Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya
Playa del Carmen is a city located within the Riviera Maya, in the Yucatan peninsula. It’s in the state of Quintana Roo, located south of Yucatan. Most tourists who go to this region visit both states. In my case, I only visited the one in the south because I was arriving from Belize, which is on the southeastern border of Mexico, and this was the last stop of my holiday.
Riviera Maya is undoubtedly the most visited region of Mexico. Flights to Cancun are reasonable (50 euros from Miami for example). This region offers both paradise beaches, Mayan pyramids to visit (Tulum, Chichen Itza, Coba), cute villages (Balacar, Mérida), natural parks to discover (cenotes, mangroves), or beaches (Playa del Carmen, Cancun), villages to relax (Tulum, Akumal), marinas (Puerto Aventuras) and fishing villages (Puerto Morelos).
So, as you can see, the Riviera Maya offers a complete all-in-on holiday package!
Playa del Carmen:
I only stayed in Quintana Roo for 5 days, and I thought long and hard about which area to stay in.
I arrived from Belize late at night, and I assumed that I would still find something to eat in Playa del Carmen. Then I wanted to be very close to the beach (I had found an Airbnb a minute away from the ocean which didn’t cost $200 a night). I needed an internet connection to work, shops to buy my last souvenirs, and easy access to Cancun airport. Hence, Playa del Carmen was the most convenient, but the place itself is not exactly a dream destination.
Playa del Carmen is a modern and new seaside resort. It is a real city, not a village, so it offers more choices, and therefore there are more people. If you want tranquility and authenticity, this is not the place to go.
But if you want to party, meet people, buy your souvenirs, and go to the beach, it’s a good compromise. Especially since it is easy to take collective taxis from Playa del Carmen to spend a day elsewhere. It sounds a bit like Ibiza, less bad, and less expensive obviously. There is a famous “5th Avenue” parallel to the beach, with all the tourist shops and restaurants you can imagine.
When I arrived in Playa del Carmen and walked on 5th Avenue on the first day, I became frightened. I did not see a single street food stand (this is all that I eat), and I did not understand how it was possible in Mexico. Finally, I had had enough and chose to check out one of the parallel street, about 100m from 5th Avenue, to find the real Mexico. But there was not a single tourist left! Not even one you got lost and ended up there by chance.
Is 100 meters too much walking for them? Are they afraid? Maybe they do not know that there is more than one street in this city? It is a pity for them because the food is better there. So if you are like me and you want to eat well, you will find something to eat by walking 100 meters.
If you like partying and electronic music, Playa del Carmen is your new Garden of Eden. You will find the same parties and festivals as in Ibiza (Ant Party, BPM festival, etc).
To get to the other towns or villages on the coast, there are collective taxis, called “colectivos” at very reasonable prices, more effective than Uber (they wage war on them). Either you go directly to the white mini-vans terminal, which is 2 minutes walk from 5th Avenue, or you walk up a main avenue. The destination is written on the mini-vans windscreen. You tell the driver where you want to go when you enter the van, and you pay when arriving at your destination. It costs about 35 pesos (1.75 euros) per person to get to Akumal, or 50 pesos (2.50 euros) for Tulum. There are departures every 10 minutes. To come back, you just have to sit on the side of the road and hail the mini-van driving by. If he does not stop, it’s not because he does not like your face, it is simply because he is full.
If you have to make a longer trip, you have to go to the central bus station and buy a bus ticket. You can take a second-class bus, less comfortable, a little slower, but cheaper.
Playa del Carmen – Chetumal: at least 346 pesos (17 euros) in 1st class, about 200 pesos (10 euros) in 2nd class. The ride takes about 4 hours.
To get to Cancun airport, the easiest way is to take an Ado bus to the central terminal. There are departures every 20 minutes or so. The price is fixed: 178 pesos (8,90 euros). There is no reduction possible. The buses are comfortable and air-conditioned. The ride takes about 1 hour.
Puerto Aventuras is a modern marina. It is perfect if you want to have a new apartment with sea view. But you will not encounter any Mexicans.
Akumal has one of the most beautiful beaches in the area and cenotes to visit. The problem is accommodation. You will not find anything at a decent price. You can see turtles if you are there at the right time of year.
Like Akumal, to stay in Tulum near the beach, you have to be rich or lucky.
Finally, there is the village of Tulum, which is 2 kilometers from the coast, where you can find affordable housing. Then again, being in the Caribbean and not being able to reach the beach by foot, it is a bit of a shame. Especially since there is only one public beach where the whole village ends up going.
Tulum is best known for the Mayan temple that was built on the seashore. The temple is not the most beautiful in the area, but it is worth seeing as it directly overlooks a beautiful turquoise beach.
Xel-Ha Park is a protected park between Akumal and Tulum.
The mini-van drops you off on the main highway, after which you have to walk about 300 meters to get to the park entrance. You will be asked to pay a 25 pesos (compulsory) donation for the protection of the park. It is forbidden to eat on the beach, or to use sun screen. This place is all about protecting the ecosystem (which says a lot about sun screen). There is a small cenote if you want to cool down. If it is the right season, you will see turtles on the beach. Not many tourists, but a few Mexicans.
Biosphere of Sian Ka’an:
If you love nature, then you should definitely visit the Sian Ka’an Reserve south of Tulum. I would not recommend doing this by yourself but rather with a guide. You will descend the river Muyil, between lagoons and Mayan temples. There is something to marvel at.
Ask the guide Martine to visit it with less tourists. firstname.lastname@example.org
Puerto Morelos is a fishing village north of Playa del Carmen. Unfortunately I did not have time to go there. It seems that it is pretty cute. It is the perfect place if you want to eat seafood. The beach is not as paradisiacal as elsewhere.
Balacar is a magical village on the border of Belize. Much less touristy than the other villages on the coast, one can bathe in turquoise lagoons. Unfortunately, I did not have time to come there, but this is one of my priorities for my next visit.
Coba and Chichen Itza:
If you like history, then Coba and Chichen Itza are unmissable stops. These are the two most important Mayan sites in Yucatan.
Parks of Xcaret and others:
In the area, there are several parks like Xcaret which offer an all-inclusive package. It’s quite expensive, at least 60 euros a day, but you can eat at will, stroll among the fish, discover the biodiversity of the area, etc. There are plenty of activities for children. I did not go, and I do not know how to comment on it. I think they charge a high price to limit the number of people coming here, and thus to better protect the ecosystem. But it looks like Disney Land… Maybe it’s worth it with kids.
Cozumel and Islas Mujeres are the most well-known. I did not go there. They seem to offer a good opportunity get some time away from the crowds. For Cozumel, there are departures every hour from Playa del Carmen.
Merida, Valladolid, Izamal. I have heard nothing but good things about his villages. I think they are unavoidable if you go through there.
The border with Belize:
I arrived in Mexico from Belize, but the information I give here is useful for people travelling in both directions:
– You can take an Ado bus that will take you to Belize, or the port of Belize City to be precise, and will wait for you at the border. So, everything very easy and very comfortable. Same in the other direction. There are departures from Belize City to Mexico.
– You can do it on your own with local buses. Chetumal is the last city before Belize. From there, you still have several kilometers to go, so you have to take a taxi to the border for 80 pesos (4 euros). The cab driver will wait for you at the Mexican border while you get your passport stamped, and will then bring you to Belizean customs office. From the Belize border to the closest city, you have to take a collective taxi, which costs about $ 2BZ per person.
– If you stayed in Mexico for more than 7 days, you have to pay a departure tax of about 340 pesos.
– If you are arriving from Belize, there is no tax in Mexico.
– There is no tax upon entry to Belize, but there is a departure tax of $ 40BZ.
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