For those who have been lucky enough to see it, few would argue that the Mayan Riviera on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico is about as close to paradise as you can get. Spectacular turquoise water and pristine expanses of soft, sun-drenched sand stretch for mile after dazzling mile.
Without a doubt, the most popular destination in this Shangri-La is the lively city of Playa del Carmen, about 40 miles south of Cancun. You’ll never have a problem finding something to do; the difficulty lies in sorting through the dozens of options available. Here are some sure-to-please things to do and see:
Does this even need to be said? It’s the main reason people come to the Mayan Riviera, and it’s more than worth the airport hassles to get there. Sparkling turquoise water and immaculate beaches are just what the doctor ordered to de-stress and let your cares melt away. The beaches are free public access, and lounge chairs and water sports equipment can be rented for a modest fee. It’s easy to find a beach hotel or resort that offers these amenities.
La Quinta Avenida
This is the main street (“Fifth Avenue” to gringos) in Playa, just a stone’s throw from the beach, and it’s where all the action is. It’s a pedestrian-only avenue bedazzled on both sides with hotels, souvenir shops, boutiques, restaurants, bars, and street vendors. Sure, they’ll heckle you as you walk by, and get ready to dicker if you want to buy something, but it’s all in the fun spirit of the town. La Quinta Avenida is quite vibrant during the day, and the nightlife scene keeps the exuberance going after dark.
For about eight bucks ($16 round trip) you can catch the ferry to the island of Cozumel. There are three different ferry companies operating here, and they leave fairly frequently from Playa. The trip takes about 45 minutes. Cozumel has stunning beaches, an aqua park, great shopping, and world-famous snorkeling and diving opportunities. Escape to the east side of the island and get away from the tourist crowd that tends to stay on the west side.
Just four miles south of Playa is Xcaret (pronounced “shkar-et”), a 200-acre eco-park/theme park/resort. Here you can relax on the beach, snorkel in the nearby reefs, swim with dolphins, visit a coral reef aquarium, see manatees, visit bird and butterfly pavilions, and spy other wildlife such as deer and jaguars. There are also Mayan ruins as well as a replica of a Mayan village where you can see artists at work, a cemetery, a museum, a Mesoamerican ball game, and traditional dance. Plan to spend the entire day.
A Unique Atmosphere
Playa del Carmen started out as a small fishing village and artists’ colony. It has grown to be a top tourist destination, but the locals try hard to preserve the original character of a small beach town. It’s charming, quaint, and bustling all at the same time, and there is definitely something to suit every taste!