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PLAYA DEL CARMEN

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.

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Map of Playa del Carmen

NEED TO KNOW

prac_info Visitor Information: Av 20 and 1ª Sur; (984) 873 0242; open 9am–8:30pm Mon–Fri (until 5pm Sat & Sun); www.rivieramaya.com, www.playadelcarmen.com

prac_info 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

Google Map

  • Snorkels are expensive to rent or buy in Playa.
  • For good traditional Mexican food at lower prices, eat away from the Quinta. Along Calle 4 there are several very enjoyable, low-key restaurants that serve up bargain seafood, such as the terrace-restaurant Las Brisas.

1. Quinta Avenida

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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.

2. Playacar

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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.

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Ornate fountain in Playacar

3. Chunzubul Beach

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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.

4. Mamita’s Beach Club

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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.

5. Town Beach

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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.

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Picturesque Town beach

6. Xcaret

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Created around a natural lagoon 4 miles (6 km) south of Playa, this “eco-park” is bursting with flora, fauna, and sea life.

7. Playa’s Hip Hotels

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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.

8. Nighttime Playa

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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.

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A mariachi band in the Quinta

9. Xaman-Ha Aviary

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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.

10. Xaman-Ha Mayan Site

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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.

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The Xaman-Ha Mayan Site

SLEEP ALL NIGHT, PARTY ALL DAY

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.

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