Playa del Carmen Travel Guide
Playa del Carmen is one of the fastest growing travel destinations in the Riviera Maya. The town’s beach front activities, nightlife, central location, and affordability draw visitors to the area. Our Playa del Carmen travel guide is full of information about this colorful Mexican Caribbean port.
From Playa del Carmen, it is a short drive to most Riviera Maya adventure parks and Mayan Ruins. In addition, it's a quick ferry ride from Playa del Carmen to some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world on the nearby Island of Cozumel. Combine these Playa del Carmen things to do with an abundance of sun, tequila, and hotel rooms - and you have a recipe for a travel hotspot.
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Where is Playa del Carmen
Location: Located on the Yucatan Peninsula, Playa del Carmen is a coastal city about 42 miles (1 hour) south of Cancun.
Downtown: The city’s downtown is home to the many hotels, condos, restaurants, bars, and boutiques that cater to visitors who arrive by land and by sea. Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) is a 5-mile pedestrian walkway dedicated to entertaining tourists. One block over, the beach is lined with resorts, beach clubs, and adventure companies offering boat, diving, snorkeling, parasailing, and jet ski experiences.
Playacar: Next to Playa del Carmen’s downtown area is the gated community of Playacar. The Playacar neighborhood is full of all-inclusive resorts, residential homes, and a golf course.
Language: Spanish is the predominant language. Hotel desk staff, cashiers, and taxi drivers will generally be fluent in English. Other service staff will know at least a few words. The further from town you roam, the less fluent English speakers you will encounter.
Money: The Mexican currency is the peso. Its rate fluctuates against the dollar. Most businesses post the exchange rate and keep a calculator on hand to help with the conversion. Many tourists download conversion aps. Large businesses will usually except US dollars or credit cards. Smaller establishments sometimes accept only pesos.
Best time to Visit Playa del Carmen
The Playa del Carmen weather stays stable throughout the year, ranging from the mid-70’s to mid-80’s (Fahrenheit). However, the rain and the humidity vary from month to month.
June to September – hurricane season, and the hottest, most humid months.
October to May – the weather is drier and less humid. October is the tail end of hurricane season.
January, February, March, and April are popular months to book a stay, and prices escalate.
November, December, January, March, and May: Best weather conditions, relative-affordability, and least crowded environment to visit (we think the best time).
How to get to Playa del Carmen and Getting Around
Most visitors will fly into Cancun Airport. The Cancun Airport is a clean, modern facility with every amenity you would expect at a major airport.
Airport Shuttle: Private shuttles (usually vans or buses) can be pre-booked/paid to transfer you to your Playa del Carmen hotel. We recommend this as the safest, most economical way to make the trip. Contact your hotel for a list of partner vendors. Don’t fall prey to unscrupulous taxi or uber drivers. Pre-booking a shuttle takes the hassle out of the transfer process.
Rental Car: It is a fairly straight shot from Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen. Travelers renting cars should be fluent in Spanish, and be aware that rental cars are sometimes targets for theft and shake-downs from local officials.
Taxis in Playa Del Carmen: Once in town, taxis are plentiful. You can call for a cab, go to a cab station, or flag one down. Prices are generally under $10 in town. Always be sure to agree on a price prior to making the journey, and use a licensed cab. Drivers are typically tipped 10-15%. The Collectivo Shuttle is an affordable way to travel up and down the coast. The shuttle's are generally air-conditioned mini-vans. Schedules and pick-up locations are posted online.
Is Playa del Carmen Safe
There was a time when Playa del Carmen and other destinations on the Riviera Maya were insulated from most violent crime. Today, a quick computer search of these areas will reveal evidence of drug cartel violence, jet ski armed robberies, kidnappings, and shootings in public spaces.
Some will say that the media exaggerates these threats. However, on our last trip we observed a heavy police presence. In the downtown area officers with machine guns roamed in groups of 3 and 4. On highways,, police patrolled in pick-ups that were outfitted with machine guns.
Here, we offer a few precautions to consider in regard to personal safety:
Read the US Department of State trip advisories while planning your trip
Stay in a gated community, or resort, with 24-hour security
Use only transportation booked through your concierge or a licensed company
Book excursions that include a local guide and transportation
Carry only a small amount of cash and one credit card
When sightseeing travel with few belongings secured close to the body
Don’t wear expensive clothing, jewelry, bags or camera equipment on outings
Stick to well-populated, well-lit areas. Try to always be aware of your surroundings
Playa del Carmen Beaches
The beaches in Playa del Carmen are free. The main beach is in front of Fundadores Park (by the ferry dock and Portal Maya statue). It is a wide, hugely popular beach, and a great place to people watch. There is often volleyball being played, mariachi’s circulating, and parasailers on the horizon.
To the north of this area there are a series of beaches lined by resorts, beach clubs, bars, and dive shops. The width of the beach is determined by the level of the tide. To the south of the main beach is more of the same, until reaching the Playacar beaches. These beautiful beaches are wide, white-sanded, and more tranquil than others in Playa del Carmen.
Playa de Carmen beaches are not as broad or beautiful as in Cancun or Talum. They tend to get very congested, and have lots of seaweed. Many people swim in their hotel pools, but lounge and play on the beach.
Playa del Carmen Hotels
Playa del Carmen hotels come in many shapes, sizes, and price points. In town, there are a variety of luxury and boutique hotels lining the waterfront. On the outskirts of towns there are massive resorts that abut the highway in both directions for many miles.
In-town hotels that are waterfront are more expensive than those that sit even a few blocks back. In addition to price, a major consideration when booking accommodations in-town hotel should be safety. Many of the smaller in-town hotels are squeezed between multi-story buildings with poor lighting. Also, be cautions of booking air b&b’s. The photos may be creatively cropped. Lastly, even a few blocks back from 5th Avenue, the neighborhoods have less lighting, and less of a police presence.
Out-of-town Playa del Carmen hotels are usually gated, with 24-hour security. The major decision to make when reserving at these resorts is whether to book all-inclusive, or not. When choosing an all-inclusive, make sure there are enough eating venues to keep you interested as there will not be other restaurants in near proximity.
Playa del Carmen Restaurants and Bars
Restaurants: Most in-town Playa del Carmen restaurants are concentrated between the ocean-front and the 5th Avenue pedestrian area. In this area there are small cantinas selling tacos and enchiladas, beach cafes offering fresh fish, and high-end steak houses. As you wander along, periodically look up as many dining rooms are on the second floor.
Nightlife in Playa del Carmen: In the 5th Avenue pedestrian area (in the blocks around 1st Street) there is a concentration of dance clubs and watering holes. The zone sparkles at nights with bright lights, colorful flags, and pulsating beats. The popular chain clubs, Coco Bongo and Senior Frogs, attract large crowds as well as Mandala and the beach bar Coco Maya.
Things to do in Playa del Carmen
Stroll La Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) to people watch and shop for souvenirs.
Spend the day relaxing at a beach club. Rent lounges, listen to music, and sun bath.
Get active on the water; swim, snorkel, take a dive excursion, rent a jet ski, windsurf, or parasail.
Take a sunset cruise along the coast.
Walk the beach from the ferry dock to the Playacar beaches and explore the Xaman Ha' Mayan ruins.
Chill on the deck of a rooftop pool. For a few pesos, there are several to choose from.
Power shop for name brands at high-end chain stores at the Quinta Alegria mall (10th Avenue).
See the Papantla performers (pole flyers) perform the Voladores de Papantla by swinging upside-down around a 30-meter pole. The ritual is regularly performed in Fundadores Park.
Playa del Carmen Excursions
Visit a cenote (sink hole) nature park. The Edin, Azul, and Chikin-Ha cenotes are close by.
Take a day trip to tour Mayan ruins: Chichen Itza, Coba, Ek Balam, and Talum are all great outings.
Take the ferry to the Island of Cozumel. Visit an eco-park and snorkel, or book a dive trip.
Explore Rio Secreto underground caves and swim beneath colorful mineral stalagtites.
Visit an adventure park: Xplor has ziplining, ATVs, and cave exploration; Xel-Ha has snorkeling, tubing, and swimming with dolphins; Xoximilco is a floating fiesta, and there are many more.
Go horseback riding on the beach.
Discover Xcaret and its water activities, animals, and not-to-miss nighttime Espectacular show.
Go to the Cirque du Soleil Joya show at the Vidanta Riviera Maya.
Snorkel or swim with sea turtles at the Akumal beach.
Visit the colonial town of Valladolid to explore a charming Mexican town and mercado.
Enjoy the margaritas and mojitos! Laura and Randy
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