Playa del Carmen is probably one of my favourite places in the entire world. I mean, it’s really hard to be unhappy in Mexico on the beach while eating tacos and sipping margaritas, but there’s also so much more to it than that!
So, why do I love it and what to expect?
- Things you should know
- Where to Eat in Playa del Carmen
- Nightlife in Playa del Carmen
- Things to Do in Playa del Carmen
- Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen
Things You Should Know About Playa del Carmen
How to Get to Playa del Carmen
Fly into Cancun airport and catch the ADO bus or a taxi into town. ADO buses are the cheapest and most common way to get around domestically in Mexico by land. They’re safe, nice, air conditioned, and have lots of space. The bus from Cancun to PDC takes about 1 hour and costs 215 Mexican Pesos (approx. $10). I’ve never taken a taxi so I’m not sure of the cost but I do know that Uber is banned in the area so you’ll have to take a local licensed taxi instead.
How to Get Around Playa del Carmen
There are a few options for getting around once you’re in PDC. I pretty much walked everywhere as I was staying quite central around Avenue 30 and Calle 20. I always felt safe but I obviously kept my wits about me.
Your other option is using a local taxi. There are a few key things to be aware of. Firstly, flagging a tax from the street will be slightly cheaper than grabbing one from a stand (we’re talking like 5 pesos cheaper so not a huge difference). Secondly, taxis in PDC have set rates. The driver should have a chart showing the rates so while you’re learning the general cost of getting around, I would ask to see the chart to make sure you’re being charged a fair rate. Once you know generally what it should cost, you shouldn’t have to look at this every time.
Your last option, if you’re brave and can speak pretty “ok” Spanish, would be to get what’s called a “Collectivo“. This is a shared van that goes to set destinations and to get off you have to yell out “bajan” which means I want to get off the bus. You can tell where the collectivo is going as it will be written in white paint on the top corner of the windshield. I’m not going pretend I ever took one or know how these things really work, so I’m linking a great article here that explains it all in detail.
The Best Time to Visit Playa del Carmen
I mean, is there ever a bad time to visit Mexico? The answer (of course) is no, but there are a few things to be aware of when making a decision. As it’s a tropical climate, you’ll have high temperatures throughout the whole year so don’t worry about it getting cold. What you do need to consider is whether you want to visit during rainy or dry season. Rainy season is generally the hotter season and runs from October to April. The dry (and slightly less warmer) season is May to September. The hottest month of the year is May with an average daily maximum of 33 C and an average low of 23 C. The coolest month of the year is January with an average daily maximum of 27 C and an average low of 20 C. So as you can see, there really isn’t a bad time to go. I visited in January during rainy season and for the week I was there, I’d say one day was an entire wash out, but the rest of the time it only rained for a couple hours a day and then it was sunny the rest.
Currency used in Playa del Carmen
The currency used in Playa del Carmen is the Mexican Peso.
Other Helpful Advice About Playa del Carmen
Another general item to note is that the most touristy area is 5th Avenue. You will pay 5x the price for everything including food, drink, and taxis. For the most part I avoided this area but it can be fun if you’re looking for a big night out or a nice restaurant. It’s also a good place for shopping as they have a mall here in addition to the millions of souvenir shops.
The Best Places to Eat in Playa del Carmen
There are so many places to choose from in PDC that suit any budget. Being a tourist hub, you can find pretty much any cuisine you fancy as well. Mexican food is my favourite food so most of my suggestions are local taco joints. If you want something fancy or a different cuisine to Mexican, 5th Avenue is a good shout.
One of the most popular authentic Mexican restaurants in PDC. The tacos are so good and super cheap! There are three locations around PDC, one at Avenue 30/Avenue Constituyentes, one at Avenue 30/Calle 32 and lastly, one at P.º del Pedregal 1346. Make sure you try the sirloin tacos, those were my favourite.
I couldn’t get enough of the queso fundido with chorizo here, so I went twice! It’s a really small hole in the wall located down an alley so not many people know about it. Plus, it’s just across the street from El Fogón, so it’s a good backup if the line is too long there.
Favourite Taco Stands
If you want a truly authentic experience, you have to hit up a few taco stands while in town. My two favourites are:
Name: Tacos de Birria “El Compa” , Location: Calle 14 and Avenida 30
If you’ve never had a birria taco, head here immediately. Even better, this places does a specialty called “Quesobirria” which is, as you probably guessed, a birria taco with cheese. I only ever visited from around lunch time or later so I can’t speak for whether it’s open for breakfast or not but as per their Google Maps listing, it’s open all day! Tacos are around 25 pesos each.
Name: No name , Location: Calle 20 and Avenida 30
Specialty here is pork tacos. Open from early morning to just after rush hour so perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Tacos are only about 20 pesos.
This place was recommended to me by my Airbnb host. It does amazing breakfasts and fresh squeezed juices. It’s also right next to a fresh food market so you can kill two birds with one stone if you’re looking to grocery shop.
Another great breakfast place just across the street from La Ceiba. I got the chilaquiles and they were amazing!
A lovely little cafe and bakery when you’re tiring of tacos for breakfast (does that actually happen to people?). This place is also a popular spot for digital nomads to work throughout the day.
If you’ve ever backpacked throughout Central America, you’ll know Selina is a popular hostel chain. The one in PDC is incredible and also hosts really fun events for both guests and non-guests. I would suggest coming here on Friday for the salsa night. It’s a really fun relaxed atmosphere and it gets pretty packed! After the lesson you can keep practicing your dance moves or mingle with everyone who’s shown up to the bar for a night out.
I mentioned this area previously as the touristy bit, but there’s no denying that there are a million different bars and restaurants to suit whatever you’re looking for on your night out. Beach clubs, dive bars, super clubs, you name it, you can find it here.
Must See Sights and Things to Do in Playa Del Carmen
Head to the Beach
Here are my tips for how to get to the public beach from downtown PDC. The beach is indeed public, however, you’ll find that the beach clubs and hotels rope off their property areas and that those areas extend quite close to the shoreline. You can however use the area past the ropes for free. I stayed near Avenue 30 and Calle 20 and to get to the beach I just walked straight down Calle 28. Once you get to the beach, I would suggest turning left and walking about 5-10 min down to get away from the crazy part. My favourite area was in front of Mahekal Beach Resort. I wouldn’t suggest going to any of the beach clubs, they aren’t that nice. Also, a seagull stole my hair clip at one and I’m still salty about it lol.
If you’re a diver, you definitely need to book a trip with Mexico Blue Dream to go diving with the bull sharks. Unbeknownst to most of the tourists on the beach, these bull sharks are only about a 2 minute boat ride from the shore. It’s one of the most incredible diving experiences I’ve ever had and strongly recommend booking with this company as I found them to be both professional and friendly.
If you don’t fancy diving with bull sharks, I would also recommend booking a day of diving on Cozumel. The island is just a short ferry trip away and you can actually book with shops in PDC. There are tons of dive sites and the island is world famous for diving.
One of the 7 Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza has an impressive 26 Mayan Ruins to explore. It’s open every day from Monday to Sunday, 8 am to 5 pm, the last entrance is at 4 pm, and you can get the tickets on site. Entry for foreigners is $533 pesos (approx. $30 USD). There is free admission on Sundays for Mexican citizens and foreigners with residence in Mexico. I would suggest booking a day tour that combines both a visit to Chichen Itza and a couple Cenotes.
One of the most incredible attractions you can see around the Quintana Roo regions is the Cenotes. A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater. There are numerous different Cenotes dotted around the region so I would suggest booking a day tour to see a few. You can either go on a snorkelling tour or, if you’re a diver like me, go on a scuba diving tour. The below photo was taken from the tour I did with Agua Clara Diving based out of Tulum.
Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen
As mentioned above, if you’ve ever backpacked throughout Central America, you’ll know Selina is a popular hostel chain. The one in PDC is incredible and offers both privates and dorms. Read my other post here to see why I recommend staying in a hostel no matter what your age.
This is the Aribnb I stayed at while working as a digital nomad for the week. It was very central, clean, sociable, and had strong reliable wifi. There is also a little pool on the ground floor and a rooftop with some tables and chairs to hang out with fellow guests.
I’ve also stayed at this hotel when visiting PDC on holiday. It was clean, in a good location, safe, and a decent price.