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.
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.
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.