Playa del Carmen is a coastal town on the eastern side of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. It is a coastline city which is home to about 60,000 people, yet it is laid-back and unlike other destinations where you feel the importance of keeping your eye on the time. The town is made up of pastel and strong-colored houses that are no taller than four floors high by law. This is great news for visitors as it allows views of the blue sky to be seen through every crook and cranny. The people are welcoming and speak English, which is ideal for those of us who can barely manage a sentence of Spanish.
Where to Play
The culture of this Mexican town can be found in the old Mayan ruins, which are located in Tulum and the Yucatán Peninsula. The town’s colorful buildings and fabrics are a signature of the Mexican gaiety and the popular handicrafts and are found in the rugs, textiles, and souvenirs. Mariachi bands are present on the streets and in the resorts, while in the clubs and lounges, modern day music is played.
The most famous street or avenue in Playa del Carmen is Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue. It runs parallel to the turquoise waters of the beachfront and is the main tourist area located in the middle of downtown. Many say that the pedestrian-only roadway seems to be extended every year as it steadily grows in popularity. Strolling down in the hot tropical sun, many things catch the eye, especially the clothing stores.
Where to Shop
From the start of the avenue, you can see a long, straight shopping pedestrian area which runs parallel to the beach front. The blocks of shops housed side by side give way to small side streets that lead down to the gleaming surface of the aqua blue sea.
The fashion boutiques entice visitors inside with sample fashions dressed on mannequins on the pavement outside. As you stroll by, you can’t help but admire the lovely white linen and cotton apparel on display. Of course, the linen look is indicative of the tropical Caribbean weather and is very alluring to buy.
One of the things about shopping here is you need to be prepared to haggle over prices — even if it’s not something you do. The minute you stop to admire and begin to move away, suddenly there’s a shop assistant breaking down the price to encourage you to buy.
Where to Stay
Accommodations in Playa del Carmen range from all-inclusive to luxury to numerous stylish boutique hotels and family-owned inns. The all-inclusive and luxury hotels are situated outside of the main area as they tend to be huge, sprawling resorts that take up all the space they can. The hotels located along the beachfront are within walking distances of the city’s restaurants, Quinta Avenida, and shops.
La Pasion Hotel Boutique is located streets away from Quinta Avenida and offers an oasis in the tightly-packed city. The hotel is affiliated with a preferential beach resort which guests are allowed to use, making it one of the best perks. There is free coffee and tea available 24/7 in the lobby and wine on some nights — check with the multilingual staff. The swimming pool is set amid an idyllic garden and offers peace and quiet.
Deseo and Lounge offers an adult-only contemporary hotel. Located on Quinta Avenida, it puts guests right in the middle of the action. You can enjoy the mariachi bands and merriments that occur every night and not have to worry about anything as you walk to your room. Deseo’s rates include breakfast. It has a pool and gym to keep you in shape, and the suites with balconies have hammocks to keep you rested. The hotel bar is a hive of activity at all times of the day with music and drinks.
Where to Eat
There are a plethora of restaurants within the area serving everything from fast food favorites to authentic Mexican cuisine. One of the popular places is Le Cueva de Chango, which is set amid lush tropical foliage with wooden furniture and big parasol umbrellas. It serves large portions of food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and has an extensive wine list to choose from. A favorite taqueria is Los Aguachiles, which is renowned for its seafood. Try the hearty Tuna Sashimi Tostado.
Playa del Carmen’s Quinta Avenida offers a slice of Mexican living where you can smell robust coffee in the air, hear mariachi bands, and taste authentic Mexican food.
All photos are courtesy of the author.