency plan for all proposed outdoor activities in case the seaweed situation is unfavorable. Consider keeping alternative activities that do not involve seaweed that I previously suggested in mind.
I hope the guide about seaweed has given you a better understanding of what to expect in Playa del Carmen. Although there may be seaweed, I believe it shouldn’t discourage you from visiting. Mexico has a welcoming atmosphere, lively culture, fantastic food, and unforgettable adventures, which will make your trip an amazing experience.
Traveling to 🇲🇽 Mexico soon?
I recommend these travel resources for Mexico that I personally use:
🏨 Hotels: I have found that Expedia and Booking.com consistently have the best deals on hotels and resorts in Mexico. If you prefer to stay at a vacation rental, check VRBO that is usually cheaper than AirBnB’s added fees!
✈️ Flights: To find the best flight deals to Mexico, I always use Kayak. Remember to subscribe to their price alerts for the travel dates you want. Another great alternative for flight deals is Expedia.
🚗 Rental Cars: I always use and highly recommend Discover Cars because it allows me to compare several car rental companies and view ratings on various factors such as overall value, pick-up procedure, agent efficiency, car condition, and total time taken.
🚙 CancunAirport Transportation: For the fastest and easiest way to travel, I suggest arranging a private transfer with Cancun Airport Transportation. Honestly, no better way to travel from the airport to your hotel or resort.
🤿 Tours & Activities: For tours and activities in Mexico, I highly recommend using either Viator or GetYourGuide. These websites offer a full refund if you cancel your booking 24 hours before the start of the tour, and they also provide excellent customer service in case of any issues.
🚨 Travel Insurance: I always suggest purchasing travel insurance as a precaution before traveling, especially after a recent accident in a taxi in Mexico. For short trips, I recommend Travel Insurance Master, whereas for digital nomads, Safety Wing is a better option.
📷 Best Camera for your trip: I always carry with me a GoPro, It’s light, compact, takes great video and pictures, and most importantly, it’s waterproof! You just can’t go wrong with one. If you are interested in higher quality video and photography, I always carry with me on my trips and highly recommend the Sony A7IV which I think is the best travel DSLR Camera out there.
☀️ Biodegradable Sunscreen: Remember to include a good sunscreen to protect yourself from the summer sun. I always use and suggest Sun Bum Sunscreen, which is vegan, reef-friendly, and cruelty-free.
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