This is part 2 in a series about my February 2018 trip to Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya. You can read my overview of the trip here.
I have only been to the Yucatan once before – a trip to Cancun back in 2008 at an all-inclusive in the Hotel Zone, which I didn’t know until after I booked was a Swingers/clothing-optional place. I was a 24-year-old law student on spring break. Oy. The hotel itself actually wasn’t too terrible, but I was disappointed by Cancun itself. The town was very uninteresting, and it seemed like just Senor Frogs, malls, and drunk Americans at tacky hotels. My initial impression of Playa del Carmen had been that it was more of a charming fishing village, with more real culture than Cancun. And while it definitely has more of a town and more authentic Mexico than Cancun, Playa del Carmen has itself gotten developed with a lot of global chains, and it looks like its getting more. The town was fine for a day; it’s not bad to visit if you’re staying nearby, and it could be a convenient base. If I were to stay again, I’d definitely try and stay somewhere like the Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen – which has the benefits of a resort while being in town.
The ADO bus from the airport dropped me off right in downtown, about a 10-minute walk down Fifth Avenue, the town’s main drag, which was filled with tourist shops and restaurants.
The hotel I selected was La Pasion Hotel Boutique by Bunik, a company that owns a few properties around town. It wasn’t cheap – about $140 minus a $30 Orbitz coupon. It was well-reviewed, had a pool, and seemed conveniently-enough located. La Pasion is a few blocks off Fifth Avenue, in a little bit quieter part of town, right across from a plaza/park with the municipal building. Although the town is dotted with small hotels, this was actually a bigger hotel than it first seems, with over fifty rooms spread across several connected buildings.
I got to the hotel at 2:30pm, and the guy at the small desk told me I’d have to wait until 3pm check-in time. There’s no lobby to speak of, so I asked where the bathroom was and changed in the bathroom by the small pool in the interior courtyard. After I did, and asked if they could store my luggage, the guy told me my room was ready. Okay.
Getting to my room was a bit of a mess given the layout of the hotel. I had to walk through the courtyard, up a level across a balcony, then up another narrow staircase before getting to my room. Not good if you’re drinking (or in the dark sober, for that matter). Upon entering the room there was an immediate step down, which I tripped on. The room was on the small side, but everything was clean and well-maintained. No desk, but I guess most people don’t use a desk in Playa del Carmen.
The layout was very strange, in that there was a small bathroom on one side of the bed, and then a large side room with just a soaking tub, which was a waste of space. There was also a small balcony overlooking the courtyard.
After dropping my stuff, I decided to explore a little bit, with my first stop El Fogon – a yummy taco place a bit away from the center of town. It was a longer walk than I’d expected and it was hot and humid. Thankfully, the tacos were worth it. (And cheap, 85 pesos (~$4.50) for four tacos and a diet coke.)
Sated, I headed down to the beach. There was a bit of rain on the ten-minute walk, and I found myself in a much more hectic part of town, complete with a big mall and stores like Hollister right on Fifth Avenue, mixed in with tourist shops and pharmacies offering Viagra.
I walked near Mamita’s Beach Club, right next to the beautiful Grand Hyatt, and it was packed, despite the late hour and the weather. It was a big party crowd, lots of hot young people in small bathing suits and loud music. It’s apparently also the gayer beach, though hard to tell when everyone has sick bods and tiny bathing suits. I ended up just sitting for a short bit before turning back.
I made a little video:
On my 20-minute walk back to the hotel in the rain, I noticed tons of smaller, older buildings being demolished or being renovated. In addition to the new Grand Hyatt and the new Curio by Hilton property (the Nines), a Hotel Indigo is being built near the beach.
After a short dip in the hot tub on the ground level, a nap and discovering the wi-fi was bad, I explored the hotel a little bit more. I had seen there was a rooftop bar and went up and discovered there was another pool and a hot tub, along with some cabanas. Very romantic. Sad for me.
I had decided to make a restaurant reservation at El Muelle, a well-reviewed seafood place on Fifth Avenue. On the way, I passed all of the worst of Mexican resort towns, including a Guy Fieri restaurant. I was offered a lot of drugs. It was a lot.
Thankfully, the restaurant was on the quieter end, and although it was one of the nicer places in town, entrees were still under $20. At 8:45 on a Saturday night, I probably didn’t need a reservation, but it can’t hurt. Eating outside was nice and allowed some decent people-watching. There was a complimentary bean thing and bread as a starter, which I followed with some shrimp chalupas. My main, a squid ink risotto, was way too salty alas. All told, with wine and tip, it was about $35. I probably should have gone with one of the whole fish.
There *is* a gay bar in Playa del Carmen, so I fought to stay awake and go check it out at around 11:45pm. The place is called Club 69, and it had a cover of 60 pesos (about $3.50). It was pretty quiet but started to fill up around midnight. There was an outdoor space with a DJ, and then indoors was one small stage with go-go dancers, and a bigger stage that had what was one of the worst “drag” “shows” I’ve ever seen.
The crowd was almost exclusively tourists – not a ton of Americans. There was a strange small contingent of shirtless American men with abs dancing on the outdoor dance floor, but most people just stood around. It was weird. I lasted about 90 minutes before going for tacos on the way back to the hotel.
Breakfast is included at La Pasion, at the ground floor restaurant. The servers seemed very overwhelmed by the crowd, but everyone was nice. There was a menu and you were allowed to choose four drinks and two entrees per person, along with fruit. The entrees included a range of eggs, omelets, cereal, pastries, etc. I just did one entrée – chilaquiles – which were fine, and coffee. Pretty good free breakfast.
I had originally thought I’d spend the morning in town or at the pool at the hotel, but it was cloudy. So, I stopped at the Oxxo convenience store next to La Pasion and loaded up on snacks and drinks for the Fairmont, checked out at 11:15, before hailing a taxi to the Mayakoba complex north of town.
In all, Playa del Carmen was fine for a day, but I don’t see a need to go back and spend any time in the town. Maybe Cozumel or Tulum next year!