A travel guide for Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Playa del Carmen Travel Guide

Welcome to my comprehensive Playa del Carmen Travel Guide!

Nestled along the stunning Riviera Maya coastline, Playa del Carmen is a vibrant destination that offers a perfect blend of natural beauty, relaxation, and nightlife. Whether you’re looking to relax at a resort pool, spend your days on the beach, or explore the restaurants and nightlife of downtown, this visitors guide will help you decide where to stay.

Table of Contents

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How to Get to Playa del Carmen

Most people visiting Playa del Carmen will fly into Cancun International Airport (CUN). The airport is about an hour north by car. These are the most common ways of getting from the airport to Playa del Carmen.

Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen

Private Transfer: As you near the exit of Cancun airport you will see a couple desks that offer van service. But I recommend you schedule a private transfer before arriving. Some of the preferred transfer companies are CARM Tours & Transfers, Happy Shuttle, or Canada Transfers. They will know when you land be waiting at the exit for you holding a sign with your name.

Taxi: Upon exiting the airport in Cancun, you will find many taxis that can take you to Playa del Carmen.

Ado Bus: If you are traveling on a budget, then you might want to consider public transportation, namely an Ado Bus. There is a desk where you can buy a bus ticket direct to Playa del Carmen. Sometimes seats sell out though, so I recommend buying a ticket in advance from the Ado website.

Cozumel to Playa del Carmen

There is also a smaller airport in Cozumel (CZM) that you can choose to fly into. It is typically more expensive to fly into here though. You can then take a short taxi ride to the ferry terminal and take a 40-minute ferry over to Playa del Carmen. You can buy Ultramar ferry tickets when you get there, and do not need to buy them in advance.

The Best Time to Visit Playa del Carmen

The Mexican State of Quintana Roo includes the popular destinations of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Holbox, Isla Mujeres, and Tulum. It is a tropical climate and is popular as a year-round destination.

  • High season (December to April): These months have the best weather with warm temperatures and minimal rain. But it is also the time with the highest prices and largest crowds.
  • Summer (May to August): It can get quite hot and humid during the summer. This can lead to occasional rain. If you can handle the heat, prices are lower and there are fewer tourists.
  • Low season (September to November): This is the slowest time of year for tourism and the cheapest time to come. But that comes with risk, as it is hurricane season. While hurricanes are not common here, they can and do happen. I was living here in October 2020 when two hurricanes and one tropical storm all hit in this one month. I had to evacuate my hotel for one of the storms. But that was very rare, and even then, the city was mostly back to normal within a day after each storm.

Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen


Grand Hyatt




Riu Palace


Banyan Tree

Playa del Carmen offers a variety of hotels, resorts, and apartment rentals to suit different budgets and preferences. I have listed some of my top hotel choices above.

But it’s also important to choose the area based on what you want to do. Below I highlight the three main neighborhoods that tourists typically stay and what each has to offer.

Downtown Playa del Carmen (Centro)

This is the heart of Playa del Carmen, bustling with activity and filled with tourists. It’s ideal for those who want to be in the middle of the action. The famous Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) is lined with shops, restaurants, and nightlife options. Hotel options range from budget all the way up to high end. Plus, you’ll find many apartment rentals. Staying here means you’re close to the beach, dining, and entertainment. This is where I prefer to stay.

You can think of this area as a rectangular grid. Anywhere from the beach west to 30th Ave, and from the airport on the south end north to CTM Ave (this is essentially 46th St). Anywhere in this area is fine to stay and walkable.

Many of the best hotels in this area are priced mid-range, so they are much cheaper than the luxury resorts outside of the city. Some of my favorite hotels here are Grand Hyatt, the all-inclusive and adults-only Hilton, The Fives Downtown, and Mahekel.

Tip: The lower street numbers tend to be busier and louder, especially around the intersection of 12th Street and 1st Avenue where there are several night clubs. I prefer to stay in the newer apartment buildings between 38th and CTM (46th) where it is quieter and has some of the nicer restaurants. I stayed at a building called The Shore for several months, and the rooftop is pictured below.

The Shore is a building with vacation rentals in Playa del Carmen that you can find on VRBO
My VRBO in Playa del Carmen


Located a bit north of downtown Playa del Carmen, this is an exclusive resort area known for luxury hotels, pristine beaches, and a beautiful natural setting. It’s ideal for a secluded, high-end vacation. If you want to visit downtown, it’s about a 20-minute taxi ride. This is generally the place to stay if you prefer to spend most of your time on a resort and maybe take some guided excursions and a night or two in downtown. There is a golf course and several upscale restaurants and bars here.

In this area, you will find luxury resorts like Banyan Tree, Rosewood Mayakoba, and Fairmont Heritage Place Mayakoba.


This is a more upscale, gated community located just south of downtown. It’s known for its beautiful villas, luxurious resorts, and well-maintained golf course. Playacar offers a quieter, more exclusive experience compared to the bustling downtown area. While the northern part of Playacar is walkable to downtown, you’ll probably find yourself taking taxis more often, especially if you stay at one of the resorts located to the south.

Along the beach you will find popular resorts like Riu Palace and Viva Azteca by Wyndham. And off the beach you can find many great vacation rental properties on VRBO with high end amenities, especially in the newer buildings like AWA Playacar Residences that has an amazing pool.

Dining & Nightlife in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen attracts visitors from all over the world, and so it has a diverse food scene. While 5th Avenue is the main street for shopping, dining, and entertainment, I strongly urge you to explore off this street as well. I have focused my restaurant recommendations on the areas that are walkable from here.

Below are some of my favorite restaurants and nightlife spots. I just hit the highlights in this Playa del Carmen travel guide, so make sure to read my individual blog posts for more detailed information about the best restaurants.

Local Cuisine

While many of the restaurants in the tourist zones do have local Mexican cuisine, you’ll find that the menus cater to tourists. And thus, the Mexican food won’t be as authentic as you will find in the areas west where most locals live.

This area of Mexico was inhabited by Mayans and Quintna Roo (the state that Playa del Carmen and Cancun are located) is a very new state. So, this area doesn’t have the same culinary history as the states to the north and west.

With that said, they do enjoy many of the same foods these days. You will find tacos and tortas at street vendors. But you will also find more Yucatan influence with such dishes as cochinita pibil, tikin-xic, and Poc Chuc.

Street Taco Cart in Playa del Carmen
Street Taco Cart in Playa del Carmen

Eat Tacos in Playa del Carmen!


La Cueva del Chango: This is one of the most popular places in Playa del Carmen for breakfast and is a great place to try things like chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, and molletes.

Chez Celine: This French bakery sells homemade pastries as well as a full breakfast menu of omelets, quiche, crepes, and more.

Lara & Luca: This French inspired cafe is located on the edge of Playacar and has great muffins, pastries, and egg dishes.

Chilaquiles are a popular breakfast item in Mexico
Chilaquiles at La Cueva del Chango

More of My Favorite Breakfast Spots in Playa del Carmen


La Perla Pixan: This restaurant specializes in various specialties from around Mexico, with a particular focus on pre-Hispanic food. Try the chile relleno, octopus gordita, and some pulque to drink. You can even try chapulines (grasshoppers) here if you are adventurous.

Las Hijas de la Tostada: You can get tacos, ceviche, and other dishes here. But I can’t get enough of their seafood tostadas.

Osteria de Roma: There are many Italian immigrants here, so there is no shortage of Italian restaurants. This is my favorite of them.

Primo: Every entree is cooked with wood or charcoal, and they have an underground pit where they cook dishes like duck pibil and the short rib. 

More of My Favorite Dining Options on Isla Mujeres

Beach Clubs

Mamita’s: Rent a chair on the beach or beside their small pool

INTI Beach: A more tranquil beach club that also holds yoga classes and offers massages

Coralina Daylight Club: Attached to the Grand Hyatt and so it is nice but also pricier

Mamita's is one of the best beach clubs in Playa del Carmen.
Mamita's Beach Club

Bars & Clubs

Aereo Cafe Bar: The word has gotten out, and this Speakeasy has been named as one of the best cocktail bars in Mexico

Zapote Bar: upscale cocktail bar in the Rosewood Hotel in Mayakoba

Off the Vine: a wine bar serving both foreign and Mexican wine

Trujillo’s Cantina De Selva: Restaurant and cocktail bar tucked in the trees on 38th Street, the prettiest street in Playa del Carmen.

Nightclubs: There are several nightclubs in Playa del Carmen that are open late into the night. Most are located at the intersection of 1st Ave at 12th St, such as Mandala, Abolengo, and Santito Tun Tun.

Trujillo's is one of the best cocktail bars in Playa del Carmen and is on the beautiful 38th Street

This is the Most Beautiful Street in Playa del Carmen

Top Things to do in Playa del Carmen

Isla Mujeres is packed with activities for every type of traveler. These are some f the best things to do on Isla Mujeres.

Mamita's is one of the best beach clubs in Playa del Carmen.

Spend the Day at a Beach Club

While you can take a towel and sit anywhere on the beach, I prefer to go to a beach club where they provide you a chair and serve food and drinks

Coco Bongo is

See Coco Bongo Show

One of the most popular nighttime activities in Playa del Carmen. You buy a ticket that includes drinks for the evening, while performers put on various acts that include singing, dancing, and acrobatics

5th Ave is the main tourist street in Playa del Carmen. It is lined with restaurants and bars designed for tourists. Go explore other areas

Stroll Along 5th Ave

Renting a golf cart is a popular way to explore the island at your own pace. Visit local restaurants, less-visited beaches, and tourist attractions like the rainbow stairs.

Day Trips From Playa del Carmen

Xcaret is a large eco-archaeological park near Playa del Carmen with underground rivers for snorkeling, a butterfly pavilion, and performances with traditional Mexican dances.

Discover Xcaret Park

While Xcaret is only about 15 minutes from downtown Playa del Carmen, you’ll want to spend the entire day there. It is a sprawling eco-archaeological park that offers a mix of cultural, natural, and recreational activities. You can go swimming in underground rivers, explore the butterfly pavilion, and watch traditional Mexican performances.

Dos Ojos Cenote is a short ride from Playa del Carmen

Swim in a Cenote

Cenotes are sinkholes resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Cenotes are found throughout the Yucatán Peninsula. Some of the closest cenotes to Playa del Carmen are Cenote Azul, Jardin del Eden, and Dos Ojos Cenote.

Chichen Itza was a major city of the ancient Mayan civilization and is now one of the most famous and significant archaeological sites in Mexico.

Explore Chichen-itza

Chichen Itza was a major city of the ancient Mayan civilization. It is now one of the most famous and significant archaeological sites in Mexico, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can rent a car and make the 2.5 hour drive there yourself or visit though a tour operator.

Cozumel is an island off the coast of Playa del Carmen and is a good day trip over on the ferry

Take the Ferry to Cozumel

A day trip to Cozumel begins with a 40-minute ferry ride across the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Once you get there, you can rent scooters and circle the island, visit a beach club, or explore the downtown area.

Playa del Carmen FAQ

Is Playa del Carmen Good for Digital Nomads?

Yes, you will find many digital nomads here in Playa del Carmen. Most hotels and short-term rentals will have WiFi, although the speed can vary. But I have generally had good experiences where I’ve stayed.

There are also several coworking spaces that will generally have very fast WiFi.

Coffee shops like Ah Cacao and Marley Coffee or rooftop bar at The Fives Hotel let you use their WiFi if you are a paying customer.

Bunker is a coworking space in Playa del Carmen
Bunker Coworking

Is Playa del Carmen Good for Kids?

Yes, Playa del Carmen is great for kids. In addition to the beaches, most of the activities are kid friendly. And whether you stay at a resort, hotel, or short-term rental through VRBO, you are likely to have a pool on site.

Is Playa del Carmen Safe?

Playa del Carmen is generally considered a safe destination for travelers, with thousands of tourists visiting each year without incident. Like any popular tourist spot, it’s important to practice common sense. Most of the violence you hear about on the news is not aimed at tourists, but on rare occasions they can be caught in the middle of an incident. Teh areas where you are likely to stay are safe and I have no worries about staying there with my family, and even walking home late at night.

My Tips for Playa del Carmen

Will There be Seaweed on the Beach?

If you follow Facebook groups or other social media posts about Playa del Carmen, you have inevitably read complaints about sargassum, the seaweed that can affect this area. It tends to affect Playa del Carmen and the other coastal towns along the Riviera Maya during the warmer months, typically beginning in late spring and lasting through the summer.

However, the exact timing and severity can vary each year due to changing ocean currents, weather patterns, and other environmental factors. The towns and local businesses usually work hard to manage and clean up sargassum, ensuring that beaches remain enjoyable for visitors. But some do a better job than others, and sometimes it can build up before being cleared. There is no way to know in advance how disrupting this will be to your vacation. Just go and have fun and find an area on the beach that has been cleared.

Should I Use Pesos or USD in Playa del Carmen?

The local currency is the Mexican Peso (MXN). While most places will accept US dollars, they will give you a very unfavorable exchange rate. And because the locals use Mexican Pesos, if you leave another currency as a gratuity, they will then have to exchange that back to Pesos for use. ATMs are available and many places accept credit cards.

Do I need to Know Spanish?

No. While Spanish is the official language, English is widely spoken in Playa del Carmen. Even if you try to order or converse in Spanish, they will recognize you are not a native speaker and likely reply in English.

Is Playa del Carmen Walkable?

As mentioned above, downtown Playa del Carmen, is very walkable. If you stay in Mayakoba then you will have to take a taxi to get downtown.

Do I Need a Car?

No, you don’t need a car in Playa del Carmen. If you stay in the downtown area, then parking can be difficult and you can get around by walking. If you would like to visit other towns or attractions you can sign up through a tour operator, take a taxi, or take a shared bus called a collectivo.

If you stay in either Playacar or Mayakoba, then you may end up taking taxis to downtown, but don’t need a car within the neighborhood.

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Thanks for reading and I hope my Playa del Carmen travel guide is helpful! Check out some of my other blogs about the other great towns nearby in the Riviera Maya.

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