Why I Love Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

A few years ago, we had the good fortune to spend a few months hanging out on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. We were surprised at how much we loved the area. With so much to do and being surrounded by some of our favorite foods, we instantly felt at home here. For that trip we decided to make Playa Del Carmen our base of operations and it turned out to be perfect for our needs.

Playa del Carmen Mexico Quinta Aveneda Feliz Navidad

A rare quiet moment on Quinta Aveneda over Christmas

Between the miles and miles of gorgeous white sand beaches, the many local attractions, the cheap transportation, easy access to shopping centers and being only a few blocks away from one stop shopping stores like Mega and Super Walmart, living here was easy. With good weather and lots of activities, we seriously considered buying a permanent place down here.

When Micki and I were deciding where to spend this winter, Playa Del Carmen was one of the first places we considered and it constantly remained on the chopping block. Not only is it quick and relatively cheap to fly to from Canada, it’s also a popular destination for a lot of Europeans. That also means that flying directly to Europe from Mexico was also affordable and when we found  a flight for $641 all in for the four of us to Madrid, our next big destination, Playa Del Carmen was cemented into our travel itinerary.

There are a lot of good things about being in Playa over the winter. Our favorite is the weather. With temperatures in Canada hitting 20 °C (or below!) at times, sitting next to the ocean in plus 30 °Celsius isn’t too hard to take. With nicer weather we’re much more likely to take a long walk or head to the playground with the kids. In short, we’re way more active in warm climates than colder ones.

We also love the ease of getting around. Without a car, taxis, buses and collectivos (shared vans) are our main source of transportation. They’re cheap, plentiful and easily accessible from almost anywhere you happen to be.

Since Playa Del Carmen is considered a tourist town, the variation of food is also extreme. From local taco stands where you can fill your belly for a few dollars to high end seafood joints, Playa caters to all types. With a lot of Italians flocking to this area you can get some delicious pasta in Little Italy. If meat is more your thing then the scores of Argentinian steakhouses and their amazing beef will surely appeal to you. If you’re a seafood connoisseur, then eating some freshly caught marlin or the ever popular fresh fish dish, ceviche will surely win you over.

If you love to people watch then a stroll down Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) will surely fit the bill. The pedestrian only street is full of people day and night and the miles of restaurants, bars, shops and ice cream stands will tempt you like no other. If the beach is more your style, you can find dozens of places throughout town to throw down a towel and frolic in the water. Our favorite place is down by Mamita’s and Kool on 28th where the action never stops and the sand and water are some of the best in town.

Jordan Buried in the Sand Mamitas Beach Playa del Carmen

Happy in the sand at Playa’s Mamitas beach

Of course, like all places, there are some downsides to staying in a tourist town. Playa can feel quite busy and crowded over the holidays (one of the reasons we spent the holiday week in Merida). The prices are also generally higher than elsewhere in Mexico and it can get quite a little insane at times. The beaches in town can get swamped with people depending on the day and Quinta Aveneda is great if you’re in the mood, but it can also get quite tiring with all the people and the constant verbal spiel from the souvenir shop owners, tour guide hecklers, restaurant food pushers and massage specialists who line the road. I sometimes liken Quinta Avenida to a Hollywood blockbuster. Sometimes you’re in the mood for big bangs, gorgeous people and bright lights and sometimes you want something a little quieter.

Luckily Playa has that as well. If you’re willing to go outside of the Zona Turistica you can find some real gems. If you get a few blocks off Fifth Avenue you can start to see what we call “the real Mexico”. These places are mostly frequented by the locals and your dollar can stretch a lot farther. It’s also generally quieter, you’ll run into less business people trying to rope in the rich gringos and you might even forget that you’re in a town chiefly designed to cater to the needs of tourists .

With great places like Akumal, Tulum, Cozumel, Puerto Morelos and a bunch of cenotes all within an hour drive of Playa Del Carmen, it’s a great place to venture forth from. With even Cancun and Isla Mujeres less than an hour away you can easily (and affordably) spend the day at any of these places and still make it home for supper. There’s also tons of things for the kids to do in this city as well as some great ecoparks.

Sure, Playa has a few faults, but I think it overcomes those in leaps and bounds. We’re always happy to be here and I imagine we’ll be coming back for years to come.

Now, where did I put that real estate brochure?


14 Responses

  1. Just One Boomer (Suzanne)

    Wow! We were there for a family vacation 15 years ago. Playa del Carmen was still sort of sleepy then—certainly no Big Box stores. I imagine you can still take the ferry to Cozumel for a day trip and I went on an all day tour to Chichen Itza from there.

    In 1975, on a college study trip to Mexico, we were briefed by the Minister of Tourism. He showed us the plans (on paper) for Cancun. The transformation of the Yucatecan coast from jungle and empty beaches to an economic engine for Mexico is nothing short of remarkable.

    • Charles Kosman

      Suzanne, it’s definitely not so sleepy any more. 😉 It has a few malls, several large chain stores, more restaurants than I can count and when the ferry from Cozumel still comes in, a boat load of tourists. 😉

      To be honest it’s a pretty busy place most days however there are still pockets of sanity here and there and less crowded areas up and down the coast if a quiet beach is a high priority.

      Cancun is even bigger and crazier so the minister’s plan definitely seems to have worked. This whole area is a definite economic juggernaut. I talk to Mexicans from all over the country that have moved here for a better life for them and their families. It’s nice to see that the money from this area trickles to all the corners of the country if not directly then indirectly.

  2. Jo

    Hey Micki sounds pretty perfect to me, funny ever since you mentioned Yucatan I have found myself focusing and looking at this area as we have particular interest in the Mayan culture and ruins. AND it’s looking like we might start in Mexico early 2014 for our long and slow RTW.

    It might always be that I associate this area with you!

    • Charles Kosman

      Hey Jo, I’m sure you’ll enjoy your time here and with the nice weather and cold drinks I’m sure it will make a great first stop on your RTW adventure!

  3. Tracy Antonioli

    I walked quickly through Playa on a cruise excursion last winter; I remember thinking ‘ah yes–I must return here’. It’s the beach town I didn’t even know I was looking for. Can’t wait to return for MUCH longer some day (soon?)

  4. Escaping Abroad

    Completely agree! I was in Playa (and Cozumel) early in 2012 and loved the place. As you mentioned, there are activities and things to explore for anyone.. the beaches, cenotes, ruins.. and not to mention amazing diving! I’ll be going back for a longer stay here in 2013 hopefully!

    • Charles Kosman

      Definitely something for everyone James. Due to it’s proximity to the States, it’s an easy place to write off but once you’ve traveled a bit you realize that it has as much going on for it as places on the other side of the globe.

      It’s no coincidence that there seems to be more Europeans here than Americans. They tend to realize what this area has to offer even more than Canadians or Americans do.

      I know Cozumel has some good snorkeling and the turtles in Akumal make a great day trip however I never gave much thought to diving in this area. Might have to look into it a bit more. The water is definitely clear enough. Would love to strap on some equipment and dive some of those crazy deep cenotes inland though. That would definitely be a different experience. 🙂

  5. Escaping Abroad

    Charles! If you like diving you must be unaware of where you are.. Cozumel is considered one of the TOP destinations in the entire world for diving. There are many creatures there that are only found there, and very well preserved sea life… things I didn’t see diving in Roatan or Belize are there. And the cenotes? They’re just incredible…

    I think the main thing that puts off Americans is two-fold.. one is all the negative publicity Mexico has gotten on the drug violence, and two.. there’s a lot of other more well known destinations like Cancun, Cabo, etc that more people go to.

    • Charles Kosman

      James, I knew there was decent diving off Cozumel and the cenotes are well known for being cool dives but I suppose I never really gave much thought about diving in this area in general. Since Micki and I put diving on hold until our kids are a little older, maybe I’ve just subconsciously avoided reading about it. If I dwelt on everything that was out of my reach I wouldn’t be such a happy man. 😉

      Mexico definitely has a negative stigma going for it right now but what most people fail to realize is the problems are very specific to certain regions. From everything we’ve seen and read, as well as everyone we’ve talked to, the Yucatan Peninsula is far removed from all the strife the border and trade routes are currently experiencing. We’ve felt just as safe and comfortable here as we have in most places around the world.

  6. Manuel

    Charles, now you’ve convinced me in adding PDC in my next adventure in the Yucatan. I might skip staying in Cancun altogether now, except when flying in and out of Mexico. I also searched your site for all your Mexico posts and found it here – https://www.thebarefootnomad.com/topics/mexico/, so if anyone is also looking for it, there’s your link.

    Thanks for all the tips about Mexico. I enjoyed all the post about the place. I also admire you and your wife for teaching your kids about the joy of travel this early in their lives, no matter how inconvenient it maybe to you both. Congrats, you must be having so much fun together!

  7. Penny Sadler

    I used to travel to that area regularly. It has grown and changed a lot but I completely concur with your observations. In fact, you have me wondering if I shouldn’t head down there! And lots of Italians too? Mamma mia a paradise. LOL
    Great story. You sold me.


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