Situated in the tropical tourist region known as Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen is 65 kilometres south of Cancun and 20 kilometres from the island of Cozumel. This hot spot provides all the sun, sand and surf of its trendy cousins.
Named for Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the patron saint of Cancun, Playa del Carmen was a rest stop and readying point for the earliest travellers making their way from the great Mayan cities to the island of Cozumel. From the same shores that now house modern-day resorts and restaurants, they launched dugout canoes to journey across the open water.
During ensuing centuries of European exploration, Spaniards travelled up and down the Yucatan Peninsula, and pirate ships patrolled the waters. Trade was established in the area, where local commodities like salt and honey were bartered for goods imported from other regions.
Today, bartering still takes place, with the commodity being the Mexican peso or U.S. dollar. You can still venture away from the shoreline, but the vessel will most likely be a kayak, fishing boat or perhaps a parasail. But first, you have to get to the waterfront.
Riviera Maya’s coastline extends nearly 145 kilometres along the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula, with Playa del Carmen at the heart of it all. Bordered by the Caribbean Sea, the beach looks exactly like those magazine pictures of turquoise water and sparkling white sands.
If you are visiting Playa del Carmen, you must stroll down La Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue, a festive pedestrian walkway running parallel to the ocean. It offers a wide selection of shopping, dining and entertainment, along with Internet cafes, money exchangers and other specialty places. It’s also lined with boutiques, stores and kiosks, giving tourists plenty of potential to practise the age-old tradition known as haggling. Of course all that walking around and haggling will make you hungry, so stop in at one of the many restaurants along the Quinta. With ex-patriots from dozens of countries around the globe calling Playa del Carmen home, the town has a vast selection of food choices, including Italian, Argentinean, Chinese, French and other cuisines.
After a long day’s roaming it’s always a relief to rest your weary head. Being one of Mexico’s fastest-growing destinations, Playa del Carmen has had a boom in the quantity and quality of lodgings. Small hotels possess a captivating Caribbean charm, with some offering spectacular ocean views, while others resemble cosy nests surrounded by tropical jungle. And of course you have the high-end, all-inclusive resorts, which line the waterfront up and down the Yucatan Peninsula. Looking like fenced-in fortresses, some of these places are the size of small villages and have all the amenities.