Playa del Carmen, Mexico

A- Overview:
For anyone who has dreamed of finding the perfect powdery white, sandy beach stretching along miles of turquoise blue water, Playa is the place to be! The accommodations are known for being reasonably priced, and the standard is high. The restaurants are beautifully decorated and offer good service. From Playa del Carmen it is easy to take the ferry to Cozumel. It is also a convenient location from which to take one of the tours to visit the various ruins in the area such as Chitchen Itza and Tulum. These are only a few of the reasons that this sun-splashed resort area has become one of the world’s top tourist destinations!

Originally named Xaman-Ha (waters of the north) and known as the capital of the Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen is located on the beautiful Caribbean coast some 40 miles south of Cancun.

Playa was once a sleepy Mexican fishing village, but has been transformed into the world’s fastest growing city. It is a favored destination for an increasing number of world travelers, as well as for thousands of day-trippers from Cancún and from Caribbean cruise ships.

The town is laid out so that the main street, Avenida Juárez, leads to the zócalo (town square) from Highway 307. As it does so, it crosses several numbered avenues that run parallel to the beach, all of which are multiples of 5. Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) is closest to the beach. It is closed to traffic from the zócalo to Calle 6 (and some blocks beyond, in the evening). This avenue bustles with hotels, restaurants, and shops. With mariachi musicians entertaining in the streets, Playa is reminiscent of the colonial towns of Mexico.

Almost all of the town is north and west of the zócalo. Immediately south are the ferry pier and a Resort Hotel. Beyond this southern edge of town are the airstrip and the golf course development called Playacar, with many private residences and resort hotels.

The beach at Playa is one of the most beautiful on the coast, with white sand and sparkling, clear water. A distinct advantage of this resort paradise is its compact size, which allows it to be easily covered on foot. Playa contains the most vibrant and popular nightlife on the Riviera Maya.

A visit to Playa is never dull! If your visit to Playa del Carmen coincides with a full moon, you could camp on the beach and enjoy one of the celebrations the inhabitants hold in its honor. Playa provides an enormous variety of water activities throughout the year, ranging from swimming on the beach to more strenuous sports such as windsurfing, snorkeling, sailing or diving at the nearby reefs. There is also an 18 hole golf course designed by Robert Von Hagge. Skydiving from Playa is another possibility.

Playa del Carmen’s natural features, beauty, and spectacular beaches, its enviable geographical location and its blend of sea and jungle make this destination on the Mexican Caribbean a favorite of visitors from all over the world.

B- City Information:
Population: 47,200


In the State of Quintana Roo, off the northeastern end of the Yucatan peninsula, south of New Orleans. Approximately 1.5 hours flying time from Miami.

Languages: Spanish and Mayan, but English is spoken in most areas.

The original inhabitants of this part of Mexico were Mayan and although Spanish is the official language, most of the indigenous population still speaks their native tongue. In the past few years, people from all parts of the world have settled here, giving this region a cosmopolitan atmosphere

Time Zone: Central Standard Time. The time is one hour behind that of New York City. When it is 11:00am in New York City; it is 10:00am in Playa del Carmen. However, Daylight saving time is observed from the first weekend in May until the last weekend in September.

Average Temperatures:














When to Visit: Playa del Carmen is warm year round, but the steady sea breeze tempers the heat. There is outdoor swimming all year. Rainfall is evenly distributed over the twelve months. The chance of hurricanes is greater in September and October. The sun reflected from the water is intense, so it is important to come prepared with sunblock. Most visitors wear shorts and T-shirts. A sweater is useful for air-conditioned places and for the occasional cool winter day.

National Holidays:

Jan 1 New Year’s Day (Año Nuevo)

Feb 5 Constitution Day

Mar 21 Birthday of Benito Juárez, Mexican president and national hero

Holy Week (Semana Santa) Good Friday through Easter Sunday

May 1 Labor Day (Día del Trabajo) with workers’ parades

May 5 Battle of Puebla commemorates the Mexican victory over the French at

Puebla in 1862

Sept 1 The president of Mexico delivers the annual State of the Nation address

Sept 16 Independence Day

Oct 12 Day of the Race (Dia de la Raza) Columbus Day

Nov 1-2 The Day of the Dead

Nov 20 Revolution Day: Anniversary of the 1910 Mexican Revolution

Dec 12 Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadelupe

Dec 25 Christmas Day

Currency: The currency is in Mexican Pesos.

Banks and Currency Exchange Facilities:

US Dollars are easily exchanged into pesos in banks, major hotels, airports and exchange houses. Mexican banks are open from 9 am to 2:30 pm weekdays only. Most credit cards are accepted in shops, hotels and travel agencies. Major purchases are best made with a credit card. You automatically receive the bank rate of exchange, which is higher than the rates given in town or at the hotels.

Cash advances and ATM withdrawals typically come in pesos.

Major ATM cards work at ATMs at the big banks such as Banamex .Banks advertise their closing hour as 5 PM during the week.

Departure Tax: is approximately US $17. Be prepared with US cash for this. Change may not be available. Children under 2 years are exempt.

Customs Regulations: After passing through immigration, you must claim your luggage and pass through Customs. You must present a Customs form, which will be given to you at check-in before you leave the US or during your flight. You will be asked to press a button at a sort of traffic light: Green means go, red means your baggage will be briefly searched. Questions can be directed to the Customs office at the Cancún Airport at (52-98) 86-00-73.


A post card home will probably take many weeks, or even months. A package will probably not make it. Don’t send anything valuable with the Mexican Mail. If you do want to send some post cards, stamps can be found at the Post office and at the pharmacy or the mini super. Stamps are called estampillas.

Business Hours:

Most stores are open from 10 am to 10 pm daily in the Hotel Zone. Stores downtown may close between 2 pm and 4 pm for the traditional “siesta” and on Sundays.

Public rest rooms: Restrooms are difficult to find in most places. You are expected to supply your own toilet paper.

Children: Many resorts, hotels, and beachfront villas have many activities especially for families with children.

Car Rentals:

Major rental car companies operate from the airport and some hotels. You must be 25 years old, hold a driver’s license and major credit card. Road signs are in Spanish.

Public Transportation:

Tips and Taxes

In cases where the gratuity is not included or provided for, 15% is the accepted amount. Most items sold in Mexico have a “value added tax” or sales tax of 10% that is additional to the posted price. In Spanish, it is called IVA. You will see it itemized separately on your receipt.



Visitors will most likely arrive at Cancun International Airport, which is only about 45 minutes from Playa del Carmen. Playa has a small airport that mainly has service to Cozumel and some ruins, such as Chichén Itzá and Palenque. There is also an international airport in Cozumel, from which it is easy to get to Playa del Carmen. Cancún International Airport – Phone 870088. The airport is 9 miles southwest of Cancún City.

Exiting customs, you will find a mass of people calling out their readiness to help. Some with with hand carts try to confuse you into using their service by calling out different destination names until one catches your attention. Plan your transportation in advance or just keep moving forward to the exit to the taxi kiosk. Look for an authorized white, yellow and black airport taxi. It is a 45 minute ride to Playa del Carmen. The union controls who can carry tourists from the airport and what they charge. Taxis originating in Playa del Carmen are not actually authorized to take people to Playa, but you can go with a transfer company that is authorized. The ride to Playa del Carmen will cost a little over $50. The fare can be shared among others traveling ot the same destination. To take one of these authorized taxis, go to any of the TTC kiosks located around the terminal and buy a ticket.

The Mexican bus company, Riviera, now operates direct bus service between Cancun airport and Playa del Carmen. Tickets are reasonably priced each way, either way. It leaves from outside the main arrival hall at the airport. Just before you exit the terminal, there is a Riviera counter where you buy the ticket. In Playa del Carmen the bus works out of the main bus terminal on 5th Avenue and Juarez. These are big blue Mercedes buses with huge butterfly fish decals on the back.

The crowd of sales people for other modes of transportation (authorized and unauthorized) will continue to shout out invitations to use their services or to accept boarding assistance from them even as the visitor is boarding the Riviera bus with a ticket in hand. It is best to ignore these entreaties and to proceed on your own onto the bus, as planned. This is the schedule (subject to change on short or no notice):

Cancun airport – Playa
10:30, 11:45, 12:45, 13:45, 15.00, 16:45, 17:45, 19:00, 20:30
Playa-Cancun airport
8:00, 9:00, 10:30, 11:45, 13:00, 15:00, 16:00, 17:00, 18.15

From Cozumel Airport: Take a taxi to the dock, (el muelle). Ferries to Playa leave every hour on the hour, except at 11am and 1pm. The ferry ride will take about 30 minutes. By the dock in Playa, there are guides on tricycles who can take your luggage to your hotel, or to the taxi stand by the bus station.

Air-conditioned passenger ferries to Cozumel leave every hour on the hour from the town’s pier one block from the main square. Construction of a second pier at the end of Av. Constituyentes proceeds in fits and starts. There is also a car ferry to Cozumel from the Calica pier just south of the Playacar development.

The ferry dock in Playa is 1 block from the main square and within walking distance of hotels. Playa has two bus stations. Buses coming from Cancún and places along the coast, such as Tulum, arrive at the Riviera bus station, at the corner of Juárez and Quinta Avenida, by the town square. Buses coming from destinations in the interior of the peninsula arrive at the new ADO station, on Avenida 20 between 12th and 14th streets.

Getting Around

It is easy to get around in Playa. You don’t need a car to get around town, in fact it’s easier not to have one. Playa del Carmen is small enough to for you to walk almost everywhere. Taxis are cheap and they are found everywhere. As soon as you leave the center area of town, the rates rise steeply and inconsistently, so ask before you go. Another popular means of transportation is the scooter or bike, both of which are available for rent in Playa. There are plenty of buses going to Cancun or Tulum, and if you want to go on a day trip, it is easy to rent a car in Playa.


The are two bus terminals in town, one on the corner of Avenida Juarez and 5th Avenue and one on Avenida 20, between Calle 12 and 14. Both have direct bus service to Cancun, Tulum, Merida and a lot of other places in the area and the country. The Colectivos are white vans running up and down the highway. They stop anywhere you want, and you can flag them down by the side of the road. They operate from Calle 2 between Avenida 15 and 20, next to the baseball court.

C- Attractions/Things To Do:
Cenotes (freshwater underground springs)
Located in the heart of the Yucatan’s underwater cavern region, there is an opportunity in Playa to experience cavern diving and snorkeling. Cavern diving is available at Cenote Dos Ojos. Tour the Bat Cave, and experience underwater caverns decorated unlike any others in the world.

Scuba Diving
Extreme sports enthusiasts will enjoy scuba diving in the open seas in the crystal-clear waters of Playa del Carmen. You can go snorkeling and scuba diving on the Great Mayan Reef, located less than 100 meters out from the beach. Alternatively, you can go diving in the caves: a great experience.

Also known as “The Place of the Turtle” Akumal is a bay protected by a coral reef, which has been developed as a natural aquarium and an excellent site to learn how to scuba dive and snorkel. It has not so shallow waters and no streams affect it, so it is like a big natural swimming-pool waiting to be explored.

Archaeological Sites near Playa del Carmen
Several of Mexico’s famous archaeological sites can be reached from Playa del Carmen, such as:

Chichen Itza
This archaeological city of the state of Yucatan was founded by the Maya-Itzas who arrived in the Peninsula around the year 435-455 A.D.. Chichen was occupied twice. The first occupation was from 495 to 692, and the second from 948 to 1204. The architecture of the first period is considered to be authentically Maya, and the second is considered to have Toltec influence, since it has certain elements in common with those found in Tula, the ancient capital of the Toltec-Hueytlapalanecas.

Considered by many as the most beautiful of the Mayan sites, it is small, but is exquisitely poised on the fifteen-meter-high cliffs above the Caribbean. The Spanish first considered it to be as large and beautiful a city as Seville, Spain. They were apparently misled by their dreams of El Dorado, by the glory of its position, and by the brightly painted facades of the buildings. Architecturally, Tulum is no match for these great cities, but it is striking in its appearance.

This archeological site was constructed between two lakes. More than 80 square kilometers of buildings remain. Its main pyramid is the tallest of the whole Peninsula and is 130 feet tall. It overlooks the rain forest area.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Heading south from Playa del Carmen, travelers reach the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Natural Reserve, also known as “the place where the sky begins”. It is an area of rain forest, lakes, swamps, coastal ponds, bays and reefs, all of which are the natural habitat of thousands of species, such as jaguars and pumas, white-tail deer, crocodiles, howler and spider monkeys and 345 species of birds. All day expeditions from Monday to Saturday are available, which include a three hour boat trip. Requires reservations in advance.

This is considered to be the largest natural aquarium in the world. Formed by a huge inlet, it is a setting for hundreds of tropical fish; and is also known also for its ruins, cenotes, and caves. Restaurants,, showers, and lockers are available.

Swimming With Dolphins

In the two nature parks south of Playa, Xcaret and Xel-Ha, you can have the opportunity of interacting with dolphins.

Reef Club Playacar
This All Inclusive resort is located in Playa del Carmen, on the coast of the Riviera Maya, 40 minutes south of Cancun. Nestled on one of the most beautiful white sandy beaches of Playa del Carmen, the resort setting is one of lush tropical jungle greenery, natural springs (cenotes), and vestiges of Mayan ruins. The Reef Club Playacar is the first resort in the Playacar development area, within 15 minutes walking distance of downtown Playa del Carmen and the pier, from which the ferry to Cozumel departs.

Playa Del Carmen is an ideal spot for visiting one of the most beautiful parks in Mexico: Xcaret, which is also the point from which ferries set out for the 45 minute ride to the Island of Cozumel. It is near the natural well area of Puerto Aventuras.

Shopping in Playa del Carmen
Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) is Playa del Carmen’s main shopping area. This pedestrian walkway is also home to much of Playa’s activity both during the day and night. Not only does it have many shopping options, but also restaurants, bars, hotels and more.

All sort of handcrafts from Mexico’s different regions, including clothes and beachwear, hammocks and Mexican articles are sold. At the open markets furniture, and silver jewelry are also available.

Nightlife in Playa del Carmen
The evening offers a number of options such as places to dance. Popular fiestas take place on the beaches and in the lively bars. On 5th Avenue there are bars and discos with a lively ambiance.

Visiting the Ruined Cities of the Maya

There are four cities within easy reach of Playa and most of the coast. The easiest to reach is Tulum. A half-hour inland from Tulum on a pock-marked road is Cobá, rising up from a jungle setting. This city has not been reconstructed to the same degree as the other three and doesn’t have the rich imagery or clearly delineated architecture. The other two cites, Chichén Itzá and Ek Balam, are 2 1/2 hours distant in the interior of the peninsula.


From Playa and the rest of the coast there are tours to the ruins. The tour buses usually stop at a few places along the way for refreshments and souvenirs. Some combine the ruins of Tulum with a visit to a nature park.

There is a tour agency in Playa called Alltournative: 984/873-2036 which offers small tours that combine a visit to a contemporary Mayan village; kayaking, rappelling, snorkeling, and cenote diving; natural history; and ruins. It offers these tours daily using vans for transportation.

Call the agency directly or arrange a tour through your hotel; they pick up at most of the large resorts that are along the coast.

Sian Ka’an Biopreserve Ecological Tour

This originates from Tulum.

The Nature Parks: Xcaret, Xel-Ha, & Tres Rios: These parks require full-day excursions, and offer opportunities for swimming, snorkeling and other aquatic activities, educational tours highlighting the region’s natural history and local Mayan culture and entertainment. They are completely self-contained and offer food, drink, watersports equipment, and various choices of merchandise. Tres Ríos isn’t far north of Playa. Xcaret is just south of Playa, while Xel-Ha is further south, almost to Tulum.


Deep Sea Fishing

The largest marina on the coast is at Puerto Aventuras, not far south of Playa. There you will find a number of options for boating and fishing.

Horseback Riding

There are several places along the highway that offer horseback rides. One is just south of Playa near the Calica Pier and is called Rancho Punta Venado (984/877-9701).There is a clearly marked sign.

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

In Playa, Tank-Ha Dive Center 984/873-0302;arranges reef and cavern diving. The owner offers reef and cenote diving excursions. He and his staff speak English. There are also good dive shops in Puerto Morelos, north of Playa, and in Akumal, south of Playa. The area around Akumal has a number of underwater caverns and cenotes that have become popular scuba and snorkeling destinations. The Akumal Dive Shop specializes in cavern diving and offers a variety of dives.

Hidden Worlds Cenotes, 15km south of Akumal provides everything, including wet suit.


an 18-hole championship golf course (984/873-0624), designed by Robert Von Hagge, is adjacent to the Continental Plaza Playacar. The club also has two tennis courts.

D- Family Fun Attractions:
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Heading south of Playa del Carmen, travelers reach the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Natural Reserve, also known as “the place where the sky begins”. It is an area of rain forest, lakes, swamps, coastal ponds, bays and reefs, all of which are the natural habitat of thousands of species, such as jaguars and pumas, white-tail deer, crocodiles, howler and spider monkeys and 345 species of birds. All day expeditions from Monday to Saturday are available, which include a three hour boat trip. Requires reservations in advance.

This is considered to be the largest natural aquarium in the world. Formed by a huge inlet, it is a setting for hundreds of tropical fish; and is also known also for its ruins, cenotes, and caves. Restaurants,, showers, and lockers are available.

Swimming With Dolphins

In the two nature parks south of Playa, Xcaret and Xel-Ha, you can have the opportunity of interacting with dolphins.

E- Events & Entertainment:
Jan 1st: Public holiday.

Mid-March: Carnaval with dancing, parades and floats

June 1: Navy Day Fishing Tournament. Playa Del Carmen hosts an annual fishing tournament.

September 16: Independence Day. Public holiday celebrated throughout Mexico with grand parades.

December 16 – December 24: Las Posadas. Each night the faithful re-enact Joseph and Mary’s search for posada (shelter) on their journey to Belen. For others, it’s an occasion for a party. Many hotels and restaurants hold their own posada festivities.