Playa del Carmen – Mexico

For me, living in the cold, where the hot season only lasts a few weeks a year, Playa del Carmen seems like paradise to me and the local authorities in the Riviera Maya region know it is not only me. The village attracts many tourists every year and that’s not to mention Cancun. Cancun, which is 75km (46 miles) away, is the first seaside resort area that propelled the region in its tourist growth to the point of reaching hotel saturation. It was then, around 1993, that Playa del Carmen began to grow and develop. It is also served by Cancun airport which is about 1 hour away.

Playa del Carmen offers a little more tranquility than Cancun. However, if you want to celebrate, it is possible. The main street, Quinta Avenida, in the evening, is a place of celebration. Please note, however, that the sector has seen an increase in crimes and violent events recently, which are often associated with drug transactions or heavy alcohol consumption. Various international governments, including Canada and the United States, have issued travel advisories in this region for this reason. We went there before this upsurge.

There are so many places to see around the world and it is relatively rare that we choose the same destination twice. Here is an exception. On the other hand, our two visits had totally different goals. Our first visit was our first international trip with a baby and the people were incredibly nice. We had then opted for a place with lots of greenery and stroller access so, in short, a “stay-in” visit where we were just looking to be in a different environment, not thinking about fixing meals and, to have the heat of the sun on the skin almost guaranteed. So basically we didn’t visit anything in the area other than our hotel site on our first visit. The second time, however, we made up for it with visits to Coba, Cozumel, Chichen Itza, Valladolid, downtown Playa del Carmen, Xcaret, over two weeks. Other places you may consider, but which I have not personally visited include Tulum and the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve.

Visiting the Yucatan region does not mean that I know Mexico but it is a beautiful region to discover. Its beaches, its people, its nearby Mayan ruins, its nautical activities, its palm trees and the all-inclusive formulas offered in the region, give several options to travelers.

Located on the coast of the Caribbean Sea, activities on the water and in the water are great opportunities: scuba diving, snorkeling, catamaran excursions, and discovering the seabed can be a great experience. No surprise to know that it is an old fishing village. I hope that you are not confronted with sargassum. These smelly algae come to fall on beautiful beaches. Playa del Carmen is not spared from this possibility. Responsible hoteliers try to get rid of it, but it’s beyond their control or predictable.

Officially, the hurricane period extends from mid-May to the end of November. That said, my two trips took place during this season and we had very good weather. You have to be prepared and maybe take out insurance. Free to you. It is obvious that when we have only one week of vacation, managing the arrival of a hurricane before a departure or on the spot, these are not pleasant moments that lead to loss of time and potentially disastrous damage. It’s something to think about.

Playacar is a controlled access area that leads to an area where there are condos, luxury hotels, a golf course and a small airfield. If your hotel is in this part of the village and you want to take a short stroll for shopping outside of your resort, you might enjoy Plaza Playacar where vendors sell souvenirs and jewelry.

And if you miss your Starbucks coffee, yes, there is one adjacent to the Plaza!

The center of Playa del Carmen has few tourist offers, but I would like to draw your attention to a few things to see: the beach, Quinta Avenue, Founders Park, the Mayan Portal, the Nuestra Senora del Carmen Catholic Church and the Zona Arqueologica Playa del Carmen.

The island of Cozumel is accessible from Playa del Carmen. It has been the preferred martime port of access for hundreds of years.

Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue)

Souvenirs, Partying

If you choose a resort in Playacar you may be able to walk to downtown Playa del Carmen which we did a couple of times. La Quinta Avenida is the place to shop. The avenue expands to include a variety of souvenir shops, which seems like an endless shopping street. The sellers are numerous. It is time to bargain.

What a walk – an easy but long walk! Have fun, appreciate and smile. Have a drink – enjoy. Restaurants also line the avenue. In the evening, it’s party time, and a completely different atmosphere awaits you, but be careful because violence and crimes have become more frequent recently.

You will inevitably want to stop at Parque los Fundadores and Nuestra Senora del Carmen Church.

Parque Los Fundadores (Founders’ park)

The Parque los Fundadores is a must: it commemorates the founders of Playa del Carmen.

What to expect:

  • The astonishing giant bronze arch of the Mayan arena game marks the scene.
  • On the other side, you have Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue).
  • The beach: pleasant view from the park, easy to access, white sandy beach.
  • The park: bench, a small playground with a pirate ship. Be vigilant, the park seemed attractive at first but when you get closer it may not be that great. We moved on. Maybe it’s better now.
  • Ferry: the terminal is close to this location. Boat trips are available from this pier and include the ferry to Cozumel.
  • Show: Sometimes traditional Mexican shows draw crowds. Pole Dancers are men who climb a tall pole and do tricks hanging from a rope, enough to make us uncomfortable with so much risk.

Nearby is the Nuestra Señora del Carmen church which is worth a visit.

Nuestra Senora del Carmen Church

Simple and peaceful church

This little white church is minimalist without being uninteresting. Take the time to notice the window behind the altar, it brings in the surrounding decor as if it was inside.

The church is a short walk from Parque los Fundadores, the beach, the ferry and Quinta Avenida.

Zona Arqueologica de Playa del Carmen

Little visited Maya site

Zona Arqueologica Playa del Carmen was certainly an unexpected and surprising discovery. The site is not clearly indicated and it was not until I returned that I realized that I had missed an important part of the site. I only explored the 3 small ruins easily accessible from Paseo Xaman-ha. There is no museum to see but it is a place whose access is free to explore yourself, but without reception infrastructure.

Playa del Carmen/Playacar, directly opposite the island of Cozumel, is the main port of maritime access and has been for a long time because the Mayan people would idolize the goddess of the moon and fertility, Ixchel, at the temple on the island of Cozumel. They then came to Xaman-Ha which means “northern waters” to access it and probably from this archaeological site. The terminal has been moved to its current location since.

It is also the place where the Spanish conquerors set foot on the soil of the region.

Still today, somewhat hidden in the Playacar sector of Playa del Carmen, there are ruins set back from the road where the location of a settlement and the embarkation point to Cozumel. On the Cozumel side, the ruins of the temple are in the Zona Arqueológica San Gervasio.

According to research, there is every reason to believe that the inhabitants survived from fishing and agriculture. The solid constructions of stone and those of wood and palm leaves were, for their part, built on a platform. It is estimated that the structures visible today were built around 1150-1529 and were used as a dwelling or as a religious temple. In one of them, the walls are painted.

If you pass by… stop. Please note that access to Playacar by car is reserved for residents and customers of hotels in the area. It is possible to access it on foot by parking in the areas outside the entrance to the site.