In three words: Beaches. Bikinis. Beverages.
This past week I traveled to Playa del Carmen for the New Year holiday and family vacation. It wasn’t my first time here (and I can almost guarantee it won’t be my last!). My family has a timeshare in Playa, and although we didn’t stay there this week based on it being rented out, I had a blast staying at Residences El Faro (Playa del Carmen). These are VRBO-style living but there are plenty of all-inclusives and other hotels or resorts up and down the beaches. Not to mention, Cozumel is right across the way (which you can get to by flight or ferry).
If its your first time visiting Mexico, or even Playa, here’s a few things to expect:
1. Airport bombardment
Since you’ll probably look like a tourist with your Cubs hat, awful Spanish accent, or luggage while you’re leaving the airport, the tourist industry will consume you up and spit you out. There will be multiple taxi, shuttle, car rental, etc. drivers and employees coming up to you, offering you a ride, asking where you need to go. They will stop at almost nothing to get you to pick them for your transportation. And once you do, they tend to take your bags for you, offer you a beverage, and help with whatever else you might need (including a ride back to the airport in the distant or not so distant future).
2. Little to no language barrier
If you’re coming from the States, being privileged in growing up knowing the English language, I don’t think you’ll have much of a problem with the language barrier. Although at times it can be hard to decipher an accent, you should be okay for the most part. Of course there are some people you will run into who can’t speak any English at all (and thanks to my four years of Spanish I can mostly communicate what I’m trying to say enough for them to understand), but there are also people who speak fluently in not only English and Spanish, but even Italian and French.
3. Currency exchange
Playa del Carmen is a tourist-y place–I’m not going to lie. But, a lot of resorts and hotels, restaurants, and street vendors prefer pesos over dollars. Lucky for you, right now the U.S. dollar is valuable! Its right around 20 pesos to the dollar. You’ll be able to find plenty of currency exchanges up and down the streets, or you can simply ask which place your at before you walk in–some will take credit cards as well! Just note that you may need your passport or ID when you are switching over to a new currency.
4. Drinking is a lifestyle
Like I said, beaches, bikinis, and beverages. I would tell you how easy it is to find a place to drink in Playa, but its better said how impossible it is not to find a place to drink in Playa. Mudslides, Blue Hawaii’s, Miami Vice’s, Sex on the Beach’s, Strawberry Daiquiri’s, I mean the drink menu’s go on for pages (and at a decent price as well!). I would personally recommend the Tequila Barrel, a fun colorful bar with great food as well, or a swing bar like Velo o Pez, where you swing while you drink. There are thousands of places and hidden corners where you’ll find shots on fire or waiters carrying giant drinks on their heads.
5. Fifth Street
The infamous Fifth Street is the place for tourists and locals alike. This is the shopping hub, the food joints, the drinking bazaars, everything and anything you want you can find here. There are the classic tourist shops with 5 shot glasses for $5, or places like Billabong and even a shopping mall. You’ll find street vendors selling cheap Ray Bans and fake Coach purses, or a million restaurants and bars. Fifth Street is busy all the time, but its an easy walk and has a great, fun atmosphere. (Plus, the people-watching is high quality here.)
6. Eat or be eaten
Playa del Carmen is the perfect place for food on a vacation. You’re able to have the option of eating healthy or splurging at just about any restaurant you walk into. The service is always phenomenal for the most part (but the bars are a little slower), and the people are so nice. For someone who doesn’t eat much seafood besides shrimp, I am still able to find tons of dishes I liked on other sections of the menus (so don’t worry!), but I’ve only heard great things about the fish and lobster meals. I would recommend Tierra Madre (amazing steak burritos!), Cenote Jardín del Edén (where you can eat in a cenote!), or the beachfront restaurant next to your hotel (we went to ours three times!). You’re almost guaranteed to find at least one place you fall in love with.
7. Vamos a la playa!
The beaches are absolutely beautiful–if you know where to go. Depending on the season, the beaches can look very different from each other, or just from the last time you were there. Typically in the winter months, the beaches are up high towards the hotels and some have a ton of seaweed. Whereas, if you come just three months earlier in October or so, the beaches are large and clear. Since I was in Playa with the seaweed infestation (okay, so it really wasn’t that bad it just freaked me out sometimes in the water), I typically walk about a half mile down the beach. There is no seaweed, great swimming, and a larger beach area. At my hotels location, there were large rocks in the water so you couldn’t swim close to shore, and there was a lot of chaos going on with boating and jet-skiing. It was best to move down the beach not only for a lack of seaweed, but my safety as well.
8. Hotel amenities…
Don’t worry the hotels have wifi! I didn’t touch my phone the whole week I was on vacation because well, I was on vacation! I had everyone I loved with me and didn’t need to be in touch or checking my social media. I loved not having to worry about my phone or what the latest Facebook posts were–I was relaxing. I strongly recommend this style of living when visiting Playa.
But besides the wifi, the hotels offer tons other amenities for you–a gorgeous infinity pool is usually one of the favorites (along with a few regular ones spread throughout the hotel), a swim-up bar, a gym, a laundry room, and depending on where you go there will even be the possibility of a private pool on the rooftop (like our timeshare!).
9. Water sports
If you are feeling a little adventurous during your time in Playa, you’ll have boundless opportunities near or in the ocean. Swimming with dolphins (even if I don’t support this), parasailing (one of my favorite vacation memories), whale-watching (one of the best things I’ve ever done!), scuba diving, snorkeling, glass-bottom boat tours, jet-skiing, windsurfing…you name it you can do it! Last year, I went dune-bugging through the jungle, to then cliff jump off rocks into a cenote (absolutely gorgeous!), and end with a dune-buggy obstacle course. The possibilities are endless.
10. Fun in the sun!
You’ll be able to finish your book, lay out in the sun, get tan, and just enjoy yourself. It seems to always being raining when we get into the airport, but by the time we arrive to our hotel its hot and sunny. Be sure to bring your camera(s) because you’ll have plenty of photo opportunities and places or people to take pictures of. I would recommend spending as much time outside as possible, and although it can be windy at times, its all worth it. Playa del Carmen is amazing and I always have a blast there!