Once considered the little sister of Canc ún’s Zona Hotelera, Playa del Carmen is a lively seaside resort destination in its own right now. There’s nightlife, fine dining and hotels aplenty stretched along the white sand coast, as well as a party vibe which is more uniquely Mexican than anything in Canc ún.
Jump back 30 years and there was little more than a few hundred small fishing families making up the population of Playa del Carmen. At that time, curious travellers exploring further afield than their Cancún resort hotels (which themselves did not exist prior to 1970) would come upon Maya ruins and the small fishing establishment that today has become an unrecognisable sprawl, for better or worse, of resorts and life.
For those seeking to escape the more commercial side of tourism in the Yucatán, it is now necessary to head much further south along the coast. Playa is a new beast with a population beyond 150,000 people. It is one that entertains, that parties, and one that provides ready ferry access to the scuba diving paradise of Cozumel an hour away. Chichén Itzá and the ruins of Tulum are also an hour away, but that is just a part of what makes Playa such a desirable destination.
The city has expanded rapidly and it is not uncommon to see new buildings under construction on the edge of city. Many of these will become hotels to accommodate the rising demands of tourism. There are plenty of options at each level of the budgetary scale. One of the top being the five-star Iberostar Tucan (Ave. Xaman Ha, Lote Hotelero 2). This resort has plenty to keep guests on-site, including a prime spot beside a powder white sand beach, swimming pools and family activities like a kids’ club and tennis courts.
With bright, airy rooms by day and a cosy ambience after sunset, Casa Gem B&B (Calle Diagonal 80 Sur lote 17) is a great mid-range option that does not lose any of the elegance of the bigger resorts, but merely has less of the extra facilities. Nevertheless, there is a small pool, a spa and an on-site restaurant and coffee house. Bikes are available to use for free, which is a great way to explore beaches a little further from the centre. Most importantly, the service is personalized at Casa Gem so that the needs of each individual guest are best met, which includes everything from hypo-allergenic bedding to local tips on the best places to visit. This spot is located away from the shore but close to main transport links, so is ideal for those who plan to visit cenotes and ruins in the area as well as accessing remoter beaches.
The Carmen Hotel (Calle 8 Nte 876) has an adults only policy, making it a better choice for honeymooners and couples looking to relax. Right on the beach in the city centre, this modern five-star hotel has an infinity pool, some private beach space and is just minutes from the bus and ferry terminals. The best restaurants and bars are all around, although it also has its own restaurant, bar and nightclub for those who are happy partying until dawn, watching the sun rise over the Caribbean and then going straight to bed.