I’ve lived in Playa del Carmen for 3 years. it took me years to write this Playa del Carmen guide. So you can rest assured that everything you need to know about Playa del Carmen is either right here in this guide, or I’ve linked to a more in depth post I’d already published.
So what is it about Playa del Carmen that made me want to stay here for so long? Whenever anyone asks me that I always give the same answer. It’s easy. Everything is easy here.
Firstly it’s easy to get to from Cancun, it’s not too expensive, Speaking Spanish helps, but many locals speak English. Its hot all year around. The food is amazing, the people are welcoming, and don’t even get me started on the beaches and the color of the sea. I feel so blessed to have lived here and it will always feel like a second home for me.
I love Mexico, and although many look down on Playa del Carmen as it such a tourist place (it was quite literally built for tourists), I love it because it’s a surprisingly cosmopolitan city. I have friends here from all over Mexico and all over the world. When I go to dinner with friends it’s not uncommon for us to all be from different countries. I love that.
But there are 2 very different sides to Playa del Carmen. There is the side you see as a tourist, 5th Avenue and guys shouting at you trying to sell tours (or sometimes drugs), and the one that I lived in.
As someone that lived here you very rarely saw me venture further down 5th Avenue than 28th Street (to use the Spa). You will find a million other travel blogs recommending different “best things to do in Playa del Carmen”. You won’t find much of that here. Instead, I’ve tried to focus on the things tourists don’t always know about.
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that you need to be prepared for anything!
Hey Mondo is great if you are looking for a great value flexible policy. They offer single trip cover, annual multi trip cover, and long term travel cover.
Passport Nomads provides the most comprehensive cover for Digital Nomads. If you find yourself in need of medical care you just contact them and they will pre load your card with the funds to cover your treatment, meaning you won’t need to pay out of pocket and then put in a claim later.
Safety Wing is great value with monthly cover starting at $39. It’s super easy to use and it just renews each month. I currently use them as they offer me free cover for my son as part of my policy.
I also use Travel Insurance Master for short trips.
Read my full travel insurance post here where I go into detail about all 4 companies.
Quick Tip: Book accommodation, tours, and transport ahead of time online to save money and stress.
Best Playa Del Carmen Tours: Click here to check out the top Playa Del Carmen tours
Best Playa Del Carmen Accommodation: Click here to check out the best accommodation in Playa Del Carmen
Best Playa Del Carmen Transport: Click here to book a bus, ferry, or train in Playa Del Carmen
It actually took me 3 years to finally do this. Boy was it worth the wait! I went diving with Double K Diving and you can read about my experience here. Playa del Carmen is one of the few places in the world where you can do this dive. So if you are a scuba diver with a few dives under your belt I can’t recommend doing this enough. Bull shark season in Playa del Carmen runs from November until the end of February normally.
Are you seeing a theme here? I’m sorry, I can’t help it, I just love anything to do with the sea. Plus this is another amazing experience that you can only have in a few places around the world you can do this. Plus the color and visibility of the water here make it extra special. You can read all about my experience here. The company I recommend to go with is Living Dreams Mexico. This tour runs from May until September (ish).
I’m nothing if not predictable. If it’s not to do with the ocean, it’s to do with my stomach! I do love a good food tour, and this one in Playa del Carmen, I feel is extra important. Yes, you have to pay for it, BUT you will get to learn about the best places to get good (cheap) Mexican food. Which will save you money in the long run! The food tour is a lot of fun. You can read about it here, or watch the vlog here.
You deserve some rest after all the swimming and tacos. Visiting a beach club is something I try and do once a week. Not all beach clubs are equal, and anyone that tells you to go to Mamitas does not know what they are talking about. For a proper beach club guide read this. There are plenty of budget options for you to choose from!
If I don’t get to my weekly beach club date, it’s normally because I’m up on a rooftop instead. One of the great things about Playa is that no one is allowed to build more than 6 story buildings. It’s what gives it that small town feel still, even though it’s Mexico’s fastest growing city! This means wherever you go you get amazing views as nothing can block them. As we also don’t get a sunset view on the beach here, rooftop sunset drinks are a must! Want to know my top 5 rooftop bars in Playa del Carmen, read this.
I do love a good cenote and if you visit Playa del Carmen and don’t at least go swimming in 1 cenote you have really missed out. Cenotes are sacred to the Mayan people and there is a fascinating history that you can learn about if you do a tour. But you can just as easily hop on a colectivo and visit some cenotes just outside Playa, read this to learn how to get to two cenotes close to Playa. You can also contact my friend Vanessa at Turismo Channel to arrange a cenote tour for you.
A Temazcal is a prehispanic tradition. It’s a way of cleansing the body, mind, and spirit. It can be tricky to find an authentic experience here in the Rivera Maya as so many things like this are put on for the tourists. Let’s put it this way, I’ve never paid more than $500 pesos for a Temazcal. If you want to find an authentic Temazcal speak to Adrien from Viajes Conciencia. He will organize everything for you and you will have the most authentic experience you will fine in this area.
There are so many day trips from Playa del carmen you could take, where do I even start?! OK I’m just going to list my favorites and link up the relevant blog posts.
I joined the Spa this year, best decision ever. There are some good spas in Playa del Carmen all at a fraction of the price you will pay back home. I wrote a post you can read here with all of my favorite places, including where you can get the best massages and also procedures like Botox and fillers. Watch this video to see me getting a PRP vampire facial in Playa.
The Riviera Maya has a lot of big theme parks. If you have the time try and go to one of them. Personally, I think they are more fun if you go with a friend or in a group. Here are my favorites in order: Xenses, Xplor, and Xcaret.
QUICK TIP: Book your tours, rental cars, and transfers through my local contact
I’ve been working with Turismo Channel in Playa del Carmen for years and they are who I send all my family and friends to when they visit the Riviera Maya. I really can recommend them enough for tours, private airport transfers, and rental cars. Vanessa and Oliver are personal friends of mine and I have 100% faith that you will have a wonderful time with them.
You can check out their tours by clicking here and using the following discount codes when booking online to save $$$ clairecaroff (car rental), claire10off (for 10% off group tours), claireprivate (for a discount on private tours).
You can also send her a WhatsApp message quoting the above codes to receive the discount.
So pre-pandemic Playa is pretty different to post-pandemic Playa. Why? Because many of the restaurants lost their chefs when then had to close. Playa is still recovering. So I’m just going to list a few places you should go. I actually covered quite a few places in my digital nomads guide too.
It’s my go too place for fish tacos and tostadas. Service is always good and the prices aren’t bad for 5th Avenue
They have jack fruit tacos. That’s normally enough to get me to eat anywhere. But they actually have a good menu and considering it’s on the beach it’s not actually that pricy.
Firstly, the service here is terrible. Seriously. It’s awful. But people still keep on going back, because the food is good. Go here to eat fresh fish.
I like going here for breakfast. The coffee is good, the staff are really nice, and the food is pretty good and not too expensive.
Right across the road from Papa Charlie is Cafe Orange. They also have great breakfast, especially the Orange… It’s toasted bread, salmon, and brie. So good!
Turns out 90% of the restaurants I visit are vegetarian and vegan places. So here’s a list of my top ones:
You may be wondering where the Mexican restaurants are on this list. I’m not going to lie, I don’t eat at them very often. If I want Mexican food I just eat on the street! I did use to recommend a few restaurants, but since they lost their chef I’ve not had great meals there. If you want good street food either walk up Calle 2 and look around the park. Or walk along 30th Ave and you will find lots of great local places to eat.
It can be very easy to spend a lot of money here in Playa, if you don’t know better.
Easy ways you can save are making sure you don’t get in the parked up taxis (walk a little and flag one on the street).
Avoid buying anything on 5th Avenue! Prices are hiked there as they know tourists will pay it.
My advice is to know the taxi prices, eat at places not on 5th, and as always, learn some Spanish! It’s an instant way to save a lot of money. I took this course ran by my friends at Heart of Travel.
In general, the temperature ranges from about 85°F/30°C and sunny in the daytime, and about 60°F/16°C during the night. This means you can get away with pretty basic/minimal packing for Oaxaca City.
You’ll want to bring a few warmer weather outfits with sandals or sneakers for the daytime, and a few cooler weather outfits with sneakers or boots should work for the night.
Unless you’re planning to go hiking in the mountains surrounding the city, sneakers should suffice for both walking around downtown, and for climbing the pyramids at Monte Alban.
I feel like there is two answers to this questions. If you are visiting Playa del Carmen just for a short vacation then get yourself as close to 5th as you can. Anywhere from 1st street to CTM will do. Actually if it’s a blog from the beach you could even go up to 52 as it’s very quiet around there.
For anyone planning on sticking around a bit and not wanting to be right smack in the tourist area then look for somewhere between 10th Ave and 30th and from calle Constituyentes through to CTM, again going a little into Colocio maybe to 50 is ok.
I have written a very detailed accommodation in Playa del Carmen guide that you can read here, full of recommendations. But if you just want some quick ones, I’ve listed a few places below.
I have written a lot of different how to get from [place] to Playa del Carmen. I’m just going to list them below so you can get more detailed instructions.
How to get from Tikal in Guatemala to Tulum in Mexico (this one will help you get from either Guatemala or Belize)
When you are in Playa del Carmen during the winter you can walk to most places. During the summer, walking will make you want to die in the heat. So I’d advise renting or buying a bike (bici).
For day trips rent a car, but beware it’s very easy to get scammed here! Read this before you rent a car here.
If you want to go on any day trips here are a few more guides to help you.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, Playa del Carmen has some issues. Like most big cities I’ve visited have. I first arrived here solo and so until I made friends I pretty much did everything on my own and never encountered any issues.
Playa del Carmen is complicated. On the one hand as a tourist here there are rules that you can’t be touched (so to speak) as this area relies too much on tourism to get a bad rep. But at the same time the main issue here is the police robbing people at night. Seriously, at least once a week I hear a story of a tourist being relieved of the contents of their wallet my the police.
Anyway, I have a lot to say about safety in Playa del Carmen, so please go and read it. Stay safe, and reach out if you have any questions I don’t answer in the post.
I also wanted to give a shout-out to This Is Playa if you are an African American expat or tourist planning your time in Playa it’s a great resource to get the best information.
🧳 Any recommendations on what I should pack for Playa Del Carmen?
🚗 Where can I book bus or private transportation while I’m in Playa Del Carmen?
I strongly recommend using GottoGo. You can book almost all transport in the major Mexican tourist destinations through them online. They don’t just cover buses they also cover shuttles, ferries, and private drivers.
🎫 Where can I buy tickets for museums, attractions, and tours in Playa Del Carmen?
If you are traveling from Playa del Carmen then I recommend booking through my friend Vanessa at Turismo Channel. You can check out their tours by clicking here and using the following discount codes for the best prices clairecaroff (car rental), claire10off (for 10% off group tours), claireprivate (for a discount on private tours). You can also send her a WhatsApp message quoting the above codes to receive the discount.
👩⚕️ What is the best insurance to have while traveling?
I have also written a blog post covering all my recommended travel insurance here
✈️ Any flight recommendations?
📱What do you use for internet connection while traveling?
I’m a big fan of personal WiFi devices and they have saved my ass so many times when traveling. I wrote a full review of the top travel WiFi devices you can read here. I personally use GlocalMe as I can either pop in a physical sim card or use their local carrier.
With regards to my phone connection, I use e-sims while traveling, so rather than having to swap out my regular sim card I can download the app and buy a virtual sim card. I recommend using eitherAirhub or Alosim. Both have great coverage of multiple countries and are very easy to use.
🛏️ What is the best platform to use for booking accommodation?
🛅 Do you have any luggage recommendations for traveling?
There is no bad time to vacation here. Living here during the summer is brutal, but that’s because I have to try and work and do real life things. if I was able to just chill by the pool all day it would be fine.
November, December, and the start of January are considered high season here. So I would avoid as prices go up on everything. Even the restaurants change over menus with high season pricing! rental cars and accommodation can triple in price. BUT the weather is nice during the winter. You can actually walk outside without being soaked in seat from the intense humidity.
September and October are low season and the weather can be very unpredictable. Normally October it just rains all month. Plus, hurricanes, read this.
So I’d say the best time to visit Playa del Carmen is from January to March. The weather is cooler in the mornings and evenings. Prices aren’t so high and it’s much quieter here.
LIKE IT? PIN IT!
Where would we be without the trusty Lonely Planet Mexico book?!? It really is the best all-around guide to Mexico. The only issue I ever have with these books is that often the information can be outdated, but if you want to really explore Mexico, not just the tourist trail version of Mexico then get this book on your Kindle. It’s oftern free if you have a kindle unlimited subscription.
It’s all about the food here in Mexico. Especially in Oaxaca, thought of as the culinary heart of Mexico. This Mexican cookbook is the first true introduction to Oaxacan cuisine by a native family, each dish articulates their story, from Oaxaca to the streets of Los Angeles and beyond.
The book showcases Mexican “soul food” serving up 140 authentic, yet accessible recipes using some of the purest pre-Hispanic and indigenous ingredients available.
As much as I don’t want to perpetuate Mexico’s reputation as a county full of cartels, drugs, and danger. It can’t really be ignored, and I know many people are interested in learning more. So I’ve included Midnight in Mexico on my list of books to read. It’s a true crime book written by a Mexican-American journalist and migration lawyer. It’s about as close to the truth as you can get. Being. journalist here in Mexico is one of the most dangerous arrears you can have. But Corchado is known for never shying away from the truth reporting on government corruption, murders, and the drug cartels of Mexico. In 2007, Corchado received a tip that he could be their next target, he had twenty-four hours to find out if the threat was true…
Are you even alive if you don’t know who Frida Kahlo is? If you are a Friday fan then this is the perfect fictional accompaniment to your Mexican vacation. Especially if you will be visiting Mexico City.
Using several of Frida’s notebooks as inspiration acclaimed Mexican novelist F. G. Haghenbeck was inspired to write this touching fictional account of her life. Through the book, you are taken on a magical ride through this imagined life of Freida
An old, but a goodie! This one is for all of you lovers of romance novels! It’s described as:
“A novel of passion, food, and magic, Like Water For Chocolate is a romantic, poignant tale, touched with moments of magic, graphic earthiness, bittersweet wit – and recipes.”
Forbidden love, family obligations, and seduction by food… what more could you ask for in a novel!
I must confess, my friend Mexico Cassie wrote this book. That doesn’t mean it’s not a bloody brilliant guide to moving to Mexico, because it is. As someone who moved to Mexico there was so much of this book that resonated with me, even though I moved here myself, without a family.
She goes in to great detail about the visa application process and some other notoriously tricky things like trying to buy a car or find a good school for your kids.
If you are considering a move to Merida, or anywhere in Mexico actually this is a great read!