Ah Playa…what a great little beach city. In so many ways, it's the perfect fun-in-the-sun vacation destination. On a gorgeous stretch of Caribbean coastline, Playa is smack dab in the middle of the paradisaic Mayan Riviera.
The city itself offers many attractions, plus you don't have to go far to enjoy the raw beauty of the surrounding area.
Playa del Carmen has its own charming character that's youthful, free-spirited and yet ambitious. This once sleepy little fishing village has developed rapidly. It's definitely more grown up than Tulum, but far more bohemian and quaint than Cancun. Just walk 5th Ave [affectionately known as La Quinta], and you'll see this beach city's fun personality all around you!
This pedestrian thoroughfare stretches over 25 blocks running parallel with the beach. It's like an outdoor mall or market but with a tropical carnival flavor! This is truly the heart of Playa. Chances are, you'll stroll this little avenue a few times during your vacation. It's too fun to resist!
Lining both sides of 5th there are hundreds of stores, restaurants and bars. If you came to shop, you'll have your hands full! In one block, you'll see high-end stores sandwiched between local merchant shops. Colorful souvenirs are stacked high, silver jewelry sparkles in the sunshine and leather purses, hammocks and panchos swing in the breeze.
You don't even have to buy anything or stop anywhere for a bite…it's an experience just to walk La Quinta and see all there is to be seen! Visit the extremely cool outdoor art gallery that sets up along the ave every Thursday night, called CaminArte. Watch artists at work and buy a unique memento of your trip!
TIP: Merchants and staff can sometimes be aggressive. Just stay cool and say "No Gracias" if you're not interested and they'll turn to bothering someone else! If you do want to browse a bit, be friendly and try out your Spanish (they'll appreciate it even if it's meager)! These guys don't make much money and competition is stiff. Your good manners are appreciated and bartering is expected.
USEFUL SPANISH PHRASES:
Como te llamas?
[Como tay YAM-mass]
What's your name?
Me llamo …..
My name is …..
Nice to meet you.
How much is it?
Que precio tiene?
[Kay PRAY-seeoh TEA-ennay]
What's the price?
Hay un descuento?
[I oon dess-KWEN-toh]
Is there a discount?
Gracias por todo.
[GRASS-ee-ass pour TOH-doh]
Thanks for everything.
Necesito una bolsa.
[Ness-ess-EAT-toh oona BOWL-sah]
I need a bag.
Aceptas tarjetas de credito?
[Ass-SAYp-tass tar-HEY-tass day CRAY-dee-toh]
Do you accept credit cards?
Aceptas dolares Americanos?
[Ass-SAYp-tass DOH-lar-ess Amer-ee-CAN-nos]
Do you accept American dollars?
BEACH IT UP
Like most of us, you came to visit the beach, right? Relaxing, playing, eating and drinking on the beach…that's pretty much what Playa is all about. Around here, they know how to do it right!
One of the best things about Playa del Carmen is that you can stroll the beach for hours and find your perfect slice of paradise. Even if you're staying in a beachfront hotel, don't stay stuck in one area of the beach! It's all public access and there are a lot of beautiful spots.
Lots of guests [especially the ones who've been here before] love to pack up a little cooler of drinks, a Mexican blanket, perhaps a book or frisbee, and hit the sand. Some expat residents here tote everything down to the beach on their bicycle, even beach chairs and umbrellas at times!
You can hit a beach club for the day and get pampered, if this is something your hotel doesn't offer. Who doesn't dream of being brought an chilled tropical cocktail while lounging on a sun bed as the waves lap the shore a few feet away? Playa has a great variety of beach clubs, each with their own charm.
TIP: There isn't a lot of good snorkeling to be had in Playa, unfortunately. Construction and development have obliterated most of the mangroves, and this has affected the health of the coral reefs. If snorkeling is something your heart is set on, it's best to visit a dive shop and go on a tour. Or visit nearby Akumal or Puerto Morelos.
You can swim virtually anywhere along Playa's coastline. The currents are gentle, although you'll notice they do gradually pull you northwards. [Lifeguards and colored flags will let you know the status of the water and how safe it is that day.] This is great news for families with small children. Unlike Cancun or even other destinations on the other side of Mexico, Playa's shoreline has shallow, clear water and minimal waves.
There are two wheelchair accessible beaches in Playa del Carmen, with free amenities for disabled persons. The most convenient one is located right off the main square, nestled beside the ferry dock in downtown Playa. The other is at the north end of town at Playa Esmerelda [a gorgeous non-touristy beach in the local district].
PARTY ALL NIGHT
A few of Playa's beach clubs transform into nightclubs. Some have fire-dance shows, live bands and other nightly entertainment. And for the all-night, party-til-you-drop crew, the clubs on calle 12 are where to be. Be prepared to be amazed at COCO BONGO, with a phenomenal floor show and dance party that lasts until the wee hours of the morning.
Several times during the year there are DJ and dance festivals, held at different locations in and around PDC. Partyers can dance all day and all night, if they can handle it!
About 30km south of Playa, at the CATALONIA TULUM RESORT, a new theater has caused quite a stir. The no-inhibitions production entitled RAUXA is a burlesque-style show that performs several times a week.
WATER SPORTS AND MORE
Have you tried fly-boarding yet? It's one of the latest sensations rippling across the beach scene and Playa has taken it up in a big way. Strapped to a type of wakeboard with powerful water propulsion jets, you'll have the feeling of flying, and you can tumble and spin in and out of the water. Or you can try the same concept but on a bike; it's even easier to use.
There are also several places along the beach where you can rent jet-skis and rip around. There are also kayaks and little catamarans to take your crew out on the water. Paddle-boarding is fantastic here most of the year, since the sea is usually fairly calm. It's fun to get out on the crystal-clear water, plus this is a decent work-out for your core!
Not exactly a water sport but amazingly scenic because it happens over the ocean--can you guess what it is? Skydiving! Every day skydivers get the thrill of a lifetime and land on Playacar beach, south of the ferry dock. Imagine jumping out of a plane at 12,000 feet over the stunningly blue Caribbean Sea!
Right in Playacar there is the beautiful Hard Rock 18-hole golf club that's worth playing! There are also several other excellent golf courses in the area [Mayakoba, Puerto Aventuras, etc.] And, of course, there's always beach volleyball--have some fun while you work on that tan! Nets are set up for public use at Senor Frog's [by the ferry dock] and near Mamita's Beach. Several resorts have their own nets as well.
Travel back in time at the Maya Village and enjoy the five wading pools straight from the Caribbean. Unique rivers wind through Xcaret’s naturally occurring system of underground rivers. Must visit attraction.
Embark on an aquatic adventure. Explore creeks, mangroves, lagoons, natural wells and ancient caves fed by subterranean rivers flowing to Mexico’s beautiful Caribbean Sea. Learn, rest and participate in the world’s most beautiful natural aquarium, Xel-Ha.
Discover four different types of cenotes in a natural setting, an oasis in the middle of the jungle where you can enjoy nature at its best with a different activity on each Xenote; Kayaking, Rappelling, Snorkel, Zip-lines and Inner Tubes.
A perfect day trip from all location throughout the Riviera Maya and Yucatan Peninsula. Chichen Itza is the most popular Mayan Ruin destination and provides phenomenal photo opportunities and interesting insights to the Mayan culture.