I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Playa del Carmen or Mexico in general. To me, Mexico seems to have a poor reputation.
The last time I heard about Aussies and Mexico was when two Aussie lads were murdered here. So mostly, I just wanted see if it was dangerous, and if so, why 25.8 million international tourists stopped by in 2015.
I also heard it was becoming a hot spot for digital nomads…
The Bali of America
In Australia, we have Bali, that cheaper location where it’s not too far to travel, it’s always hot, you can swim, forget your job, forget your normal life and forget your worries.
In America, they have Cancun and Playa del Carmen, just a one hour flight from Miami, or a few hours from other cities.
These two tourist hotspot towns are doing extremely well from package holiday bunnies and snowbird tourists from America, Canada and Europe .
And just like Bali, which has lost most of its original, local, authentic Indonesian feel, Cancun and Playa del Carmen have the same problem.
This translates to massive, luxury hotels that look just like…. America. And even low quality food and drinks have been transported.
Is it all bad news? Especially for a traveler like me who likes to see how the locals live? Mostly no. But after spending some time here, I can see why other travelers have mixed reviews.
Some say Playa del Carmen is a hyper-developed, over-glitzed tourist resort town, which might be true. Here’s how I see it:
This is the tourist-strip showcasing standard tourist staples like Starbucks, Forever21, and H&M – average coffee and poor quality, fast fashion.
Or you can visit the open-air shopping mall at the end of the avenue.
It also hosts the most expensive restaurants, various shops and drugstores. And if you want to be harassed to eat somewhere or book on a tour, then this is the place to go.
This is where the rip-off, multi-currency ATM machines are set up on the side of the road. Avoid unless you want to pay huge fees! Instead look for a local bank ATM, or head into Walmart where you will find a Santander ATM.
I spent quite a bit of time on 10th Avenue. It also has a lot of restaurants, which I found to be better quality and value than 5th avenue. But I especially loved the bicycle-only path!
I think I went on the wrong day. The smell of seaweed, petrol or something much worse burned my nostrils as I traversed white sandy beach.
It looks like global warming has caught up with Playa del Carmen. I wonder if anyone else has noticed. I watched these life guards pull the tower back toward the road, as it seems to be falling into the sea.
Also, I’m not sure if the sun lounger are for holding back erosion, or to stop the guest accidentally stepping in the ocean, but the building foundations are exposed.
The Infamous Taxis
Yes taxis can be the bane of many travelers existences, but they are a necessary evil, until Uber or Lyft take over the world.
My tips for catching taxis in Playa del Carmen:
- Read this guide first from Everything Playa del Carmen
- Do not get a taxi next to the Ado Bus Station on 5th Avenida unless you want to pay enormous prices
- Get off 5th Avenue
- Know the prices from the ratesheet
- Don’t ask how much, just get in, and then pay the rate when you get out.
I thought the decorations were done well in Playa. Not too over the top.
The Food and Drinks
If you look for them, there are actually great food and drink places in Playa del Carmen. For my list of favourites, they will be coming soon.
Yes, Guy Fieri has a restaurant here, and you can find many touristy, overpriced restaurants, but you can also find some delicious, affordable, tasty options.
Luckily the hipster, yogi, vegan, vegetarian trend has reached PDC so if you feel the need for chia seed, you are in luck.
The Street Art
If you have been following my blog, you will know how much I love street art. I used to visit museums, but I find them boring now – contrived, too structured, too selective, too censored.
I find the real expressionism now exists on the streets. Yes, of course, there is some censorship (there needs to be) but I find most artists want to share their artistic skill to convey a message bigger than themselves.
For the street art, I did like PDC.
Playa del Carmen is okay
I liked the holiday-town chilled vibe, I liked the cheap prices. The locals are friendly, even if the service is a big slower than we are used to. I like how clean and neat the place is.
I like that cars stop to let you cross the street, and if you are on a bicycle, they give you “room”. I like how safe it feels.
I like the food and the coffee.
But I wondered what the REAL Mexico was like, as I felt it wasn’t represented in PDC.
Also published on Medium.