A Quick Guide to Playa del Carmen

This has become a popular place for travelers to stop on their way around Mexico.

Photo © Getty Images/g01xm

Playa del Carmen or Cancun: Which is Better?

Located about an hour south of Cancun, Playa del Carmen has white beaches and crystal-clear water, with a laid-back atmosphere. While Cancun is filled with tall all-inclusive hotels, Playa del Carmen has smaller boutique hotels. Here, you can get away from the hustle of the bigger city without sacrificing daytime beach clubs or nightlife.

Public Transport in Playa del Carmen

One of the best things about Playa del Carmen is that all the sights are within walking distance. There’s no need to rent a car, because you can easily get around town on foot or by using the buses or taxis.

The streets are on a grid; avenues run parallel to the beach, and streets (calles) run perpendicular. The calles are numbered in twos, and run the length of the city.

Buses

To get around town, there are two types of public transport: colectivos, which are smaller vans that run the length of 30th Avenue (the main artery of the town), and larger buses that take you to the outer areas of Playa del Carmen. The bus and colectivo fares are the same price: five pesos per person.

Taxis

Taxis here are white in color, and generally, a taxi fare is between 35 and 50 pesos.

Beware of the "gringo tax". Negotiate the fare before you get in the taxi. Most drivers speak sufficient English if your Spanish isn’t muy bien.

Where to Eat in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen’s food is influenced by a mixture of dishes from around the world.

For a cheap and delicious meal, go to El Fogon. There are two El Fogon’s in town, and these restaurants are always filled with locals and a handful of travelers. Look for the Mega grocery store on Constituyentes and 30th Avenue, and walk north across the street.

If you dare, try the tacos from one of many food trucks near the Mega supermarket on Constituyentes (Calle 18) and 30th Avenue. Go for a food truck where long lines of locals are queuing up – it’s a guaranteed hit.

When it comes to nightlife, 5th Avenue is a great place to go bar hopping. Many of the restaurants and bars have live music, and sometimes street performers roam from table to table.

Top Things to Do in Playa del Carmen

Snorkeling

Home to the second-largest coral reef in the world, you can find plenty of great snorkeling sites right off the main beaches in Playa del Carmen. Turtle sightings are common south of Playa del Carmen, so try locations such as Barracuda Reef.

Scuba Diving

Go deeper and take a scuba diving tour to the cenotes, or take a trip out to the reef. See the world-famous Santa Rosa Wall in Cozumel, Mama Viña Sunken Ship or the two close sinkholes at Cenote Dos Ojos.

Swimming with Sharks

During winter (December to mid-March), bull sharks return to their breeding ground and are common in the area. Search around town for scuba tours that offer daring divers the chance to see these creatures.

During the summer months (June to August), whale sharks come into the area to breed. Ask around for a reliable tour operator, and snorkel with these large creatures in the ocean. Before you go, here are a few tips for a sustainable experience with whale sharks.

Fishing Boat Tours

These excursions are open to fisherwomen and men of all skill levels. It’s highly unlikely you’ll come back empty-handed, as the experienced boat captains know where to go for the best chance of a catch.

Dune Buggy Jungle Tours

Ride ATVs through jungle trails, explore untouched beaches, and get far away from the tourist sites. Shop around town for the best prices, and read reviews online before you book. Make sure your travel insurance policy covers ATVs before you book a tour.

Yoga and Pilates

There are several popular yoga studios offering yoga and Pilates classes. For a fun, outdoor yoga experience try the donation-based classes at Kava Kasa in the central area of Playa del Carmen. Other popular yoga studios include YogaLoft and Yoga By the Sea.

Cenotes and Mayan Ruins

By far the best activity in the Playa del Carmen area is to visit some of the Mayan ruins and also the natural swimming holes, called cenotes. Some of the best include Cenote Azul, Garden of Eden and Gran Cenote.

Most travelers head south of Playa del Carmen to Tulum for Mayan Ruins including Chichén Itzá, Ek' Balam and Coba. Due to the remoteness of Coba, there are far fewer crowds at this archaeological site. To get around, use colectivos.

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