Playa del Carmen is a renowned party destination and popular among the ‘all-inclusive’ sun-seekers from the US and Canada. But unlike its bigger sister Cancun, Playa del Carmen is much more laid-back and with the right picks you can absolutely have a stylish and restful vacation while avoiding the crowds and craziness.
How to get there
Playa del Carmen’s nearest airport is Cancun. From there is it takes approx an hour by taxi or shuttle service to get to Playa del Carmen. A taxi ride costs about MXN $700 (don’t pay more!). Are you travelling with a group or family? Then a private shuttle from Canada Transfers or NAST is cheaper as you pay per vehicle. I have experience with both and they are equally reliable and comfortable. The driver will wait for you with a sign, drops you off right in front of your hotel and has complimentary refreshing beverages on board. Some vans even have wifi. https://www.canadatransfers.com/ or https://www.nasttransfers.com/ Travelling on a budget? Playa del Carmen has 2 ADO bus stations that are centrally located in the city.
Where to stay
The instagram-worthy Hotel La Semilla is a peaceful retreat steps away from the busy 5th Avenue. Tucked between the jungle and the beach, this hacienda style inspired boutique hotel treats guests to an intimate and laidback experience. With only 9 rooms, a shabby chic decor, rooftop terrace and secluded courtyard garden it is the perfect hideaway to relax after a day at the beach. The Quinta Margarita Boho Chic Hotel is a small scale boutique hotel full of charm. Although it’s a stone throw from the bustling 5th Avenue it is a quiet haven. The rooftop pool and terrace are perfect to unwind and bask in the sun.
Mahekal Beach resort has a rustic charm. The Mexican ‘casitas’ with palapa roofs are spread in a tropical garden with the beach as backdrop. Walk right out of your casita straight on the white sandy beach or put your feet up at one of the three swimming pools. Kinbé deluxe boutique hotel is a contemporary design hotel with Mexican flair. Situated in a side street of 5th Avenue and with the beach right at the front door it is perfectly located for the traveller who is seeking convenience. The 29 rooms are elegant and simple. The hotel features a breezy rooftop sun terrace and an indoor swimming pool with waterfall.
Be Playa caters to the hip and trendy traveller. With a rooftop swimming pool and cocktail bar, on site sushi restaurant, and a funky interior design it draws in young and style conscious guests and locals. At the Marquee Playa Hotel old Hollywood charm and contemporary design combine into a chic urban retreat. The boutique hotel counts 20 rooms. The rooftop pool and lounge bar overlook 10th Avenue. The Thompson Playa del Carmen is said to be the most luxurious hotel in Playa del Carmen. With its two luxury resorts, one beachfront and one on 5th Avenue, guests can swap between rest and bohemian vibes or the fun and vibrant nightlife according to their mood. The design is mid century design with lots of pop art, geometric patterns and art. The roof top infinity pool and lounge area is lined with cabanas and day beds.
Where to eat
La Cueva del Chango – Breakfast, lunch or dinner, La Cueva del Chango will not disappoint. Set in a tropical garden you are to enjoy natural fresh Mexican cuisine at a reasonable price. – Calle 38 Norte
Amate 38 – This Mexican/Caribbean style restaurant will tickle your taste buds. The quiet garden with lush vegetation and a small cenote is the backdrop for an food experience packed with regional fresh ingredients. Try the handmade tortillas, fried plantain, or charcoal grilled fish/beef/chicken. Amate is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. – Calle 38 Norte
Piola – Are you looking for something different than Mexican food? At Piola you can indulge in real Italian food that tastes just as good as in Rome (or maybe even better). The wood fire pizza oven guarantees a crunchy thin crust. Piola’s interior is fun and vibrant making it a welcoming spot for families. Also try their brunch with an extensive mimosas menu! – Calle 38 Norte
Luma taverna del Mar – This Mediterranean style seafood restaurant is like the fore-mentioned restaurants also on 38th street. The menu is boasting with delicate and elegant seafood that is presented in a way that is a feast for the eye. – Calle 38 Norte
Aldea Corazon – This restaurant is right on Quinta Avenida but a tranquil haven. Enjoy authentic Mexican food in a lush jungle courtyard situated around a cenote and waterfall. At night the garden is romantically lit up with fire torches. The food varies in quality depending on the dish, but as the ambiance and garden are something to experience you are more inclined to let that slide. – Avenida 5/Calle 14
Los Hijos de las Tostadas – This nautical-themed restaurant specializes in seafood tostadas with a modern twist. It’s a great place for lunch or a light dinner. The seafood is fresh and caught daily. You can choose between cold raw fish tostadas and cooked/fried seafood tostadas. As the tostadas are only under $5 you are easily swayed to try and share multiple tasty tostadas. – Calle 2 Norte
La Marea – For an upscale dining experience head to La Marea. They are famed for the best Mole in town. Their dishes are refined and modern; think Chaya Green Risotto or surf and turf with lobster. – Playa Xcalacoco Frac 7
YumYum by George – If you want something different than tacos, mole and seafood head to this excellent Asian restaurant. They serve delicious Thai and Indian food in a fairly quiet place with friendly service. The food is very tasty, refined and with good portions. Avenida 10/Calle 6 Norte
Chez Celine – The best breakfast spot is hands down Chez Celine. In weekends locals line up with the whole family to enjoy a breakfast on the outside terrace. The European/French style breakfast menu contains crepes, French toast, cakes, croissants, quiche and baguettes with eggs any style. Average waiting time is 10 minutes but it’s so worth it- Avenida 5/Calle 34
La Senda – La Senda caters to vegans and people who like healthy food. Whether you go here for breakfast, lunch or dinner you will be surprised at the extensive menu. Anything you can think of, they have it! Fancy falafel and hummus? Check! Quinoa and a lentil burger? They’ve got it! At the juice bar you can order your daily fresh pressed juice or smoothy on the go. I loved this place! – Avenida 10/Calle 10
Clorofila – Another great vegan restaurant that is a bit further out of the center is Clorofila. They use many self-produced organic ingredients and also sell them. The menu is packed with healthy food including veggie burgers, vegan enchiladas, nori rolls, pizza, and raw zucchini noodles.
La Brioche – Another breakfast favourite, not far from 5th Av is La Brioche. The French style bakery has a variety of artisan breads and serves juices and a decent cup of coffee. – Calle 38 Norte
Tacos & Gin Patio 8 – Go here for possibly the best cocktails on 5th Avenue. Tacos & Gin is a great spot for people watching, tacos and American style food. It’s buzzing with loud music and lively people so it’ll get you right in the mood for a night in the town – Avenida 5/Calle 8 Norte
Where to shop
Playa del Carmen is a great destination for shopping with about 20 blocks of stores. Avenida Quinta is boasting with independent shops and retail chain stores. You’ll find Mexican designer brands and international retailers side by side. For the more unique independent boutiques head to Calle 8 where you’ll find KIH Boutique, an artisanal shop specializing in fashion and lifestyle products made from henequen. Henequen is a typical Yucatan peninsula agave-like plant. Some things you can find here are: purses, hammocks, bowls, clothes and lamps. One of the last working henequen haciendas is Sotuta de Peon Hacienda near Merida.
La Bikineria on Ave 5 has some high end swimwear from Mexican design labels. But even if you’re not looking for a new bikini, a peek inside this adorable shop is a must. At Mexican designer, Pineda Covalin‘s shop on Ave 5th you get to gauge at precious silk accessories like purses, shawls and kaftans in bold patterns and vibrant colours. Dine ‘n Dance on Ave 1/Calle 28 is a fashion store for women who like elegance and European resort style fashion. Most of the fashion items are inspired by place like St Tropez, Ibiza and Mykonos but with a Caribbean flair. La Troupe is known for its wide selection of airy lightweight linnen and white cotton fashion. The bohemian chic style is widely seen across the Yucatan fashion scene. For one-off jewelry stop by Jula Luna at the north end of 5th Avenue.
At Siette Detales (Avenida 1/Calle 14) you can find artisan, high-quality Mexican pottery. The store owner specializes in authentic Mexican pewter crafts and Talavera ceramics.
At Hamacamarte (Calle 38) you can score handmade hammocks, hanging chairs and embroidered pillows, all artisanal. The owner and maker of the hammocks explains the differences in looms and knotting in great detail. In the back bundles of loom are piled on wall covering shelves.
On Sundays El Pueblito in Mayakoba hosts a farmers and artisan market. El Pueblito in Mayakoba is a replica of an authentic Mexican plaza with traditional Mexican architecture, a village church, market square and an array of top notch restaurants. The Farmers and Artisan market is held only on Sundays from 11:00 am-2:00 pm.