Playa Del Carmen: Local Culture and Beaches in the Mayan Riviera
Only two weeks earlier, we were enjoying a quick stay at the Hyatt Ziva in Cancun before we found ourselves checking in to the Grand Hyatt in Playa Del Carmen Resort for a 5 day vacation. As this was our 2nd visit to Play Del Carmen, I’ll share some information about the town, the sites, the accommodations, and activities to help you plan your stay and/or decide if you want to visit in the future.
About Playa Del Carmen:
Playa Del Carmen is a resort town located about 1 hour south of CUN – Cancun Airport along what is known as the “Mayan Riviera”. In addition to beautiful beaches, the town itself is a great place to enjoy dining, shipping, and nightlife. While it is intensely touristy, there are more local options for those who want to venture away from the likes of the usual tacky Mexican and American eateries. While the epicenter of activity is focused along the pedestrian street, 5th Avenue or “Quinta”, you can take a side street, walk a few blocks and experience a less touristy side of town.
If you’ve visited San Jose Del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, you might see some similarities in Playa Del Carmen; in some way, it seems like Playa town is a combination of aspects of both. The lively atmosphere and nightclub scene of Cabo San Lucas with the more quiet and local atmosphere of San Jose Del Cabo. While very touristy, Playa Del Carmen seems “real” in the sense that people live and work there.
Located near and in town, there is a mix of accommodations from vacation rentals (VRBO, AirBnB), all-inclusive hotels, and other smaller hotels for the budget to the luxury traveler. We usually stay at the Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen Resort but have considered staying at the boutique Hotel La Semilla.
We like staying at the Grand Hyatt because it’s on the nicest stretch of beach, it’s convenient to town, the rooms are luxurious and comfortable, and the resort has great amenities, especially for Hyatt Globalists.
Activities in Playa Del Carmen:
While there are many excursions you can book outside of Playa, you can also stay in town to relax. We like to start our day by watching the sunrise, followed by a workout, breakfast at the Grand Club, a swim in the ocean, and eventually take a bike ride through town and the surrounding areas.
- Ferry to Cozumel: The ferry to Cozumel takes about 45 minutes and runs every 2 hours or so. It is very easy to walk to the ferry pier to make that day trip to go snorkeling.
- Self-Guided Food Tour: While Playa Del Carmen is small, there are a few really great places to grab local food and here are our favorites:
- TaconTenedor: Great for ceviche, craft beer and Veronica makes the best margaritas! Check our review here.
- El Fogon: The best for al pastor and chorizo tacos.
- Birria Tacos y Consome: Very good birria (spicy stewed lamb) tacos and consome. Check out our review here.
We also love craft beer and highly recommend visiting these 2 places for craft beer:
- Carmen Beer Company: The one and only craft brewery with beers on draught in Playa Del Carmen. It is very easy to bike here.
- Club de la Cerveza: Located on 5th Avenue, they have beers on draught and bottles for anyone looking to try a variety of craft beers around Mexico.
While it’s a great place, Playa del Carmen isn’t as pristine as Hawaii, and there are negatives, including problems with Mexico overall. That being said, if you can overlook them, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much fun you can have in Playa Del Carmen:
- Noise: Playa Del Carmen can be a little livelier than some places and there are a few beach clubs that blare music all day which takes away from relaxing on the beach. It’s usually loud between 11:00-19:00.
- Beach: While the beach is beautiful and very swimmable, there is some garbage, including the occasional piece of broken glass. If you plan on running the beach, I’d recommend wearing shoes. In addition to that, depending on the tide and how the wind blows, you may notice a sulfuric smell (similar like sewage) and it is supposedly the seaweed that washes up onto the shore and rots or rotting mangrove leftovers.
- Bike Lanes: While the bike path on 10th makes getting around easy, you have to be very careful of pedestrians who walk in the lane, random pedestrians who jump in front of your bike, and other cyclists who pass you without ringing their bell.
- Tacky American Restaurants: While they’re everywhere, we can’t help but feel that large and loud restaurants that serve caloric food bombs like Guy Fieri’s Kitchen + Bar take away from the atmosphere of a quaint but lively town like Playa del Carmen. We are not the only ones who feel this way either from speaking with others.
Here are some random tips to help you plan and prepare.
- Transportation: We highly recommend Canada Transfers, especially for Canadians as they charge you in $CAD. It is also the only company we haven’t had any issues with thus far (we’ve used them 4 times). Upon arrival, they are always ready so there is no waiting, and they provide with you a cold towel and water. The vans are always impeccably clean and the drivers friendly and professional.
- Cash: While many places accept credit card, many places don’t and sometimes the machine doesn’t work. Make sure to bring some extra pesos with you. We also recommend paying in pesos as the exchange rates they offer when paying with $USD isn’t very good. We also always carry our CIBC Aeroplan with us to take pesos out at the HSBC in town.
- Personal Safety: Overall, we felt very safe in Playa Del Carmen but one should always be aware of their surroundings and exercise caution. As 5th Avenue gets very crowded at night, it would be very easy for you to get pickpocketed. In addition, many of the side streets are not very well lit, so it is advisable to walk on the more major streets that are more crowded.
- Weather: While the weather is generally warm, dry, and sunny in Playa, it can rain and get cooler in the morning. We recommend packing a sweater and/or long sleeve shirt for the cooler weather.
If you want to enjoy the best of the beach, local culture, and a great dining scene in a small town setting where you can walk easily, you will enjoy Playa Del Carmen. We recommend spending 3-4 nights here if you are not planning on leaving the town for any excursions, otherwise, you may want to extend your time to 5-7 nights.
Have you been to Playa del Carmen? If so, did you enjoy your visit?
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