The low down; Playa del Carmen.
Playa del Carmen Travel Blog› entry 3 of 15 › view all entries
Playa del Carmen is a sort of little brother to Cancun, although its the better looking, smarter, richer brother, it is however deffintly the smaller brother; there is not a single high rise hotel here. Almost everything that can be said about Playa has to be issued with an as at the time of writing´caveat as the building work here is extensive. Guide books that I had read (especially ones aimed at backpackers) published just two years ago refered to hotels that had been re-built and places that no longer exist.
Some things are not likely to change too much too soon though. Playa is situated on the Riveria Maya some 20-30 mles further south of Cancun, in April it is hot, glouriously so, some have complained that it is too hot, these I would suggest have not properly taken advantage of their Siesta rights.
Although April in Cancun is Spring break, Playa is little influenced by the exuberent hedonistic spring breakers, it is the place where people generally go so that they are not in Spring Break terratory. It is however a short enough distance to easily visit Cancun for a taste of the vida loca. Playa has a strong night life and people can be seen wondering back from one club or another at seven in the morning, however they are rarely heavily intoxicated or menacing, just happy, relaxed and if they didn´t get their siesta probably tired.
There is a US style block system in Playa that makes finding stuff and navigating easy, especially since as a very general rule everything is on one long street that runs parallel to the shore line anywhere between 50 and 150 metres away from the sea at any point, 5th Avenue.
The beach is glorious, the sand is white, fine and almost perfectly without stones or sharp shell fragments. Since the sand is so pale it does not retain much of the sun´s heat so is plesent to walk on bare foot even in the mid day sun (unlike the streets that will burn your feet almost instantly). A more yellow or dark volcanic sand would deffinitly be painfull in this heat. The beach is busy but not packed mid week and when I was there contained mostly sunbathers and people looking to relax. At the weekends it is busier and can in parts be packed out.
When the Caribbean sea hits the shore it does so with some energy and can be difficult to relax in either at the shore line or a little further out.
In town you can find a number of US staples like MacDonald, Hargen Daaz and Starbucks (I am told that thh Starbucks only arrived a couple of years ago and now there are three dotted on 5th avenue). The food prices here are not cheap, I would say equivelent with European prices, its quite easy to find a steak for 20 pound (GBP), which I did and it was excelent. Beer however I can only assume is subsidised by the government as it i really good value, typically even in a posh resturant it is around a pound for a bottle of Corona beer.
If you looking for cheeper options there are supermarkets and you can walk a few blocks from the beach and find food half the price, it tends to be limited to Taco´s which you can get sick of quick. Real Taco´s and Fajita´s, i.e. those in Mexico are much smaller than the ones you get in the UK ( about the size of a saucer) and often the Salsa offered in resturants is not hot. I was told, by an American, that hot Salsa was actually an American preference, I can not say as yet whether this is typical but its a shame if it is, well it is for me. I would say if you want to find better value then Playa is probably not the place for you. it is after all not a backpackers place really its a holiday resort for US and Europeans and the lucky few Mexican´s.
The local population here are in part of Mayan ancestory, they are commonly short and podgy but some of the women are stunning with pretty wide open faces.
Going out here can accomodate most people, there are a few clubs, loads of resturants (Mexican, Thai, Argentinian, one Mayan resturant, and Italian section, even an English bar), endless bars.
In terms of construction you can see and more importantly hear it almost everywhere, almost all the time, its not intrusive and mostly out of the heart of the town but does makes parts of the town ugly. For a backpackers its understandable to feel that the development has taken away much of the rustic charm of the place, along the beach there are old Cabana´s in colourful paint that are schedules for deconstruction to be replaced by a hotel complex. There are still caban´s but they look expensive and certainly not for travelers. The development also means there is very little natural shade on the beach, i.
Like most holiday places the shops are dominated by vacation trinkets, flip flops, sun hats, etc, etc. There are however a good few shops selling some pretty snazzy looking art. Again, these are not cheap, you can easily find art costing 500 to 3000 pounds here. The value of the flip flops is not to be underestimated given that a couple of mornings ago I nearly steped on a Scorpion with bare feet in the main street. Fortunatly someone else has steped on it before me. Hopefully they had their flips flops on.
One of Play´s strengths is its locations, just down the road from Cancun, on a beautiful beach, a managable Journey from Tulum, near Cenotes and a day trip from Chitzen Itza.