Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is located in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, Just in middle of the Riviera Maya.
In a manner of speaking, there are two playas: Playa Del Carmen (our subject), a former fishing village that is quickly growing into one of the largest resort on the Mexican Caribbean; and the Playa development. Playacar is an 875 acre-golf-course community where you'll find a big beach-front hotel, three large all-inclusive resorts, a championship gold course and, for anyone who might be interested, attractive homes and lots for sale.
Scooting around Playa Del Carmen to find a good place to eat lunch or take a dip, or better still, for a dip and then lunch, is a grand way to get to know it. The town's main thoroughfare is known as Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue.
Apart from a few beach-side cafés, Fifth Avenue is the town's restaurant row, with a dozen of restaurants, breakfast nooks and cafes to choose from. since the town is only about ten blocks long, it's fun to stroll down Quinta and check out where to dine.
There are wide ranges of boutiques along Quinta which feature an eclectic mix of handicrafts from all over Mexico and Guatemala. The specialty shops feature masks, embroidered or batik blouses, dresses, and silver, shell and amber jewelry.
The reef breaks the waves heading to shore, which means good snorkeling, diving, swimming and even good wading.
For anyone who has not donned scuba gear before, Playa is a good place to try it out. Introductory courses teach the basic in a pool, then students are taken out to explore the reef for a couple of hours. Most dives, like the reefs, are relatively shallow (about 12-15 m/40-50) which means divers can stay down longer.
In Playa hot, steamy days fade to cool afternoons, an excellent time to visit the Xa-man-Ha Aviary in Playacar. It is run by a private foundation sponsored by Situr, the corporation behind the Playacar development. The admission fee is a reasonable and it's well worth a visit. If you don't have a rental car take a taxi, or you could find yourself wandering, lost, on the Playacar fairway.
The aviary setting takes visitors into a tamed Yucatecan jungle to wander along trails in a botanical garden. The plants are carefully labeled for a mature horticulturalists. Flamingos and other long-legged birds amble about a pond. Adventurous birds occasionally hop onto the pedestrian paths; on more than one occasion the staff has had to rescue someone being pursued by aggressive pelicans. Overhead parrots of many colors squawk in the trees. In the main enclosure visitors can get within ten feet of a toucan.
During siesta Playa is quiet, but as the sun sets the town is at its most festive. Street performers stroll Quinta Avenida Playing guitars while singing Spanish folk song, and lovers walk hand in hand, their ruddy faces glowing in the red rays of the setting sun.
Happy hour, which can last for a generous 120 minutes, gets under way at most taverns and the village becomes a international social club. American football flashes on giant screens before enthusiastic Italians; which, at least, provides a new opening line: "Can you explain this game to me?" (Asking if you live near by seems unlikely in Playa)
Though buses run from Playa to Cancun throughout the day, an afternoon in Playa makes some visitors want to spend the night: for which there are dozens of inexpensive hotels.
From Playa it's only a hop, skip and a jump to Cozumel. Twin-hulled ferries depart every hour and take takes less than that to make the crossing. Conveniently, they arrive in the heart of the island's one town, where tourists can find dive shops (Cozumels main attraction) or shop in duty-free stores. The island is so close that many people go over for breakfast rent a scooter and motor around to see the sights.
To get to Playa Del Carmen rent a car and take highway 307 south for 72 km; or take one of the buses which have regular service to Playa Del Carmen.
Playa itself has Mayan roots; its original name was Xaman-Xa. The Maya used it as launching point for pilgrimages to Cozumel, which they held to be the home of Ixchel, the goddess of the moon, love, pregnancy and childbirth. Though remnants or buildings left behind by this ancient civilization still dot Playa's shores, the town has changed somewhat since the decline of the Maya, much less over the last twenty years. Those who remember it as nothing more than a ferry stop will be stared by the changes. Some locals claim the town is the fasted growing community in Mexico. First time visitors are the lucky ones. They simply arrive, find themselves dazzled by the charm, and never want to leave.