The entire Yucatan Peninsula is a remarkably popular tourist destination, but the area designated as the Mayan Riviera is the most heavily visited. Large cruise ships stop in Cozumel, hundreds of thousands enjoy a week or two at the all-inclusive resorts of Cancun, and many more opt for the peaceful pace and wonderful activities in and around Playa del Carmen.
Once a small and quiet fishing village, Playa del Carmen is a travel hotspot for the entire country. Though it has received attention from natives, Europeans and Americans, the town retains its village feel which is the reason that families, couples and groups all visit this safe and friendly location.
Destinations and Tours
Among the most popular Playa del Carmen tours are those which take in the eco-archaeological parks and the site of Tulum. The parks offer visitors an amazing chance to explore the history and ecology of the area as well as see the remains of a true Mayan fortress. There are many organized tours to these destinations, but a visitor with a rental car can reach any one of them within an hour or two of time.
General travel advice
A vacation in Playa del Carmen can be as simple or as relaxed as desired. There are many ways to get around, and among the most popular are on foot, via a bicycle rental or in a convenient colectivo. These are large vans that drive up and down 5th Avenue and which can take a visitor from Playa as far south as Tulum, or all the way to Cancun for a very reasonable price. The town is a shopping hub and any traditional conveniences can be found easily, including all pharmacy goods and products, clothing, even scuba gear.
Popular Restaurants | Bars | Nightlife
The main thoroughfare, known as 5th Avenue, has streets that lead directly to the beaches. Along the waterfront are the majority of the towns bars and clubs. These do not really become active until around midnight, and the scene is considered relatively tame compared to that of the bustling destinations like Cancun and Cozumel. They are, however, becoming quite popular with those on a Playa del Carmen spring break.
There are roughly seventy five Playa del Carmen restaurants offering a range of cuisine. From chocolate cafes specializing in the native cacao products, Thai noodle shops and local Mexican grills, a visitor can choose from a host of price ranges and options. Many inexpensive, but fantastic, local establishments are found on the outskirts of the popular tourist locations. This area usually begins along 5th Avenue at 30th Street.
In Playa del Carmen the bars tend to be located on the waterfront or along the main tourist route of the city, 5th Avenue. This means that all of them can be reached on foot and in a matter of only a few moments from club to club or bar to bar. Among the many good things about the city are the facts that there is no traffic allowed within the 5th Avenue region (which keeps late night wanderers from any harm) and that the police force is fairly stringent about out of control behavior and may stop revelers who are carrying and drinking open bottles of alcoholic beverages.
Many young people also enjoy a vacation in Playa del Carmen because it offers a unique experience from the other more well-known destinations along the Yucatan Peninsula. For example, there are more things to do in Playa del Carmen than almost anywhere else in the region. This is because of its central location, well-developed tourist services and large commercial capabilities.
There are also many activities that are enjoyable for people of all ages including the many things occurring all along the Playa del Carmen beach each and every day. There is horseback riding, sky diving, scuba diving, snorkeling, sunbathing, and many other activities. There are also deep sea fishing boats for hire, and many arrange Playa del Carmen tours to the ecological parks or historical destinations just outside of the city.
On the backside of the beach is 5th Avenue where shopping and dining are the order of the day. Here visitors can find the many artisans selling their handmade goods and they can sample some of the many popular Playa del Carmen restaurants. Of course any exploration of this area should include some scouting activities for the best bar, cafe or club to visit later that evening.
The nightlife in the city doesn't really come to life until 10 p.m. or later, which is just when the shops and restaurants close for the day. This is one of the main reasons that so many now head to Playa del Carmen for spring break or other vacations.
El Pirata Located on the beach, next to the Blue Parrot in the Costa Maya Hotel between Calles 10 and 12, this is a Reggae bar with cheap beer and a good grill where you can hear your conversation over the music. Can also see firedancers from here without paying Blue Parrot surcharge!
Blue Parrot- The most famous bar in Playa. Located on the beach at the end of Calle 12. Good Place for happy hour. Possibly has live music on Saturday afternoons. Good place to go a little later in the evening (they now charge a cover charge at night for the fireshow). Most nights there should be fire dancers on beach starting around 11pm Mexican time! Mondays used to be ladies night now under new management so unknown. Tip: If you just want to view the firedancers, enter and watch via El Pirata next door no cover charge!
Playa del Carmen Activities
Anyone familiar with the Yucatan Peninsula will know the names of the regions largest or most popular cities. Among the top of the list will always be Playa del Carmen. Once a sleepy little fishing village, it is now one of the most heavily visited areas of the Mayan Riviera. What makes, and keeps, the town so popular is its ability to still deliver a village feel while also providing access to some pretty remarkable facilities.
Among the top Playa del Carmen activities are shopping, dining, sunbathing, swimming, fishing, exploring and trekking and enjoying the city's hopping nightlife. The layout of the city is pretty beneficial for anyone who wants to partake of the many Playa del Carmen attractions. For example, the Playa del Carmen beach contains the entire length of the city along the Caribbean coast. Directly behind the waterfront is the major tourist area which is contained along 5th Avenue. Here are the majority of the Playa del Carmen restaurants and bars and where many enjoy the Playa del Carmen nightlife.
This area is among the most clean and safe regions of the city (though the entire city is known for its overall security and stability). There is no automobile traffic along 5th Avenue, so all of the daytime shoppers and visitors as well as the nighttime revelers are safe from harm.
Of course shopping, dining and nightlife are not the only things to do in Playa del Carmen. The area is also incredibly historic as it is among the first areas where Europeans encountered the Mayan civilization. Today, just south of the city is the location for one of the most popular Playa del Carmen tours the Mayan fortress of Tulum is located less than an hour away and is visited by a majority of those who are in the region.
When planning a vacation to Playa del Carmen it is important to remember all of the ecological and archaeological areas as well. Many visitors like to take a brief jungle trek in one of the preserves just outside of the city. In these locations they can view all of the native wildlife in its natural habitat this includes monkeys, birds, butterflies, deer and many reptiles.
Of course most visitors to the area also make the time to explore one of the public cenotes of the region as well. These are remarkable natural wonders which are the homes to underground rivers. Amateur explorers can wander the caves and waters to see some of the most amazing sights in the entire peninsula.
Playa del Carmen Restaurants (Jan. 2009)
Given the over 200+ restaurants in PDC, consistency can sometimes be an issue and new restaurants pop up all the time. This is only as current as the day it was typed up!! Eating right on 5th Ave will be more expensive than finding places a couple of blocks off. Food is good anywhere. Be adventurous, the small local places are safe and great food $$.
Lobster places tend to be pricey for what you get. Shrimp is always a good bet.
Always check the bill to see if Tip (Called "Servicio" or "Propina") and/or Tax (called "Impuesto") has been included or not. Tax should only be charged IF it is indicated to do so on menu. If it is not, then it has already been included on menu price and you should not be double charged! "Cambio" is your change.
We strongly recommend paying with cash only at restaurants. You will pay a 5% surcharge to use CC in restaurants IF they accept them. MANY places do not accept ccs.
* indicates personal favorites tried by owners so far! Other comments are from what we have heard or read about not necessarily personal experience!
Tacos and Cheap Eats - usually a local hole in the wall experience!
Doctor Taco - GREAT cheap tacos and vegetarian selections. Very fresh add your own toppings. 10th ave between 8th and 10th st. 2nd location on rd to Mamitas beach (28th St). Closed Sundays. You must try this place.
H C Monterey (Super Carnes) Butcher Shop - New larger location recently opened (original owners) on Constituentes between 25/30th Ave across from Mega. Open later till 11pm.
This is a real butcher shop with excellent meats to take home and bbq if you want a good steak! It also has excellent and cheap, tender cooked arrachera lunch and dinners. This place gets rave reviews from locals for the best arrachera in town. Most popular menu speciality. Arrachera steak, baked spud/onion, half avocado, sour cream and lemon salsa (mix your own guacamole). Steaks not as good as arrachera. National (Mexican) steak is actually tenderer than the US imported option. A must for a local steak experience. Always busy as it is truly the best arrachera steak in town. Do not dress up its a hot and sticky hole in the wall and always busy wait for a table to open up, it is worth it!
The original location now operating under new management located on Calle 1 Sur (This is on the Playacar side of Ave. Juarez) between 20th and 25th is now called CH Super Carnes but still serves the same meals/butcher shop, is closer and v good. They close early (about 7 P.M.) so get there early and dont dress up!
El Fogon - Tacos al pastor and lots more. 3 locations: 30th Ave and 6th St (best one to go to) and 30th Ave near 32nd St. Newly opened on Ave. Constituyentes between 25th and 30th, across from the new Mega. Fantastic!! Makes everyones favorite list for legitimate Mexican food at a good price. No English spoken generally as you are in localville!
*Food Carts - (very clean and safe to eat) Most of these carts are located at 5th ave and Juarez The cochinita pibil (achiote pork), pollo negro (black chicken) or carnitas (dry roast pork) tacos/tortas served in the morning only (till 1100ish or earlier) are great. The earlier you go = fresher! Churros at night. Empanadas, fresh fruit cups and fresh squeezed orange juice. Juice cart on 10th ave/Juarez excellent also - 15p/bag of orange juice with straw.cups more expensive! Grapefruit may be 20p/bag.
*Cockteleria Veracruz - A must if you love shrimp! 10th Ave, orange building on left just as shops start before calle 1 opposite Paseo del Carmen. Lunch/early supper only, closes around 6-7ish. Seafood only, ceviche, flan. V. clean, excellent cocktails/ceviches. Try Jamaica h1O. Closed Mondays.
*Asadero el Pollo (Estilo Sinaloa) - corner of 20th Ave y calle 2 (north). Best roast chicken ever and fastest takeout youll ever experience! One pollo incl. rice, salsa, pickled onions, tortillas-$80p.. An absolute 'must' and quite the hole in the wall! Eat in or takeout. Can order by the piece or whole cluck. Closes early evening (6pmish). There are other places like this scattered around usually differing side dishes but this is our fave. Kids LOVE it.
*El Faisan y el Venado - Great Mexican and Yucatecan specialties. Lots of locals eat here. On east side of highway 307, just north of Juarez intersection, with a large palapa roof and loads of fans there is a closed off air conditioned area also. You will find many of the Yucatecan specialties here that are served at Yaxche, but much less expensive. Recommended are the carne ahumada and the panuchos cochinita. Exellent cochinita pibil and chicken mole. All in Spanish no English spoken but well worth it. This is a large and clean place with excellent service.
*Dona Mary - This is the best place for a cheap Yucatecan dinner. The women only speak Spanish and most of the food choices are made with chicken. They are only open for dinner. 7pm-12am. Gets v busy so be there at 7pm! 30th ave and 28th st (calle). Taxi or moped accessible. Try the panuchos, salbutes and soup (1 of each will likely fill you up).
*El Tacamaron - 10th Avenue at 32nd Street, Samm (a v personable local!) serves 6 kinds of rice dishes with toppings of your choice. Excellent large shrimp tacos as well at good prices. V. tasty healthy dishes! Paper and crayons on table for scribbling on! Open mon-sat 9am-11pm, sun 1-9pm. Takeout also available. Phone order in at 984 803 3506.
El Santuario - (The Sanctuary) Located on 15th Ave between 12th and 14th, across from the church. This is the place for Torta Ahogada, a specialty from the town of Jalisco, which is a roast pork sandwich served on a toasty roll with onions in a bowl of tomatoey sauce. Add spice. Yummmm!
Taco del Rey - Located on 6th Street, opposite Chicago Don Jose, this good taco place has tortas and tacos of excellent quality, cheap.
*Pizza Pazza and Pizza Renza - This place has awesome slices of pizza and seems to be popping up outlets all over town. Located next to El Oasis. 12th St between 5th and 10th ave. Also on 5th Avenue at 14th.
Aca Los Tacos - Tacos al pastor (pork tacos on a spitkinda like gyros). Corner of 5th ave and Constituyentes. Small tacos. Not bad. Many frequent visitors like them a lot, but there are better.
*El Sarape - Tacos al pastor and other Mexican grub. Opens at noon. Located on Juarez, between 20 y 25th ave. Worth a visit. This old standby looks like a tourist joint with garish yellow paint on the front and menus with pictures of the dishes, but the food is authentic and good. The posole is excellent and the tacos very tasty. Good brochetas and cebollitas as well as good grill specials to share. Inexpensive. Cash only.
El Pastorcito - Grilled meats and great tacos al pastor and arrachera. One of the best!! 30th Avenida and 28th Street. The mixed grill for two will feed 4 normal people. Cash only. Not open till 5pm.
On Constituyentes, just west of 30th Avenue, this is a good, inexpensive taqueria in the same vein as El Fogon.
This red awning meat taco place is on the west side of 30th Avenue between 24th y 26th St. It serves meat tacos (carnitas) and tortas. Good, inexpensive eats, but nothing fancy.
Next to El Duro. Reportedly good tacos al pastor also.
aka used to be called Tacos Israel/Arabe is now relocated on the west side of 307, in the ejido, on Paseo del Pedegral off of Avenida Colosio. Going west on Colosio, take a left one street before Ave. 115. at the large Oxxo. Awesome tacos. Tacos arrachera (flank steak) and tacos al pastor, arabe.
La Casita de Los Guisos (formerly La Madrina)
Have heard great things about this place. Tamales on weekends, mole, etc. 20th ave and 6th st. (look for red chairs) Closed Tuesdays. Lunch only.
On the highway by the electric station (before Ave. Juarez), this open air local place is only open through late lunch. Only tacos of shrimp and fish, but they are fantastic! For10 pesos each you get fresh seafood and awesome hot sauce. Wash it down with a cerveza and head for the beach.
A La Burger
Calle 26 and Ave 20. Great burger. Part of the mini Super 2 beers and a Burger 70 Pesos
This joint is on 1st Street SOUTH ( Playacar side of Juarez) near 10th Ave. Good and cheap real Mexican lunches. Another location - similar name Maquech Loncheria 2 St y 15 Ave.
*El Asadero al Carbon
Fairly new (but possibly closed recently!) Best flour tortillas right off the grill (can take these out too!), grilled meats, fresh guacamole. Located on 25th Ave between 2 and 4St. V. clean, quiet open air garden setting. Open 0900-2200.
Constituentes and 30th. Local place, Nativo fresh market across street also (DAC). Very fresh, huge portions, cheap. Well Recommended by locals. Excellent huge fruit drinks, smoothies and tending towards healthier style options.
*Quiero de Oro
Just west off 10th Ave y calle 2. Authentic local mexican food. Excellent shrimp. Breakfast looked good too. Another very local hole in the wall. Cheap and v mexican!
La Casa de Piedra
This long-lasting modest Mexican food place on Avenida 35, between Calles 30 and 32 has opened a 2nd location on Calle 6 between 5th and 10th. Good comida corrida and Mexican staples at honest prices.
Tamales Flor de Lis
This is a branch of an established restaurant that has been serving since 1926. Found on Avenue 30 at 38th Street, next to the Oxxo, it serves tamales with your choice of 12 sauces. They also have unique drinks to accompany them like strawberry atole and chocolate champurrado. Inexpensive and off the beaten track.
Across from the Mega on Constitutiones, and next door to the new branch of El Fogon, El Jurado is best spotted from their orange awning noting "Mixiotes y Huaraches". Serves excellent huaraches, which is a thick tortilla with a choice of toppings. This is an excellent and inexpensive meal. English menu available if you ask.
Located in the Colosio on 30th Avenue, about one kilometer north of 38th street, you will find it on the intersection with a large statue in the middle. It is open late and serves excellent empanadas, tacos and tortas. Another real deal in Mexico for not a lot of money. (You can get a taco with pork brains if you are man enough, but there are plenty of normal choices to make anyone happy.
Las Quecas de Playa
For those who stay up late, this basic taco, torta and quesadilla place opens at 8:00 P.M. and stays open until 5 A.M. Located on Calle 6 between Avenidas 10 and 15, it is nothing to look at, but the food is good, especially if you need something to hold down those margaritas you should not have had during a long night on the town.
Located right next door to Las Quecas de Playa (just above) this is another late night choice for hamburgers and grilled chicken.
30 Ave and 26 St. Local, clean. this is a very acceptable Taco place with a pretty extensive menu. The food is good, and in most cases, I would recommend going here. However, with El Pastorcito just one block down the road at 30th, and El Fogon another block further at 32nd, it does not seem right to recommend that you settle for third best, but if you eat here, you will not be disappointed in the quality of the food.
30th Ave and 22 St. Local, clean, cheap. Tasty Mexican , liquadors (yoghurt drinks) and fresh juices.
Posoleria Mi Abuelita
This small and friendly posole house has a small menu but specializes in pork and chicken posole, which is quite tasty. It is accompanied by a three-tiered plate of chips and chiles and additions, and for $50 Pesos, is a very good bargain. Located on Avenida 30 between 20th and 22nd.