Date of stay: Oct 2011
Where you stayed: Hotel Playa Del Karma
Travelled with: Wife
Tour or pre planned: Pre-planned
While Cancun is more of a household name when it comes to thinking of a beach paradise in Mexico, Playa Del Carmen will impress you more as it contains a little more charm and hasn’t quite yet been completely concreted over with beachfront all-inclusive hotel resorts.
It’s also very well situated, as you can easily do day trips to Cozumel, Tulum and other beachside towns further south.
The hotel we stayed in was called Playa Del Karma which was a great place in a brilliant location (just a short walk to the beach) and good value for the money. The staff were a highlight as they were very attentive and helpful; I honestly cannot commend them enough. However, there were a few things to nitpick: The pool was dirty and never cleaned so we couldn’t really use it, the wifi almost never worked and there was a lot of work going on around the hotel while we were there. Having said that, these were most likely because of off-season improvements so I’m sure things will be better off in future.
In Playa you will find a huge range of places to eat and drink at. So much so that you are spoilt for choice and will have a hard time deciding where to go. Here are a couple of places we ate & drank at that we can highly recommend:
100% Natural (5th Avenue)
Great fresh and filling food. Out of this world smoothies.
Tropical Café (5th Avenue)
Good breakfasts here. 70pesos will bag you a traditional egg breakfast with fresh fruit, coffee and glass of OJ.
La Patrona de Playa (right opposite Coco Bongo club)
Near where we stayed and it was so good we ate here 3 times. Great simple Mexican food, cheap, and good service. The bottomless complimentary tortilla chips, salsa, beans and sauces were a real treat.
L’ambassade (Calle 10, just off 5th Ave)
Decent establishment for drinks with real cheap cocktails (40pesos for 500ml or 65pesos for a litre!). Everything here is a lot cheaper than what’s on 5th Ave, and it’s only just next door.
Kitxen (5th Avenue)
Great bar with fantastic live music every night.
Alternatively, grab good street tacos at one of the many stalls lining the streets. Don’t be afraid to try them; I’ve had street tacos that have been better than restaurant meals.
I had searched many places in southern Mexico for good places to try/buy tequila but without any luck. In Playa, every 2nd shop sells a huge range of tequilas and you can taste several in many of them. Here’s a good place to try:
Tequila Town (Constituyentes Ave & 1st Nth St).
They have a huge range with many top and rare brands.
Aside from all of the above, there are many other bars and nightclubs to go to in Playa as the nightlife here is pumping, so any one you choose will guarantee you a good night (Coco Bongo is worth a mention). There are several beachside clubs too, although a cover charge is mandatory.
If you are here for a while and need to buy some necessities (sunscreen, tissues, snacks etc.) keep away from the small shops in town and just head to the big Wal-Mart. You’ll get everything for half the price. Handy if you want to keep your costs down while travelling.
In terms of things to see and do, the main attraction in Playa is the beach. You’ll have plenty of places to stretch your legs and hop into the warm clear waters of the Caribbean for a swim. Many of the beachside resorts charge you for using their chairs/umbrellas, but it’s not much and worth it if you’re there for a whole day (some can be free if you wander for long enough).
The sun is a killer here, so remember to Slip, Slop and Slap!
Stacks of tour agents will shout out to you from the streets as you walk by, trying to get you to book one of their boat or package tours. However, I would recommend scrapping them and just doing these trips on your own.
Here are a couple of easy day trips you can do from Playa:
TULUM & GRAN CENOTE
The Mayan ruins in Tulum could have been rather ordinary ruins had it not been for the fact that they were spectacularly set right along the beach. They are certainly impressive, but the real icing on the cake comes when you get to swim in the clear turquoise waters in the beach nearby with a clear view of the ruins from the sea. It’s a godsend as it can get pretty damn hot here.
From the Tulum ruins you can grab a taxi to the Gran Cenote (one of the best sinkholes in the region) for a refreshing swim in the underwater caverns and caves. It is a pretty surreal experience, and rather special. If you’re lucky, you may even get to see a few turtles.
You can get to Tulum by taking a collectivo (shuttle van) for 35pesos p/p. They run every 10-15mins morning to night so it’s easy to get there and back. From Tulum it’s an 80pesos taxi to Gran Cenote, then afterwards a 40pesos taxi to Tulum town to then jump onto another collectivo back to Playa. Sounds complicated, but it’s actually very easy.
Akumal Beach in my opinion is the best of all beaches along the Mexican Caribbean coast.
It feels more like the real Caribbean, with powder-white sand, coconut palm trees lining the beach and not much in the way of touristic development there to spoil the serenity.
You can snorkel right off the beach here and you’ll be treated to some of best snorkelling you’ll ever do. In the space of a few hours we managed to swim with a diverse range of colourful fish, coral, 3 decent sized stingrays, a small octopus and the biggest turtle we’d ever seen in our lives. Its size was at least a metre in diameter, if not more, and we swam with it for a good 10 minutes, making it an unforgettable experience. Akumal beach is famous for its turtles, as many come here to feed. There are also good places to eat and drink right on the beach, which are much cheaper than Playa, and more picturesque.
If you have time you can also head to the nearby Yal-Ku Lagoon (an easy walk) and the Dos Ojos Cenotes (a short taxi ride) which are apparently also among the best Cenotes to visit.
One final piece of advice; if you are planning on doing a snorkeling trip on the island of Cozumel, head across on the ferry and book a tour there rather than one in Playa. It’s about half the price. A tour should cost you around 220pesos and is recommended as many of the best sites are only accessible by boat. I’ll cover more on Cozumel in a separate blog.
If you have anything you want to add about Playa Del Carmen, feel free to write something below.
Points to highlight:
There is so much to see and do in and around Playa that you will never get bored here. If you have several days to spare, mix it up with a few relaxing days at the beach followed by great beachside ruins in Tulum and the magnificent beach at Akumal where you can swim with stingrays and turtles at literally no cost. Throw in a few sinkhole swims, great shopping and a pumping nightlife and you’ll have a blast here.
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Would you recommend your accommodation: Yes
Overall rating: 4.5/5