Latest update: 15 March 2023
The name sounds promising, but Playa del Carmen in Mexico is a nightmare for me. I’m going crazy here! I can only advise against this Mexican beach town. Why? Please read on.And yes, I’ll also share a few tips for what you can do there if you can’t avoid the town.
Make it stop!
Playa del Carmen is not a planned visit for me. I’ve heard enough about it to know it won’t make me happy. All the bad things of tourism come together in Playa del Carmen: people who try to talk me into a restaurant or bar, endless happy hours, drunk beachgoers, noise pollution, an overdose of Western shops, countless souvenir shops… You name it. And secretly, I don’t like the beach of Playa del Carmen at all. At least not the part around the town’s center. The Mexican coastline really has much nicer places.
Beach of Playa del Carmen?
What can you actually do in Playa del Carmen? Good question. One that I can’t find an answer to online. Almost every blog and article mainly contains tips for getting out of Playa del Carmen and visiting ruins, cenotes, or other sights in the region. I do understand that. I also have trouble with good travel tips in Playa del Carmen itself.
So what am I doing here? I want to get to Cozumel; I have to catch the boat in Playa del Carmen. And when I return from the island, my bus to the next destination leaves the next day. So I stay one night in Playa del Carmen – aka Playa. All I have to do is survive one night. I should be fine. So I’m only in Playa del Carmen for a very short time, but long enough to know that this is not for me.
5th Avenue: the shopping street
My biggest irritation in Playa del Carmen is 5th Avenue, the never-ending shopping street. This is where people constantly try to get your attention and call out. Massages, information, tours, souvenirs: people offer it to you by yelling. Loud. In the beginning, I kindly say “no thanks,” but because I’m being harassed by someone else every two meters, I quickly give up. I ignore all variations on “lady lady, look here!” and “señorita, special price” and walk faster and faster through the shopping street. And actually, it is much too hot for that. It really has a counterproductive effect on me, and I don’t buy anything in the shops. Leave me alone!
Actually, it is quite a shame that this street is so ruined because it is nicely set up with lots of greenery and a handful of nice shops. But, for me, it’s the atmosphere that turns me off completely.
Take the boat to Cozumel
From Playa del Carmen, you can easily take the boat to Cozumel. Around the pier, at Parque Los Fundadores, everything and every one offers you boat tickets. You can also buy them online – to save you the hassle. For example, the Ultramar boat runs every hour from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. The ocean crossing is pretty rough, so if you’re sensitive to it, definitely take your motion sickness medication. There is quite a bit of sloshing and puking on this boat.
Visit the Frida Kahlo museum
In a side street off 5th Avenue, the Frida Kahlo Museum is tucked away. A small-scale museum about the life of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. That’s the lady with the unibrow. If you’ve ever seen the movie Frida (with Selma Hayek as Frida) or the Disney/Pixar movie Coco, you know it’s been quite an eventful life. One full of pain, sadness, and passion.
You can choose to visit the museum with a guide. I certainly would because this museum is much more about the story than what you see. The guide who provides us with information does so very clearly and extensively. And the guide is free (giving a tip is nice, of course). You can see images of Frida’s paintings in the museum, but not the real ones. For that, you have to go to the museum in Mexico City – or pay Madonna a visit: she bought one of Frida’s paintings.
The entrance fee is 240 pesos per person. Students and seniors get a discount.
Frida Kahlo museum on Google Maps.
(Don’t) Stay at Hostel Che Playa
In 2018 I stay with two friends in Hostel Che Playa. We choose a private room because we don’t feel like a dormitory. IIt’s terrible. Horrible. It is an airtight, light-tight loft that fits a bunk bed and a regular bed. Water runs down the wall on one side. It has a tiny bathroom. Our entrance door is in the middle of a dormitory, while the idea of the private room is that you avoid it. The barmaid only has eyes for her phone, so we don’t get to order a beer. This is a terrible deal that costs us almost 70 euros.
But… when I look at Booking in 2023, the photos of Che Playa look entirely different. Much nicer, but if I can believe the reviews, a bit of a party hostel. So make a good decision!
Eat locally at Marisquerias El Gusto Jarocho
In the evening we want to have a bite to eat, but preferably local. After wandering around for a while, we end up at the seafood restaurant Marisquerias El Gusto Jarocho. We are happy: the service is fast, the fish is fresh, and there is plenty of garlic.
Cocktails in a jungle garden: Aldea Corazon
In the main street, we find it difficult to find a nice place for a cocktail. Most bars are very American and touristy and play music at the highest volume. So we pick the inconspicuous Aldea Corazon. The street side doesn’t give away how nice it is inside. There are attractive seating areas spread over different levels in a garden full of plants and trees around a dry cenote. The waiter whispers that we’re not supposed to only drink cocktails. Normally you also have to have dinner here, but today we’re allowed because it is quiet. It’s actually bizarre how quiet it is here. The jungle garden makes us forget the craziness of Playa del Carmen.
Bye bye Playa del Carmen
You probably understand that I’m happy when I can leave again. Sometimes a place just isn’t quite ‘your thing’. For me, Playa del Carmen is the holiday hell; someone else probably thinks it’s fantastic. Opinions differ ;-).
More Mexico inspiration?
Helpful links for your Mexico trip
- Travel guides. I love the practical travel guides from Lonely Planet, buy them at Bol.com, Amazon or Book Depository. The latter has longer delivery times but is often cheaper.
- Flights. Compare all your options! Definitely check out Momondo, Skyscanner, and Kiwi.
- Bus. Book bus trips in Mexico with Busbud or 12Go.
- Accommodation. All-time favorites: Booking.com and Airbnb. Find hostels via Hostelworld.
- Activities. You book the best tours and activities with GetYourGuide and Viator. For tours with locals, go to WithLocals. And for bike tours, try Baja Bikes.
- Attractions and museums. Get a 5% discount on museums and attractions at Tiqets with the coupon code KIMOPREIS22.
- Car rental. My go-to car rental companies are EasyTerra and Sunny Cars as they have all-inclusive / worry-free offers.
- Travel gear. Buy your gear at Bever or Decathlon, or simply at Bol.com.
- Package deals. Rather go on a catered trip? You have many options! For the Dutch, try ANWB vakanties, Tui or Sawadee, or maybe you can find a sweet deal at Vakantie Discounter?
Or: try a yoga retreat in Mexico!
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First published: March 2018. The article has been updated since.