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A lively town on the Riviera Maya with a party scene but places to escape to see the real Mexico

When we stay on the Riviera Maya on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, we avoid going into Cancún at all costs, especially during the Spring Break season. As an alternative, we tend to head into the small town of Playa del Carmen, some 45 miles (70km) south. It is a lively town and definitely has a party scene, which luckily is contained along one busy street; Avenida 5 (5th Avenue). Along this pedestrianized street you’ll find a lot of bars, restaurants, cafes and shops, including many of the American chain stores. Every step along the way you’ll be greeted by someone using some corny sales pitch to lure you into a store or restaurant. At one end of Avenida 5 is the Parque Los Fundadores (Founding Fathers Park), which is one of the original areas of Playa Del Carmen. Two of the most recognizable landmarks of this park are La Iglesia Nuestra Senora del Carmen, a stunning white stucco church and the Portal Maya statue, a 52-foot high bronze sculpture depicting the Mayan calendar and celebrating the 21st December 2012.

Portal Maya
La Iglesia Nuestra Senora del Carmen

To be honest, this is not why we come to Mexico, so we prefer to wander away from the more touristy areas to find the more authentic Mexican parts of town, and there are some delightful places and hidden gems that you’ll find as you delve deeper into the backstreets.

Playa del Carmen, of course, is a coastal town and a few blocks down from Avenida 5 is the beach. It is a narrow strip of sand lined with beach clubs offering the comforts of beds, shade and drinks. What is left of the beach is filled with locals, especially at the weekends. From here you can peer across the Caribbean Sea towards the island of Cozumel, which is reached by taking one of the ferries that leave regularly from Playa del Carmen.

Vegan dining
Of course, when visiting somewhere new (or old) we like to try out the local vegan food options. Using the trusty Happy Cow app we identified a couple of vegan restaurants in town; the Pitted Date and Succulenta. Indeed, there were more that we sadly didn’t get a chance to try out.
Pitted Date
Local 6, Avenida CTM between 1a Ave & Calle Cozumel, 77720 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico Located close to Avenida 5, but in a quieter area, the Pitted Date, was a wonderful find. Being a completely vegan café makes life so much easier when choosing from the menu. There is a lovely shaded outside area to sit or if you wish you can head inside. The staff were lovely and extremely helpful. We chose a couple of smoothies, the only problem was deciding which ones to have! They were totally amazing. For our main courses, we ordered a sandwich and a quesadilla, which were beautifully presented and tasted equally good. By this time we were bursting at the seams but having gone into the store to use the restrooms where you pass by the display case full of tasty bakery goods, we could not resist the temptation of the chocolate cake. We would highly recommend the Pitted Date to anyone wanting some delicious vegan food. Even non-vegans would really enjoy this place!

Where to stay

Gaviotas II Condo Hotel is located right in the centre of Playa del Carmen. It is only a 4-minute walk to Quinta Avenida and 10-minute walk to the beach.

There is a pool to cool off on those hot days. This is a great place for families and they do offer a childcare/babysitting service for a fee.

The rooms have kitchenettes so you can prepare food if you get tired of eating out every day. They also provide free Wi-Fi. There is an airport shuttle but you’ll need to pay for this.

Check out Hotels.com for more information

If you are looking for something more upmarket then the El Dorado Royale could be for you. This 5-star beachfront resort is adults only and fully inclusive. The El Dorado is only 1.5 miles from the centre of Playa del Carmen.

As you might expect with an all-inclusive resort there are plenty of dining and drinking options with 10 restaurants and 2 beach bars. If fitness and well-being are on the cards there is a full-service spa, indoor and outdoor pools and a health club.

Check out hotels.com for more information

A less expensive option is the Vainilla Bed And Breakfast Mexico, a 2.5-star bed and breakfast close to the centre of Playa del Carmen. It is only a 10-minute walk Quinta Avenida and 16-minute walk to Playa del Carmen Main Beach

There are only 2 guest rooms – each with a private bathroom. So, if you are looking for something more intimate this is the place for you!

For more information on the Vainilla B&B check out hotels.com

Getting to Playa del Carmen

The best way to get around Playa del Carmen is on foot, as most of the best things to do are located right off the beach. There’s no bus service around town, but if necessary, you can hail a taxi to escape the main resort area. Ferries to Cozumel are also available.

To get to Playa del Carmen, most travellers fly into Cancún International Airport (CUN), which is about 45 minutes north. To reach Playa, you can rent a car, take a bus or hop in a taxi. Your hotel or resort may offer airport transportation within its all-inclusive package – check to see what’s available before reserving airport transportation. If your hotel does not provide shuttle service, consider hiring a driver – several travellers recommend Cancun Airport Transportation – which can be reserved and booked in advance. Prices start at $60. If you’d rather save some cash, you can also opt for the ADO bus that transports travellers from the airport to the bus station in downtown Playa del Carmen. From there, you’ll need to find different transportation to reach your hotel.

In summary

  • A lively coastal resort that is a lot more intimate than Cancun
  • Easy to get around on foot
  • An okay beach and great access to Cozumel by ferry
  • Only 45-minutes from Cancun airport
  • Great eating options for vegans!

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