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Shedding Light On The Surprises You May Encounter On Your Next Trip To Playa del Carmen

Juanita Rodriguez Juanita Rodriguez 05-15-2020

Things To Know For New Visitors To Playa del Carmen, Mexico

When traveling to a new destination, investing time in research prior to your arrival can take a trip from fine to phenomenal. Scouring official tourism sites, state guides, or articles from seasoned travel bloggers can save you a lot of money. Plus you’ll also have a great database of information to help you discover the best a city or country has to offer. Not to mention, expert advice can shed light on unexpected surprises so you can prepare for a stress-free vacation. 

The Travel Time From Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen

Private van service Travel Yucatan

The time it takes to get from the airport to Playa del Carmen can be surprising. There’s a sprawling all-inclusive resort every couple of kilometers in the Riviera Maya. If your booking includes transportation, be prepared for a long haul from the airport to your hotel. These shared transport buses make several stops. Depending on where you’re staying (if it’s one of the last stops,) tack on an extra hour or two of travel time. 

If you have booked a vacation rental and a transfer is not already included, ask the reservation agent to schedule a private van service. These spacious vans can accommodate up to 8 passengers and offer direct routes (40 minutes) to Playa del Carmen. 

An additional option for direct transportation is the ADO bus. The air-conditioned buses provide service to and from one of 2 stations (both are central) in Playa del Carmen. You can hop on from Terminal 2, 3, or 4 every half hour at a cost of $208 MXN ($9.05 USD) one-way. Payments are accepted in pesos (there are ATMs inside the terminal) at the pickup point or credit at the ticket counter. 

Driving In Mexico

Driving In Mexico

Driving in the Riviera Maya is simple and having your own car allows you to see the endless sites on your own schedule. Road signs are in the metric system (kilometers) and the highways are in excellent condition. 

There are a couple of points you should know about driving in Mexico. Firstly, the topes (speed bumps) are sometimes camouflaged and they tend to sneak up on you. Just beware as you approach any town, there will be several to watch out for.

Police checkpoints are common along major roadways. The main thing to keep in mind is to abide by the laws so they do not have a reason to pull you over. The rules are similar to anywhere else in the world. Avoid using your cell phone when driving and if you plan to consume alcohol, don’t drive. The alcohol tolerance in Quintana Roo is 0% and breathalyzers are in operation. As anywhere else on the planet, the laws state that you wear your seatbelt at all times and respect the speed limits. 

Don’t be alarmed if you encounter one of these permanent or random road checks. Slow down well ahead of the checkpoint and put on your hazard lights. If the officer does not signal for you to stop, smile, and continue on. Should you be motioned to pull over, be polite, remain calm, and answer the officer’s questions. If it’s a random inspection, you will be sent on your way within a few minutes. 

Gas Pump Scams

Unfortunately in Mexico, most make barely enough to afford the cost of living. One adverse outcome of this sad reality is gas pump scams. Attendants have devised clever ways of “earning” extra money. Of course, not all gas stations have shady attendants. Nevertheless, it does happen, especially to expats and foreigners. 

There are precautions to avoid being the target of fraud or scams. When fueling up, watch the pump to make sure it’s at $0.00 so you aren’t charged for gasoline you didn’t receive.

Secondly, watch for the ol’ switch a roo. Spread your bills when handing them to the attendant to make it clear you know exactly what you paid. There have been cases where the attendant quickly switches the bills from a $500 to a $50, for example. The person returns to tell you that you’ve made a mistake and hands the $50 back, asking for a $500 bill instead. This trick is very effective since as a foreigner, you may not be familiar with the money, prompting you to second guess yourself. 

Thirdly, never hand over your credit card to the attendant. This gives the person the opportunity to scan your card. The best way to avoid this is to physically get out of the car.  Accompany the attendant to the machine, insert the card yourself, and complete the transaction. 

Finally, if you are filling up your vehicle, keep an eye on the pump amount at the moment it stops. Sometimes, if you aren’t paying attention, the attendant can scroll back and charge you for a previous fuel amount that was higher.

Basically, just be mindful at a gas station. Distracted customers are easy targets; observant ones can same themselves from the nuisance of being scammed. 

Strolling Along Playa del Carmen’s Famous 5th Avenue

5th Avenue Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Lining the city’s principle stretch of cobblestone, are hundreds of boutique hotels and brand name and artisan stores, jewelry and souvenir shops. Not to mention the endless eateries, galleries, and pubs, you’ll find the options are limitless as far as things to do on Playa del Carmen’s 5th Avenue. Understanding what lies ahead as you stroll Playa’s most important artery, will make your dining and shopping experience as pleasant as a walk in the park.

Don’t carry open liquor. Hey, it’s Mexico. Everyone’s here to have a good time, right? While that is the goal of a Playa del Carmen vacation, walking in a public place with an open beer can get you in trouble. You could get fined, but typically, the patrolling officers will let you off with a warning. In any case, it’s better to wait until you’re on private property before cracking open a cold one. 

Vendors can seem aggressive as you pass by the shops on the effervescent strip. Keep in mind that they’re just doing their best to grab your attention within a sea of competition. Kindly shake your head and say “Gracias,” if you are approached and they will move on to the next passerby.

When perusing the shops for a special memento, if the item has no price tag, that’s your cue to practice your negotiation skills. While offers are accepted, it’s important to be fair and polite with your suggested price rather than choosing the borderline offensive route. By remaining personable, you’re more likely to wheel and deal your way to the best price.

Although many visitors are happy to stick to browsing what’s in store on the dynamic 5th Avenue, unique eateries just off of the tourist hub are worth straying for. Follow the tantalizing aromas around the corner. From Italian to French to Thai and vegan to mouthwatering Mexican cuisine, you’ll discover another world of superb cuisine.

Everyday Necessities

Some banks, such as CI Banco on 5th Avenue, will exchange your currency, but others require you to have an account with them (Scotiabank.) There are, however, dozens of Casas de Cambio (exchange houses) at which you can change your money. If you need some pesos, bring your passport with you.  You may be asked for identification, depending on the amount you wish to exchange. 

Oxxo convenience stores are on almost every block of every town in Mexico. A handy one-stop-shop for visitors staying in vacation rentals, you can pick up bread, bananas, travel games, sunglasses, ice, and alcohol. On Sundays, by law, liquor sales end early. Some stores stop selling at 2:00 pm, while others sell alcohol until 5 (at the latest.) An additional convenience for tourists is that USD is accepted at Oxxos throughout the city. 

Farmacias (pharmacies) are also a dime a dozen and you would be surprised what you can buy over the counter. If you or your child are prone to earaches, medicated drops are available for purchase without a prescription. Plus you will pay at a quarter of the price compared to other places in North America. What’s more, is there are medical clinics next door to many pharmacies. For a fee of $30 Mxn ($1.35 USD), you can see a doctor for minor medical conditions.

Taking a Taxi in Playa del Carmen

Taxi in Mexico

In the Riviera Maya, services like Uber and Lyft are not yet in operation. The next best thing is Taxi WhatsApp Playa del Carmen. You can call or reserve through their Facebook page. The price is predetermined so there are no surprises and there is a record of the driver and taxi number on file.

Should you hail a cab from the street, it’s best to do so far enough from a designated Taxi stand. Prices are higher at these syndicated stands than they are a hundred feet from them. Always establish the price of the ride before you get in to make sure you are in agreement with the fare.

Tacos Are Addictive 


When in Mexico, do as the Mexicans do – eat the tacos, drink the tequila. But enter into the mmm mmm goodness at your own risk — tacos are highly addictive! You won’t be able to stop at one, and your favorite taqueria will always leave you wanting more. Consider yourself warned. 

In Playa del Carmen, you’ll want to visit El Fogon, with several central locations in the heart of the city. The next most frequently frequented taco joint is Don Sirloin, also with various locales around town. An alternative to Playa’s two most popular taqueria chains is El Gran Taco across from (east side) the Centro Maya shopping mall.

As for a taco menu, a must-try plate is the Al Pastor. Succulent marinated pork is slow-cooked on a fiery spit, shaved into a warm soft taco shell, and topped with fresh pineapple. 

At El Gran Taco, ask for the carnitas with all of the toppings – cilantro, onion, a fresh squeeze of lime, and of course, a spicy salsa. If your appetite permits, sample the other traditional flavors served in a beautiful array of Mexican ceramic pots. Top recommendations are the picadillo (hamburger and potato mixture) and the chicken mole (a rich sauce with a hint of nuts and chocolate.)

The Prices of Groceries and Alcohol

Grocery Store, Playa del Carmen

Exploring the gastronomy scene in Playa is a delectable adventure. Yet, if you book a vacation rental, it’s important to stock the kitchen with the basic grocery items for a comfortable stay. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the very reasonable prices for most produce, ground coffee, or a case of beer. 

Our advice —  steer clear of items including flavored coffee creamer, asparagus, grapes, imported cereals, and cheeses. That is unless you don’t mind paying more than 4 times their average prices. In Playa del Carmen, it’s definitely advantageous to buy local. 

For more tips and insights on traveling to Playa del Carmen, check out more articles on Bric’s travel blog page.