It’s been almost 6 years exactly since my last visit to Playa del Carmen. I was a much different traveler then; a tourist traveler instead of a backpacker. I stayed at the Hotel Riu Palace Riviera Maya, an all-inclusive beach resort. The beaches were pristine and what I proclaimed as the best swimming beach I had ever been to. The food was meh. The clientele was mostly European. It was a quiet and relaxed former fisherman town with a sophisticated touch.
My experience this time was quite the opposite. There’s now a major buzz with mostly Americans instead of Europeans, the beaches were full of seaweed, and I couldn’t get enough of their food with craft beer and aged tequila. It was pure chaos in a fun way. Instead of staying at an all-inclusive resort, I opted for a hostel and boutique hotel. Staying in hostels is like camping for me. After a few days, I want my comfy bed!
Did I mention there is TONS of shopping on 5th Avenue? It has a bit of Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica, Mexicana style only more bustling sort of feel. Sunglass stores. If you lose a pair like I did and are looking for something that lasts a bit longer than those knock-offs from the street vendors, you’ll find a Solaris and Sunglass Hut on almost every block. High-end retailers, bargaining vendors, and everything else in-between.
If you’re looking for some ideas on how to spend your time, I came up with 7 quick things to do during your visit in Playa del Carmen.
Dive the Cenotes: there isn’t an abundant amount of places in the world to dive the cenotes and this area is full of them. Take a break from the salt water and get in some fresh water diving. It’s pretty unique and I fell in love with it. Click on the link for a more detailed review.
Ocean Dive: if you get a bit claustrophobic underwater then maybe this is a better option for you. Even if you don’t panic with enclosed spaces, Cozumel is only a 45-minute ferry ride away and they have super fun drift dives. I decided to stay in Cozumel for a few days, but there are plenty of operators that offer day trips from Playa.
Tequila Tasting: if you’re walking along the popular 5th Avenue (Avenida 5), there are what feels like dozens of tequila shops that offer free tastings – perfect if you’re looking for a good afternoon buzz.
Try an Old Tequila: once you try an aged sipping tequila, you’ll never go back! Challenge your palette to something other than Jose Cuervo and Patron. I tried this amazing, slightly nutty and sweet Don Julio 1942 version for about $15 USD and it was worth every penny that I even ordered a second glass! You’ll find the best selection and best vibes at Sur Restaurant.
Yo Quiero Tacos!: this might seem obvious, but Playa del Carmen has totally stepped up their game from my last visit! I can finally say I’ve had the best tacos of my life here when six years ago it was the worst. What’s even better now is that a lot of places also offer craft beer. So simple. So delicious. So happy. I only wish I could remember the names of the places I tried. I looked through all my notes and couldn’t find anything. Waaah! Look for a churrasco restaurant as shown in the first pic and the in the second pic the place was very popular and well-known.
Try Mexican Wine (Malbec):
I never knew Mexico had such a wine scene, but they do and they’re fantastic. You’ll find many Malbecs from Baja California amongst other places. If you’re a wino, like me, try finding a wine and tapas bar or head over to your nearest Italian restaurant. They tend to offer the best selections of wine.
Pool Parties (The Carmen Hotel & Hostel 3B): you can’t go to Playa del Carmen and not hit up at least one rooftop pool party. There are two and both are free to get into! Don’t let the name Hostel 3B sway you from not going because this place gets pretty packed with hostelers and the public. They BBQ and it’s surprisingly pretty amazing. If you want something a bit more upscale, go to The Carmen Hotel and soak in the ocean views. Both are perfect for all day sunbathing and drinking.
WOW. I didn’t realize that most of my “quick things to do” involves drinking of some sort. Ha! Well, I’m a lush so ENJOY! 🙂