One of Playa's many beach clubs — Photo courtesy of The Sean & Lauren Spectacular
You're probably familiar with Cancun...white sand beaches, aqua blue water, amazing nightlife, spring break. If you love Cancun but are looking for a different vibe this time around, hop a van and in an hour you'll be in funky Playa del Carmen, a bustling yet bohemian beach town with a European vibe.
Playa, as it's affectionately called by locals, started out as a fishing town with a ferry to the island of Cozumel but has rapidly developed into a world-class beach destination. In the last few years, this pedestrian and bicycle-friendly town has grown to accommodate its popularity. There are two things that really give Playa del Carmen its unique character: 5th Avenue (la Quinta Avenida) and a world-class beach on the azure Caribbean Sea.
Playa del Carmen boasts a world class beach — Photo courtesy of daryl_mitchell
5th Avenue is a cobblestone pedestrian street that runs parallel to, and is just one block up from, the beach. One can spend hours enjoying its charm. It's lined with cafes and restaurants serving cuisine from all over the globe. Highlights include Oh Lala, Babes Noodles and Bar, Xulam, La Cueva de Chango and Ah Cacao Chocolate Cafe.
You'll also find quaint shops selling anything from Mexican handicrafts to designer clothes. Street performers abound in Playa, so stop along the way and see traditional Mexican acts, break dancers and even fire shows.
As you walk along the white sand beach and gaze at the unbelievably blue water, you'll notice many beach clubs. Spend your day at one and enjoy music (sometimes live), lounge chairs, beach beds and waiters that serve food and drinks. Some also offer swimming pools, massages and other amenities. Outdoor activities include jet skiing, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, fishing, parasailing and skydiving.
You won't find many large resorts in Playa — Photo courtesy of bsabarnowl
Boutique hotels rule in Playa del Carmen, so you won't find many sprawling all-inclusive resorts here. Each small hotel has its own personality and they range from economical to very expensive. Some popular hotels are the Lunata, Om, Blue Parrot and Deseo. There are also many hostels as Playa is a popular stop for backpackers.
Playa del Carmen's action continues at night. On 12th Street from 10th Avenue to the beach, you'll find many bars and clubs geared towards tourists like Deseo, Santanera and Coco Bongo, a smaller version of the huge Cancun nightclub. The area of 8th street between 5th and 10th Ave is where you'll find locals and backpackers at places like Los Secretos and Red Bar. There are also nightclubs right on the beach, including the Blue Parrot, Fusion and Zenzi.
Just one of the hundreds of shops on 5th Avenue — Photo courtesy of Miss a Liss
Playa is a booming cosmopolitan beach town, so travel an extra hour after you land at the Cancun International Airport and discover all it has to offer.