Playa del Carmen
Whether you’re on the beach, walking in town, or having your morning coffee, it’s impossible to miss the decidedly cosmopolitan ambience in lively Playa del Carmen. Playa (as the locals call it) is the place to be for visitors of all types and nationalities. Everyone from honeymooners and divers to singles, couples and families finds their place in what’s considered the region’s capital and commercial center. Less than an hour’s drive south of Cancun’s international airport. Playa is the place to be with a host of exciting activities, and is the envy of the Caribbean.
A block away from Playa’s powder-white beaches, with sand formed by crushed coral over hundreds of years ago, you’ll find 5th Avenue (Avenida Quinta). Exclusively for pedestrians, it runs north and south paralleling the beach. A variety of shops and boutiques, intimate hotels and a dazzling array of restaurants and cafes line both sides of the avenue. Other hotels, restaurants and shops can be found on adjacent side streets and along the cobblestone section of 5th Avenue extending north of Constituyentes Avenue.
Everyone who visits this bustling resort is bound to spend some quality time on its magnificent stretch of beach. All that’s needed is a thatched palapa (shade from the sun), a dab of sun-block, perhaps some good company, an icy drink and time for a sell-deserved siesta.
There are several beach clubs like Mamita’s, Playa Tukan and Coco Beach where you can rent a lounge chair and palapa by the sea, and enjoy a drink and fresh seafood. Some hotels have agreements with the beach clubs, so ask for your pass at the front desk.
Watersports buffs have it made in Playa del Carmen. Choose from snorkeling or scuba diving, sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, kite surfing, sky diving, parasailing and more. Dive boats frequently depart from the beach to some of the best dive sites in this part of the world. Full-service PADI dive operators such as Abyss Dive Center and Tank-Ha Dive Center offer many options including diving the Great Maya Reef, the second largest reef in the world. You can also go wreck diving or explore cenotes hidden in the jungle. Many hotels have their own dive shop.
Worthwhile excursions include trips to the Maya archaeological sites of Tulum and Coba. Easy-to-reach attractions include Tres Rios, Xcaret, Xel-Ha, the caves and caverns of Aktun Chen, Chaak Tun and Kantun Chi as well as numerous cenotes. Tours to the Maya sites and other attractions along the coast leave daily from Playa. Ask at your hotel front desk for tour information.
There are many reliable tour operators in Riviera Maya. Expo Playa del Carmen offers a variety of sightseeing tours throughout the region including to the Maya sites and jeep safari and horseback riding tours. Best Day Tours arranges excursions including tours to the eco-archaeological parks, Maya sites and jungle tours for individuals and groups. Alltournative offers eco-adventure tours that include a glimpse into the fascinating world of today’s Maya communities. Ecocolors offers expeditions including eco-adventure tours to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve with opportunities for birding and observing wildlife. Unique excursions through the company Language Adventures let you explore Riviera Maya while learning or improving you Spanish skills along the way.
If you crave more adventure, ATV Explorer arranges jungle trips on all-terrain vehicles that also include snorkeling and cave exploration. Excursions on all-terrain vehicles and horseback riding are offered at Rancho Loma Bonita.
At the corner of 5th Avenue and Avenue Juarez, buses depart daily from the terminal for most parts of the country. Near the southern end of 5th Avenue, the ferry to Cozumel departs several times a day, arriving at the island in about 35 minutes.
For vacationers who want a relaxing change of pace, there’s yoga, massage or lazing about on sunny shores. Daydreaming about somebody at home and wishing they were with you? Keeping in touch via e-mail is easy and inexpensive in Playa. It only costs about US$1 per hour at most Internet cafes around town. Cellular phone rentals are another possibility. Check with a local telephone service provider like Telmex.
When you’re not sightseeing, dining, sunbathing, listening to good music, or strolling 5th Avenue, Playa del Carmen is the place to shop. You’ll find crafts, designer clothing, jewelry, Maya carvings, paintings, pottery and ceramics, silver (stamped with .925, .950 or .970) indicating its authenticity and silver content), straw hats, woven rugs, wide-brimmed sombreros and more – your only problem is how to get your booty home.
Most merchants will ship big items, however, not all shops accept credit cards. Be sure to inquire before making your purchase. It’s best to be prepared with cash and traveler’s checks. Banks, ATM machines and exchange booths like Monex are all over town for changing dollars and other foreign currencies into pesos,
If you’re looking for unique amber jewelry, stop by Ambar Mexicano or Etenoha Ambar Gallery. Rows and rows of silver jewelry are yours to browse through at Santa Prisca Fine Jewelry and Joyeria Silverado. Hats, t-shirts, mugs and other souvenirs emblazoned with the Senor Frogs logo are available at their gift shop. Boutique Mango offers an array of trendy woman’s fashions and accessories.
Pamper yourself at Itza Spa in the new “Calla Corazon” area off 5th Avenue, which offers Mayan healing baths, waxing, saunas, massages and an array of other soothing beauty treatments.
An assortment of shops and restaurants are set to open in summer 2003 at the new Paseo del Carmen, an open-air mall near the south end of town. On the other side of town, Plaza Pelicanos on 10th Avenue has a host of stores, several movie theaters, a bank, a food court as well as other visitor services.
End a great day with a delicious dinner. Even if you stay in Playa del Carmen for a month (a nice thought), chances are you probably couldn’t try every restaurant. Many feature live music such as marimba, mariachi bands and jazz. Varied fare is, of course, the biggest draw. There’s Mexican, Argentinean, Italian, Asian, Maya, German, international, Mediterranean, vegetarian, fresh seafood – even deli delights like bagels with salmon, cream cheese and capers. The choices are staggering. And since most restaurants have outside tables, people watching is a fun accompaniment to any meal.