Ultimate Guide to Playa del Carmen!
Just a short ride from the Cancun International Airport, lies the popular party town: Playa del Carmen. Famous for its turquoise waters, all-inclusive resorts, secret cenotes, & LIVELY bar-filled 5th Avenue ~ Playa’s got something for everybody…except peace & quiet! Unless you’re tucked behind the walls of an all-inclusive resort, Playa’s much more of a party town than a restful retreat. Which is great for some people…& not so great for others! Get the lay of the land & find out if Playa is right for you in this “Ultimate Guide to Playa del Carmen in Mexico!”
Here’s a brief overview of what we’ll cover: maps of the area, how to get there, when to visit, safety info, where to stay, what to pack, & great activities nearby in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Overview of Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is a party town: make no mistake about that. And, it’s quite touristy. I was there for three weeks during February & March, & I can’t recall a time when it wasn’t busy! It’s not what I’d call “authentic” Mexico (if you want authentic, head to Merida)…I’d call it more “Americanized” Mexico. You’ll find plenty of restaurants, bars, places to shop, yoga studios, juice bars, even sex hotels!! Basically: you can do it ALL here. Was it my favorite place in the Yucatan? No. I prefer a less touristy vibe. But I think Playa is perfect for a lot of people.
Playa del Carmen is Perfect For: Big groups; bachelor/bachelorette parties; young people; couples; anyone looking to party & have a good time. It also works for solo travelers who want to stay in lively hostels & meet other young travelers.
How to Get to Playa del Carmen
There’s no airport in Playa del Carmen, so if you’re flying here ~ you’ll need to fly into either Cancun or Cozumel. Cancun is a one-hour drive from Playa del Carmen, & Cozumel is a 45-minute ferry ride. I rented a car for a WEEK in the Yucatan for $5 (via Kayak)!!! That is NOT a typo. Definitely rent a car in advance if you want to explore this region…you’ll find much better deals than if you wait to book in person.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Chichen Itza, Mexico
When to Visit Playa del Carmen
Dry season in Playa del Carmen is October – March; weather during this time is pleasant, dry, & warm (but not too warm). Days are in the 80’s, with night temps in the low 70’s ~ making it a great time to visit. April & May are also good months; it’s less busy & getting warmer, with cheaper hotel prices. June – September is hurricane season, with higher humidity & more mosquitoes: so not the best time to visit.
Is Playa del Carmen Safe?
In general, the Yucatan Peninsula is one of the safest regions in Mexico. I spent over two months there as a female traveler & had ZERO issues (& I drove everywhere). That said, I felt safer on the nearby island of Cozumel than I did in Playa del Carmen. Why? Because Cozumel was super mellow & laid-back; in Playa, I got hassled more by aggressive guys along 5th Ave. who asked me out or offered me drugs. I never felt unsafe ~ but I was definitely more on guard in Playa than in Cozumel.
It’s also common in Playa del Carmen to see heavily-armed militia (who often look really young) riding around in large trucks. I’m not sure if this is supposed to make us feel “safer” ~ but to me, it felt disconcerting & a little odd. The best thing about Playa though, in terms of safety, is: on main streets, there are usually TONS of people around, even late at night. Use caution walking alone at night, stay on main streets or take a cab, & don’t leave your drink unattended.
Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen
One of the best things about Playa del Carmen is there are accommodations for ALL budgets: you can stay in ritzy, beach-front all-inclusives, party hostels, or cute family-run B&B’s. Compared to Cancun, where it’s really difficult to find mid-range hotel options ~ Playa has WAY more options for all price points.
MAIN Tip: When looking for accommodations in Playa, know that if you’re staying anywhere near 5th Ave. ~ your hotel will be NOISY at night!!!
Best All-Inclusive Options in Playa del Carmen: I’m guessing if you’re willing to spend money on an all-inclusive, you’d prefer to be right on the beach. And the good news is: most are. The Viva Wyndham Maya ($165+/night) has its own beach, upscale rooms, & is reasonably priced at $165+/night. If you’re looking for more exclusive, five-star resorts & don’t mind being a bit further from town: try the Banyan Tree Mayakoba ($335+/night) or the Grand Velas Riviera Maya ($633+/night).
Best Budget Hotels in Playa del Carmen
Best Hostels in Playa del Carmen: If you’re looking for chic-on-a-budget & want to meet other young, fun-loving travelers ~ try Hostel 3B ($24+/night) or Hostel Che Playa ($16+/night). Both have rooftop bars & great locations, but will still leave you enough dough for a wild night on the town.
Best Mid-Range Hotels in Playa del Carmen: This was my sweet spot while staying in Playa ~ & luckily, you’ve got TONS of options. Here’s where I stayed & recommend: 1) Hotel Angelo’s ($38+/night), a brand-new hotel with a rooftop pool & large rooms, great Wi-Fi & modern amenities. The only negative is its location ~ it’s across the main highway, about 15-minutes from town. If this bothers you, try: 2) Hotel Los Itzaes ($63+/night), a serene hotel right in town, close to 5th Ave. (which does make it noisier at night). For more hip, try: 3) Soho Playa ($65+/night), which is chic & centrally located or, 4) HM Playa del Carmen, which has an AMAZINGLY sexy pool & boho vibe!
Sex Hotel in Playa del Carmen?!?!!
Speaking of Soho Playa, this reminds me of a crazy, out-of-the-box hotel suggestion: Reina Roja. While staying at the Soho, we saw a very strange sight from our balcony: it looked like two people having sex on the balcony across from us?! Intrigued, we did some investigating, & discovered there was an S&M-themed hotel right across the street! If you’re at all conservative: don’t stay here!! Don’t even walk in the lobby. The Reina Roja, decorated all in red & black, takes S-E-X-Y to the next level: there are mannequins, erotic photos, people in cages, & I’ve heard that anything goes in their rooftop pool. Stay here with your spouse or lover for a very adult weekend…
What to Pack for Playa del Carmen
My top packing suggestions for Playa include reef-safe, chemical-free sunscreen (required in cenotes to protect the limestone), an underwater camera, & something you may not think of: Activated Charcoal. Though I didn’t get Montezuma’s Revenge while in Playa, I know plenty of people who did. Even if you drink bottled water & nix ice, it’s still possible to get Montezuma’s ~ & if you do, activated charcoal helps bind with toxins & get them out of your system ASAP. WORTH IT!!!
Read Next: How to Avoid Montezuma’s Revenge!
Best Cenote Near Playa del Carmen
Chances are, if you’re coming to the Yucatan ~ you want to swim in some cenotes (super cool underground swimming holes). There are thousands of them all over the Yucatan Peninsula, but the closest to Playa is Cenote Chaak Tun. You need to take a guided tour here, but Chaak Tun is sooo photogenic! I think it’s worth it. Make sure to bring your underwater camera.
I’ve written all about visiting Chaak Tun cenote: read this article for more info.
Read Next: Best Cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula!
There are TONS of things to do in the Yucatan!! But here are some of the best adventures near Playa del Carmen: take the 45-minute ferry ride across to Cozumel for an afternoon of world-class snorkeling. Drive an hour south to everyone’s new favorite bohemian retreat, Tulum ~ which has WAY better beaches than Playa, & relaxed beachfront resorts. For ancient Mayan ruins, head to nearby Coba (45-minute drive), the Mayan Ruins at Tulum (1-hour), or famous Chichen Itza (2-hour drive). Or go way off-the-beaten path to one of my favorite places EVER: the incredible Pink Sea!