Playa del Carmen, or just “Playa” as it is also commonly referred to by locals, is a coastal resort town in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. It is approximately 70 km south of Cancun and 20 km west of popular Cozumel island.
Playa is at the center of the Mayan Riviera and offers a more relaxed atmosphere and cute small beach town setting.
Things To Do In Playa del Carmen
Enjoy the Beach Life
The number one reason you are here is to enjoy the beach life, sun, and white sand. Enjoy the blue waters, clear skies, warmth of the sun while relaxing on the beach. During peak season it can get crowded but if you head in off season, you will have a great time.
Enjoy the 5th Avenue
Quinta Avenida (the 5th Avenue) is the main tourist hot spot. It is a pedestrian only, cobblestone lined street which spans approximately 20 blocks.
Along the 5th Avenue you will find a variety of restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping opportunities and various overpriced services.
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 10 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.
Private Yachts and Vessels
With the closest port to Playa del Carmen at 25 mins away there is different options for private luxury yachts, vessels or catamarans, whether to enjoy a day out doing sport fishing, drinking, tanning or celebrating something you can try Playa Yachting for good options.
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 Avenue.
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. Also, Tulum is great for Cenote diving.
What are Cenotes?
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 60 m (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) with fees ranging from US$1-20.
Cozumel the large island off the coast of Playa is famous for snorkeling and scuba near the Great Maya Reef, the large coral system. Note that Cozumel is also a main port for Cruise ships, so can be quite busy sometimes!
There are two competing companies that will ship you across to Cozumel for around US$24 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 is 30 minutes.
Tulum is a pre-Columbian walled city of the Maya right on the ocean, the number one attraction when visiting the region, the site consists of a large temple, several auxiliary buildings and huts.
Related: Things To Do In Tulum
There are several other impressive Mayan vestiges within a few hours drive of Playa. Among them are Ek Balam, Coba, and Chichen Itza.
Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve
Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve is a wonderful nature preserve, just an hour south of Playa. It’s heaven for nature loving eco-tourists.
Day tours available from Playa. One group offering tours is Sian Kaan Community Tours, mentioned here because it is run by a local Maya community, so your tourist dollars go directly to the community.
That apart, it’s great value for money (includes a tour of Maya ruins at Muyil, a float down a stream through the mangroves which other companies did not seem to offer, an experienced nature guide who points out the flora and fauna, boating through a lagoon, and not least, a delicious home-cooked Maya meal).
Puerto Aventuras is about 20 minutes from Playa del Carmen.
Puerto Morelos is a much shorter drive than to Cancun and less expensive than Cancun. No surprise here. Also, the water is more calm.
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 10 pm in the evening, 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 and drinking late until 2-3 am in the 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 11 pm 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 and 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 tight budget, many shops outside the main tourist area also sell drinks which you can pack into a cooler for the beach.
Prices at the bars in Playa are consistent with any major tourist area, but a US$1 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.
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.
There are a few all inclusive resorts in Playa, but the rest are south of town in Playacar. The resorts are generally secluded and away from the lights and noise.
Public Parks : All the parks in Playa del Carmen offer free Wi-Fi. Most of the restaurants and bars will ask for a minimum buy before giving you the password which will change every day. The more expensive the hotel or the condo, the less likely you will get free access.
Calle 4 between 15 and 10 Avenue: This is the 1st block in Playa fully covered by a free service (powered by Hotel Barrio Latino together with the AHRM, local association of hotels): fast, free.
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.
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.
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.
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 US$7 to get to Playacar, and about US$1.50 to get around the rest of Playa.
The closest airport to Playa is the Cancún International Airport.
Buses can be taken directly from the Cancún International Airport for around M$168 (pesos). To get to the ADO bus, veer right after exiting the main terminal and walk about 200m. 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. Tickets for children are half-price. The ride takes about 50 minutes and the ADO terminal in Playa is at calle 12 & avenida 20, Also there is another ADO bus station right in the heart of Playa del Carmen on 5th Ave which is the one that most of the buses coming from the airport arrive at.
The central bus station, right next to the taxi street, also 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 M$116 and takes around 4 1/2 hours.
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.
There are a lot of so-called “travel agencies” on the 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen. Most of them are time-share offices. One reliable travel agency is Solatino Tours & Travel. The owners have day trips covering the whole area.
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May 14, 2018 11:36 pm
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