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Life & Travel

Eat, Stay, Play: The Ultimate Playa Del Carmen Guide

Playa del Carmen is the perfect vacation getaway for anyone who loves beautiful beaches, delicious food, and fun activities. Located on the Caribbean Sea side of Mexico, PDC is nestled right between the spring break hub Cancun and the growing hotspot Tulum. Oftentimes overlooked for some of the other popular cities, I found Playa del Carmen to have just as much in terms of vacation necessities, with a more local and authentic Mexican feel.


The Ultimate Guide to Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is perfect for a solo traveler looking to spend a few days in paradise or the group chat that wants to hang on the beach all day and turn up at night. I found the area to have a little bit of everything for everyone, so here’s my guide on where to eat, stay, and play for the ultimate Playa del Carmen vacation.

Getting Around

The easiest way to get to Playa del Carmen is to fly into Cancun Airport and then make your way south. You can rent a car and drive the one hour down to PDC, take a taxi, or you can catch the ADO bus, which will cost you less than $40 roundtrip. Overall, Playa del Carmen is an easy and safe city to navigate. If you stay on or close to Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), you’ll be within walking distance to a ton of stores, restaurants, and nightlife. Most taxi rides were between 100 and 150 pesos, which is less than $10 USD. Renting a car is also an option, but with things being very walkable and taxis being fairly inexpensive, it’s not a necessity. Another great way to get around is bikes, which you can rent to use throughout the city.

Stay

The Thompson Hotel

The Thompson Hotel is for the folks who know that where you stay on vacation absolutely does matter. This luxury property offers chic rooms and upscale suites, onsite restaurants, and a spa for those who are looking to pamper themselves. One of the standout features of this property is the rooftop infinity pool, which has 360-degree views of the city and is absolutely stunning. This is your type of hotel if you value immaculate views, delicious eats, prime location, and live DJs.

Grand Hyatt Playa Del Carmen

Grand Hyatt offers a prime beachfront location, while also being steps away from the mix on Quinta Avenida. I like that this property allows you to take in the calm beauty of the Caribbean, while also being in close proximity to the action within the city. You get both authentic Mexican food and some international fare at the resort restaurants, and this property also has an infinity pool that gives views of the ocean.

Airbnb

If you don’t have the funds to spend on a hotel stay, but still want clean and comfortable accommodations, do not overlook Airbnb. You can find super reasonably priced apartments close to the strip that will leave you in the heart of all the action. Many of these buildings feature 24-hour security, infinity pools, top-notch gyms, and rooftop bars. This is a great way to save some money, while not sacrificing the quality of the accommodations you like.

Eat

Ictio Fish House

One of the best parts of being near the Caribbean Sea is having access to fresh seafood, and Ictio Fish House is the place to go for it. Located just a block off of the 5th Avenida strip, this small seafood restaurant is a quieter change compared to some of the busier and more touristy restaurants located directly on the strip. They have both indoor and outdoor seating available, but if you can snag a spot at the bar, the service is top notch and you can watch the bartender put together your craft cocktail.

Everything they serve is delicious and tastes authentic, so you really can't go wrong when ordering. But to start, the crispy jumbo shrimp and calamari are perfect for sharing. Other must-try dishes are the garlic butter catch of the day and the adobo-styled octopus.

El Fogon

Ask anyone for a recommendation for the best tacos in Playa del Carmen, and I promise you they will point you to El Fogon. You know a spot is good when it’s filled with just as many locals as tourists, and there’s a line outside at 1 p.m. This no-frills spot serves up authentic Mexican favorites like el pastor tacos, chicken quesadillas, guacamole, and margaritas. Every dish comes with the fixings and is not only super filling but extremely affordable. You can easily get a full meal and a drink for less than $20 USD. They have more than one location, so you can taste some of their delicious tacos no matter what part of PDC you stay in.

L&L by Lara&Luca

Before you hit the beach for day drinking, you need a hearty breakfast from L&L to start your day. This cute cafe is the smaller “sister” restaurant to Lara&Luca, another popular breakfast and lunch cafe in Playa. I liked that L&L is less busy and more laid back than the other location. They serve up typical breakfast and lunch items such as eggs, coffee, sandwiches, and French toast.

My favorite item was the ham and cheese croissant, which could be enjoyed on their outdoor seating or taken to enjoy on the go. They also have yummy pastries, but these sell out quickly, so be sure to go early.

El Pirata

If you’re a fried fish lover like me and appreciate sea-to-table service, El Pirata is the place to go. This restaurant is tucked away towards the end of the main 5th Avenida strip, so you might miss it if you aren’t looking for it. The restaurant serves up a plethora of tasty dishes like fresh ceviche, garlic shrimp, and shrimp empanadas, and has a full beverage menu for your libation needs. However, the fried fish is truly the star of the show.

When you order, they bring to your table a few of the fresh fish that were caught that day and allow you to choose which lucky one you want them to fry for you. And let me tell you, picking your own fried fish just hits different! It was one of my favorite meals in Playa del Carmen.

Play

Food Tour

There are so many delicious places to eat in Playa del Carmen so taking a local food tour is the best way to try a little bit of everything. I love taking food tours when I travel because not only is it a great way to try a range of different local dishes, but the tour guides usually give you a history lesson during the tour where you learn more about the history of certain dishes and the country as a whole. In Playa Del Carmen, I took a local food tour with GetYourGuide, where we stopped at several different locations for tacos, fresh fruit juice, tamales, and more.

I value it when there’s a local leading the tour because it’s a way to support the locals and also learn things that only people native to the location would know. While we walked, the guide shared a lot of insight about Mexico and Playa del Carmen, while giving recommendations for places to eat during our trip.

Cenotes

Cenotes are natural sinkholes or underground caverns that have pools of water in which you can explore, dive, and swim in. You will find cenotes all around Mexico, but there are several in the Playa del Carmen region. Cenotes vary in size and also the depth of water, so even if you don’t know how to swim, you can find a cenote to explore at your own comfort level. Two beautiful cenotes you can explore near PDC are Cenote Azul and Cenote Dos Ojos.

Cenote Azul is perfect for snorkeling because of the crystal clear waters that allow you to see the colorful fish and plant life underneath. Cenote Dos Ojos is perfect for explorers due to the mesmerizing underground caverns and rock formations throughout. You can take a trip to the cenotes on your own or book a tour that may take you to several different cenotes.

Beaches

Playa Del Carmen has some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, so beach hopping is a must while vacationing in the area. Whether you want a chill, relaxing beach day or you are thinking of jet skiing on the blue waters, there is a beach for you. There are several beaches along the coast of Playa del Carmen, some that are within walking distance of most hotels, and others that you may need to travel to get to but are totally worth it.

Playa Mamitas is one of the most popular beaches in PDC due to its location near the heart of the city, and also because of the crystal clear waters and white sand. Playa Mamitas is also a great spot for entertainment and the occasional beach party for the folks wanting to turn up. Playacar Beach is another great option that is located in the upscale Playacar neighborhood, south of downtown Playa del Carmen.

It is known for its pristine beauty and laid-back atmosphere, making it a popular destination for travelers seeking relaxation and seclusion. Other beaches to consider are Punta Esmeralda and Xpu-ha Beach, so you’ll have an option for every day of your trip, depending on your mood.

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Featured image by Peathegee Inc/Getty Images

 

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