Playa Del Carmen has a bit of it everything and it really shows. The city was a small fishing town that mainly serviced passengers to Cozumel. A transition happened over the past fifteen years where tourists no longer come to Playa Del Carmen just to get to the island of Cozumel. Sure, that is certainly a huge draw for tourism but the city has evolved and exploded with restaurants, bars, clubs, artisan markets and even high end retail shopping. Within a twenty year span the population has exploded from seventeen thousand to almost two hundred thousand. Factor in all the tourists and you have one thriving city!
The most famous area in Playa Del Carmen is fifth avenue, which is a pedestrian only street that is booming with life 24/7! There’s always something open or something to do on this street. The open air cafes and bars reminded me of those in Europe, and locals are quick to remind tourists that ten years ago the street was only a handful of shops and now it seems like there’s hundreds, if not thousands. The shops are unique and diverse, as you have your typical tourist traps, high end retail stores, an open air multi level mall, artisan or artist run shops and a plethora of street vendors. Owners of shops usually stand outside and will occasionally “encourage” pedestrians into their shop by striking up a conversation, if you’re not interested simply shake your head and keep walking.
Is Playa Del Carmen safe? Of course it’s safe, just as long as common sense prevails. The state of Quintamo Roo has seen an increase in homicides, but it is still much safer than many American cities. Plus, most of these murders involve people involved in gangs or cartels that operate on the periphery of Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. This increase in violence hasn’t persuaded tourists to stop coming, as the tourism industry is operating at or just above 90% capacity.
As much as I love Playa Del Carmen and had a great time there, there was some things I didn’t like about the trip. I spent most of the week either by myself or with a friend who is also male. We were constantly asked to buy drugs, either marijuana or cocaine and even offered prostitutes a handful of times. If we weren’t constantly propositioned, I wouldn’t really mind as I just shook my head when people engaged me in such offers and kept walking, but the people who are selling such services on fifth avenue are persistent and will usually ask every male who walks by. After a week of walking around fifth avenue, it became obnoxious. Young women are also propositioned for drugs, but it seems that people with families are largely ignored by these people along fifth avenue. I also noticed that couples tend to get badgered less than a solo male traveller would. If you’re worried about your kids or you being offered prostitutes or drugs, it’s probably not going to happen. Make sure to stack your wallet full of pesos, as businesses tend to give crappy rates on the conversion to American dollars. On the flip side it’s handy to have American dollars for booking tours or massages as it’s easier to negotiate a rate in American than pesos. We used cabs quite a few times to get around and had no issues, but we would recommend negotiating a price before you get in as I didn’t see any cabs with meters.
There is no cost to use the beach, but if you want other services or amenities you will have to look at some other options. Here’s a couple you might to consider ranging from free, low budget, moderate to expensive;
- Grab your towel and swimming suit and head to the beach. It’s free! But, if you want to drink or use the bathroom you will need to bring your own alcohol and buy a drink at a restaurant to use their bathroom. The risk of someone stealing your bag is low, but it does happen. Don’t bring anything you want to lose!
- Many Beach Bars don’t charge for you to use their facilities as long as you’re buying food or drink. Some great options are Wah Wah Beach Bar and Paraiso Beach Club. Beach Bars will have basic amenities, but most will have some type of shower to clean your feet off at the end of the day. Beach Bars are less exclusive and usually have a more relaxed vibe than some of the Beach Clubs. If you’re looking for a cheap massages, Beach Bars are the best places to be!
- There’s a couple Beach Clubs in Playa Del Carmen, we went to Kool Beach Club and Mamita’s. Both offer you to pay to get in, but give you credit towards food and beverages. Beach Clubs have a definite party vibe, so if you’re in the mood for partying make sure you visit Mamita’s! As long you keep track of how much credit you have, you can have a fairly economical beach day with some top notch amenities. Kool Beach Club has lockers, but does not give you locks. You can purchase them for 60 pesos, which is fairly reasonable. The added benefit of being able to secure your belongings or be in a controlled or monitored environment is worth the extra money for some tourists.
- The most expensive option is to get a day pass from a local all inclusive resort and spend the day eating and drinking the day away. Prices and availability tend to vary, but we managed to get a pretty good deal for two people at Iberostar Tucan in Playacar for $60 per person, but on average you’re likely going to pay closer to $100 per person. The beaches in Playacar were less crowded and slightly better than Playa Del Carmen. You also get all the amenities and benefits of being at a resort.
Even though we enjoyed doing all four, we tended to gravitate towards the Beach Bars as they allowed us to use their loungers and facilities for free. We didn’t feel like we had to over eat or over drink to get our money’s worth. We also loved being able to get a massage for under $20 per person! The best part of the trip was waking up, deciding how we felt that day and then planning accordingly. We opted to stay off a resort and booked an Airbnb right in the city. There is a lot of construction and high end condos are going up everywhere. You can find some great deals on Airbnb, but don’t hesitate to check out some of the Hotels that aren’t located right on the beach as they might give you free access to a beach club. If you want to spend a few days at an all inclusive, it’s probably worth it to book a few nights at a resort as opposed to getting day passes every day. Next time we visit Playa Del Carmen we will definitely consider breaking our trip up so we spend a few days at a resort and a few days in the city visiting Beach Bars and Beach Clubs.