Playa Del Carmen is a resort town in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, about 45 minutes down the coast from Cancun. It’s smaller than Cancun and differentiates itself on not being quite as touristy and intense. After flying into Cancun airport we got a shared minibus to Playa Del Carmen which was much cheaper than getting a taxi to ourselves (640 pesos instead of 1200). I was struck by how much the roads, with their large advertising signs and multi-lane freeways were like those in the US. We stayed in an AirBnB at the end of the main strip, called 5th Avenue, which runs parallel to the beach for at least a kilometre. 5th Avenue is lined on both sides with endless restaurants, bars and shops. Along with the souvenir shops there are lots of typical American shops, with everything from Victoria’s Secret, Nike and plenty of Starbucks. This caters well to the tourists in Playa Del Carmen as everyone appeared to be either American or Canadian. I didn’t hear another British accent the whole time!
We were in Playa Del Carmen for three days and three nights, which was just about the right amount of time. On the first day we explored 5th Avenue and had our first Mexican breakfast, which was made up of an omelette, refried beans, tomato salsa and a lot of cheese. Most traditional dishes come with refried beans and also tend to have a green or red sauce with them. Pretty much everything comes with tortilla chips too! I absolutely love guacamole and so had at least one portion every day. Mexico is the world’s largest producer of avocados, so guacamole is basically everywhere. Along with nachos, cerviche (fish cooked naturally in lime juice) is another staple of every Mexican restaurant. This dish is so limey, and served with salsa, it makes for a perfectly refreshing dish when you’re sat on the beach watching the waves. Along 5th Avenue the restaurants are almost all Italian restaurants, American burger joints, Argentinian steak houses and of course dozens of brightly couloured Mexican restaurants of all shapes and sizes. The whole place feels like a fiesta!
After breakfast we explored the beach. For a pound or two you can rent a sunbed for the day with waiter service from the beach bars. After settling onto our sun loungers we rented a jet ski for half an hour, one of my favourite water sports. There are people selling jet ski rides all over the beach, and we managed to haggle one down to 1200 pesos. With everything you have to haggle with the seller, and once they establish that you are genuinely wanting to buy they’ll tend to settle on any price rather than see you walk away. Beers are around 40 pesos which is about £1.50, and cocktails range from 100-200 pesos depending on the bar. The margaritas tend to come in much larger glasses than you anticipate, and can take quite a while to drink…
On the second day we took the ferry to Cozumel, an island off the coast of Play Del Carmen. Again, we haggled a tout down to 50 pesos a ticket. There were plenty of ferries and the journey took about 40 minutes. Ferries are every hour.
Cozumel was much less commercialised than Playa Del Carmen, with only a few big American stores, Hard Rock Cafe included, all centred around the one small town by the port. We rented a Mexican Beatle car for the day to tour around the island. The car looked to be quite old but recently refurbished and painted bright blue, with blue and white stripped seats. There weren’t any windows! We saw quite a few other vehicles which didn’t have doors, or which didn’t have casing around the engines. I got the feeling that anything goes when it comes to cars, especially when the car rental man said drinking and driving was ‘no problemo’ (not that we did!). There was just one road which circled the island following the beach. Every so often there would be a beach bar and restaurant, and there are a couple of what look like small adventure parks. There was also a tequila making tour but we arrived at the tequila factory too late for the tour. By the looks of it, I think you’d have to be pretty interested in tequila to go through the whole tour for an hour. The owner was very apologetic that we had missed the last tour and offered us some tasters of his family’s tequila in return for a small tip. The tequila tasted much fresher than ones available in the UK, and it didn’t have that awful after taste. No salt or lime was required.
Cozumel really was beautiful. We stopped off at a couple of beach bars and chilled out on the beaches which were quiet and the water was full of yellow fish. Towards the end of the day, after returning the car, we stopped for a drink at Wet Wendy’s, a bar which was top on Trip Advisor for the island. The frozen margarita was absolutely amazing and absolutely gigantic. I think it took me 20 minutes to work my way through. They were playing Americana music and the staff were really friendly and upbeat – I can’t recommend this bar enough.
Playa Del Carmen was a great introduction to Mexico. It felt safe the whole time and there was plenty to do and explore. After three days we headed down the coast again to Tulum to continue the Mexican adventure.