Why not read our Mexico Retirement Reviews.
I will not try and re-invent the plethora of information that is already on the internet. Playa Del Carmen (PDC) is well documented.
I will try and focus on information that you might find useful in your decision-making process.
For GRANDPAckers, PDC is affordable … Read on …
A BIT ABOUT PDC:
In stark contrast to Isla Mujeres (Island of Women), PDC is more like Cancun: a touristic party town.
PDC has recently undergone rapid development with new luxury residential condominium buildings, restaurants, boutiques and entertainment venues.
Tourist activity in PDC centers on Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) which stretches from Calle 1 Norte to Calle 40.
5th Avenue is a pedestrian walkway located just one or two blocks inland from the beach. 5th Avenue is lined with hundreds of shops, bars and restaurants. There are many small boutique hotels on and just off 5th Avenue and on the beach.
Playacar is a residential and tourist development in PDC just south of the main urban area. Most of the all-inclusive hotels, the aviary and the golf course are located in this development. There are two phases – phase 1 is mostly residential with a few hotels and some stores, while phase 2 contains the largest all-inclusive resorts as well as the golf course and a significant number of residential properties.
I made my own way from Isla Mujeres to PDC on public transport.
I left my Isla Mujeres hotel (the Marcianito) at 9:30am, walked the 10 minutes to the Ferry Terminal, and caught the 10:00am UltraMar Ferry to Puerto Juarez (Cancun) at a cost of MXP78.
As usual, you are approached by Taxi Touts as you exit the terminal and, as always, you should ignore them! In a Terminal, they are invariably at least twice the price of what you should pay. I was quoted MXP100 to go to the ADO Bus Terminal … I know that it should only be MXP35-40.
As usual, I walked out of the terminal onto the street. There were a couple of guys in uniforms waiting with another batch of taxis. Normally, this would be where you catch the cheaper taxis … but not this time … these guys are, also, ‘in on the act’ and wouldn’t budge below MXP100 either. I declined and started walking … I had walked less than 20 meters when a taxi stopped beside me. We agreed MXP40 and set off.
At the ADO Bus Terminal I caught the 10:45am bus to PDC for MXP66. The bus and the journey is very comfortable and takes 90 minutes.
So far, in Mexico, I have found free internet to be widely available in the restaurants and bars. Your accommodation usually includes free internet too. In the bigger towns and tourist areas, this seems to be reasonably reliable.
This means that you won’t need the usual GRANDPAcker 2GB Mobile Phone Data Package; you should be able to get away with less data.
My Mobile phone was stolen in Isla Mujeres (my fault … I didn’t take good care of it).
I arrived at PDC at 12:15pm. My Vacation Rental wasn’t available for check-in until 3:00pm. I took the opportunity to walk the 2-3kms to my accommodation whilst looking for a new Mobile phone on the way.
I purchased a Motorola Moto X Play for MXP4,500 from Walmart. It was ‘unlocked’ but I had to buy it with an AT&T Package to get it activated. I paid MXP150 for a 1 month package with unlimited calls & texts, 600MB of data, and a free SIMcard.
After my total frustration with Telcel, I was happy to give AT&T a try … I’ll let you know how they compare in a future post.
The beach is beautiful and LONG! … you could spend hours walking this beach at sunset … if sunsets lasted that long!
Any regular reader of this blog will know that I am a ‘sunset beach walker’; I walk the beach for 1-1.5 hours every sunset with my headphones plugged in. 🙂
Starting at the south end of the beach at Playacar Phase 1 heading north, this is what you will find.
Please Note: I did the same walk on several occasions. In these photos, I compare what it looks like during the week versus what it looks like on a weekend (once all of the out-of-town day trippers arrive) … I am sure that you can spot which is which. Also, I was in PDC in September … this is ‘Shoulder Season’ … with the unreliable weather, invariably, the sky would cloud over just before sunset. On 1 day out of 3, this turned to light showers. It almost always rained overnight. Obviously, Shoulder Season is not as busy as Peak Season.
In front of Playacar, the beach is good and reasonably uncrowded. I didn’t head any further south from here.
Some of the holiday hotel complexes are massive.
The beaches are still very good but, from Avenue CTM northwards, you get a lot more rocks underfoot in the water. In some spots, you get warning signs stating that you should not swim because of spiky urchins.
For a decent swim, you need to seek out the sandy spots.
WHERE TO STAY:
If you can get into the Green Zone, you should have the most fun.
The ‘Green Zone’ holds about 90% of all of the top rated restaurants, bars, and Happy Hours (for all budgets).
5th Avenue extend for about 2 kms, so there are plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from.
Only the most popular ones get full as there are more restaurants and bars than there are tourists. If you extend another 500 meters in any direction (into the ‘Purple Zone’), you should be OK … and should be able to walk to the beach and to 5th Avenue … but, depending on exactly where you are, you may need transport now and again if you don’t like walking.
The type of ‘beach life’ that you are looking for will also determine where you want to stay. The young, drinking, ‘party’ beach is in front of the Green Zone in Center North. The older crowd go in front of the Green Zone in Center South. People who like a quieter beach go either side of those in front of the Purple Zone. If you want a big piece of beach to yourself, head further north or south.
As you move further away from the Green Zone, accommodation gets cheaper.
But, there is a lot of competition in PDC and good discounts on accommodation can be found.
HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):
DON’T FORGET: These sites display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You, usually, have to add 19% to the displayed price to get the final price.
If you start your search early, you should be able to find the ‘deep’ discounts that you need.
The time of year is very important … expect November through April (Peak Season) to be more difficult.
HOLIDAY RENTALS (Weekly Rates):
If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.
Holiday Rentals are usually rented by the week. A simple future search on TRIPADVISOR.COM demonstrates what’s available nicely (please note that these prices are in US$s):
Holiday Rental prices are normally displayed INCLUSIVE of taxes (but exclusive of a security deposit – if there is one).
One small problem with Vacation Rentals, is that they advertise on a number of different sites and they do not, always, keep their availability up-to-date on all of those sites. When you make a booking, you have to wait 24-36 hours to find out if the booking is successful or not. If not, this can prove frustrating. I have been let down on several occasions.
The positive is that Holiday Rentals, usually, offer better quality accommodation than Hotels for a lower price.
The negative is that they are, usually, not in the ‘heart’ of town where the action is. You need to choose the location wisely … and expect to pay for transport.
I booked 2-3 weeks before my arrival.
I used BOOKING.COM to pre-book 2 weeks at Condo 46. BOOKING.COM is starting to advertise its own Vacation Rentals and competes with sites like TRIPADVISOR … usually at better prices (because sites like TRIPADVISOR add on a significant ‘Service Fee’).
I booked Condo 46 because it was being offered at a bargain price, the location was good enough for me, I don’t mind walking, and I knew that I could use transport options to make the location work.
I got it at a 50% discount and paid US$253 (including tax) for 14 nights (US$18 / night).
The rate is set in US$s and you can pay in US$s (if you want to) … but you can also pay in MXP at the exchange rate effective on the day of payment. I paid the full MXP4,590 in cash on arrival.
It was excellent value for money.
The Kitchenette is fully equipped with coffee maker, microwave, cooker, and fridge / freezer.
There is a Dining Table and small couch with a wall-mounted flat screen TV with cable channels.
But, if you have read my Tips, Tricks and Traps, you will know that all of the channels are dubbed in Spanish (you may get 1 English speaking movie channel: Golden Edge).
The separate bedroom had another (silent) heatpump / aircon unit, double bed, bedside cabinets, large double wardrobe and ceiling fan.
The bathroom was, also, well apportioned with a shower cubicle.
The in-room wifi was excellent.
I was on the ground floor … so, no stairs to climb … which was wonderful too.
Have a look yourself:
You can walk around the Green Zone on foot. You can survive in the Purple Zone if you like walking. Otherwise, you will need transport if you venture any distance from home.
Trike / Tuk Tuk:
You don’t find things like Trikes or TukTuks in Mexico, so those ‘supercheap’ options are not available to you.
Scooter / Bicycle:
Sometimes you need transport to make the location of your accommodation work. To make Condo 46 work for me, I needed a bicycle. PDC is flat and perfect for cycling.
I enquired at my Vacation Rental reception about renting a bicycle for 12 days. As seems ‘normal’, he had a ‘friend’ … I have learnt that this usually means that he knows someone who will pay him commission.
He phoned his ‘friend’ and the daily rate was MXP120 discounted down to MXP90 for 12 days. In Isla Mujeres bicycles were MXP200 / day. It is easy to get fooled into believing that MXP90 is a good rate … it is not.
Go to a big Supermarket and you will discover that you can buy a brand new bicycle for less than MXP2,000 … and a good second hand one from a street store for under MXP1,000. The rental prices in PDC would pay for a brand new bicycle, in full, in under 3 weeks of rental! Sorry … but, if all businesses operated this way, we wouldn’t be able to afford anything. I refuse to support this type of pricing.
So, I told him that it was expensive and that I would think about it. When I returned a couple of hours later, he had ‘renogotiated’ the price down to MXP75 / day and showed me a picture of the bicycle that was available. We agreed that he would bring it around at 11:00am the next morning. I paid him MXP900 for 12 days. Effectively, he had gone and bought a 2nd hand bicycle … I paid for it … and, when I left, it was his.
I didn’t mind … good on him. What it meant for me was that I had a really nice apartment with total freedom of movement for a total cost of MXP400 / day … this meant that I had plenty of money left for LIVING.
Taxis are reasonable cheap in Mexico if you know what the Rule Of Thumb should be. Alas, tourists get over-charged frequently.
Taxis do not use meters and the price should be confirmed first. The guideline is MXP10 for the ‘flag fall’ plus MXP10 / km. You can almost double this at night.
Your hotel can arrange taxis for you; some post their rates on a board in the lobby; taxi hotel rates are usually higher than cabs you hail off the street.
So far, I have found UBER Taxis to be a safe and cheaper option than using the Taxis on the street. But, alas, UBER does not operate in PDC.
The majority of the restaurants lie in the Green Zone – and predominantly on 5th Avenue.
These are tourist restaurants and you pay accordingly.
Occasionally you will see specials (which are popular on a Sunday). I had a 3-course meal with 3x250ml bottles of beer for MXP120.
For better priced restaurants get into the Purple Zone … or, even further afield.
Out of the Purple Zone, you can pick up your usual Tacos for MXP10 and Tortas for MXP20. Almost everywhere.
At a local restaurant outside of the Purple Zone, you can get a decent sit-down meal for MXP50-75.
Another really good value for money option is to buy a ‘Meal For 1’ at one of the Rotary Chicken shops. My local sold one for MXP49 which included 1/4 chicken, a scoop of rice, 6 boiled potatoes, 8 tortillas, 2 big whole chilis, and sauce. It was enough for 2 meals. A good, cheap option to share between 2 people.
If you want the weak, 2-for-1 Happy Hour Cocktails for MXP85 head in and around the heart of 5th Avenue.
Bars and their reputations come and go with alarming regularity. What is good now could be very different by the time that you get here … so find your own best spot.
You will see the rare place offering 2 beers for MXP50 during Happy Hour. The odd place in a side street can be found selling 1 liter beers for MXP50 (like the Hangover Bar on 1st Avenue).
It is more common to see a Happy Hour ‘Bucket Of 5’ going for MXP100-125. Some restaurants offer a ‘Bucket Of 5’ with something simple to eat (like vegetarian Nachos) for MXP150.
OK, it’s not bad for a Tourist Trap like 5th Avenue … but, here’s a tip for people who like to sit around with friends in their own hotel or down to the beach … go to a supermarket and buy 2 bottles of 1.2L beer for MXP45.
Even better, on the edge of the Purple Zone (e.g. on 46th Avenue) you will find local stores selling 3 bottles of 1.2L beer for as little as MXP54! Yes, that is about US$0.50c a pint! When you first buy them you have to leave MXP7 per bottle as a bottle deposit; they give you a bottle deposit ‘chit’. You get this money back when you return the empty bottles. Or, just swap your empties for 3 full ones for MXP54 … and keep going for the whole holiday! Your accommodation usually comes with a fridge. 🙂
YOUR HEALTH & SAFETY:
There is no reason to feel unsafe in Playa Del Carmen. But, as always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.
There are plenty of Tourist Police around to protect you.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
PDC offers a wide range of tourist activities due to its geographical location in the Riviera Maya.
There’s plenty on the internet to read up on. I won’t try and duplicate it here.
I just beach-bummed for 2 weeks in PDC … I’m off to Tulum next and I’m planning to do all of that sort of Touristy stuff there.
In PDC, expect to pay Tourist Rates for everything that you do. If you do 2 or 3 trips, it will add up.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
There are ATMs everywhere. The ‘de facto’ ATM withdrawal limit in most banks is MXP5,000. But, a couple of banks allow you to withdraw MXP7,000.
HSBC has fast become my favourite in Mexico. The ATM in PDC allowed me to withdraw MXP10,000 in a single transaction … for a Foreign Card Fee of only MXP33.50. Yes, I still had my Home Country Bank’s Foreign ATM Transaction Fee, but these ‘friendly’ ATMs do help to keep the cost of Travel Money down.
Tourist shops are everywhere in and around 5th Avenue. If you shop in these sorts of places, you are not a GRANDPAcker. GRANDPAckers don’t have that sort of money to waste. 🙂
You need to get out of the Purple Zone to find where the locals shop.
There is a Walmart and a Mega Supermarket next to it on 30th Avenue between 8th Avenue North and Avenue Constituyentes. For most people, these will be in walking distance of their accommodation.
There are 2 large Shopping Malls but, alas, they are a few kms away from the Green Zone … you will need transport to get to them. I was OK because I had my bicycle.
- Toasted Fruit & Nut Muesli: MXP100 / Kg
- Natural Unsweetened Yoghurt: MXP20-30 / Kg
- Grapes: MXP40 / Kg
- Bananas: MXP18 / Kg
- Water: MXP30 for 10L
- Water Refill (on the Street): 1 Litre MXP2, 10L MXP10
- Orange Juice: MXP40 for 10L
I didn’t find any.
WHEN TO GO:
July through October is hurricane season in this part of the world, and the weather becomes more changeable and less predictable during these months.
The rainy season is May through October.
The high season is December through May as these are the months with the most temperate and driest weather.
GRANDPAckers should find plenty of affordable accommodation options in Off Season: June to September. May and October should, also, be very possible. Peak Season my be a bit harder but not impossible.
From PDC I will be heading to Tulum.
I will tell you more about that in a future post.
Many GRANDPAckers will love PDC with its nice beach, good swimming, things to do, and vast selection of bars and restaurants.
However, GRANDPAckers will (most probably) not be able to afford to LIVE in the Green Zone. It should be possible to find affordable accommodation in the Purple Zone.
You will need to venture away from the Tourist Area to find the cheapest Accommodation & Eateries.
I have stayed in a few Vacation Rentals in Mexico now and find that, with a Kitchenette and Fridge / Freezer, I tend to get in some groceries for Breakfast. This helps keeps costs down. Although this is not GRANDPAcking Standard, it means that PDC is affordable on a GRANDPAcking Budget of MXP1,000 / day (for 2 people).