Last Updated on April 29, 2021
The Yucatan Peninsula and Riviera Maya are among the most naturally stunning and culturally rich destinations in the world. Boasting ancient ruins, other-worldly cenotes, incomparable coastlines, and endless opportunities for adventure and exploration, on land and in the sea, the region is truly one of a kind.
Surrounded by similarly seductive sights, cities, and islands, Playa del Carmen is a hub all of its own, where visitors can easily get the most out of their experience without ever having to leave the area. Ferries to nearby islands, buses to neighboring zones, and rental car road trips are all awesome, but far from musts. Here’s a helpful guide to having an absolutely amazing time visiting just PDC.
The vast majority of visitors flying to Playa del Carmen will arrive at Cancun International Airport. It’s about 45 minutes north of Playa by car, and there are several sensible options for the final leg of the journey.
Shuttle companies from the airport offer reasonably priced private vans with safe and knowledgeable drivers. These rides can even be customized with refreshments to be fully ready for celebratory “Cheers” (“Salud”) upon your arrival. This is something to consider if otherwise leaning towards a taxi, as the price will be comparable, but the shuttle service will surely exceed a standard cab ride. Once in Playa, taxis are extremely economical, with the base fare for a short ride to “El Centro” starting at just under $2 USD. If you’re planning on traveling the same route often, keep an eye out for big white vans called “Colectivos,” which will list their stops in neon across the right side of the windshield. A ride in one of these costs a peso equivalent of just 50 cents US. They will stop wherever you flag them down. They do have programmed stops too, but you can ask to get out anytime (“aqui, por favor”). You can then hop out to explore, stroll, and shop for summer sundresses, designer belts women love, some fly new flip flops, what have you. A final note on this transportation method: you’ll sometimes hear them called “Combis” too, and the driver will always automatically open and close the door for you.
Lastly, if you’re staying in Playa and don’t plan to venture elsewhere, there is no need to rent a car. The super affordable and accessible options described here are more than enough.
Get that Paper
Dollars are accepted in Playa del Carmen, but the exchange rate varies from business to business, and is not always accurate or favorable. If you have an account/card with minimal foreign transaction and ATM fees, it will make the most sense to pull cash out in pesos (from a bank ATM is wisest). Even if there is a $5 fee (roughly 100 pesos), it can save you big in the long run.
Be alert at all times, and avoid carrying large sums of cash on your person. This is just good travel sense. Using a credit card for purchases can be safest, because they tend to be easier about challenging and reversing any potentially fraudulent charges. That said, the businesses in PDC will always bring the payment terminal to you, so you are aware and in control of the amount being charged. If the service was excellent, a 20% tip will be appreciated (and typically, still shockingly cheap!).
Get Sand in Your Toes
The most known beaches in the area are Parque Fundadores (at the end of Avenida Benito Juarez) and Mamitas Beach. The first is more spacious and less structured, lacking shoreside businesses but offering ample room for recreational activities. The latter is nestled on a stretch of sand between resorts several blocks North of the former, where they will gladly rent you a shaded recliner for the day and serve prepared food and drinks to your heart’s content. Depending on what you’re after, either of these could be perfect.
If you’re seeking a more secluded area, there’s also Coco Reef and Playacar beaches. The former is accessible by a path at the end of the parking lot for The Reef Coco Beach hotel. Access is free, and there are usually others you can easily follow to learn the way. This area can be great for snorkeling. Playacar beach is more regularly maintained, as it’s located in a private residential area. This makes it noticeably cleaner, less rocky, and less crowded.
Get On It!
So what are you waiting for? The paradise of Playa del Carmen awaits! Start making your plans stat, and maybe even search for social media groups for travelers to share tips while you’re in town. You may soon see why so many choose to stay a while!