Playa del Carmen

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Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Two years ago I spent five weeks in Mexico, mostly in the Yucatan with some lightning fast Tulum travel but I didn’t visit Playa del Carmen.

I heard it was nice but I disliked Cancun so much I couldn’t imagine it being different.

I was wrong.

The thing about Cancun is they pack all the tourists into a hotel zone.

And for those that want to wander off their all-inclusive there are a number of restaurants, convenience stores and tourist markets all within this zone.

It’s a weird theme park version of the actual city.

No one knows this because they are segregated and never make it out of the hotel zone.

But Playa del Carmen has a different vibe that feels more integrated.

Sure there is still the same strip of beach-lined resorts but people are more apt to leave the resort, even as far as Xel Ha park.

The first few blocks are peppered with tourist shops, restaurants and tour operators. Not my thing but also not entirely offensive.

Sikil Pak

I’m sure people stroll these streets the first few days and then wander out even further like I did.

This is the first resort town I have been to that doesn’t seem to insist on keeping people fenced in.

This is why I dig Playa del Carmen, it offers something for everyone.

If you prefer to stay in the confines of the resort it’s fine but if you want to be a bit adventurous and just hit the tourist stores you can or walk 4-5 blocks more for Mexican antojitos.

I felt very safe and people were very friendly. It’s also not far from some of the best cenotes in Mexico.

Playa is a great city for a beginner traveler to take the first steps, dip their toes in and explore more at their own pace.

My sister who likes resorts is going in a few weeks with her friends and I think she’ll really like it, many people go back year after year and I can see why.

I would go back again, I didn’t see enough and I want to know what is out in blocks 10-20.

Maybe more tacos?

Join the Conversation

  1. Playa has great skydiving for beginners, too. That was my first time, and tough to beat. In few other places can you land on the beach, and the colors of the water on the way down are unreal.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      That would be pretty incredible, if I could get over my fear of heights.

  2. We really liked Playa, too. We spent a month here in 2010 and had an apartment at the north end of the beach. Much to our surprise, we were the only non-Mexicans on that stretch of beach and loved the local restaurants around there. The beach is one of the nicest we’ve ever been to and my mouth is still watering when I think of the Huevos Motulenos I usually had for breakfast. Hope we’ll get to go back soon!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I was thinking of going there this winter but was a bit unsure but I would consider going for an extended period, especially if there was a cheap flight from Toronto.

  3. The World of Deej says:

    I’m not much on Cancun or Cozumel, but I have never been to Playa del Carmen. Maybe I’ll give it a try, with an open mind of course:)

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I must say I was really surprised. I didn’t think I would like it but I really did.

  4. I completely agree. I adore Playa. It feels so safe and friendly and there really is something for everyone. I’m thinking about going for a month next year.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I would definitely consider spending a bit more time during the Canadian winter next year. It seems like there is so much more to discover.

  5. John of Travel Rinse Repeat says:

    Cozumel used to be more like Playa del Carmen. When I first visted almost 15 years ago (i’m showing my age, yeesh) it was easy to walk into the real town. As the resorts have expanded to the south and they have constructed the cruise ship zones, it’s getting harder for new visitors to find this part of town. It still exists though, for those willing to stay in the older part of town.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Well…on Friday I’m actually writing about a food tour I took in Cozumel that takes you out past the resorts and into where people live, I’m really curious to go back there too.

  6. Nicole (colehaber.conm) says:

    Completely agree of your assessment of Cancun. I ventured out of the resort to go to Chichen Itza, and what we saw out the window was so completely different from anywhere we stopped. We stopped for lunch at this ridiculous buffet meant for tourists. But as you looked out the window at the towns we passed through, it was so clear we were getting a super sheltered experience. But that is what some people want, next time I’d venture out in a different way. But it’s less obvious on how to do so than it is in say, Europe or SE Asia.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It’s sad because Mexico is so amazing and many people only ever see Cancun. There is an unwarranted fear of the country when I had an absolutely amazing experience two years ago – and that was when I didn’t speak any Spanish.

  7. Cristina (@thetravolution) says:

    Resort destinations never really appealed to me for the same reasons. It feels fenced in, not authentic, and sometimes lacks the real culture life of the people but this post makes me want to go! Love the photos!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I have been to Puerto Plata in the Dominican and Cancun and I didn’t really like either but this is definitely different. I can see why so many foreigners live there.

  8. I avoid Mexico. I live in L.A. so I went down to Tijuana a few times. No thanks. Too dirty and seedy for me. Maybe there are better places but I don’t care to check them out since I need a passport just to cross this huge border that used to be fairly open and free. Thanks George Bush.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Well I have never been to Tijuana but I am pretty sure the rest of Mexico is not like that. In fact I haven’t been anywhere in Mexico that I would call seedy but I do know the Northern cities have issues.

      Also, if you don’t get a passport you can’t come to Canada!

  9. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures says:

    Playa is a fabulous place! Such pretty beaches!!!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      The sand is also so much nicer than in Cancun, another +1 for Playa.

  10. That’s fantastic that the place encourages people to get off the resort “compound,” so to speak. More resorts need to do that!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Agreed, I prefer a place that allows you the choice to enjoy the luxury of a resort but also the opportunity to explore the community.

  11. I have never been a fan of resort towns for the exact reason you don’t like Cancun. Playa sounds intriguing though – I love the fact that you explored outside the tourist area.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I have to say Cherina I always said I hated resorts but this place is really good if you were going to travel with other people. It would give everyone what they wanted and no one could complain.

  12. I love it here too! I came to Playa 3 times in one year and stayed by myself 2 of those 3 times. I felt very safe and the beaches are so gorgeous.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Absolutely, if I’m too cold in Canada next winter I’m definitely coming down here.

  13. I went to Playa Del Carmen like 10 years ago with my family before it was really built up. We had a great time and it’s definitely a better option than Cancun for a nice Mexican beach vacay.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Agreed. I know the Mexico Tourism Board invited me but I will always be honest. I adore Mexico but Cancun just doesn’t do it for me.

  14. Cathy Sweeney says:

    Playa del Carmen sounds like my kind of place, too. I remember that about Cancun, but I did manage to get out of the hotel zone. It just didn’t feel all that safe — at least back in those days.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      When I started my RTW two years ago it was in Cancun, the unfortunate part is because everyone is kept on the resort I don’t think they invest much in the town.

      I don’t know what it was like ten years ago but two years ago it was safe. At least for the Canadian girl who showed up and had no idea how to speak Spanish…

  15. Playa is my kind of place too!!! I am still banging my head for not staying more time there. And Cancun, well, I didn’t like it either (I even wrote a post called That Boring Place called Cancun). Next, time I am on the Riviera I would use Playa (or Tulum) as my base.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Unfortunately I didn’t like Tulum either, well I liked the beach but not the town.

      But you know I have decided to start giving places a second chance. Maybe after traveling in Latin America for so long I would have a great appreciation for things I had no patience for?

  16. Ja told ya… Playa is an amazing place. I seriously keep telling my self that is all else fails I will move to Playa & get a job. I am a citizen of Mexico & am bilingual… I could so work at one of the theme parks there. Yeah I have had to much time to think about this. Ahh I could recommend so much spent 3 weeks there, but am sure you know what to do and see.

  17. Playa del Carmen is a pretty nice place. However, it is as-or-more touristy than Cancun. The only difference being the “hotel-zone” concept. Yes, Cancun – at least the tourist part of it – is sort of isolated onto a strip. However, you can definitely get into the main city.

    We stayed in downtown Cancun for $20/night and it was a wonderful experience. Just had to take a 50 cent bus ride into the main beach area. The beaches in Cancun are better than Playa though.

    Playa is also more expensive.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I also stayed in downtown Cancun, it’s easy to take the bus out to the beach. But I remember the beach wasn’t nice at all and the sand was pebble-y, maybe I was at the wrong end of the beach?

  18. I love these shots,the beach and water photos look inviting. I’d love to return. It truly is a fun place to spend time.

  19. Natalie T. says:

    Good to know. I do love your last shot. It’s very vintage vacation.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      The Michoacana ice cream shop?

  20. Ayngelina, I stumbled across your blog a few weeks ago and haven’t been able to stop reading it. I too am a lover of all things Mexico so I’m loving your Mexico posts. I’ll be there for 3 months from July. Also thanks to you, I may now include Colombia in my travels.
    Just wanted to say thanks for a great blog.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Thanks Hayley, if I had to put in a good word it would definitely be for Colombia and also Nicaragua – get there before tourism ruins them!

  21. I can’t agree more!! My parents really taught me the art of traveling… sometimes the touristy places aren’t worth the time or money – it’s the places off the beaten track that will have you pleasantly surprised. I’ll keep Playa del Carmen in mind should I ever make my way over to Mexico. 😉

  22. You should check out Tulum – not that far from Playa, and has an amazing beach!

  23. I went to Playa del Carmen once for a wedding and have dreamt of going back ever since. Great pictures and description!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Have a look at what food I ate there, amazing seafood.

  24. I’m so glad you liked Playa del Carmen, hun. I loved it there for five weeks.

    Actually once you walk out of the tourist area and past the Walmart, you get to the places where the locals live. It suddenly has a completely different vibe and there are actually some great restaurants and cantinas that are muy cheap and have a wonderful ‘real’ Mexican feel to them. 🙂 The locals are really welcoming to anyone wanting to wander away from the touristy areas.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      That was what I liked about PDC it gives a good range for a variety of travelers and you can wander out as much as you are comfortable with.

  25. Waegook Tom says:

    You’re right about there being so much more to see in places if you move out of the tourist zones – I’ve done similar things in Prague and Istanbul and been rewarded. Then again, they’re not “resort towns” like Cancun or Playa del Carmen.

    Get yourself back there and work on a “10 Best Taco Shops in Downtown Playa del Carmen” post. Now that would be a mouthwatering read…

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