Our time in Playa del Carmen was all about beachside relaxation. So much so, that I only took this one photo! We originally intended to spend an entire week in Tulum, but after the Papaya Playa Project called–two weeks before our trip–to cancel our reservation due to unexpected maintenance on its new casitas, we scrambled and wound up splitting our time between two amazing hotels in both cities. I’m glad we did, simply to see a popular resort area like Playa del Carmen and be able to compare it against the more bohemian vibe of Tulum. But unlike Tulum, which I had researched extensively, we totally winged Playa. The city is definitely a tourist center, but there are some hidden gems. And it is possible to get a flavor for local life and relaxed Mexican culture by simply getting away from the crowds. Here are my tips…
IN THREE WORDS: Chill beach town
WHERE TO STAY: Hotel la Semilla
WHERE TO EAT: Almirante Pech for a nice (and extremely delicious) dinner al fresco, El Fogon for the best tacos al pastor and an authentic local experience, Canibal Royal for lunch on the beach, bePlaya for drinks on the rooftop.
BEST BEACH SPOTS: Playacar beach for a more off-the-beaten-path stretch of sand (bring your own towels and drinks). Indigo or Mosquito Beach clubs for trendy, beachside lounges. Fusion for a basic beach chair and good food for lunch.
WHAT TO DO: Walk up the pedestrian strip, Avenida 5 (5th Avenue), to access all the restaurants, bars, pharmacies, and shops. The trendiest block of restaurants is around Almirante Pech. El Fogon is a couple blocks off the strip–and worth the detour.
HOW TO GET AROUND: By foot or bike around town. Rent a car to explore neighboring beaches and towns.
WHAT TO BRING HOME: Colorful Mexican blankets, a steal at $5 each. Great for the beach, picnics, and yoga class.
WHAT TO PACK: Sunscreen. Swimsuit, cutoff shorts, breezy tees, and sunglasses for day. Colorful dresses and flat sandals for night. Yes, that simple.
WHEN TO GO: End of May – after the busy season, before it gets too hot!