Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya Travel Guide
Playa del Carmen Summary
- The hippest, most laid-back city in the Riviera Maya, with a European air to it
- The traditional Mexican culture has not been completely lost to tourism
- It has the best shopping in the area
- Easy access to wonderful diving around Cozumel island
- Close to the stunning Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and Tulum
- One of the few places in Mexico where topless sunbathing is allowed (a con for some)
- Lots of accommodation options, from small, affordable hotels, to large beach resorts
- Great dining and nightlife scene
- It attracts a well-heeled crowd
- Wonderful beaches (though not as pristine as those in Cancun)
- Crowds close to the all-inclusive resorts on the beach (but less than in Cancun)
- The waters aren't as clear as they are farther north (like in Cancun)-- but they're still beautiful
- Cruise ships dock here daily
- Hard to find a parking spot in some areas
- One of the few places in Mexico where topless sunbathing is allowed (a pro for some)
- Hurricane season (from August through November)
What It's Like
If you want to get away from the crowds in Cancun, but still want to sunbathe on beautiful sandy beaches and have easy access to the wonderful Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and Tulum, Playa del Carmen is a great pick. It's less rowdy than its neighbor to the north (Cancun), and the crowd is mostly well-heeled Europeans.
It's true that the daily arrival of cruise ships has made it lose part of its charm -- especially in the areas closer to the beach -- but if you walk some blocks north of the large resorts, you'll still find wonderful, less crowded beaches. Also, the area west of Quinta Avenida, which is the main shopping and nightlife artery, running parallel to the coast, still preserves a more traditional Mexican feeling, with smaller hotels and less "all-inclusive" culture.
Playa del Carmen has great nightlife, arguably the best shopping in the Riviera Maya, and wonderful restaurants, but it has kept the essence of Mexico, as well as a laid-back ambience, in a region where mega-resorts and mass-tourism are the norm.
Where to Stay
If you want to be within walking distance of Playa del Carmen's nightlife, beaches, and bars, the area around Quinta Avenida (the city's main thoroughfare) will probably be the most convenient location. However, if what you'd rather stay in a smaller, more intimate hotel, you might want to stay some blocks inland -- these hotels are also a short walk from the beach, and are quieter.