Playa del Carmen

Located in the Riviera Maya, just south of Cancun, Playa del Carmen is a popular tourist destination and a stopping port for many cruise ships. Its white, sandy beaches stretch for two miles and provide a favorite hangout for many tourists. An average temperature of 83 degrees and long sunny days provide the perfect background for sunbathing, rafting, sailing, or just hanging out.

Playa del Carmen has a tropical climate, warm and wet for most of the year. May is the hottest month and has the longest days; in August, the water stays about 85 degrees. June through October are the rainiest months and the temperature can soar into the 90s.

Playa del Carmen History

Starting around 600 B.C., the Mayans began to visit Playa del Carmen on their journeys throughout Central America. In 1519, Cortez and his men arrived at Cozumel, and between the smallpox they brought and their subjugation of the people, the Mayans soon fell to the Spanish and then disappeared.

As exploration continued and outposts were established, pirates discovered the area and they controlled it until the 19th century. During this time, the area earned the name of Playa del Carmen.

In 1902, the area became a territory of Mexico and the official name became Quintana Roo, who was a famous Mexican patriot.

In WWII, the United States built a navy base on Cozumel and discovered the Great Maya Reef, as it was later named, which runs between the island of Cozumel and the mainland.

In the 1960s, explorer Jacques Cousteau made the area famous for snorkeling and scuba diving, and subsequently, it became known as one of the top destinations in the world for these activities.

After Mexico's investment in the area in the 1970s, when tourist attractions, accommodations, and an international airport were constructed, the area became a tourist mecca and is a major contributor to Mexico's tourism revenue.

View of Playa del Carmen

© paul - View of Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen Attractions

The Playa del Carmen Jungle Tour provides ten hours of activity and fun visiting the Tulum ruins, Cenote snorkeling, ziplining, and four-wheeling. Rated five stars out of five, this tour will keep the adrenalin pumping and leave the tourist exhilarated and exhausted. Tour participants are picked up at their hotel and a buffet lunch is provided. This tour isn't recommended for young children.

The Coba, Tulum, and Cenote Tour is a guided, small-group tour of Tulum and Coba ruins, including a climb of 120 stair steps to the top of the Yucatan's highest pyramid, Nohoch Muul. This trip requires considerable walking and climbing. Breakfast and lunch are included, as is transportation to and from the hotel.

Mayan Temple at Tulum

© Michel - Mayan Temple at Tulum

The VIP Nightclub Tour visits three of the most upscale bars in Playa del Carmen and includes five hours of open bar at some locations and unlimited drinks at others. This tour requires a minimum number of guests and has an age minimum. Guests are responsible for their own transportation, food, and gratuities.

A five hour private luxury yacht tour provides snorkeling and an open bar, including champagne, and a constant supply of food, snacks and beverages. There's a minimum age requirement for this tour and it's subject to cancellation due to weather concerns.

The Rio Secreto Nature Reserve Tour guides tourists through cenotes and underground tunnels with stalactites and stalagmites. Appropriate equipment, such as a wetsuit, a helmet with a headlight, and so forth, is provided to the guests. Food and transportation are available as options.

The Jaguar Path Adventure Tour takes guests snorkeling at Cenotes Dos Ojos, one of the most beautiful cenotes in the world. Breathtaking rock formations and sea life in crystal clear water abound here in Ojo One, Ojo Two, and the Jaguar. Lunch and transportation are provided.

Dos Ojos Entrance

© Dag Lindgren - Dos Ojos Entrance

Playa del Carmen Beaches

All the beaches on Playa del Carmen are open to the public and are easily accessible. The crystal clear water appears in all shades of blue, aqua, green, and navy; sometimes, the water appears striped due to the varying depths. The main beach extends north from the docks to Calle 14. Most of the beaches are named after a resort but they are open to anyone.

Playa del Carmen

© Christopher William Adach - Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen beaches include:

  • CoCo Beach
  • Mamitas Beach
  • Playa Tukan Beach
  • Shangri-la Beach
  • Zubul Beach

Since the white, sandy beaches are comprised of minute particles of the coral reefs, the sand doesn't get as hot on the feet as typical beach sand. Beaches are, for the most part, pristine, because hotel staff and local volunteers work hard to keep them clear of debris and trash.

Playa del Carmen Beach

© daryl_mitchell - Playa del Carmen Beach

Most of the beaches have a lifeguard on duty; many have flags that will indicate if the water is unsafe for some reason, although this is rare. For those who prefer a more structured atmosphere, many beach clubs are available. Most restaurants along the beach provide umbrellas and lounge chairs for their patrons, so a purchase of food or beverage will likely include these.

Beaches slightly outside of Playa offer additional entertainment, such as camping, horseback riding, and cycling. Some of these beaches are:

  • Paamul
  • Punta Venado
  • Xcacel
  • Xpu-Ha

 

View towards the beach, Playa del Carmen

© dland_lover - View towards the beach

 

Playa del Carmen Travel

Visitors to Playa del Carmen will land at the Cancun International Airport and go through customs. Visitors should not accept any transportation offers inside the terminal and should avoid speaking to anyone except company employees.

Cancun Airport

© hkpuipui99 - Cancun Airport

An ADO bus and then a taxi is the most economical method of transportation to the hotel. Taxi fare from the terminal to the hotel can be cost-prohibitive but from the bus station to the hotel should be reasonable. The ADO bus is air conditioned and has an area for storing luggage.

Shared vans don't require reservations and are relatively inexpensive. Private transportation is available but is more expensive and requires a reservation. Gratuities are expected, so an ample supply of cash can expedite matters.

Although rental cars are available, they aren't the best option for transportation. Mechanical issues may cause a problem and an interaction with a police officer. Additional insurance will probably be required, and local driving rules may differ from those in the U.S.

The best method for getting to and from destinations is a local bus. Service is frequent and the drivers usually speak some English.

ADO bus

© Stephen Rees - ADO Bus

Playa del Carmen is a relatively small town and most attractions and restaurants are within walking distance of the hotels. Many tours provide pickup and return for their guests, or the colectivos, which are 12-passenger vans, will provide transportation around town for a modest sum.

Playa del Carmen Hotels

The Valentin Imperial Maya won the 2016 Travelers' Choice Award for excellence and is one of the area's most beautiful hotels. Romantic rooms with hot tubs and refrigerators, world-class restaurants, and unparalleled service make this hotel one of Playa's finest.

Valentin Imperial Maya Resort

© Steve Sadowski - Valentin Imperial Maya Resort

Paradisus Playa del Carmen La Perla is another 2016 Travelers' Choice Award winner. Elegantly appointed rooms with hot tubs and espresso makers, upscale restaurants with amazing cuisine, a private beach, and more, combine to make a very memorable stay at this exquisite hotel.

Additional Playa del Carmen hotels include:

  • Fairmont Mayakoba
  • The Royal Playa del Carmen
  • Grand Velas Riviera Maya
  • Royal Hideaway Playacar
Royal Playa del Carmen Resort

© J M - Royal Playa del Carmen Resort

Those wishing to savor a more local flavor might try some of the smaller hotels. The Sunset Fishermen Spa & Resort provides a spa experience at a reasonable price and a two-for-one discount one day per week. Rated four out of five stars, the Sunset Fishermen's small beachfront resort provides a relaxing experience with a personal feel.

Hotel LunaSol is blocks from the beach and the ferry, with a grocery store and an Italian restaurant; Fifth Avenue shops and restaurants are close by. The caring staff works overtime to ensure that guests have a pleasant stay and the hotel has a booming repeat business.

Other local hotels include:

  • Maya Bric Hotel
  • Hotel Cielo
  • Apart Hotel Casaejido
  • Hotel Lunata
  • Barrio Latino Hotel
Hotel Lunata, Playa del Carmen

© Bill McChesney - Hotel Lunata, Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen Off the Beaten Path

Rather than the traditional tourist fare, some visitors to the area prefer to learn more about the local area residents. Renting a bicycle for a tour up the coast can provide ample opportunity to learn more about the locals. Bikes are readily available for daily rental and the fee includes a lock and a helmet.

Touring north of Avenida Constituyentes or west past Highway 307 is a good starting point. Ice cream shops are abundant and La Floresta's fish or shrimp tacos can satisfy the heartiest of appetites.

Two cenotes, El Jardin del Eden and Cristalino, are farther up Highway 307 and are perfect for swimming, snorkeling, or just relaxing. The Punta Venado Carribbean Eco-Park provides guided horseback rides, kayaking, snorkeling, and swimming in the cenote at a very reasonable rate.

Cenote Cristalino

© Jessica Merz - Cenote Cristalino

Los Aguachiles is an open air cantina that is a local favorite. Gourmet shrimp tacos and tuna tostadas vie for local preference and the michelada, which is a drink of Clamato, beer, lime, and salt, will perfectly complement the flavors of the cuisine.

The Cantina Don PP is an authentic Mexican cantina and a local favorite.

La Cueva del Chango is a breakfast favorite of the locals and serves dishes such as chilaquiles, fried bananas, molletes, and so forth.

La Cueva del Chango

© Go CE - View of La Cueva del Chango

Facts About Playa del Carmen

  • Playa is located about an hour south of Cancun.
  • It was a simple fishing village before the 1990s.
  • Playa's history goes back at least 5000 years.
  • Playa hosts more than two million visitors annually.
  • U.S. dollars are accepted forms of payment.
  • Don't drink tap water.
  • Many commercial sunscreens are harmful to the ecosystem in the coral reef.