Situated on Quintana Roo’s north-east coast, it is a short drive south from Cancun and sits across the bay from Cozumel. Playa del Carmen is slowly becoming one of the most-loved holiday destinations in Mexico with its miles of sandy beaches, laid back atmosphere and the fact that it never reaches crowded heights of neighbour Cancun.
Playa del Carmen can appeal to every type of holidaymaker whether travelling as a family, couple or group. It has plenty of things to do so let’s explore this popular destination a little.
Chilled out vibes
Dubbed as the ‘anti-Cancun’, Playa del Carmen offers a much more refined atmosphere to its noisy neighbour up the road. However, don’t be fooled as this doesn’t mean that Playa del Carmen is some shy and retiring destination, far from it, and there is plenty going on around the city to keep you sufficiently entertained.
The main tourist area is Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue. This thoroughfare is awash with bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels where you can sample delicious authentic Mexican cuisine at a reasonable price. Peruse the quaint shops and pick yourself up some handicrafts as well as Cuban cigars. At night, Quinta Avenida comes alive with the bars lighting up with the sound of live music and DJ sets – a mini Cancun, if you will.
Like with many of the resorts in this part of the world, the star attraction of Playa del Carmen is undoubtedly the beach. The stretch of gorgeous soft, white sand is a haven for locals and visitors alike and the calm waters making it the perfect opportunity to enjoy a spot of scuba diving.
The area is home to the Meso-American Barrier Reef, the second longest of its kind in the world making it an absolute must for divers. The luscious underwater oasis is home to a host of interesting creatures including rays, sea turtles and other friendly little marine life. If you don’t fancy donning the full scuba gear then take a glimpse at this magnificent reef by snorkelling.
Back on dry land, you can’t come to this part of Mexico without discovering a little about the country’s past. Head to the beautiful Sian Ka’an Biosphere a dedicated UNESCO World Heritage Site which encompasses the jungles surrounding the ancient Mayan city of Muyil. Here you will also be able to take a dip in the Chunyacxche Lagoon.
Why go to Playa del Carmen?
If you’re looking for a lively holiday but don’t fancy the craziness of Cancun then Playa del Carmen is the place for you. Its chilled-out atmosphere will have you feeling right at home while you discover the beauty Playa del Carmen has to offer.
Spend your days basking on the beautiful beaches, scuba diving along the Meso-American Barrier Reef and scanning the shops for mementos; while at night, sample Playa del Carmen’s legendary nightlife.
Combining the relaxed vibe of the Caribbean with European chic may seem like an impossible task but Playa del Carmen manages to effortlessly achieve it. The third-largest city in Quintana Roo is among the trendiest in the region attracting a veritable who’s who of celebrities not to mention a wealth of holidaymakers every year.
Book an organised excursion, which leave Playa del Carmen each morning, and cross over the Yucatan state line towards an iconic landmark. Chichen Itza is the ancient capital of the Mayan Empire becoming a key place of worship for the people between 600 and 1200 AD before the arrival of the Spanish.
Named among the New Seven Wonders of the World it features the sacred Kukulkan Pyramid, also known as El Castillo. Get here early and you may be lucky enough to have the place to yourself and watch the sunrise in this most sacred of monuments.
Speaking of serene landscapes, Xcaret a little south of Playa del Carmen offers the peace and tranquillity you may have been looking for. At this beautiful eco-park you can go snorkelling in the crystal clear waters and say hello to the friendly wildlife. Everything from sea turtles and dolphins call this place home while you can relax on the white sand beach and even explore a Mayan village.
Naturally, no visit to Quintana Roo is complete without trying your hand at scuba diving – it’s almost a national sport here. Playa del Carmen is the perfect place for novice divers with a host of schools teaching everything from the basics to the pro tips. Best of all, you’re in one of the top diving sites in the world with the azure waters providing the gateway to spectacular reefs just waiting to be explored.
If all that underwater fun wasn’t enough then visit Xel-Ha – the world’s most spectacular aquarium. A great day out no matter who you’re travelling with you can take a dip in the warm lagoons, swim through ancient caves, meet yet more dolphins and generally create an experience you’ll never forget.
It is not all just partying and sunbathing in Playa del Carmen – well, a lot of it is – but there is plenty to explore in the city and the surrounding area. You can’t come to this part of the world without embracing the history and culture which means a trip to Chichen Itza is an absolute must.
There has been a concerted effort to maintain the beauty of Playa del Carmen’s beaches with a major restoration project being enforced in 2010. The move has ensured that the beaches are slightly larger than in the years before meaning more people can enjoy these wonderful stretches of shoreline.
While neighbours Cancun and Tulum are home to a number of private beaches, here in Playa del Carmen you can explore the coastline uninhibited. Among the most popular is Mamitas at Calle 28 with its soft white sands contrasted with the turquoise hew of the Caribbean Ocean. Pull up a sun longer and drink in the wonderful weather or get involved with a bit of jet skiing, parasailing or take on a banana boat. There are also a handful of beach bars lining the promenade.
If you’re looking for a little more laid back vibe then head for Canibal Royal. You have to do a bit of work to find this beach but the extra effort is completely worth it. This little slice of paradise is a real snorkelling hotspot with the crystal clear waters making for an inviting atmosphere. This is a hugely tranquil place with the craziness of other parts of the region feeling a million miles away.
Move a little outside of Playa del Carmen and you’ll find a number of deserted beaches. The likes of Punta Venado and Xpu Ha south of the city are the perfect example of this with the only sound you’ll hear is the gentle lapping on the sea on the shore.
The Quintana Roo region of Mexico is blessed with one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world and Playa del Carmen benefits from stunning white sand beaches. While the city may be renowned as a party destination, the beaches are a great place for a little downtime during the day. No matter if you’re travelling as a couple, family or group you will find a beach for you.
For a true taste of Mexico then head to Mi Pueblo on the city’s famous Calle Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue). This family-run restaurant takes pride in its own take on classic dishes such as mouthwatering pork salbutes and tortillas or divine enchiladas. All of this set against the backdrop of mariachi music – it doesn’t get more Mexican than this.
If you’re looking for something a little different then pay Casa Adela a visit a short walk away from Fifth Avenue. This restaurant is a dream for food and art lovers as it doubles up as a gallery. Diners can enjoy sumptuous traditional and contemporary Mexican cuisine while immersing themselves in the art, music and culture of this very unique venue.
Another of Playa del Carmen’s most interesting restaurants is Cocotte Cita, a French eatery with an ever-changing menu. Sample homemade foie gras, beef bourguignon and desserts you simply have to try in this culinary adventure. Take refinement to the next level at Di Vino where elegant meals are paired with delicious wine and served beneath the stars.
Of course, there are a number of other favourites throughout Playa del Carmen such as John Gray’s Place, Argentinean grill Sur Steak House and Blue Lobster, home to some of the best seafood you will find in the city.
Playa del Carmen is a wealth of diversity when it comes to restaurants. Take your pick from local delicacies as well as an abundance of international dishes – this is a place that caters for all tastes. However, like many of the towns and cities throughout Quintana Roo, it is too hard to resist the allure of homecooked Mexican cuisine.
Lined with bars, restaurants, cafes and nightclubs, Fifth Avenue is where you can get the evening’s entertainment underway. A landmark of this famous street is Blue Parrot a reggae club playing all the popular hits of the 70s, 80s and 90s. A little further along the street is Brahma, one of the resort’s biggest nightclubs, which has some the world’s best DJs performing into the early hours every night of the week.
Other favourites on Playa del Carmen’s nightclub scene are the avant garde and elaborate Coco Bongo, the open-air Coco Maya and one of the newer venues Los Danzantes. However, there are plenty of bars if you’re looking a little more chilled out evening.
Kartabar in the heart of the nightclub district has a hugely relaxed vibe where you can kick back with a couple of exotic cocktails and watch the world go by. Take in incredible view from the Roof Garden at the Reina Roja Hotel while you can sample over 70 different types of tequila at Tequila Barrel – although it’s probably not best advised to try them all in one night.
Playa del Carmen’s nightlife speaks for itself. Starry nights punctuated the inviting bright neon lights of Fifth Avenue and the hum of salsa music fills the air – this is a true taste of partying in the Caribbean. Only Cancun can rival Playa del Carmen when it comes to nightlife in this corner of Mexico so it needs to be embraced.
Here you will find a range of traditional Mexican handicraft hailing from all parts of the country. From Baja California to Nayarit, you can pick carefully crafted jewellery, beach wraps, Mayan inspired clothing and, of course, fine Cuban cigars.
You can spend hours wandering around this cosmopolitan hub wandering from shop to shop perusing these quaint and quirky outlets. Whether you’re shopping for yourself or for friends and family back home, you will be able a memento that will evoke memories of your trip for years to come.
Like with all things in Playa del Carmen, Fifth Avenue is the place to be when it comes to shopping in the city. While the famous strip is filled with bars, cafes and restaurants it is also to a number of shops and boutiques where you can pick up a souvenir from your time in the region.