Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen, or just "Playa" as it is also commonly referred to by locals, is a coastal resort town in Quintana Roo on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Approximately 70 km south of Cancún and 20 km west of Cozumel, it is at the center of the Mayan Riviera and offers a more relaxed atmosphere, smaller boutique lodgings, and a distinct European flavor.

Understand

Quinta Avenida, also referred to in English as 5th Avenue, is the main tourist thoroughfare in Playa. It is a pedestrian only, cobblestone lined street which spans approximately 20 blocks. Along 5th Ave. you will find a variety of restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping opportunities and various services. In Playa, nearly everything starts from this street.

Get in

By air

The closest airport to Playa is the Cancún International Airport.

By bus

Buses can be taken directly from the Cancún International Airport for around USD12. To get to the ADO BUS, veer right after exiting the main terminal and walk about 200 yards. Purchase a ticket (buying it in pesos will save you a few dollars) right before exiting the terminal or at a kiosk right at the bus. Rental cars and one-way transfer services are also available. Tickets for children are half-price.

By car

Highway 307 is the only highway that passes by Playa. As you approach Playa from Cancún, the highway divides. Keep left and you will take the raised freeway past the city, keep right and you'll be able to access the city streets. The first east-west artery to Playa is Avenida Constituyentes, which works well for destinations in northern Playa tourist zone. The second is Avenida Juárez, which leads to the town's main square, The ADO Tourist bus terminal, and the Cozumel ferry dock.

The central bus station, right next to the taxi street, sells rides to the entirety of the Yucatán peninsula. Bus travel is relatively inexpensive, you can either travel second class, or first class, which is sometimes also called 'Express' although it is not notably any faster at all. First class buses cost around 40% more and will have toilets and TVs on them, but both classes have air conditioning. A second class ticket to Chetumal on the Belizean border costs MXN116 (USD11) and takes around 4 1/2 hours .

There are a lot of so-called "Travel Agencies" on the 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen. Please be careful because most of them are time-share offices. One reliable travel agency is Solatino Tours & Travel. The owners have a fine selection of day trips covering the whole area.

Private transfers

Private transfers are another way to get from Cancún's International Airport to your hotel, condo, or beachfront home in Playa Del Carmen or Playacar, and can be booked online in advance.


By boat

There are two competing companies that will ship you across to Cozumel for around USD24 return. The dock is on the south end of the city, just south of the plaza. Boats leave roughly every hour, from 08:00-20:00, and the ride itself is 30 minutes.

Get around

Because the layout of downtown Playa is a rectangular grid, getting around is very easy.

The main east-west street, Avenida Juárez, connects Highway 307 with the town square, El Zócalo, near the beach. As it does so, it crosses several numbered north-south avenues that run parallel to the beach, all of which, interestingly enough, are multiples of five. Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), the closest to the beach, is closed to traffic from the Zócalo to Calle 6 (and some blocks beyond, in the evening).

Almost the entire town is north and west of the town square, El Zócalo. The east-west streets parallel to Avenida Juárez are numbered Calle, with even numbers to the north of Juárez and odd numbers to the south. The other main east-west street Avenida Constituyentes is located where you would expect to find Calle 18.

To the south of the downtown is "Playacar" a golf-course development of private residences and a dozen resort hotels.

By foot

Playa is pedestrian friendly town and you can basically walk to everything. The main north-south pedestrianized street, 5th Ave, does not allow cars except in the early morning hours for deliveries. On 5th Avenue are many hotels, restaurants, and small shops. The north-south thoroughfare Avenida 30, five blocks west of 5th Ave, is where the large stores are located. To walk from the town square, El Zócalo, and Avenida Juarez to Avenida Constituyentes takes only about 10 minutes.

A bike is a fun alternative to walking; there are a number of bike rental shops at the north end of 5th Ave.

By car

Car rentals are readily available at a number of locations at the north end of 5th Ave. Large companies, National, Hertz, etc. are convenient, as well as local agencies, which are generally less expensive.

By taxi

5th Ave. ('Quinta Avenida' or '5ta Av.') is a pedestrianized street and taxis are available at various intersections along its length. A taxi taken from a 'sitio' (place where taxis park) will cost a few dollars more than a taxi hailed on the street. It costs USD7 to get to Playacar, and about USD1.50 to get around the rest of Playa.

By bus

Scheduled bus service to destinations in the region (e.g. Xcaret, Xel-ha, Tulum, Cancun airport, Cancún, etc.) and beyond depart from Playa bus station at southern end of 5ta Avenida and Avenida Juárez, which is near the Ferry terminal to Cozumel.

First class ADO bus departs hourly or so for tourist destination of Xcaret, Xel-ha and Tulum - fares are in USD4 range. The ADO Bus goes directly to the entrances of Xcaret and Xel-ha. ADO also runs direct service to Cancun airport from Playa Del Carmen for approximately USD12 (MXN116).

Second class local Mayab buses also leave from Fifth Avenue station. Mayab buses stop more frequently en route and drop off alongside the highway to Tulum, requiring walking from the highway to the entrances of Xcaret or Xel-ha.

An alternative to the buses is to catch a "colectivo" van. These leave/return at Playa from a location on Calle 2 between Av 10 and Av 15. Colectivos are cheap government regulated air-conditioned vans which transport people on Hwy. 307, which runs north/south along the coast between Tulum and Cancún. Pick-up times for these collectivos vary, roughly every 10 minutes, and pick-up/drop-off is simply along the freeway; but one can get you a ride near to any destination between Tulum and Cancun for as little as USD3. There are also vans either ran by individuals or tour vans returning empty from a drop off that will pick you up alongside Hwy 307. The easiest way to catch one is to wait at a bus stop and extend your hand out (like a handshake). Sometimes a van will flash their lights which is asking if you want them to stop. Prices vary, but can be as cheap as MXN3. They pickup up and down the entire length of the highway. Most all speak English. They drop you off ONLY along the highway at your choice. No door to door service.

Organized bus tours are also available from a variety of companies that cross the Riviera Maya & Yucatán (Tulum, Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Mahahual, Ek Balam, Celestun, Rio Lagartos, Mérida, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Coba, Sian Ka'an, Xcaret, Xelha, etc.).

Do

Charter fishing

You may see many boats on the beach in Playa del Carmen waiting for a deep sea fishing charter. Most of these boats are unlicensed and provide the bare necessities. They are generally small "pangas" which may or may not even offer shade. The equipment is generally sub-par. The professional charter fleet is in Puerto Aventuras which is about ten km south of Playa. Puerto Aventuras is the oldest and nicest marina on the Riviera Maya. The protection is so good that the Cozumel Ferries park there in bad weather. There are numerous charter boats available from 29-47 feet. For not much extra money (if any) you can upgrade to a private boat. Just walk past the charter boats and you will find private boats. These boats are privately owned by affluent owners who maintain them with an open check book. Some of them offer their boats for occasional charter. The extra effort is well worth it.

Diving

Scuba diving and snorkeling is plentiful around Playa, though the reefs are off the shore require a boat to get to. The offshore reef is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest coral reef system in the world. All hotels have a dive shop, though many can be found on 5th Ave. Better open-water scuba diving can generally be found in Cozumel so if this is the focus of your trip it is best to stay there. Excellent snorkeling is located at Puerto Morelos, located roughly halfway between Playa del Carmen and Cancun, and in the lagoon at Akumal, on the way to Tulum. Several dive shops in Playa del Carmen do offer cenote diving south of town.

Cenotes are cavernous freshwater sinkholes which are found all over the Yucatán peninsula. Many of them are open to the public for swimming, diving, and exploration. Many are open, however some of them are partially underground and the caves associated with these cenotes can run for miles underground. Cenotes also vary in size with openings as little as a foot wide to as large as a small lake. The water clarity in these cenotes is often unsurpassed, often exceeding 200 feet, and makes for exceptionally good swimming. Some of the bigger cenotes are available as tourist destinations, many are locally owned, and many more still are either undiscovered or undeveloped. Entrance to the commercial cenotes is correlated to the amount of development (i.e. if there are washrooms, restaurants, showers, etc.) with fees ranging from USD1-20.

Spanish classes

Buy

The touristy part of Playa is laden with shops selling 'artesanias'. These basically sell the same products - shirts, bracelets, and souvenirs, but for varying prices depending on the mood of the shopkeeper and your haggling/seduction skills. Haggling is accepted in the less formal shops in Playa, as is the rest of the Yucatán, though it is worth remembering that if you are able to afford an international vacation your income is many times higher than the storekeeper's (most of whom struggle just to pay the very high rents). It is possible to buy both Mexican and Cuban cigars here, but Cuban cigar prices are not particularly cheap. Counterfeits are commonplace in Mexico, so due diligence in the selection of cigars is advisable. If you are young or have long hair, many shop keepers are likely to also offer you marijuana. Marijuana is illegal in Mexico, though its use is widespread among tourists.

There are three large supermarkets in Playa del Carmen: Wal-Mart (30 Ave and Calle 8), Comercial Mexicana MEGA (30 Ave and Constituyentes), Chedraui (Highway 307 between Playa del Carmen and Playacar). There is also a Sam's Club (Hwy 307 in front of Playacar).

There are two large shopping centers on the outskirts of town: Centro Maya (on the right of Highway 307 heading towards Tulum - opposite Playacar) and Plaza Las Americas (entrance is on the right side of Hwy 307 as you head to Cancún, by the large traffic circle with statue at the entrance of Playa del Carmen). Both shopping centers have multiscreen cinemas and large supermarkets (Soriana and Chedraui, respectively).

Eat

There are nearly 75 restaurants in Playa, with foods of every type and price range. There are also various pizza stands with prices ranging from MXN10-20, most of them remain open up to 06:00 when bars begin to close. As is the case in much of Mexico, the street food is not to be missed. Simply walk south down 5th Ave until you reach the pier and taxi stand. There are generally five or six carts there serving tacos of various types. Every seafood taco is generally outstanding, along with the carnitas, pollo, and chorizo. Also, try the stuffed poblano tacos. Tacos are typically in the USD2-3 range. For the best and freshest tacos arrive mid-morning before the lunch rush as the carts are setting up.

Drink

Nightlife is definitely happening in Playa del Carmen, but is not as wild as its neighbor to the north, Cancún. Typically, Playa's shops and restaurants close around 22:00, but nearly all of the clubs stay open through most of the night. A number of the best nightclubs are located on the beach. If you are interested in nightlife (dancing, drinks late until the evening/morning), then be sure to visit Blue Parrot, El Pirata, Santenera, and Hotel Deseo. The Blue Parrot has an intense and spectacular nightly fire show at 23:00 and offers beach dancing, swings at the bar, and plenty of dancing. Santenera has a beautiful roof deck bar. Deseo also has a roof deck bar, but it comes with beds. Very relaxing and beautiful.

There is no shortage of great bars in Playa, many of which can be found on the beach. Alternatively, if you are on a very tight budget, many shops outside the main tourist area will sell drinks in bottles and cans that you can pack into a cooler for the beach. Prices at the bars in Playa are consistent with any major tourist area, but a USD1 beer is not uncommon.

Liquor can be bought from any number of tourist shops, which typically sell Kahlua and a variety of tequilas at a price which is generally the same. If you are requiring a more diverse liquor supply, there are places in and about Playa that can accommodate. The most prominent is Covi Liquors, on Hwy 307 in Playa, which offer a wide variety of liquors at prices that are generally cheaper than those shops which cater to tourists on 5th Ave.

Fifth Avenue is packed with restaurants and bars but most close before midnight. There are two main streets to find clubs and bars that close after midnight: The 8th street between 5th and 10th Ave is frequently visited by locals and backpackers, bars like "Los Secretos" offer live music and pool tables and Red Bar offer cheap beer, 2 x 1 Drinks and great music (closes at 02:00). The 12th offers more tourist places like Blue Parrot, Coco Maya and Om in the beach area and Bali Club and Santanera near 10th Ave.

The Dirty Martini Lounge on 1st Avenue between 10th and 12th Street gives you an alternative place to party and chill without all the hustle and bustle of the other bars. With a hotel on-site and pizza served to your table for the late night munchies, this community is a great place to spend the evenings in Playa Del Carmen.

Sleep

Hotels

Unlike other beach destinations, all the "best" hotels are not on the beach. A few face the ocean but the majority are set back a block or two near 5th Ave.

Hostels

There are some inexpensive backpacker style hostels in Playa del Carmen if you are on a budget and don't mind sharing a dorm room with other travelers this is a good option.

Resorts

There are a few all inclusive resorts in Playa, but the rest are south of town in Playacar. The resorts are generally secluded, and prevent one from experiencing the sights, sounds, and tastes of the city, and to some extent Mexican culture as well, since you will be surrounded by Western tourists and amenities. That said, these hotels typically offer nice accommodations that are well served.

Connect

Wifi Spots

Cope

Consulates

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, February 27, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.