A Love-Hate Relationship with Playa del Carmen


Street food in Playa del Carmen

Like most places I spend any amount of time in, I was sad to leave Playa del Carmen.

But unlike most places I’m sad to leave, I actually didn’t like Playa del Carmen at all.

Playa del Carmen beach

The second I arrived I had been disappointed. I’d left beautiful Guanajuato in search of a stunning Caribbean beach and ended up with one that was chock-full of American tourists and smelt of sewage. I’d left behind a city where barely any English was spoken, and where I had ample opportunity to improve my Spanish skills, for a city where most locals would automatically greet you in English. I’d left behind a place with delicious $1 tacos for one that’d charge $10 for some mediocre quesadillas.

I’d left a city I adored for one I immediately wanted to leave.

It was right in the middle of high season in Mexico when we arrived, making Playa del Carmen crowded and expensive. We’d known this would be the case in advance, so rented an apartment through one of our local friends.

For the first week, it felt as though Playa del Carmen was the exact opposite of what I was hoping for when I flew to the east coast of Mexico.

Dave would head out for runs and return with stories of drains overflowing onto the streets with a frothing brown liquid. We’d head to the beach for an afternoon but find ourselves blasted by thumping bass from every bar and restaurant, barely able to find a spot to lay down our towels. We’d end up in a restaurant paying ten times more than we were used to for food that was bland and mediocre. Our apartment backed onto the outside patio of a hostel that ran parties every night until 2am, keeping us awake and unable to function the following morning.

We were, quite frankly, wondering why so many travel bloggers and digital nomad-types seemed to base themselves here. I just couldn’t see the appeal.

Playa del carmen t shirts

So, I decided to try and find out.

After all, if somewhere doesn’t meet your expectations, it’s down to you, as a visitor, to make the effort to find its goodness, rather than simply complaining and leaving. I didn’t like what I’d seen in Playa del Carmen so far, but I knew it was a place many people loved. I wanted to understand why it meant to much to so many of my friends.

I started exploring the more local neighbourhoods far from the beach, finding delicious street food for the prices I was used to paying in Mexico, with not many tourists in sight. I left the main beach beside the resorts and wandered further, discovering that a kilometre or so away from the main strip was a patch of sand filled mostly with locals. A kilometre further and there was nobody at all on the beach. I purchased some ear plugs to drown out the overpowering music from the hostel.

I found that as long as I stayed away from the over-the-top party parts of town, ate street food and avoided the beach, life in Playa del Carmen could actually be pretty great.

Street food in Playa del Carmen

For the rest of my time, I formed a routine that kept me far away from the Playa del Carmen most people come for. Picture the exact opposite of spring break and that was my life here.

Each morning, I’d wake up for an early morning pilates session while Dave went for a run, and then head out for a porktastic torta de cochinita pibil from a local street vendor or some freshly baked treats from a nearby bakery. There’s so much great food in this city if you take the effort to avoid 5th Avenue. For the rest of the morning, I’d either work in my apartment or, if the music from the hostel next door was too obnoxious, head to a nearby park to write.

Working in Playa del Carmen

Lunch would generally involve far too many delicious quesadillas from Las Quekas — the small restaurant below our apartment — as I’d practice my Spanish with the owner while stuffing my face with cheese, poblano, and chorizo goodness. I’d then head to the beach for a couple of hours with my Kindle to soak up the sun.

Dinner would nearly always be tacos from a street vendor — some of the best food I had in Playa del Carmen was from the popular truck, El Ray Del Taco. We’d return to our apartment afterwards, work for a couple of hours, and then spend the rest of the night developing a growing obsession with Sherlock.

Ruins on the beach in Tulum
I’d have much rather spent my month on the cleaner beaches in Tulum.

I was sad to leave Playa del Carmen because I’d grown to love the routine I had there.

I liked having dozens of cheap street food carts near my apartment and I loved the convenience of having an enormous Walmart and Mega supermarket located within a two block radius. It was great to live just a five minute walk from the beach, and we were in the perfect location for day trips around the Yucatan.

Once I found a more positive attitude and made an effort to find parts of Playa del Carmen to like, I began to enjoy the month I spent there — but it was challenging to find those parts. Furthermore, I’m not sure I liked it enough to make the effort worth it. It just felt like the place has once been amazing but had been negatively impacted by tourism.

As for returning to Playa del Carmen? I can’t see it happening. I’ve loved my time in the Yucatan but I think in the future, I’d much rather spend my time in the chilled-out, yoga-filled wellness resorts in Tulum with its much cleaner beaches, or the colonial inland city of Valladolid that I fell in love with within seconds of arriving.

While I eventually found myself growing fond of Playa del Carmen, it was more of a fondness for the quality of life I had there, rather than the place itself.

 

Have you ever had a love-hate relationship with a place you’ve visited?

 

83 Comments

  1. February 17, 2014
    Reply

    I had the same feeling about PdC. Although we were there during low season so it was more tolerable, and the water didn’t stink like what you describe. And we ADORED Valladolid! Love the beaches, but I’m just not a huge fan of the Yucatan overall.

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      It’s funny because I love the Yucatan but haven’t liked many of the beaches — my highlight was easily Valladolid, and I’d love to spend more time there in the future.

  2. February 17, 2014
    Reply

    I’ve always found that tourist towns are always the worst to stay near because of all the crazy tourists. The busyness and craziness is incredibly unappealing. Finding the nicer areas outside the big tourist areas is always the best and it’s great that you found that in Playa Del Carmen. It would have been awful to have to stay a whole month in a place where you were always miserable with no places to escape.

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      I was so pleased to discover much quieter neighbourhoods that weren’t super-expensive and party-party like the main areas in town, as that’s much more my style. I think heading to Playa del Carmen from a city like Guanajuato, where I barely saw another foreigner in a month, didn’t help, either. It felt almost as though I had left Mexico and arrived in the U.S. when I came up against so many locals greeting me in English :-)

  3. February 17, 2014
    Reply

    Glad you found parts of the city to love in the end :) I think a lot of areas are like that, in that some parts will be great and others not so great, it just goes to show how important first impressions really are!

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      Yeah, absolutely. I tend to form a judgement about a place within a few seconds of arriving, then struggle to change my mind later on. I’m glad I made the effort to find Playa del Carmen’s gems, though, as I ended up having a wonderful month once I did.

  4. February 17, 2014
    Reply

    Aw, having a Walmart must have been torture at times for a backpacker. Hey, look at this BIG ITEM for REALLY CHEAP. But if I buy it, I have to carry it around on my back FOREVER.

    I have not had any love/hate relationships with anywhere I have visited. I do have a couple of “HATE but willing to try again to see if it was user error” places though.

    I am glad to read that despite not liking Playa del Carmen, you found a way to make it work for you. You didn’t spend a month sulking over your mistake of being stuck there for a month. A lot of people would have, and thereby wasted a month of their life.

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      There was definitely lots of temptation at Walmart, but without a home to put anything in, it was easy to say no. I bought a couple of pairs of shorts but that was it.

      I think I’m willing to revisit everywhere I’ve visited and hated in the past, just because I know that no two experiences are the same — I could love it second time around, and wouldn’t want to shut myself off to that :-)

  5. February 18, 2014
    Reply

    I actually felt this way about Nashville… only I lived there for 7 years! It had so few of the things that I love about cities and just felt really small and stifling; I could NOT wait to get out of there. But of course, by the time we left, I had grown to love Nashville and had adapted to its ways and it’s now the place I think of when I think of “home”. I know we weren’t the perfect fit, but a I’ve learned on this trip time and time again, we’re really malleable and adaptable, if only we give ourselves the chance.

    Tony & I will probably be heading to Mexico near the end of this year/beginning of next year, and I’m already starting to make a list of places where we might be able to base ourselves. I have to admit, despite all the travel blogger/expat love, PdC has never really appealed. I’m glad you were able to make your time there tolerable if not 100% magical.

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      There are so many better places in Mexico than Playa del Carmen — I loved Sayulita, Guanajuato and Valladolid :-)

  6. February 18, 2014
    Reply

    Lauren, great post! Was it the ocean that was dirty and stinky?? We are thinking of heading there in a few months, what areas did you find less touristy and more tolerable? Thanks

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      Yeah, the ocean was pretty horrible in Playa. There’s an 82 page forum thread on it on a Playa resource site you can read here. Someone mentions seeing an actual piece of poo floating in the sea: http://www.playa.info/playa-del-carmen-forum/67593-stench-playa-82.html

      Akumal and Tulum seemed lovely. Valladolid was AMAZING and my favourite place in Mexico, but isn’t near the beach.

  7. February 18, 2014
    Reply

    You nailed it right on the head! We plan on a few months in Tulum, but never could do playa del Carmen. But a Wal-Mart is convenient but also a curse :-)

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      Hahaha, it was so convenient but I also wanted to buy EVERYTHING.

  8. Johnny FD
    February 18, 2014
    Reply

    Hey Lauren, found your site while searching for how to access facebook in Vietnam where I am now. Sorry you didn’t enjoy Playa del Carmen but I’m sure the next adventure will be even better. Keep it up, and enjoy the food around the world.

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      Yep, the next destination (Valladolid) was much more enjoyable :-)

  9. Wendy
    February 18, 2014
    Reply

    Lauren, I was introduced to your website through my husband. I really enjoyed reading about your experiences, to me your life is a great example of perseverance and achievements, most of us live day by day a routine always dreaming about the time when we could possible take a break. I remember a couple years a go my husband and I used to travel a lot, he always used to say, ” I’m burned out, it’s time for a vacation” so we used to pick a place no reservation, no booking in advance, always spontaneous, it’s been the best time of my life.
    Going back to your question, before I met my husband, I took a trip to Cuba in 2001, at the time I was a college student and every September they host a cinema festival. When I visited Cuba I didn’t have great financial resources, I remember I loved the city of Havana vieja, La Bodeguita del medio, el canon del morro, the Malecon, the people, the museums, and all the flea markets. But soon, I started to had this hate and love feeling about this place because I wanted to explore it on my on pace and soon I discovered that not having all inclusive made it very expensive for me. After exploring Havana nueva y vieja for 3 days I was ready for something else, I felt like in a espionage movie buying cigars from locals, felt passionate for their art, learned from their history and had a great time but I wanted to see more from the island. I was having a really hard time with the food options that I had, until I found a really good spot called “Hanois” that was both cheap and really good. Over there everything is to the extreme I would say, either you find someone you can trust that can help you and rent you a room, and find palapales; which are cheaper places to eat, or you spent much more on transportation and room accommodations because the locals try to get the most of the inexperienced tourist. I wanted to visit more, but just getting to Varadero a tourist beach would costed me $50.00 dlls only for the transportation.
    I had a second opportunity to visit the island, this time with my husband back in 2007. I enjoyed it more. I felt more secure with his company, we visited new places and had a more relaxing time on local undeveloped beaches. I would definitely go back for their history, great people and places to visit but now I know what to expect in regards to the food, currency and the interaction of the locals with the tourist.
    Finally, I want to tell you a little bit about me, I’m a mother of 3, I have a 15 years old step daughter, a 9 year old boy and a 7 year old girl. I have a Bachelors in communications, love to be a mom, write, interact with people and close sales. Spanish is my first language, I feel much more comfortable writing in Spanish, I guess I could tell endless stories. I felt inspired by your life so I will visit your website more often specially because now that my husband had come on with a crazy idea, but I support him because I refuse to live a normal life. It’s so boring! We will travel the world with our 3 kids for a year, and who knows maybe like you one year wont be enough.

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks for the lovely comment, Wendy! I’m sad I won’t get to go to Cuba this year, but we decided it skip it mostly because it was looking like an extremely expensive trip. Another time — when I have more money!

      That’s great that you’re going to travel the world with your children! Let me know if I can help you out in any way :-)

  10. February 18, 2014
    Reply

    I felt like this in London where I lived couple of years. So happy I got out of there, that place was making me miserable. I would probably VISIT London again at some point, but to live… no! :) In fact, most of Europe if out of question now that I have got a taste of life in Africa.

    Glad you were able to find places that made your month in PLC more bearable! I totally understand you wanting to get away from tourist crowd. Happy Tuesday!

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      I also felt like that about London but I’d lived there for over 20 years! However, since starting travelling I’ve actually found myself missing London and longing to return. In summer, of course!

  11. February 18, 2014
    Reply

    I definitely know the love/hate relationship well.. I’ve lived in India almost a year and a half and I sometimes want to pull out my hair, and other times cry of happiness! It’s a complicated life lol

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      Ha, I felt like that in Morocco, too. Why can’t we just love everywhere?! :-)

  12. Ashley
    February 18, 2014
    Reply

    The water looks beauitful, but Playa del Carmen is very touristy!

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      Yeah, unfortunately the water isn’t that great when it smells so dodgy :-)

  13. February 18, 2014
    Reply

    I visited Playa the first time in 1991 and it was an amazing experience. There was a campground right on the beach next to the town square. Some cafes had sprung up but it was a great beach town and place to hang out for a while. I returned many years later and left and stayed in Tulum…still expensive but a better vibe.

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      Wow, I can only imagine how much it’s changed since then!

  14. February 18, 2014
    Reply

    OMG nooooo… I loved Playa. I only spent 3 weeks in Playa, but those 3 weeks were so great. I loved that if you wanted to get away from all the tourist stuff you just had to walk past Avenida 15. I hated 5 Ave & don’t think I ever ate or hung around there. The only time I did was to go to the only gay club. I was also happy it had a small gay community. I too though hated the beach so always found myself walking far away from all the resorts or taking the collectivos to Akumal. Did y’all visit Akumal? I was supposed to visit Cozumel, Cancun & Isla Mujeres but just stayed in Playa. I also loved the hostel I stayed at. It was so clean and calm… they didn’t allow drinking inside and was on the edge of 5th Ave so it was always calm. I don’t even know why I am telling you all this, because in the end not everyone is going to love the same places. The crazy thing is no two people experience a city they visit the same. The Playa I experienced will never be the same Playa you experienced. Oh my did that make sense? LOL I’ll shut up now!!!

    So where you heading after Mexico???

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      It makes sense :-). It’s not that I completely hated Playa, I just didn’t like it enough to want to return. I love Akumal so much — so many turtles! It was amazing!!

      Next is Belize and Guatemala — yay! :-)

      • Rodney
        March 1, 2018
        Reply

        Did you take colectivos to Tulum, Akumal? Did you use the beaches on the Playacar side? the ocean cenote near Paradaiso?

  15. We will be there in March and are going to be careful about staying out of the overly touristy areas. Really looking forward to exploring the Yucatan – thanks a lot for your great info! :-)

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      No problem, Irene! The Yucatan is really great — try and get to Valladolid if you can, it was my favourite spot in Mexico :-)

  16. February 19, 2014
    Reply

    Interesting post. Thanks for sharing. I am bookmarking it as Mexico should be one of my future travels.
    I feel the same about Bondi Beach here in Sydney. So many people, all those buildings when you have very nice lithe beaches around. But people do love Bondi.

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      Glad you found it helpful, Claire! I wasn’t much of a fan of Bondi Beach, I kept having to ask my boyfriend why it was so popular!

  17. February 20, 2014
    Reply

    Really great post! Not to ignore everything else you wrote but SHERLOCK!! It’s..so..good. I just finished the most recent season.

    Happy travels :)

    • February 20, 2014
      Reply

      Sherlock is THE BEST! :-)

  18. February 21, 2014
    Reply

    Hi Lauren,
    so many “odes” I have read about Playa and this post gives me really different perspective.
    Great to know, because we were really considering to stay there for some time in the future.
    I can fully understand this love-hate relation, as now we are staying in Udon Thani, a town in Thailand, where we were supposed to get just some vaccination and leave to the south, but for some very urgent tooth problem we have been here already 3 weeks! So, to survive in peace, we just try to find nice place to eat and work online hard before we hit the road again :)
    Cheers!

    • March 5, 2014
      Reply

      I’ve been confused by all of the positive articles I’ve read about Playa — but I think that the majority of them were talking about the parts that are away from the main strip. Sorry to hear about your tooth problem! I hope it gets sorted soon :-)

  19. February 22, 2014
    Reply

    We spent a few weeks in Playa del Carmen and it’s not like we didn’t enjoy our time there, but we found Tulum to be a lot better. There are a lot more things to do in Playa, but Tulum just had a great feeling to it.

    Also the guys on the main street of Playa made me sick how they were exploiting the baby cub lions/tigers etc. I don’t remember a time I’ve felt so angry on the road.

    • March 5, 2014
      Reply

      Fortunately, I didn’t see the baby tigers on the main street but that sounds horrible! I saw people roaming around with iguanas you could hold for photo opportunities. It all seems so cruel :-/

      I loved Tulum and wish I could have seen more of it!

  20. Ali
    February 22, 2014
    Reply

    Andy and I were seriously considering Mexico for our current trip, but we didn’t feel like we had enough time to see the places we wanted to see. But we were going to stay in Playa del Carmen for awhile too, and now the more I hear about it, the more it doesn’t appeal to me. The routine you found sounds good, but like you said, probably not worth it. We’ll get to Mexico eventually, and while I do want to see the Caribbean side, I’ll probably be ok with skipping Playa del Carmen.

    • March 5, 2014
      Reply

      I don’t think you guys would have liked Playa, Ali. Maybe somewhere like Tulum would be good for you — or Valladolid, my favourite place in Mexico! :-)

  21. scarlett
    February 24, 2014
    Reply

    Ahhh Lauren, your daily routine is the most adorable thing I’ve ever heard! Love! X

  22. Madison
    February 28, 2014
    Reply

    We just left Playa Del Carmen with similar feelings, I really don’t see the point in even stopping there! So far we have seen Puerto Escondido, Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Cozumel and the islands (Isla Mujeres and Cozumel) are definitely our favourites!

    Off to Tulum for a week tomorrow so I’m looking forward to some nice beaches finally!

    PS I hope you tried the felafel place in Playa!

    • March 5, 2014
      Reply

      Glad to hear I wasn’t the only way to feel that way, Madison. I was also huge fan of Isla Mujeres — I loved exploring the island by scooter! Tulum has some of my favourite beaches in Mexico — enjoy! :-)

  23. Mari
    October 2, 2014
    Reply

    Hi Lauren,

    It’s sad to read your post about your experience in Playa del Carmen. I’m from Mexico City and escaped to live here in Playa over three years ago. While I initially moved to Akumal I found it too isolated so made the move to Playa almost 2 years ago. I completely agree with you, though. In order to see the real Playa and enjoy it you need to step away from 5th avenue and the two famous beaches which are Mamitas and Constituyentes. And you don’t need to eat from street carts to enjoy cheap, good mexican food. There are plenty of restaurants off of 5th avenue that are half the price and twice the quality. Sadly, Playa grows and lives thanks to tourism so even though most of us don’t like it and it has come to ruin our paradise, it’s something we need to survive. I hope you give Playa a second chance in the future, rent a place on the other side of the highway and get to know the real place, with the amazing cenotes, the proximity to amazing places and above all, the people :)

    • October 22, 2014
      Reply

      Hi Mari,

      Thanks for your comment! I hope to give Playa a second chance at some point, and I know I definitely made a mistake in deciding to stay so close to 5th Avenue. I’m actually really missing the street food in PdC at the moment!

  24. October 9, 2014
    Reply

    Hi Lauren,

    I’m glad to read your experience about Playa del Carmen because I kind of feel the same way. I arrived here 2 months ago with my boyfriend and our little girl. Yes, PdC is crowded and touristic, but we chose to live just outside of the city, about 10 minutes from the center. I’m in a gated-community with Mexican locals and some expats. I enjoy it, but it has its downsides: we need a car to buy our groceries and we can’t just walk around our home, there is not much to do or to see, no city vibes.

    I found that areas very close to la Quinta Avenida annoying: too much people, too much noise, expensive, too much business owners harassing you. I go there sometimes but I try to avoid it. I love Akumal and Tulum, really, but I could not live there, a need to be in a bigger city.

    I love Mexico, but I think that Playa del Carmen is not so good for digital nomads. High-speed internet is hard or impossible to get here and there are not that much coffees to work.

    Thanks for mentioning Valladolid, it’s a city I can’t wait to visit!

  25. December 7, 2014
    Reply

    Interesting post and by the looks of the replies, quite a few people have the same feeling about Playa.

    We’re also in the same camp, after a few months on the road, it wasn’t what we had expected. But like you and others have said, maybe a bit more of a positive attitude and effort and you’ll see the more authentic side of the region.

    • December 8, 2014
      Reply

      A positive attitude helps in all travel experiences :-)

  26. January 27, 2015
    Reply

    It’s true Playa can be overwhelming, especially during high season and 5th Ave and the beaches can be a real nightmare.
    Like you, once I got into a routine I began to love Playa! Beach front yoga to start the day, heading to the beach in the late afternoon to avoid the crowds (and the scorching hot sun) and finding some awesome local eateries has made Playa home for me :)
    The beach parts of Playa are away from the tourist strip, like the suburb of Zahil Ha and below 30th Ave, where you can enjoy the Mexican vibe of the city sans tourists.

    I agree with Mari :) If you give Playa a chance you can really enjoy all of the amazing things it has to offer; It convenient location ( 45 mins to the airport, 15 mins to Xpu ha and Pamul some of the most gorgeous beaches on the coast, 20 minutes to Akumal where you’ll be swimming with the turtles, 10 minutes to some amazing cenotes. Besides that the people are great and lets not forget the AMAZING breakfast at La Ceiba de la 30 :)

  27. April 4, 2015
    Reply

    I’m here right now and this is exactly my experience. I wish I stayed in Tulum, but you don’t know till you go sometimes. Not the type of tourism I enjoy here. Drunk people who can’t be bothered to even greet people in Spanish.

    I’m working from here as well, at least my internet connection is much much better than in Tulum. I too found the street food scene and have been there every night since. The tacos al pastor with a small slice of pineapple has been hitting the spot.

    Valladolid had great street food as well. Very creative.

    • November 26, 2015
      Reply

      Tacos al pastor: so good! And I loved Valladolid as well :-)

  28. Violet
    June 21, 2015
    Reply

    Lauren,

    You may want to answer this via Inbox to my email address, but I wonder how people like you and your husband can afford to do this type of thing? I am in my very early fifties, but have always had a sense of adventure, and would love to be able to just sell the few things I have and head out to travel the world. Would you kindly share? It may be simpler than I think. I’ve always thought that, since I have a very flexible attitude, and am a well-rounded person, I would just do work in exchange for room and a bit of spending money. I currently have a six-figure income, and wonder if I would regret leaving the comforts that come with such a “boring and lonely life”. Don’t get me wrong, I have family, and a great social circle and living in Chicago, I am surrounded by endless activities, many of which are free…Concerts in the park, beachfront activities, etc., but my life just seems incomplete. Like is this daily routine all there really is to life?

  29. Beth
    September 11, 2015
    Reply

    I was in Playa once for holidays and my first impression was the same. Too much smelly seaweed, one touristy overpriced buzzy very commercial street and everything further from the 5th looked dirty and very local. It turned me away. After 2 weeks there i changed my mind completely. I usually get sick from local food after few days and need more european touch to it, fresh grill seafood, sushi etc… Luckily there are many options in Playa. I love going out all dressed up in upmarket venues where you can appreciate rainbows of tastes and colours of dishes and it doesn’t matter how much you pay for it as soon as it’s awesome. Being a dj i also love spending days in a beach clubs with a good music, great food and stylish funky people. There are places for different tastes, crowds, cuisines, tastes and wallets in this region. Playa is a village but you can find there everything you want. I personally decided to move to Playacar which is not touristy, beaches are much better and there are few great restaurants with quality food. There are plenty golf courses which is important for me. Akumal is not so far away for a day trip and for weekends you can always go to Tulum for eco friendly yoga resorts. Miami is just less than 2 hrs flight. After living 4 years in Bali, 4 years in Dubai, 9 months in Maldives, 6 months in Hong Kong and a year in the USA i can definitely say that PdC or Cancyn is an experience for those who needs to be close to the USA, be social and you can get a much better Caribbean lifestyle for the same money you spend in America. Surely there are many other options like Costa Rica, Phuket (Th), Vietnam, Hawaii, Bali (Indonesia) with a similar lifestyle and different prices. It depends what you are looking for. As for me i don’t trust anyone’s opinion and experience all myself and give it a go minimum 6 months to make a conclusion. From the tourist point of view… it depends with whom you travelling, on what mood, what activities you doing… places are just a reflection of our inner happiness. Being in 42 countries i can say that world is one, everything is the same but angles of view are always different. Be happy , keep travelling!

    • November 22, 2015
      Reply

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Beth! Playa’s an odd place, hey? There’s so many aspects to like and parts of it that drive me crazy!

  30. Melissa
    September 21, 2015
    Reply

    I lived in Playa del Carmen for 3 months (April-June) and I absolutely loved it. The beaches are stunning, there is a lot to do in Yucatan and the food is amazing. It sounds like you haven’t explored Yucatan to the fullest (have you been to Rio Lagartos to spot flamingos and swim in a pink lake? Visited Valladolid, cenotes, all of the Maya temples in the region, drove around the peninsula, go to Akumal to swim with turtles and stingrays, swim with whalesharks?). I even enjoyed walking on Quinta Avenida to laugh at all the tourists (mostly fat Americans) and surprising the vendors on the street (they are soooo annoying) by speaking Spanish to them. Too bad you didn’t like it better, I think it’s great!

    • September 21, 2015
      Reply

      Not sure where you got that impression from. I visited Coba and Tulum and Chichen Itza. Snorkelled at Akumal, lived in Valladolid, hung out in Isla Mujeres. I don’t know — sewage on the streets and in the ocean doesn’t make a place all that great to me!

  31. Marissa
    November 9, 2015
    Reply

    I’m going to be living and working out of either PDC or Tulum from mid January-mid February, would you recommend Tulum over PDC? I need a good internet connection because I work from my laptop 40 hours a week and conduct phone calls through skype and gotomeeting etc. I’ll be on my own (26 year old female) so I want a lively social scene around me so that I don’t get too lonely. I’d appreciate any of your advice, thanks!

    • November 10, 2015
      Reply

      I think Playa del Carmen would be more your fit then! Tulum is quite quiet and you might be lonely.

  32. November 26, 2015
    Reply

    Hey!! I found this a great read as i am going to PdC in a few weeks and I’m not really sure it’s my kind of place. We live in Oaxaca. Have you managed to visit the Oaxacan beaches yet? Beautiful, wild, unspoilt and very natural! Sounds like you would love them :)

    • November 26, 2015
      Reply

      I’m going to be living in Oaxaca for several months in early 2016!

      • February 23, 2016
        Reply

        Yay!! Well I hope you enjoy it over here, and if you’d like to meet and chat about all things Mexico over a coffee or mezcal then let me know :)

        • February 28, 2016
          Reply

          Ah, I’m leaving tomorrow, but thanks so much for the offer! :-)

  33. April 17, 2016
    Reply

    We’re all entitled to an opinion but to describe playa Del Carmen as a stinky, overpriced and dirty place is so far from the truth. There is something for everyone but all the things above are nothing from what I am experiencing right now in Playa. Yes there is a lot of tourists, duh like in all of the Mexican beaches in Quintana Roo and people here will naturally cater to that. If you’re eating on 5th ave you won’t find dollar tacos that being said we found great quality and affordable places even on fifth with amazing people running them. To compare this place to Tulum is not realistic. Tulum has stunning ruins and great views yes, and some dirty beaches too! IN MY experience way overpriced and full of boojee restaurants by the beach. To take a cab to downtown to eat cheap dollar tacos, no thanks. Ex. Gitano, charging 16 dlls for a cocktail and then keeping my change from 50 dlls. Clearly taking advantage of tourists. I love Playa and just like anywhere in Mexico is not perfect but close to it.

    • April 19, 2016
      Reply

      I said that parts of Playa del Carmen were stinky and overpriced. I didn’t enjoy those aspects, so I did everything I could to find the areas that were a better fit for me. Once I ventured away from 5th Avenue and into the more local neighbourhoods, I loved the city! And I think I mention in the post that it wasn’t overpriced or smelly in those places

      I guess this is all anecdotal, right? My boyfriend saw sewage on the street; you didn’t — that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Additionally, the forum thread I linked to in a comment features people describing seeing floating sewage in the ocean, so it wasn’t just us being overdramatic.

      But at the same time, I recognise that just because I did witness it, it doesn’t mean it’s like that permanently.

      You’re weren’t in Playa del Carmen in the middle of high season, and I suspect sewage becomes more of a problem then, so perhaps you were luckier with your timing than me.

      Finally, I compared Playa del Carmen to Tulum because I’m constantly asked about whether people should stay in either spot, and because this post ranks highly for “playa del carmen or tulum” in Google. Both places are beside the ocean, are popular with tourists and expats, and make somewhat decent bases in the Yucatan for digital nomads. Where do you think I should have compared it to instead?

      It’s great that you’ve fallen for Playa del Carmen: I can see why so many people do. It just wasn’t an amazing fit for me.

  34. Vacation Playa
    April 29, 2016
    Reply

    I hate huge number of taxi cars in Playa del Carmen. It’s like 60% of traffic. Without it should be quieter.

    • May 13, 2016
      Reply

      Oh, I personally didn’t notice them.

  35. Marty
    January 1, 2017
    Reply

    I can see where you’re coming from Lauren. Playa has changed so much over the years. I first went in 2000 and 2001. I absolutely fell in love with the place, I didn’t go back until 2007 and it was just slightly more built up but not too bad. I did not notice the drastic change until about 2010. I hate La quinta now, you can’t walk a block without some thug asking “Wana get high”. I love the areas outside of the main tourist area. Although Playa is no longer the quaint fishing village I fell in love with 17 years ago it still has a place in my heart and I miss it when I am not there so I find myself returning. I want to explore the pacific side.

  36. April 8, 2017
    Reply

    Thank God I bumped onto your article!! I live in Greece and I have bathed in some of the most amazing beaches and crystal clear waters. We are planning on our honeymoon now and the travel agent tried to convince us for Playa. Something kicked in me with all the crowd int he photow and videos and minly in noticing the dirty waters. I mean, we’re experts in nice long beaches with clean transparent sea. I’m definately booking for Tulum and following all your advice for the other towns, too. One question, though. Tulum is a proper town with a kind of market and a few restaurants, right? Not anything fancy, but I can have these within walking distance, right?
    Thank you so much!!!!!

    • April 17, 2017
      Reply

      It’s funny, as I was recently talking with some friends who are leaving Playa del Carmen and said a lot of other digital nomads are doing exactly the same. They told me it’s dirty, the beach is eroding, and it’s becoming quite dangerous, with lots of cartel activity behind the scenes.

      And yep, Tulum is a proper town with all of that stuff within walking distance.

  37. August 16, 2017
    Reply

    I’ve been to 40+ Spanish cities and I’d have to put playa del carmen on the bottom 10%. Tulum beaches and the vibes there were amazing I agree. I felt like everything was either overpriced or everyone was trying to rip you off in playa. Example a beer at a small grocery store off 5th, 45 pesos it was marked. $3. Give her $20 USD she gave me back 170 pesos. Ended up paying $10 because I didn’t count the change on the way out. This is one of 30 examples of people trying to rip me off. Taxis from 5th to my house could be anywhere from 90-400 pesos depending which shady cabby you got. I hate this about playa.

    • August 23, 2017
      Reply

      Ah, I’m sorry to hear that, Ryan! That sucks.

    • Daniel
      April 23, 2019
      Reply

      How is Playa del Carmen a spanish city?

      • April 24, 2019
        Reply

        Ha! I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on that.

  38. Eva
    July 4, 2018
    Reply

    Stupid people do stupid things and write stupid blogs. PDC is a CITY not a town and has every thing and every problem a city has.

    Since clearly this person didn’t do any research and learned nothing about the area, it looks like they left knowing even less and decide to spew out some uneducated garbage.

    Seriously?! You went to a resort town and were shocked to find tourists there!? You also went to the main drag, which everyone with an IQ of over 80 would understand in under 5 minutes what it was about.

    They would also understand that 5th street is a small section of a decent sized, I’ll say it again, CITY. I think int is laughable that you have decided that you are an “expert” and know absolutely nohing about how the sewage system in Mexico works or public transportation. Your best shopping experience Walmart not the local groceria, farm stand, or European Market?

    You saw Garbage on the streets of PDC but not in Tulum, where you can spend $300 on a unairconditioned room and get one towel for the week at some bullshit yoga retreat or Sayulitas surf camp? You seem like you have some serious vision problems. I suggest better not go to Rome or NYC or LA or Moscow or Sao Paulo or let’s face it, anywhere.

    ANY destination that is popular has their tourist trap area and yes, if you are dumb, someone will exploit that. And yes, it has grown and that growth benefits the economic situation of the people who live there.

    As far as cartels, it is utter bullshit that the average person will be effected there and it is the AMERICAN tourists who go to Mexico to do things they don’t do at home. Do you really think the cartels don’t have a hold in small towns? Probably more than anywhere, since the locals will have less opportunity to make money otherwise. But of course, someone like you wouldn’t be aware enough to figure that out.

    Also because you bothered to learn nothing, you don’t get that PDC isn’t a standard Mexican movie set that you have painted in your head of donkeys, tin houses and siestas. It is and always has been a multicultural city with more modern aspirations.

    Being that you only visited the one beach off of 5th street, I see your comments about the beaches are just as accurate as your assessments of everything else about PDC. I won’t even touch your abysmal writing style.

    • July 4, 2018
      Reply

      I love that you’re calling me stupid when you clearly didn’t read and process my blog post.

      1) I called Playa del Carmen a city, not a town. I’m fully aware it’s a city — that’s why I referred to it as one in this blog post.
      2) I said I spent all of my time away from the main drag because I didn’t like it. I don’t know why you think I spent my time on it, given that half of my blog post is talking about how I went to local hangouts instead. I wrote in this post about how I quickly realised PdC was more than 5th Ave so set out to find the spots that were more my scene. And that I liked it. Not sure I ever said I was shocked to see tourists, either — just that it was a big change from Guanajuato. I fully expected tourists — that’s why I arranged my accommodation in advance.
      3) I’m not sure where I said I didn’t understand public transportation — I only took colectivos all over the Yucatan from Playa.
      4) I didn’t say anything about cartels in this blog post, either?
      5) I have a whole paragraph in this post about how I visited more than one beach and specifically sought out the ones where the locals hung out.
      6) I said I loved the convenience of having a Walmart nearby — not that it was my highlight or that I even shopped there. I bought a new pair of shorts and cleaning products for our apartment from there, and bought my food from the local grocery stores, street vendors, and bakeries.
      7) Maybe Tulum has changed since I was last there in 2013, but when I visited, it wasn’t anywhere near that expensive. I hear it’s changed a lot.
      8) Abysmal writing style? My publisher doesn’t seem to think so. Where’s your book deal?

      I’m really confused by your entire comment, to be honest. Next time, please make sure to read a blog post before leaving a comment. And, you know, have some manners rather than being an asshole to another human being. If you wouldn’t speak like that to a stranger on the street, don’t let a screen change how you behave.

  39. Daniel
    April 23, 2019
    Reply

    What is a “groceria”? And what does “effected” mean?

    • April 24, 2019
      Reply

      And yet she has the nerve to tell me I have an abysmal writing style, lol.

  40. Kerry
    December 5, 2019
    Reply

    Wow.
    Saddened .
    Initially by your report on how Playa first impacted you.
    That’s my good fortune I guess seeing as my first impression was a tiny village . Dirt roads and I think maybe one ATM. Back in the late 90’s.
    Since then I returned 11 or 12 times .
    My latest being 2016. And I have no desire to return.
    Over 15 years I watched it evolve ( is that the right word? Even though I preferred it before it grew too fast) as it grew I found myself seeking that great village vibe and the natural beauty. I headed to Akumal , then Tulum and eventually Punta Allen.
    15 years ago I was obsessed and my knowledge of the area grew and grew.
    Tulum become my favourite destination. It was a backpackers paradise but I experienced the change to Eco chic and it was no longer the great value… I visiting another 3-4 times even with the higher cost because it still had this heart touching vibe.
    It’s sad , PDC was a part of my daily life . I was always thinking about my next visit while I daily read up on the. Playa dot info forum ( now defunct) and it lost its appeal.
    I am glad to have known it in the late 90’s and early 2000’s
    And how it caused me to learn the benefits of getting off the beaten path. 5th ave and Calle 12 were fun for sure and I watched the whole development of the North past Constituenes ( so?) also known as the round about . It taught me to keep seeking for the quiet remote offerings and Tulum was such a great find and Akumal and its expats had a cool feeling.
    So , long winded but I say , get off the beaten path. Maybe try Vilanes in Cuba ….. I loved playa , then I loved tulum. And it was a huge part of my life for two decades ….
    Babes noodle bar , Dave’s . The barrel, el oasis one dollar tacos and of course Gringo Dave’s in Tulum…..
    I am blessed and so are my kids and a few ladies I took to have experienced Playa and Tulum in their glory days…

  41. diane dales
    May 23, 2021
    Reply

    I think your perspective is refreshing. You have not sugarcoated as many people have done in PDC that always keep be wondering, “what in the earth are they thinking?” I’ve been to other areas in Mexico, and you’re right about the authenticity of the culture in the area. For me I am moving here because I grew some of my life in the Philippines and my kids raised in the US. It has similar feel of my country of birth, so I can live in the equator no problem. The feeling I have about PDC that you felt is perhaps like my life here in Virginia. I’ve been in this country longer than I’ve lived in the Philippines, but I still feel lonely and alienated, and you know that most of the American culture is not a close knit social community. In PDC my natural orientation kicks such as sun blocking mechanism and hope to God with fish to eat daily. So there it is. It’s trying to get back home near my children and mimic the island sea breeze. Thank you for your post. Thank you for being real.

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