Lately, I’ve been thinking about taking a little holiday to some place warm because even though it’s spring, it still feels like winter in NYC. And where better to go than Mexico? But not just anywhere in Mexico—Playa del Carmen. Most activities revolve around Playa del Carmen’s renowned beaches, a handful of which are located just minutes from the main thoroughfare, La Quinta Avenida. So here’s a breakdown because I’ve done the research for you.
What to do in Playa del Carmen
At the nearby marina, you can charter a fishing boat or a diving boat to explore nearby Cozumel and the Caribbean Sea. Just a few miles south, the popular Xcaret eco-park showcases the Mayan Riviera’s animals and marine life. Throughout town, you’ll find appealing golf courses. If you’re interested in sampling Playa’s nightlife, check out the Coralina Daylight Club.
Playa del Carmen has carved its own Euro-chic niche along the Yucatán Peninsula. Sophisticated expats and vacationing Europeans relax at the beachside lounges, upholding this small enclave’s budding reputation as the place in Quintana Roo to see and be seen. The area’s nerve center is El Zócalo, and similar to Mediterranean beachfront towns like Nice, the funky little public square is within walking distance of the beach.
Just off the square and running parallel with the shore, La Quinta Avenida features several blocks worth of delicious eateries and quirky shops. And with proximity to the ancient ruins of Tulum, and ample natural landscapes to explore (like Río Secreto, Xel-Há, and the underwater depths of the Caribbean Sea), Playa del Carmen caters to history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts alike. And of course, swaths of white sand and brilliantly turquoise water impress even the most selective beach bums. Cancún is Mexico’s vacation of the past—today’s savvy beachgoers choose the cosmopolitan “Playa.”
When should I go?
The best time to visit Playa del Carmen is between April and May (so book now), when there are fewer people along the shore. Day temperatures hover between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, dropping slightly in the evenings. From October to March, the climate is generally dry and slightly warm. Summer days and nights tend to offer high temperatures and humidity. Hurricane season lasts from June to September, so check weather forecasts and hurricane warnings before booking your trip.
How much will this cost me?
Beachfront resorts aren’t cheap. Beach hotels and all-inclusive resorts have higher price tags, as well as nonstop nightlife. Look for cheaper lodging in town, or try a vacation rental to get a price break. Stick to the streets; Picking up a taxi at the stands called sitios will cost you more than hailing a cab on the street. Additionally, most organized excursions to Tulum and Xcaret tend to be rip-offs designed to get you to the souvenir shops. To save yourself the trouble, catch a shared van (colectivo) for a more reasonable price.
Playa del Carmen’s official currency is the Mexican peso. Since the Mexican peso to U.S. dollar exchange rate fluctuates, check the conversion before you go. American dollars are, however, widely accepted in Playa del Carmen, though you may get change back in pesos.
Playa del Carmen’s culture, food, and customs
Playa del Carmen is largely a beachy tourist destination as opposed to an authentic Mexican town, but there are certain sensibilities and customs that could make your stay there more pleasant. Many tourist industry workers speak English, but you should try to learn a few Spanish words. Saying “hello” (hola), “goodbye” (adios), “please” (por favor) and “thank you” (gracias) goes a long way in quality service at hotels and restaurants.
The dress code in Playa del Carmen is more lax than other parts of Mexico. Resort wear is common on the beach and around town, and “dressy casual” attire is typical for nightlife.
Chances are, you’ll eat most of your meals at your hotel, especially if you’re staying in an all-inclusive resort. But you should venture off of the property for a few meals to sample a few of Playa del Carmen’s offerings around town. Playa offers a wide range of eateries, from simple local fare to sophisticated fine dining establishments. You’ll likely encounter menus full of seafood, Mexican fare and even some American eats.
Traditional Mexican fare is not as easy to find as one might think, but there are a few popular spots experts and travelers recommend. La Coronela is known for its tasty staples (tacos, enchiladas, guacamole, margaritas, etc.) at affordable prices. For succulent and fresh tacos al pastor, head to El Fogón. For shrimp tacos and ceviche, check out La Laguna in the Fairmont Mayakoba.
If you’re looking to splurge on dinner, Oh Lala comes highly recommended as an upscale restaurant with creative dishes and an intimate atmosphere. The town is also known for having a significant expatriate European population, evidenced by many European-style restaurants serving everything from tapas to Italian cuisine.
When you’re packing for Mexico, don’t stress about having to take less. Instead, look into these carry-ons that literally fit almost everything and follow these COVID flight tips for a smooth and easy departure and arrival.