The first outpost to escape from the crowded beaches and stack-em high hotels of Cancun, Playa del Carmen is nevertheless still a town largely built around its tourism industry.
After a short overnight stay in Cancun, Playa was our first destination. Having read the Lonely Planet's review, we were looking forward to a few days on beautiful beaches and mixing with 'trendy, beautiful Europeans'. We were sadly disappointed. Whilst it has plenty to entertain those with money to burn, it felt a little like a place where the families who choose to go a little more up-market and scoff at Cancun, whilst providing essentially the same entertainment.
Heavily geared towards 2-week vacationers seeking a beautiful (although still busy) beach and nightlife. Playa has a range of family-friendly restaurants and more stylish hangouts along 5 Avenida Norte to cater for all.
If you are in the mood for some decent shopping, there are more than enough designer stores to keep even the most savvy fashionista happy.
Although there are pockets of Mexican culture on this beachside resort, this is a highly sanitised version, with precedence given to Starbucks and shopping malls. If you are a budget backpacker, better beaches, cheaper accommodation and less emphasis on consumerism can be found elsewhere.
Things to do
Whilst the beaches aren't quite as beautiful as those further north, or Tulum, there is still plenty of white sand to catch some rays and enjoy a well-made cocktail in the sun.
Also on offer are a number of boat tours comprising snorkelling or diving.
Where to eat
Quinta Avenida (the main pedestrian street) is well-known for it's variety of excellent, if pricey, Italian Restaurants. For those seeking more traditional fare, head a few blocks back from the beach where you'll find a number of comedors much more suited to the backpackers budget - a personal favourite is Las Quecas de Playa where you can get excellent quesadillas.
Where to drink
There really is no two ways about it: it is expensive to get drunk in Playa. For the budget backpacker, there will be a lot of shop bought beer enjoyed in your hostel.
Don't limit yourself to 5 & 10 Avenidas, whichever type of holiday you are on. You can still find real Mexico a few streets away.
Getting there and away
From Cancun, collectivos run regularly for $35 pesos per person. Taking about 45 minutes, these will drop you off in the centre of town.
To leave Playa, collectivos station themselves a little further away from the Cancun drop-off point (Calle 2, near 20 Avenida). $35 pesos per person, 45 minutes.
Budget-breaker or maker?
Breaker. It is certainly possible to stay on budget in Playa, but then you will question why you are there in the first place; this is a city for people looking for a good time who are not counting every penny.