We desperately wanted to leave behind the commercial hubbub of northern reaches of Cancún and it's party vibe for the more relaxed towns of the southern Riviera Maya. During previous visits to the area, a lot of people had talked fondly of Tulum, and so we decided to head down and check it out.
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.
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.
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!
Planning your visit
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.
Best time to visit the Riviera Maya
Travel to the Riviera Maya requires careful planning. The rainy season begins in May and continues into November; on average, the region receives almost five feet of rainfall each year. Fortunately, the really severe tropical storms and hurricanes tend to hit the other side of the Yucatán Peninsula. The dry season begins in late November and ends in February, making this season the best time to visit the Riviera Maya. Avoid Riviera Maya travel from March through May, however – the heat and humidity are oppressive.
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.
1. THE 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?
1. MARQUEE PLAYA HOTEL
Luxury – 5-Star
Featuring bar and a sun terrace with a swimming pool, Marquee Playa Hotel is located in Playa del Carmen, 1,000 feet from Playa del Carmen Beach and 0.7 miles from ADO International Bus Station.
At the hotel each room includes air conditioning, a wardrobe, a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom, bed linen, towels and a balcony with a city view. All units include a safety deposit box.
2. SUITES CORAZON
Next to Playa del Carmen’s popular 5th Avenue and a short walk from the city’s beaches, is the budget-friendly Suites Corazon. The hotel’s 14 studio-style rooms are clean and spacious with kitchenettes and balconies. With few on-site amenities, the self-catering rooms and location are the hotel’s main selling point. Sure, there’s a small rooftop pool, but the basic breakfast is offered off-site for a fee and there’s no gym (or any other major amenity). That’s okay for most guests, who just want a self-sufficient suite with a walkable location in the center of Playa del Carmen’s shopping and nightlife centre.
3. VAINILLA BED & BREAKFAST
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!