Playa del Carmen, Mexico – City Guide for Nomads and Expats

Updated in 2022.

Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Playa del Carmen began as a more chill answer to Cancun, which is only an hour away.

However, in recent years word got out. Now Playa del Carmen is commonly considered to be among the top digital nomad destinations in the world. Rent prices in the city have surged in the past few years and city population is probably double any official census statistic. Most of the Mexicans in Playa moved here from other regions of Mexico. They came to work in the construction and tourism industries. There are many people from Southern Mexico (Veracruz, Tabasco), and Mexico City. Not too many people from Guadalajara or Sonora, as they go to west coast beach towns like Mazatlan or Vallarta. Playa del Carmen rivals Medellin as the top digital nomad destination in Latin America. Playa del Carmen offers a great lifestyle. It’s a very walkable city with nice beaches and reasonable prices.

POPULATION: 150,000


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WHERE TO STAY IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN

You want to stay within the bounds of the highway (carretera) and the beach. This is the best area of Playa del Carmen. There is no Uber in Playa so you ideally want to minimize the use of the Very Scammy Taxi Monopoly. You also want to be careful about staying too close to 5th avenue. It’s a fine line because you want to be walking distance from the bars, but not so close that you can’t sleep due to the noise from the bars. If you’re too close, the clubs will be shaking your windows til 3 or even 5am every night of the week.

I prefer to stay in Colonia Hollywood, a quit artsy neighborhood on avenida 25 between Constituyentes and CTM. More and more people are moving east of CTM, and more bars are popping up in that area. The beaches are nicer over there, but the downside is it is too far to walk to the main bar and nightclub area in the center.

I found this map of where to stay in Playa del Carmen and it’s super helpful.

Map of Playa del Carmen
Map of Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen

 

RENT AN APARTMENT IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN

You used to be able to get a studio or 1br for $400-$600. Not anymore. The influx of foreigners and increased popularity of the city means that you’ll for sure be paying $1000/month in high season (roughly October to April). That being said, there lots of options, lots of stock of Airbnbns and high end apartments. Airbnb is the most straightforward option here, although not the cheapest. Almostb every local in PDC is a broker or involved in real estate in some capacity, so try to make friends with brokers for lower prices than Airbnb.

 

BEST BARS & NIGHTLIFE IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN

9/10 

Full of clubs. Clubs that can get pretty wild! This is a good place to come if you need to get the poison out and bang something. It’s an all out party here. People are here to drink and hook-up. Like in any vacation spot in Mexico, expect to be offered drugs at least 5 times a night. Playa del Carmen also has a large concentration of people from Argentina, so many of the nightclubs and restaurants are actually run by Argentines.

My Latin Life recommends:

Santino: Busy from Wednesday to Sunday. Free cover before 11pm. Reggaeton vibes on the first floor, techno vibes on the roof.

Bar Loco: Good place to start off. $1 beers and tequila shots. Central location. 

Hostel 3B: They have techno roof parties that can get good. You can party there without staying in the hostel.

 

BEST RESTAURANTS IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN

Pura Vida by Evolve: Healthy food restaurant. Reasonable prices for being right on 5th. You can chill and people-watch here.  Discounts with membership at Evolve gym.

Trattoria del Centro: If you want an authentic Italian style pizza this is where to get it. Amazing food and chef. Good spot to host a get-together or birthday.

 

DAY TRIPS & THINGS TO DO IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN

Hit the beach! Mamitas, Playa Calle 38, Playa Avenida Colosio, Playa Punta Esmeralda.

Get a bike pass with BiciPlaya. It’s about 400 pesos or $20 for a 1 year pass. Makes it really easy to get around town and bike to the beach.

Take a day trip to Valladolid, a historic colonial town a 2hr drive away.

Visit Chichen Itza, one of the great wonders of the world.

Take part in a Temazcal ceremony, an ancient Mayan tradition.

Go to Xcaret, one of the best theme parks you’ll ever go to. It’s worth it. And don’t miss the night show.

 

SAFETY IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN

Playa del Carmen isn’t as safe as most people think. Where there are tourists, there is crime. I know a Colombian girl who was robbed after being pushed down a flight of stairs, and I met 2 people who have been drugged here. Scary stuff. But those who don’t get too drunk and stick to well populated tourists areas normally won’t have any issues. Also worth mentioning: as of 2018/19, drug cartel violence has erupted. Now, this won’t effect you too much as a tourist, but what I will say is not to go looking too far off the main drag for a bar or strip club. There have been shootings in nightclubs. The main drag is pretty much OK, but all bets are off once you wander off it. I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to you! Be vigilant, but don’t let safety in Playa del Carmen be cause for too much concern.

 

HOW TO GET TO PLAYA DEL CARMEN

Take the Ado bus from the Cancun airport. The bus leaves hourly 7 days a week.

 

COST OF LIVING IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN 

The following data is from Expatistan, a crowdsourced database of prices and cost of living around the world. In our experience, the data tends to underestimate cost of living, so take the following as the minimum you might need to live here.

*Figures are listed in USD

You’ll need a minimum of $1208 USD/month to live in Playa del Carmen

cost-of-living-playa-del-carmen

FINAL THOUGHTS

Likely the ‘sexiest’ vacation city in Mexico. You’ll see plenty of digital nomads in the cafes here. There’s amazing restaurants and unlimited activities. If you’re looking for that sort of thing, it’s worth checking out. Personally, I’m getting too old for this kind of party. I’d rather hit a bar or club in Mexico City any day. But that’s just me. For what it is (read: hook-up beach town full of drugs), Playa del Carmen is among the best in the country. But don’t expect anything beyond the obvious.


OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10


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