Get to know the ins and outs of downtown Playa del Carmen in this handy first-time visitor’s guide, including where to go, what to do, the best areas to visit, where to stay, the best ways to get around the Riviera Maya region, where to eat and a few other insider tips!
Where is Playa del Carmen?
Playa (as the locals call it) is located in the heart of the Riviera Maya just south of Cancun along powdery white-sand shores of the Mexican Caribbean Sea. The area boasts ultra-modern infrastructure, services and amenities, as well as easy access to the Cancun International Airport and close proximity to a variety of breathtaking cultural attractions.
Most visitors come by air, either to Cancun or Cozumel island, which lies just offshore from downtown Playa del Carmen and is just a quick ferry ride away. There are a number of ways to connect from the Cancun International Airport:
- Car Rental
- Private Transfer
- ADO Bus
What is Life Really Like Here?
Once a small fishing village on the Mexican Caribbean, today Playa has evolved into a thriving cosmopolitan beach town with a distinct Old World feel, but it has also managed to retain much of its original charm and the laid-back attitude for which the Riviera Maya is famous worldwide. In the center of downtown, don’t miss the main pedestrian-only thoroughfare of 5th Avenue, or Quinta Avenida in Spanish, which stretches for more than 20 blocks and counting. Expect to find a wide variety of restaurants, shops and entertainment venues here, including some recognizable names as well as a number of exotic options that are unique to the Riviera Maya region.
The entire city is lined by soft white-sand beaches, providing easy access from anywhere downtown, and people come here from all over the world to visit and live, as evidenced by the region’s growing expat community. Also, Playa is much safer than many popular U.S. cities and very different than Cancun in appearance, because the buildings here are mostly four stories high or less, giving it a scale that feels more like a town than a large city.
Language, Weather & Cost of Living
It’s not necessary to speak Spanish in the Riviera Maya, since the area is very international, English is the most common language, but it won’t hurt to know some basic words. Most employees at hotel front desks, shops and restaurants in the tourist areas speak both Spanish and English, along with a few other languages here and there.
The weather in the Mexican Caribbean is – as you might imagine – absolutely gorgeous 99 percent of the time, making it easy to enjoy the best beaches in the world all year long. The average temperature is 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit) and the area typically receives the most rainfall in September.
The cost of living in this part of Mexico is much more affordable than other comparable beach destinations throughout the Caribbean or the U.S. What’s more, Playa del Carmen is a modern city that has a high standard for hotels, luxury condos, resorts, private villas and vacation home rentals. Generally speaking, prices on goods are an excellent value. Exchanging money is also a breeze, and many places also accept U.S. dollars and even Euros. Visitors may use their ATM cards to withdraw funds in pesos for spending cash, making this one of the best ways to exchange money.
Where to Stay
First, it’s essential to decide if you prefer to stay in an all-inclusive resort, a standard hotel, a luxury condo or a private villa. While it might be tempting to go the all-inclusive route for your first trip, don’t be afraid to look outside the box and check out some of the other vacation home rentals in the area, including condo-hotels that are just a few blocks from the beach and offer easy access to 5th Avenue, along with larger units and access to all the services and amenities of a big box resort at a better price point.
Where to Eat
Playa is home to a staggering number of delicious places to eat, from fancy restaurants to street food and everything in between. Even if you decide to go the all-inclusive route, don’t miss out on the opportunity to try some of the local fare, which goes way beyond what you might think of as Mexican food and tacos! Ask your concierge where the locals like to go for an insider’s perspective, or just wander around town and take a chance on something that looks interesting… Chances are good you won’t be sorry!
Other Fun Things to Do
There are a number of fun nightclubs in the area, but there are also a variety of quieter beach bars and live music venues to suit all musical tastes, and at night the streets are typically full of people who are wandering around exploring. As for the best beaches in Playa, the big-box all-inclusive beachfront resorts typically have their own private oceanfront land attached to the property, but as with dining we like to advise first-time visitors to venture out and try several of the other beaches around town as well. Some are more geared toward younger people, while others boast calm waters or great beach bars and restaurants. All of them have their own unique charm, so find your favorite and stake a claim in the powdery white sand!
Have you ever visited Playa or any other part of Mexico? Let us know in the comments below!
Would you like to know more about what makes Playa so special? Click the link to read Downtown Playa del Carmen: Modern Luxe Meets Old World Style!