Pro Travel Tips For First-time Visitors To Playa del Carmen For An Easy Breezy Beach Vacation
For those of you considering a trip to Playa del Carmen, but have not yet experienced its vibrant community, culture, or cuisine, these pro travel tips will help you to have the stress-free beach vacation you dreamed of.
Mexico is renowned for its luxurious all-inclusive resorts, especially those spanning the beaches of the Riviera Maya. While these properties offer convenience, with multiple pools, bars, and restaurants on-site, these mega hotels are typically isolated. During the booking process, you’ll want to consider how far the resort is from the airport, attractions, and the city. After all, you’ll want to maximize your time on the beach with a margarita and minimize travel time.
For this reason, staying in a central hotel or vacation rental within Playa del Carmen is an ideal vacation plan. With lodgings, beaches, restaurants, dive shops, cafes, and grocery stores bunched together near 5th Avenue (the city’s vibrant tourist hub), Playa is an appealing destination for its walkability factor.
Whenever a change of atmosphere is needed, hit the cobblestones outside your front door to discover a dazzling gastronomy scene, street performers, and bustling shops. In fact, when deciding whether to rent a car or not, save pesos by renting a car for a day trip or two rather than for your entire stay. With the plentiful murals and dozens of hidden gems throughout the city, you’ll love the leisurely walks and lively downtown ambience.
Once your accommodations are taken care of, ask your booking agent about important details such as airport transfers. Playa del Carmen is approximately 40 minutes south of the Cancun International Airport. Walking through the corridor of sales booths after customs can be daunting for a first time visitor. It’s best to book your airport transfer before you arrive. The round-trip cost for a private van ranges from $100 to $120 USD for a couple and approximately $149 USD for up to 8 passengers with reputable companies such as American Transfers Cancun (+52 998 201 -1720.) With your private transportation booked, you’ll bypass the sales pitches and head straight out the door to find your bilingual driver holding a sign with your name on it.
Tip: If you’ve booked at an all-inclusive, your airport transfer is typically included. It’s important to know that these vans or buses are shared and you may have several drops before you arrive at your destination.
As well as arranging for transportation, you may want to consider an add-on service to enhance your stay. For example, schedule a grocery delivery to your condo or villa prior to your arrival. Having your fridge stocked with essentials like bread, fruit, snacks, coffee, and cold cervezas prompts a seamless slip into vacation mode.
Naturally, when planning a beach vacation, plenty of relaxation in the sun and sand is top on the agenda. No regimented timelines; no stressful schedules. That being said, with so many scenic and fun-filled water parks near Playa del Carmen, you’ll want to include at least one in your itinerary. If possible, go to the Xcaret webpage to book at least 7 days in advance and receive up to 15% off admission prices. The savings can be enough to cover a delectable dinner out!
Packing Tips For A Travel and First Aid Kit
Indeed, packing a travel and first aid kit for your Mexico vacation is a must. A waterproof pouch for your cell phone comes in handy when visiting nearby adventure parks like Xplor, Xel Ha, or Xcaret. Also, adding a pen in your passport carrier will make your life easier. If not, you’ll need to track one down in order to fill out the arrival forms either on the plane or once you enter the customs lineup. Furthermore, don’t leave home without biodegradable sunblock from brands such as Thinksport or Kokua Sun Care.
To avoid nausea on a catamaran trip across the Caribbean or a ferry ride to Cozumel, Gravol with Ginger is a top choice and won’t make you drowsy. An eco-friendly mosquito spray like TerraShield will prove useful in the evenings. Lastly, a cool AloeVera gel will soothe the skin after being out in the sun all day.
Regarding keepsake and expensive jewels, keep it simple when choosing what to bring with you to Mexico. Stick to the theme— the beach life equals the simple life. If you must pack a nice piece of jewelry on your travels, it’s imperative you lock it in the safe when you’re not wearing it.
Plus, take a proactive approach by locking your bags when checking them at the airport. Finally, you’ll want to take photos of your important documents including your passport and tourist visa. Also, make copies of online documents that you may not have access to should the internet connection be interrupted.
You Have Arrived!
Welcome to paradise! You’re one step closer to seaside palms swaying in the breeze and sipping cocktails with your toes in the sand. But first things first.
Upon arrival, you’ll be required to fill out an immigration card. The lower portion will be stamped and returned to you. It is imperative that you keep this safe as it is your tourist card. You’ll need it to exit the country. However, should it be misplaced, a copy can be requested at the immigration office at Cancun International Airport for a filing fee of about $40 USD.
With regards to exchanging money, the most stress-free process is to order it before you come. In particular, if you have only Canadian dollars or Euros, your currency is a bit more complicated to exchange. You’ll want to have a few thousand pesos on hand for tips and day trips like cenotes. At the time of writing, $4000 MXN pesos is about $260 CDN. In order to keep with the hassle-free theme of the trip, request $50 and $20 peso bills for tipping and the remainder in $200s and $100s. This is a good amount to start with and you won’t have to worry about locating an ATM.
Most places do except USD, but the smaller family-owned businesses accept cash in the local currency. For a nice dinner out or to purchase a more pricey souvenir, credit cards are widely accepted. In any case, do not let the person handling your card take it out of your view. Fraud happens around the world, and Mexico is no exception.
Should your cash funds run low, you can always make a withdrawal at an ATM in town. Overall, refrain from using ATMs in hotels and all freestanding ones in the streets. Since these machines are usually compromised, it’s best to get money from an ATM within a bank.
Tip: When making an ATM withdrawal, consider taking out one larger sum rather than several smaller sums over the course of your trip. This will save you a considerable amount on fees.
If you’re American, you can exchange USD for pesos at Casas de Cambio (money exchange houses) at the many convenient downtown locations. Most banks in town now require you to have an account in order to exchange money.
During Your Stay
We get it, you’ve arrived to the land where tequila and good times flow. But after a day of flying, in combination with the Riviera Maya heat, dehydration can set in faster than heartburn after a batch of flaming hot wings. So keep sipping bottled water while the bartender mixes another round. Your future self will thank you.
Concerning taxi service, try to hail a cab outside of the main taxi stands (where there is a grouping of taxis.) At these official sites, prices are posted and fixed according to the area’s zones. Since these sites typically cater to tourists, they are more expensive. Instead, hop in a taxi one block over to negotiate a local price. As a rule, you and the driver should agree to a price before you get in.
In the case of grocery shopping, there are a few supermarket chains in the downtown area of Playa del Carmen. Within these superstores, you can find everything under one roof from alcohol to a bath mat. Mega Soriana is located on Constituyentes and 30th Avenue, while just down the road is Walmart on 30th and Calle 10. When staying in Playacar on the city’s south end, the Soriana in the Centro Maya Mall is your closest option.
For specialty items, Dac on 30th Avenue and Calle 20 is a popular market. Here, you can purchase gluten free items, a broad variety of fresh herbs and produce, as well as imported cheeses. When choosing a bottle of tequila, you can sample options at various shops running along the 5th Avenue strip. On the other hand, La Europea in the Quinta Alegría mall on 5th Avenue and Constituyentes is a one-stop shop for premium liquors, wines, and high-end deli items.
With over 200 days of sun a year, it’s no wonder Playa del Carmen is one of the world’s preferred beach destinations. Besides the intriguing year round summer season, we do unfortunately have a time frame when sargassum invades the coastline. Although completely unpredictable, the very hot weather in the summer months tends to be the worst period for sargassum.
While the Federal and State governments continue to work towards solutions, including barriers to keep the sargassum away from the beaches, it is an ongoing issue. Nevertheless, there are groups monitoring the daily levels on the beaches. Our team of BRIC ambassadors and Riviera Maya experts connect with these groups on a daily basis and can offer the best options for clear beaches in the Mexican Caribbean. Plus, they can present a long list of alternatives for unforgettable fun and extraordinary adventures beyond the beach.
During the rainy season, the area still receives a fair amount of sunshine. Oftentimes, it will rain in the morning with blue skies in the afternoon or vice versa. Yet, it’s still a good idea to be prepared with a Plan B for the soggy days. Our best recommendations for excursions on rainy days are Rio Secreto, a spa day, cooking classes, or a food tour.
Explore The City’s Famous Dining, Shopping, and Entertainment District
Meandering the pedestrian-only 5th Avenue, with its endless shops and restaurants, also makes for an enjoyable day in Playa. Most storekeepers welcome a little bargaining. Nonetheless, they are there to make a living, so try to keep the mood light and respectful.
For good eats and frequent Mariachi performances, La Parrilla on Constituyentes and 5th Avenue is a longtime Playa fixture. The upper level provides a bird’s eye view of the effervescent La Quinta (5th Avenue), perfect for people watching. In addition to the delectable menu of Mexican favorites, their fishbowl margaritas will get the good times rolling.
Venture just off of 5th Avenue and you’ll encounter even more gems with exceptional local and international cuisine. Eateries such as Que Huevos (for brunch,) El Fogon (for tacos,), La Chochi Loka (for Mayan Cochinita Pibil,) and Luma Taverna del Mar (for an upscale Mediterranean dinner) are a few worth visiting.
Beach Clubs and Beautiful Boutique Hotel Vistas
Another attribute of Playa del Carmen that makes visitors fans for life, is its array of beach clubs and dynamic rooftop pools. If you’re the type of traveler that appreciates seaside or poolside tranquility while soaking up the sun, vacation rentals are a divine accommodation choice. But if you’d like a taste of an all-inclusive experience for a day, book a day pass to a resort in town through resortpass.com.
Along with the best day pass rates, you’ll find picturesque views at stylish properties including The Fives, Thompson, The Reef 28, or Grand Hyatt. For the best Caribbean ambience and cheerful Mexican service, we recommend local beach clubs like Zenzi, Lido, and INTI.
Leaving On A Jet Plane
Don’t Cry Because It’s Over. Smile Because It Happened. ~ Dr. Seuss
All good things must come to an end. When it’s time to go, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport. A minimum of two to three hours is recommended. While you wait, you can visit the food court and peruse the many souvenir shops. Note that tequila and salsas should be bought before you head to the airport. You’ll want to tuck them into your checked bags, otherwise, they’ll be confiscated at security. Passengers are not allowed to bring more than 100ml (3.4 oz) containers of liquid in a carry-on bag.
No matter where you choose to stay, we hope your vacation is everything you imagine it to be and more. For additional tips on where to eat, what to see, and things to do in Playa del Carmen, we invite you to visit our monthly blog. Happy and safe travels!