Travel | 2 comments
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Have you discovered haven yet? I did… it’s Playa del Carmen!
In February 2008 Vera and her friend Visnja, who lives in Switzerland (Basel) made plans to spend two weeks in Playa del Carmen, on Mayan Riviera. Visnja’s friend Elizabeth and I went along too.
This was already second visit to Playa for the two of us. We’ve seen many beautiful beaches all over the world but Playa is our favorite beach in the world.
The beaches in Playa del Carmen are white, soft sand, no rocks and the water is crystal clear. They are very clean beaches and you can see Cozumel on the horizon. You can walk for miles. Playa has a law that no building near the beach can be taller than 4 stories, so you’ll not see any tall buildings which adds to Playa’s charm. It is European in design. Nothing like Cancun which has become a high-rise, Miami Beach.
Playa, as the locals call it, is a beach-side (small) city located on the coast of the Caribbean Sea, also called “Mayan Riviera”. We arrived at Cancun international airport, which is only about 45 minutes drive from Playa del Carmen. Car rental arrangements were resolved quickly and soon after our arrival we were driving down the highway MEX307 towards Playa.
Playa del Carmen stretches from the beach west to highway 307 and beyond, however the tourist zone is the area along the coast. Most tourist buses pull into Playa turning off the highway at Benito Juarez Avenue and drive to the downtown bus station which is located right on 5th Avenue. The ferry docks to Cozumel are located close to the bus station as well. This is the busiest spot in all of Playa.
The two of us booked our stay in a small hotel “Acqualuna” on the 10th Avenue, only few blocks from the beach. I had no idea when I booked this hotel what a great time we were in for. This place is an absolute bargain, rooms are minimalist but nice. I have never felt so relaxed and taken care of without being smothered. Low key and cool, relaxed and casual, everything you could want from a vacation. It’s the real deal in Mexico!
Our friends Visnja and Elizabeth were staying in even better hotel La Tortuga, just across the street. This was three star B&B hotel, with beautiful garden, pool and small restaurant adjacent to the hotel.
Hotel La Tortuga – pool area…
Playa’s 5th Avenue promenade
Given that Playa Del Carmen is the fastest growing town in the Yucatan peninsula/Mexico/North America (depending on which guidebook you believe) we expected some changes from our first visit obviously, but not to this degree. We were here in December 2004 and in little more than 4 years, we found ourselves disoriented in the same area we stayed before due to the massive building boom.
You can walk north on the beach for at least 10 miles (that’s as far as we’ve ever walked). The water is crystal clear, about 78 degrees. There are numerous restaurants right on the beach and lots of places to get chairs, drinks, etc. You can walk south for about 1 mile, but after that, there are not as many beaches. That’s where a number of all-inclusive hotels are, and access is limited, there’s not as much to see anyway.
On the beach you can do boogie boards, para-sailing wave runners, etc. Snorkeling and deep sea diving and fishing are very popular. If you want to go snorkeling, I’d take the ferry to Cozumel (rated one of the 7 best in the world) and go snorkeling there. You can also take a tour bus or rent a car once in Playa and go south to ancient Mayan ruins or the Xcaret – an eco-water park that has snorkeling, tubing in an underground river, and swimming with the dolphins.
Pyramid in Chichen Itza
We did almost all of this. I carefully planed our events, so we would spend one day on the beach, and than go touring around Yucatan peninsula. Having a car was definite plus.
We went as far as to visit Cobe and Chichen Itza archeological sites. We drove along the Mayan Riviera, stopping at Puerto Morelos, Akumal, Tulum, and other smaller places.
We spent a day at Xel-Ha and another day on the island of Cozumel. There is too many things to describe here, but we had a great time wherever we went.
In the evenings most people head to the 5thAvenue. It is a pedestrian only, cobblestone street that stretches for 2 miles with array of open air restaurants, art galleries, stores, coffee shops, night clubs and more. It is where everyone goes after dark for many thrills this tropical paradise has to offer.
Playa has wide variety of restaurants and although there are several Starbucks, you’ll find very quaint local places with fabulous food. We visited many other favorite places that have excellent food and the price can vary from $10 (grilled fish fillet with veggies, chips, salsa and a beer) to $25 per person. During our vacation in Playa, we ended up favoring Mamitas beach, where they are charging 100 pesos per person (two chairs and umbrella included). They serve drinks and food right there on the beach.
We enjoyed being in Playa, and like I said we had some amazing food here, although some of it required getting off Quinta and heading up to Avenida 30. Some of the new developments I didn’t mind were beautiful hotels/lounges like Basico and Deseo – if you’re going to go for that glitzy Miami Beach vibe, those places do it right, and with style. It was nice to have the conviniences of civilization right at your doorstep, and to be able to walk everywhere. Playa is still a hell of a deal too – you can get great food and cheap drinks here at lots of nifty places, which was refreshing after paying through the nose for sometimes mediocre food further south in Tulum.
I’d be most likely to return to Playa again and again. It is a beautiful place to spent vacation, although it is already discovered by many and as a result all prices went up.
This is a great place to bring your spouse for a romantic trip or party and chill for a few days with buds. All this, provided you aren’t expecting the formerly funky little jungle beach town it was few years ago.
On the beach with my girlz!
Group of Croatians (and one Swiss) on Playa’s 5th Avenue
Croat in Chichen Itza
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