I have now made several visits to this unique sunspot that is the next largest centre after Cancun along the Mayan Riviera.
On my first trip to Play del Carmen, I was fascinated by the blend of traditional old Mexico with the city’s emerging role as the centre of the Mayan Riviera hotel expansion.
It is still a small city, with a population of about a hundred thousand people. But it definitely has its attractions. One of them being that it still carries the feeling that it is more of a Mexican community than a tourist centre.
The main street for tourists, Fifth Avenue, runs just beyond the beach and the hotel side streets. No one seems to really know how the first street from the beach came to be named Fifth Avenue. But anyone who gets to Playa del Carmen quickly learns how to find it.
It is the pedestrian corridor in this quaint Mexican community that is the gathering stroll for vacationers who choose to take time away from the dozens of resorts that dot the Mayan Riviera.
Shops, restaurants, and nightclubs flow from one to the other all along this singularly commercial street.
During the day, the street appears quiet and serene, with shop owners enticing you inside to view their goods. At night, the avenue transforms into a kaleidoscope of music, aromas, and colour, with enough interest in what the shops are displaying that no barkers are needed to bring customers through the open entrances.
Sport fishing boats dock on the beach as the sun starts to go down. A fisherman tosses leftover bait to wide-mouthed pelicans, necks stretched out for the feast. A local restaurant owner bargains with the captain for tonight’s Catch of the Day special. A crew member fillets a large fish on the sand for a waiting customer.
What makes this idyllic scene unique is that only a couple of hundred metres behind all of this, hotel properties can almost hold hands with each other as the guests who have not gathered round to gawk, watch from the beaches and pool sides.
Sunset over the palm trees and thatched Palapas roofs cast a relaxing glow.
Sun and sand, as always, are the common denominators that attract us to Mexican destinations. Both are in plentiful supply in Playa del Carmen.
For many, sand is a place to lay out our blankets or just relax on our beach chairs for hours. But here, the sand offers enough firmness for fitness enthusiasts to walk for hours as well, if they so wish.
From morning until nightfall, there seems to be no end to the walkers who appear to thrive on burning off some of their all-inclusive calories, by going back and forth on this expansive beachfront.
Only a few hundred metres away, ferries make a number of trips, loaded with day tourists going to and from Cozumel. Smaller boats, filled with scuba divers, head out to some of the best dive waters in the Caribbean.
These are postcard beaches. Blue green sea punctuated by the occasional boat or cruise ship passing. It truly does quell the racing mind, for a while at least.
I choose to spend a couple of my days on the golf course that hosts the only recognized PGA Golf Tour event in Mexico, the Mayakoba Golf Classic. It seems to have carved its place into the early PGA tour schedule, with many of the top pros choosing to come back year after year.
The El Camaleon Golf Club, and nearby Mayakoba Resort, are both managed by the Fairmont hotel group. The course itself, designed by Greg Norman, is kept in exceptional shape.
What makes playing Mayakoba most interesting is the change of landscape that confronts you as you move from hole to hole. From jungle, to oceanfront, to dense mangroves; there is always something to impress the vision, while challenging your play.
I also golfed at the Playacar golf Course across from the RIU property which, while not nearly as challenging, was a positive golf experience.
Back at the resort, we are ready for another exceptional dining experience.
On our last trip, we shared our stay at two side by side beachside resorts, The Royal Resort and the Gran Porto Real, two of the Real resort properties, a group of 4 and 5 star hotel properties in both Playa del Carmen and Cancun. In the heart of Playa del Carmen, our resorts front on some of the best sand on the Mamitas beach.
At the Chef’s Plate, a different menu is prepared every day. The Pelicanos, overlooking the beach, offers a variety of fresh seafoods. On most evenings, after dinner we were attracted back to Fifth Avenue. It is here where the personality of Playa del Carmen and the entire Mayan Riviera become fused.
The avenue itself is wide enough not to be crowded very often, while the streets that run off it also hold interesting places to explore, dine or shop.
Even though we often stay at all-inclusive resorts, we also like to try other restaurants in the area, at least a couple of times during most vacations. In Playa del Carmen, it was especially fun finding a restaurant along Fifth Avenue that we believed featured the kinds of fish taken from the boats we saw being unloaded hours earlier.
Contact me if you would like help planning your Mexican vacation this year at firstname.lastname@example.org .