There’s no place like Cancun: white sand beaches, the turquoise blue Caribbean Sea, unparalleled nightlife and world-class shopping and dining. But if you’re in the mood to see what lies beyond the city limits, take a day trip to funky Playa del Carmen.
Playa del Carmen started out as a small fishing village and a port where boats departed to Cozumel Island, but it has grown into a popular beach town destination. However, "Playa," as it’s affectionately called by locals, is very different from glittering Cancun with its all-inclusive resorts and manicured lawns. Playa del Carmen, though it has grown tremendously since its fishing village days, has never lost its bohemian feel.
Mamita's is one of Playa's most popular beach clubs — Photo courtesy of Mamita's Beach Club
To get to Playa, take the R1 bus to downtown Cancun and ask to be dropped off across the street from the ADO station. The bus to Playa will set you back about 4 USD per person and runs about every 30 minutes. The ride is only about an hour long.
When you exit the bus station, you'll immediately notice that Playa is very different from Cancun. The beach town is home to countless beach clubs, read: lounge chairs and sun umbrellas, beach beds, music, waiters to serve you ceviche and margaritas, and of course, a front row view of the sparkling blue Caribbean Sea. Head to Mamita’s, arguably Playa’s most popular beach club, where there’s also great people watching. Another option is the more laid-back Wah Wah Beach Bar, where tequila shots are 2 x 1 every day.
After a relaxing day on the beach, head for La Quinta Avenida (on 5th Avenue), Playa’s charming pedestrian walkway, which is one block up from and parallel to the beach. The ambiance on 5th Avenue is lively and fun, and when the sun goes down, the walkway and its cafés, shops, boutiques, restaurants and bars light up. Shop for tacky or tasteful souvenirs, fashionable apparel and jewelry. People watching is fun on 5th Avenue as well, because people from all over the world visit and live in Playa.
La Quinta Avenida lights up at night — Photo courtesy of Sean and Lauren Flickr
For dinner, try a Playa del Carmen favorite - Babe’s Noodle House and Bar - which is located on 10th Street between 5th and 10th Avenues. This Swedish owned restaurant serves contemporary Asian/European cuisine. The economical menu includes many vegetarian and seafood offerings which are made with fresh ingredients. Try a cucumber daiquiri, the goat cheese rolls appetizer and the Swedish meatballs.
Ah Cacao is chocolate and coffee heaven — Photo courtesy of Ah Cacao Playa del Carmen Facebook
After dinner, don’t miss Ah Cacao on 5th Avenue and Constituyentes. This place is all about chocolate and/or coffee, so order one of their delicious milkshakes, a mocha frappe, a Chocolate Maya (Mayan hot chocolate), a brownie or another one of their delicious creations. They also sell chocolate bars and packaged Mexican coffee. Ah Cacao closes at 11:30 p.m. This means you’ll be on time for the last ADO bus back to Cancun, which leaves Playa at midnight.
On the other hand, you could stay in Playa del Carmen and party the night away at Coco Bongo (Playa has its own version.) and head back to Cancun on the first bus tomorrow morning!