Playa Del Carmen sits on the Caribbean coast between Tulum and Cancun and boasts world class hotels, restaurants and women. For the backpacker it offers cheap beds starting at about $10 per night in the summer and for families you can hunt down an apartment on the fringes of the town for about $40 per night. Which, considering it comes with a kitchen made it a worthwhile choice for us.
Playa is renowned for being a place to laze around all day during the day hitting up the beach, or local cenotes, but at night it erupts into one of the biggest parties outside of Cancun. For us that only solidified the choice to stay a little out of town as though I don’t mind my bed rocking, I hate it when its courtesy of the bass from a nearby nightclub.
Playa itself isn’t too big and is easily walkable on foot (assuming you can cope with the heat) but if you can’t, taxis are super cheap with prices starting at about 20 pesos. Buses are fixed prices of 5 pesos within Playa itself.
Almost everyone you see in Playa will fit into one of two categories, they are either on holiday or working. Brimming with tourists (particularly Americans) prices are seriously expensive when they are compared to other parts of the Yucatan, however, still cheaper than in the EU or the USA. A four pack of beer costs about $4, a main in a cheap restaurant about $5 and an ice cream from Burger King $0.40. Rooms start at minimum $40 per night and 7 nights at a world class resort (that I was looking at earlier) costs in the region of $3000.
One great thing about Playa is the layout, literally you have the beach, then parallel to that you have 5th Ave, along here is all the tourist shops, massages, restaurants – absolutely everything. There was even a guy who told me that he was the one to see for anything (with a wink). It is car free so you can seriously mooch. From 5th Ave you have roads numbered 1, 2, 3, 4 etc and they go as far as the main Cancun – Tulum road which is about a 20 minute walk. In short, no matter how drunk you get, you cannot get lost. Though if you do somehow manage it, there’ll be a taxi bopping along and willing to take you wherever for a few dollars.
In terms of supermarkets you have Walmart and home to the most pissed off workers you will ever come across in life, seriously – if you thought service in the US was shit, wait until you step through the doors of Playa’s Walmart. Absolutely these guys took a degree in being bell ends, some even went further and got a Phd.
There is also a Mega mall, and another called Chendraul, all are huge, but quite basic and nothing like their US counterparts.
Whilst on the look out for a Dri Dock in Playa something very quickly became very apparent, every single shop we went into charged exactly the same amount for each size, to the peso. I looked at a few other things and noticed a similar trend, I sussed it out that price fixing is rife. The good thing about that is you know you’re not getting shiftied from one shop to the next, the bad thing is that you are being overpriced throughout.
Talking about overpricing, I estimate from Chichen Itza to Playa it cost around $5, with entrance being $15, thats about $25 return. It will cost about $65 per person on a tour from Playa, and this isn’t a one off. A bus down to Tulum is a few bucks, yet a day tour is $35. The point is, Playa is so well situated it is perfectly placed for a backpacker or even general tourist to base yourself here and then just hop on a collectivo either north or south. There is only one road and at the far end is Cancun, the other Tulum. You can’t physically not end up where you want to be with anything but absolute ease and cheapness.
In terms of the beach, Playa is gorgeous and easily better than most other beaches outside of the Caribbean. But in Mexico it has tough competition and in comparison to Cancun it just doesn’t compare. Not only is the sand whiter and softer but the sea is clearer and cleaner. But in terms of accessibility Playa beats Cancun hands down. What I mean by that is that Cancun’s best beaches are along the Hotel Zonera which is literally a strip of beach loaded with hotels and hefty price tags. For the budget traveller you have buses every day, yet in Playa you have zero transport costs due to the walkability of the town. I am kind of sat on the fence about where is better, but given both are only an hour or so away you don’t need to pick. Even on a fortnight hop from the States you could split your trip between the two with just an ADO bus and a couple of dollars between them.
Our time in Playa was spent not doing much but explore and try to find local things to do. For example we found an outside cinema that shows movies for free each Friday evening, a gorgeous little boutique style park with women doing yoga in one part, young couples courting in another and kids running riot in the eco play area whilst their parents catch some shade.
We did of course spend a lot of time on the beach, swimming in the sea, digging to Europe in the sand and shopping. But our most precious time in Playa was spent at the far end of the beach, where 5th Avenue becomes the clearly well thought out 5th Ave part 2. There, we found part of the Mesoamerican barrier reef which is the second biggest reef ecosystem in the world. Naturally it is teeming with tropical life. The part that comes close to the beach has over time been ruined by people walking all over it knee deep in warm ocean. We grabbed a few 1litre powerade bottles and using the pier lobbed the tops off and spent hours catching fish. Our efforts weren’t particularly fruitious as between us we managed just 2 crabs. And don’t laugh, I’ll tell you know, I’ve never seen fish so fast in my life. The little black and yellow striped things, they swim around, realise you are trying to catch them and shoot off into the reef at ninja speed. A few seconds later they have forgot someone is trying to catch them so swim back out smiling. As soon as they see you they are off again breaking all sorts of underwater speed records in the process until again they forget.
We came to Playa to kick back, relax and be a family having a family holiday and it’s been great. But each evening I have itched to do something amazing the following day and so we had a family meeting where i put some options to the kids and I asked which they’t most rather do. An hour long deliberation commenced, the result – Close your eyes and dream of paradise, of every day being the most amazing of your life: We can’t wait 🙂