If you prefer a beachtown atmosphere to the long hotel strip of Cancún, this is the ideal choice on the Mayan Riviera. A tiny fishing village with sand streets in the 1980s, and a backpackers’ hangout in the early 1990s, Playa has blossomed into a fun town with an energetic beach scene and nightlife.
Xcaret: open 8:30am–10:30pm; tours daily from Cancún and Playa del Mar; adm $100–200, $89.99 online; children 5–11 half price (under 5s free); www.xcaret.com
Stretching north from the town plaza, “Fifth Avenue” is Playa’s main drag, for daytime shopping and nighttime promenading – a multicolored array of shops, cafés, hotels, clubs, and restaurants.
This very smartly landscaped development shows a different side of Playa. It encompasses resort hotels, winding lanes of luxury villas, a fine aviary, Mayan sites, beach clubs, restaurants, and a championship standard golf course.
Playa’s best snorkeling spots are at the beaches north of Mamita’s, beyond the striking cabañas of Mahekal Beach Resort. There are also nudist beaches along this stretch of coast.
One of the best beach bars in Playa, with a cool restaurant-bar, palapa-sunshades, and loungers, and chairs for hire, plus live music and DJs. Guests at nearby hotels can often use the facilities here for free.
At the center of the action by day is the main beach, with beautiful soft, white Yucatán sand and plenty of shoreline cafés. Beach volleyball is something of a specialty.
Created around a natural lagoon 4 miles (6 km) south of Playa, this “eco-park” is bursting with flora, fauna, and sea life.
Playa is well known for its stylish small hotels, such as El Faro, and Deseo. Discreetly spectacular and with lovely pools, they showcase contemporary elegance.
After dark the Quinta buzzes with crowds strolling, dining, and bar-hopping. With mariachi bands in some places and techno DJs in others, there’s plenty of variety. The heart of the action is the junction of the Quinta and Calle 12.
The aviary located within Playacar contains a fine collection of toucans, parrots, flamingos, and over 60 other bird species in a lush green setting that seems almost like real jungle. This is a very easy way for visitors to see some of the Yucatán’s rarer birds without trekking into the forest.
Playa shares its ground with the site of a Mayan settlement known as Xaman-Ha. Several temples survive, with most scattered around the Playacar area.
Playa del Carmen isn’t known as party central without reason – you really can party all night here. However, party-goers also have the opportunity to party all day. Establishments such as the Coralina Daylight Club make use of their warm and sandy locations to attract patrons while the sun is still up.