For a good balance of a beach vacation and great activities Playa del Carmen is a great place to base yourself to explore the Yucatan. We stayed for a week in a small bed and breakfast in the Playacar area. We were walking distance from the main beach and tourist area full of shops and restaurants. We were also only a short walk from a beach which was less crowded and quieter than the Playa del Carmen public beach. The bed and breakfast offered a rooftop pool and a backyard pool. We spent several evenings on the rooftop by the pool and were the only guests up there. The host did not speak english but did try to be as helpful as possible. Breakfast included eggs, fruit and yogurt as well as coffee and fruit juices each morning. This was not a luxury bed and breakfast but it was affordable and the location was great. We would recommend Bed and Breakfast Buen Dia Playa if you are planning to stay in the area.
From Playa del Carmen you can easily get to the city of Tulum and the Tulum ruins, Cancun, Akumal, take the ferry to Cozumel and many other locations up and down the Yucatan coast. We did not get to all of these areas on this trip. We did get to the Tulum ruins and also did a day long tour that included swimming in a cenote and exploring a Mayan ruin site – Ek Balam. Playa del Carmen itself also has lots to offer so we spent several days there enjoying the beach and the food. Playa del Carmen is about an hour south of Cancun, we flew in and out of Cancun so the last day we traveled back to Cancun and spent the day there so we were closer to the airport to catch an early morning flight back home.
For getting around in the area, you can take the ADO bus to/from Cancun/Playa del Carmen. The bus is very affordable, air conditioned and comfortable. We used it and would recommend it to anyone traveling in the area.
Taking a Colectivo is also a good, cheap option for getting between cities in the area. These are white vans which you can take for a small fee. They depart from the pick up point as soon as they are full. There are several specific pick up/drop off points in Playa del Carmen. They fill the van with as many people as they can so prepare to be sitting very close during the ride. The vans are full of local people going to/from work as well as other tourists. There is a drop off point right at the Tulum ruins so we took a colectivo from downtown Playa straight to the ruins and then back when we were done exploring for the day. They run very frequently so you shouldn’t have to wait long for the next available ride.
Things to do in Playa del Carmen: Our time in Playa was focused on the beach and the food!
The public beach is lined with small restaurants serving cheap food and beer with a view of the beach. We ate at several of these small places during our stay. We had some delicious ceviche and tacos for lunch without ever having to leave the beach. Señor Frogs- super touristy and we would not recommend eating here but, it is located right next to the pier where the ferry boats leave from to head over to Cozumel. We did stop for a beer on our way back to our bed and breakfast several nights. The location offers tables right next to the water and you can watch the ferry’s come and go. For the location and view its worth a stop for a beer or two on the beach.
While wandering through the shopping area we were persuaded to stop in and do a tequila tasting. This is definitely a touristy place but prices are negotiable so don’t just pay what they initially offer as the price. We knew there would be pressure to purchase a bottle but we wanted to try to find some tequila that we wouldn’t be able to buy back home so we figured we would go in. We got to try several different bottles and were shown a lot of small batch tequilas we definately won’t find at home. We ended up buying a bottle that was aged in cherry wood giving it a very different flavor than you typically get in tequila. If you ware willing to spend money on a bottle this store does have a good selection and there are several of these stores in the main shopping/tourist area by the beach so you don’t have to go far to find one.
Alux Cave Restaurant
This restaurant in downtown Playa away from the main tourist/beach area. It is in a cave which was something we had never experienced so we decided to go. This is a nicer restaurant, it was still cheaper than a night out in the U.S but was by far the most expensive meal we ate in Mexico. We would recommend this restaurant for a nice dinner while in Playa, the food was great and its a nice atmosphere. The restaurant is quite large, there were lots of other people there the evening we went but also there was a rather empty portion of the restaurant which we wandered through to get more views of the cave before heading out. We would recommend taking a taxi to/from the tourist/beach area to this restaurant as it is a long walk.
El Fogon – Best tacos in Playa del Carmen
We had read from several different travel blogs and reviews online that El Fogon had the best tacos al pastor in Playa del Carmen. Ryan had traveled to Mexico for work many times before we took this trip but I had never been to Mexico and had never had real tacos al pastor. We had tried to recreate these tacos at home many times before and each time they were really good but Ryan assured me that they were not really pastor. So needless to say tacos al pastor was really hyped up in my mind before we even left for Mexico. We walked to El Fogon one afternoon and it did not disappoint! The restaurant is nothing fancy at all, it has bugs bunny and tweety bird panted an the wall along with some other old cartoons and basic tables with plastic chairs but the food is amazing! You can see the pastor being rotated on the vertical spit and everything else cooking on the grill as you eat your food. The food is also super cheap, we each had two beers, we had multiple tacos and a gringa and the total bill was about $14. Definitely worth a stop or two while you’re in Playa.
La Coronela Restaurant
As we wandered around Playa in the main tourist/beach area full of shops and restaurants we stumbled upon this very small, family run restaurant. Nobody was standing outside trying to get us to come in and eat, which most of the restaurants in the area will do. This place was amazing, everything was delicious and all homemade. We actually loved it so much we ate there twice during the week we were there. We would recommend the pastor style fish. We did enjoy the coconut shrimp but they were a bit sweeter then we expected.
We spent about 3 days of our trip just relaxing and exploring around Playa del Carmen. The rest of our trip we spent exploring further out in the Yucatan. As we said Playa del Carmen is a great place to base yourself as you are not that far from a lot of other activities/cities. Other things we did on the trip include; the Tulum ruins and snorkeling, swimming in a cenote and exploring the Mayan ruin site of Ek Balam and spending our final day in Cancun before flying back to the US.
24 Hours in Cancun
Due to our early morning flight, the last day of our trip we headed to Cancun. We stayed in a small apartment downtown. We took the local bus to the hotel zone which is along the beach were all the resorts are. There is public beach access so even if you aren’t staying at one of the resorts you can still enjoy the beach. The restaurants and shops in this area are very touristy. We were starving and did end up grabbing a quick lunch in this area. The food was okay but overpriced and nothing tasted authentic. We would recommend eating in downtown Cancun then just spending time in the hotel zone if you are looking to enjoy the beach. Our host recommended an Argentine restaurant (Restaurante San Temo Argentino) that had recently opened up just down the street. We walked there for dinner and would highly recommend it. You can see them grilling all the various cuts of meat from all the tables in this small restaurant.
We really enjoyed our time in Playa del Carmen itself and the surrounding area of the Yucatan. We found Playa del Carmen to be a great central location to stay while you explore the region. Links to Yucatan day trips:
- Hidden Gem Near Cancun: Fish Market Mar-Bella Raw Bar Grill
- Tulum Ruins, Beach, and Snorkeling
- Ek Balam and Cenote Maya through Alltournative Tours