All kinds of travelers make their way to the shores of Playa del Carmen, ranging from those who want total relaxation at an all-inclusive resort to backpackers who want to immerse themselves in the Mexican culture.
Regardless of where you fit, there may be some questions you have about your upcoming vacation and how things work in this part of the world. Here you’ll find some general information that may be of assistance during your visit to Playa del Carmen.
ARRIVAL AT CANCUN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
The number one recommendation if you’re arriving into Cancun with Playa del Carmen as your final destination: arrange a shuttle transfer in advance to take you from the airport to your accommodations. This is by far the quickest and easiest option of all, and takes out all the guesswork!
With that being said, there are a number of other transportation options.
Taxi Taxis are everywhere! You can always jump in one and they will get you wherever you need to go. The only word of caution is the expense. Since it is roughly a 45-minute drive to Playa, it will cost you over $50 USD for the ride.
Most of the major rental car companies, and some you probably haven’t heard of before, are located very close to the airport. Some are within walking distance and others you will be shuttled to by the company. You can find good deals on rentals if you book online in advance. This is a great option if you’re renting a vacation condo and want to have some freedom.
Get Peso's Before Traveling
Don’t want to mess with exchanging cash in Mexico? Exchange currency from the comfort of your home with Travelex. You can get cash or a pre-paid cash passport that works like a credit card…without the international fees. It is safe and super easy!
It is advisable to exchange money before you arrive in Mexico, so you have pesos upon your arrival. Most taxi drivers and many restaurants and vendors [but not all], will accept US currency, but you will be losing every time you pay with it. How does that happen?
Every local vendor will exchange at a rate of their own choosing; there seems to be no standard enforced. Since the value of major currencies (USD, CDN, EURO, etc.) is always fluctuating, the exchange rate for 1 USD changes almost daily. As an example: your bank may exchange your money at home at 17 pesos to 1 US dollar, whereas a local restaurant or cab driver will exchange at 12 pesos to 1 USD. This would be a loss of nearly 30%. Why use pesos in this case and lose 30 cents on the dollar if you don’t have to?
You may choose to do cash exchange right at the airport or at a exchange booth somewhere in Playa. This is a viable option [you will need to bring your passport with you], but note that these places, especially the airport, will take a larger percentage than other places.
Probably the best option for getting cash while in Mexico–at bank machines–also comes with a caution. Using a trusted ATM is your best and most efficient way of getting pesos. The ATM should (be cautious of this) charge you around $35 pesos for your transaction and, depending on your bank, they may or may not charge you an international fee. However, they will always give you the best exchange rate available.
Word of caution: Be careful when choosing which ATM to use. It’s best to use an ATM at a bank in order to avoid any possibility of identity theft. Don’t use free-standing machines that are in very populated areas, such as off of 5th Avenue. These machines charge exorbitant fees at best and will scam or clone your card at worst.
WATER & ICE
One of the most common questions for visitors to Mexico: “Is the water OK to drink?” or “Can we use the ice?” Have you wondered about this?
Virtually every restaurant you go to will serve you bottled drinking water and all the ice in your beverage is purified. This is standard procedure in Playa del Carmen.
Many resorts and condominium complexes have an on-site water filtration system, and claim their water is safe to drink. You will more than likely get mixed reviews in this department on whether or not it will make you sick. The best advice is play it safe and don’t drink the water unless it comes out of a bottle.
It is the custom in this region of Mexico to tip. Many of the services here actually rely on tips as their primary source of income. Yes, the cost of living is much less, but the workers on average receive a low wage. That is no reason not to reward good service! The Mexican people are super hospitable and lovable and work extremely hard. A few dollars goes a long way for many in this part of the world.
What is an acceptable rate? 10 to 15% or so is an acceptable tip for a server at a restaurant, but since tipping is usually based off of service, feel free to be generous if you’re pleased with the service.
All-inclusive resorts often have guests who feel no need to tip, as the service is included in their one-time fee. This is true, you will get served even if you do not tip. But in the vast majority of cases, even the servers at these resorts rely heavily on tips for their income. Once again, a few dollars goes a long way.
Sales Tax [called IVA] in this part of Mexico is 16%. Typically this tax is incorporated into every price you will see; restaurant bills, store purchases, tours, etc. It is not added to the price you see.
This has gotten a little tricky over the last year as Quintana Roo [the state] made some changes in 2015!
Playa del Carmen is in the Eastern Standard time zone; the same as New York City, or Miami. But it DOES NOT recognize Daylight Savings Time as the rest of the time zone does.
CALLING TO AND FROM MEXICO
These days, modern technology has changed this issue by far for the better. Calling anywhere in North America, whether it’s Mexico, USA, or Canada, has just recently become far more simple and cheap. Many of the mobile phone packages you purchase make international calling much less of a fear.
If you plan to be using data or making calls while you’re in Mexico, it is always advisable to check with your cellular provider and see what their policies and fees are in advance.
TIP: The country code for Mexico is 52 and the area code for Playa del Carmen is 984. Cancun area is 998 and Cozumel is 987.
Local addresses are still difficult in many parts of Mexico. They seem to vary between extremes! They’re either a lot longer and more detailed than other addresses in Canada or the USA, or there is no marked street name or rhyme or reason to the address.
A large group of houses [several blocks] is identified as a “super manzana” or “Sm”. A block of homes is then called just a “manzana” or “Mz”. Lastly, the individual home has a “lote” number. Avenue translates to “avenida” and a street is a “calle”. Postal or zip codes are not super helpful, as most of Playa is under one code .
A typical Playa address would look something like this…
Ave 15 y calle 18
Sm 21, Mz 6, Lote 18B
Resorts and businesses on the federal highway are marked by their location in kilometers from Cancun. Addresses within Playa del Carmen will sometimes include the neighborhood [ie: ‘Centro’ or downtown].