Once a soporific fishing village where travellers camped out en route to Cozumel, Playa del Carmen (often called simply Playa) has mushroomed in recent years to become a trendy place touted as the next Miami Beach – and, from a local’s perspective, a goldmine of employment in construction. Not only do Mexico City’s elite pop in, but so do day-trippers from Cancún and passengers from cruise ships. As a result, the town’s main centre of activity, Avenida 5 (also called La Quinta), a long, pedestrianized strip one block back from the sea, is often packed to capacity with tourists rapidly emptying their wallets in pavement cafés, souvenir outlets and designer-clothes shops.
Nonetheless, the low-rise development and numerous European-owned businesses make it, compared with Cancún, seem positively cosmopolitan and calm. The nightlife in particular has a hip edge, and you will also find sophisticated cuisine, hotels for most budgets and diverse shops. Everywhere visitors will want to go is compact and pedestrianfriendly – even a walk to the Playa Norte, the better beach on the north side of town, is an easy one.
Playa, as the locals call it, is a beach-side city located on the coast of the Caribbean Sea. You generally fly into Cancun airport then transfer to Playa, which is an hour’s drive.
Playa del Carmen stretches from the beach west to highway 307 and beyond, however the tourist zone is the area along the coast. Most tourist buses pull into Playa turning off the highway at Benito Juarez Avenue and drive to the downtown bus station which is located right on 5th Avenue. The ferry docks to Cozumel are located close to the bus station as well. This is the busiest spot in all of Playa.
5th Avenue [Quinto Avenida] is the main street that runs parallel to the ocean. It’s around 500 meters from the water. In between the water and 5th are hotels, Bed & Breakfasts, Inns, Rentals, Timeshares, and restaurants. It is commonly referred to as, “Playa del Carmen’s Pedestrian Walkway”.
Along 5th Avenue you will find numerous stores selling interesting items as well as restaurants and hotels. There are clothing stores selling the latest trends from Europe as well as Cuban Cigar and Rum stores. It is a vibrant atmosphere reminiscent of a carnival. We have seen live lions, fire breathers, giant boa constrictors and a cavalcade of characters parading down 5th.
There are also lots of bars along 5th making it a good place to party. The after hour clubs swing into action after 12:00. These clubs are located on the beach away from the majority of hotels and resorts because of the noise level.
Intersecting with 5th are streets that all lead to the beach. Along many of these streets are dive-shops, convenience stores, hotels, tour operators, Internet cafes, currency exchanges, and restaurants. All the beaches in Playa are open to the public.
Playa’s beaches are nice. Along 5th, in the tourist zone the beaches are all clean white sand, not white powder. There is some coral but not much. The seaweed and other garbage is cleaned up every day. Within a short walk to almost any point on the Playa main beach is a bar/restaurant. There are also a number of snorkeling, dive and fishing boats ready to take you out.
The beaches closest to the ferry docks are the busiest and you have to walk either north or south to find seclusion. Outside the tourist zone the beaches are lined with jungle.
The restaurants along 5th are mostly Italian but there are American restaurants and Mexican restaurants that cook American style food with some Mexican dishes. Off 5th on any of the intersecting streets that head away from the beach you will start to find Mexican restaurants as well as numerous Italian cafes.
The farther away from 5th Avenue you go the cheaper things get. You also will find the best Mexican restaurants not far from 5th on 30th, which puts you in Mexican territory, out of the tourista zona. In fact, in-between 5th and 30th are all kinds of interesting stores selling everything you can think of, from live chickens to computers.
If you’re there during the summer and have kids then this is the perfect place to get your school clothing. You will find all the latest trends here. The Mexicans are right on top of fashion.
There are lots of Europeans in Playa, mostly from Germany, Switzerland and Italy. Americans have always been going to Playa. More Canadians would go but for the outrageous airfares.
At night 5th Avenue comes alive. Couples, all dressed up, head out for dinner. The young girls are decked out in their new acquisitions, hair braided. International bohemians walk the strip, many know each other, and it’s a friendly place.
Many Mexicans visit Playa for their vacations as well. Don’t be surprised if the family across the hall are Mexicans. Just say Hola and you will have new friends.
There are banks, money exchanges, pharmacies all over the place. Playa is not that big and everything the vacationer might need is within the tourist zone. You can walk up 5th Avenue in about 45 minutes but the main strip is only around a kilometer long. After the main strip there are still hotels and stores but they are not as plentiful, however the area north of Constytiones is under development.
Hotels are being built all the time in Playa, so you will have no difficulty finding a room. Competition keeps prices relatively low, but it’s still virtually impossible to get a room for less than M$400 in high season – which here includes the European vacation months of July and August, as well as mid-December to April. In general, the further from the water, the cheaper the accommodation; the central beach is somewhat eroded, so seafront hotels are generally not good value. Hotels on Avenida 5 can be noisy due to the bars.