PLAYA DEL CARMEN TRAVEL GUIDE
Where to Stay - Click here for price key
For inexpensive accommodations, check out Hotel Plaza ($$; Calle 8 between Avenidas 15 and 20, tel. 984/803-4382). Across from the downtown plaza and City Hall, its rooms have fan, a/c, cable TV, and Wi-Fi. No parking, but credit cards are accepted.
Next door to the Plaza, Hotel Centro (Calle 8 between Avenidas 15 and 20, tel. 984/803-4382) has a Central American look. The mint green building is trimmed in white; there are lots of plants surrounding the parking area in the middle. Rooms have decent beds, cable TV, fans, and a/c. Those on the second floor have Wi-Fi.
I stumbled upon Hotel Barrio Latino ($$; Calle 4 between Avenidas 10 and 15, www.hotelbarriolatino.com) as I walked around town. They seemed to have it all (except a swimming pool): fans and a/c, Continental breakfast, Wi-Fi in rooms, minibar, free calls to 45 countries, and free parking. Even a hammock on each small patio.
Part of a newish chain of hotels, One Hotel ($$--$$; Avenida 25 between Calles 12 and 12 Bis, tel. 984/877-3060, www.onehoteles.com) provides modern, simple, reliable accommodations with a/c, Wi-Fi, and cable TV.
Part of the hip Grupo Habita, Hotel Deseo + Lounge ($$$$; Avenida 5 at Calle 12, tel. 984/879-3620; 55/5282-2199 in Mexico City; 866/978-7020 in the US/Canada; www.hoteldeseo.com) attracts younger couples and singles. Dramatic and design-oriented digs just a block from the beach, with an outdoor restaurant under the trees, facing the street.
North of Playa del Carmen, Hacienda Tres Ríos ($$$$; www.haciendatresrios.com) is an all-inclusive with fractional ownership opportunities. With its own lovely beach, bike trails, and several small limestone pool and rivers for kayaking or inner tube floating, Tres Ríos also offers theme nights and other activities typical of all-inclusives, and unlimited dining at sit-down and buffet restaurants, bars, and cafes.
Where to Eat - Click here for price key
One local recommended El Fogón ($, Calle 4 at Avenida 20) for tacos al pastor, calling it the cheapest eats in town and a favorite with both taxi drivers and tourists.
Join the locals for a fresh, no-nonsense seafood lunch at El Pirata ($$--$$$, Calle 20 between Avenidas 5 and 10). Choose a seafood soup, fish fillet sautéed in garlic (al mojo de ajo), or the giant seafood platter, big enough for several people to share. Open 10 to 6.
Excellent food and a fun, youthful vibe explain the popularity of Canibal Royal ($$--$$$, Calle 48 at Calle Flamingos, www.canibalroyal.com). There are three levels of restaurant/bar plus the beach, with plenty of shade if you want it. In high seasons (winter and vacation periods), party on weekend evenings with DJs. They call their style “retrofunk.”
Guru tested and approved for big breakfasts is La Ceiba ($$--$$$, Calle 30 near Constituyentes, tel. 984/873-2135). They have excellent fruit salads with yoghurt and granola, huge breakfast plates, and much more. It’s at the front of “DAC” fruit stand and grocery store. They also serve lunch and dinner (with yummy Greek salads), closing at 2 pm on Sundays.
Across the street from La Ceiba, Nativo ($$--$$$, Calle 30 near Constituyentes) also sells lots of types of juices, smoothies, and breakfast.
Carboncitos ($$$, Calle 4 between Avenidas 5 and 10, tel. 984/873-1382) is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Try to not fill up on the perfect tortilla chips before your meal, although the five salsas served make this difficult. Furnishings are comfortable and the sound track is a pleasant mix of Mexican music selections. Portions are largish.
For something different, try Peru ($$$, Calle 4 Norte between Avenidas 10 and 15, tel. 984/147-0387). They have seafood dishes including seafood with rice and Peruvian-style ceviche, and several unusual potato dishes. Closed Mondays.
I can’t say that I partied down in Playa, but among the bars and hot spots people recommended are La Fe, Mandala, Diablito Cha Cha Cha, Los Danzantes, Blue Parrot, La Vagabunda and Rufinos. Much of the action is on Avenidas 5, 10, 15 and perpendicular streets, so you’ll have no trouble locating the scene. Facing the beach are more party places.
What to Do
For surfing, kiteboarding, and diving rentals, classes, and certification, contact Dive Shop Mexico (Calle 20 between Avenidas 5 and 1, tel. 984/803-3174, www.diveshopmexico.com).
For kiteboarding lessons or rentals we also recommend PDC Kiteboarding School (in Playacar, south of Playa del Carmen proper, tel. 984/134-2673, www.pdckiteboarding.com).
Johnny Bikes (Avenida 10 between Calles 10 y 12 and also at Avenida 5 between Calles 2 and 4, tel. 984/129-4227) rents bicycles and scooters.
Xcaret (tel. 984/147-6560 or toll-free in Mexico 01800/212-8951, www.xcaret.com) is an excellent option for a full day of water sports and other outdoor activities, as is Xel Ha (www.xelha.com), another gorgeous eco-park.
At Aktun Chen (Carretera Cancún—Tulum, 40 km south of Playa del Carmen, tel. 984/806-4962), explore the system of caves; the zip line, or swim in the cenote. Buy activities individually or, for a discount, all three.
Boutiques are found throughout the tourist area; we liked what we saw at Jelly Fish (Calle 4 at Avenida 5, tel. 984/803-5642). At Constituyentes and Avenida 5 are stands selling souvenirs and trinkets; the area is called “Quinta Norte.”
Playa has two shopping centers: Centro Maya, where there’s a movie theater, Office Depot, Koppel, and other shops; and Plaza Las Américas, with movies and shops.
Do more research before your trip at www.rivieramaya.com, or stop by the tourism booth on Calle 8 Norte at Avenida 20 Norte across from Playa’s unattractive City Hall and big, bald main square.
Getting There and Around
Visitors fly into Cancun’s international airport. Those whose hotel has not arranged shuttle service for them can get one on the spot, or grab a taxi. It’s about 50 km (30 miles) from the airport to Playa del Carmen.
To get to and from Cozumel Island, take a passenger ferry from Playa’s downtown pier, near the main plaza. Two ferry lines alternate days, and you cannot use a ticket purchased from one line on the other. Therefore it’s usually best to purchase the ticket the day you plan to use it. At this writing, the first ferry leaves Playa del Carmen at 6AM and the last sailing is at 10PM. For more info contact Water Jets (tel. 987/872-1508) or Ultramar (tel. 987/869-3223, www.granpuerto.com.mx).
Executive Car Rental (toll-free tel. 01800/300-7368, www.executive.com.mx) has offices at the Cancun airport (tel. 998/886-0201) and in Playa del Carmen (tel. 984/873-2354).