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Playa del Carmen: A Beach Paradise in Mexico

15th April 2015

From a small fishing town to a stunning beach paradise with all the perks, Playa del Carmen has changed dramatically since the late 70s. Now the trendiest spot on Mexico's famed Yucatan Peninsula, it’s more than just natural beauty that makes up its allure. Oozing a hipper, more low-key vibe than overrun Cancun in the north, there’s not a high-rise in sight. While tourism has brought luxury hotels, entertainment venues and all the tourists to go with it, Playa del Carmen – or Playa, as it’s affectionately known by locals – maintains a crisp air of authenticity and respite. Here's a rundown of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen.

Lap up the luxury of your resort...

One of the biggest local drawcards is the myriad of accommodation dripping in luxury, convenience and effortless enjoyment. A premier beach resort destination, some come beach-front and all-inclusive, some tout world-class restaurants and pools big enough to rival the ocean, while others claim indulgent spas and leisure activities lasting around the clock. Going four- or five-star is the name of the game here – and it’s certainly worth it. From sophisticated private villas and luxurious condos to artisan suites and international chain hotels, you could easily spend your days lapping up the luxury in-house.

playa del carmen resort Playa del Carmen is a hotspot for all-inclusive resorts and five-star hotels.

Venture into ancient Mayan ruins...

Transport yourself south and over 700 hundred years away; a handful of nearby ancient Mayan ruins make for fascinating cultural discoveries in a nifty day trip. By far the most popular is Tulum, the well preserved ruins of the only Mayan city built on the coast. It heralds beautiful sea vistas. Conservation efforts mean you cannot climb the ruins of Tulum (though you can swim at the beach beside it), however you can still scale the 124 steps to the top of the Yucatan Peninsula’s tallest pygramid, NoHoch-Mul, which dominates the ancient archaeological site of Coba. A 45 minute drive northwest, it’s a lesser frequented site which means there are shorter lines and fewer tourists – plus the remote jungle panoramas from the top make it absolutely worth the journey.

mayan ruin tulum El Castillo (The Castle) is one of the major ruins at Tulum.

Dive into a world-class reef...

You have to get wet to see some of the best treasures lurking in the depths of Playa del Carmen. Perfectly protected by the island of Cozumel, the local waters are impeccably clear and the underwater panoramas sensationally world-class. The Belize Barrier Reef trails through here in a colourful anthology of sundry corals and marine life. Dive in to admire the natural jewels through a pair of goggles on a scuba dive or snorkel alongside the local sea turtles, rays and at certain times of the year, female bull sharks. The second largest coral reef in the world, this is second only to Australia’s famed Great Barrier Reef.

diving cozumel Playa del Carmen is ideally located for diving and snorkelling.

Discover the magical world of cenotes...

Leave the ocean behind to discover a secret underworld of turquoise pools nestled in the lush green jungle, known as cenotes. A name which means ‘sacred well’, cenotes are a natural phenomenon but were considered sacred to the Mayans, as a portal to communicate with the gods. Feel the magic of discovering a cenote for yourself – the clear, mineral-rich waters are perfect for swimming and scuba divers can delve deeper to discover underwater cave systems and awe-worthy stalactites. The best and closest cenotes to Playa include Gran Cenote and Dos Ojos, both near Tulum, and Ik-Kil, a two hour drive west.

cenote mexico There are over 7000 cenotes dotted across the Yucatan Peninsula.

Kick back and relax on the beach...

Playa del Carmen is a tantalising slice of tropical heaven. Lapped at by warm Caribbean waters, all beaches are public which means they’re open to everybody and have many access points. Every hotel is within easy walking distance, if not right on it. At the northern end the sea spares more sand for eager sunbakers – but don’t be surprised to see a few topless brown bodies. While it’s technically illegal, it doesn’t stop some sun-worshippers. For a change of beach scenery, regular ferries from the ferry dock service Cozumel across the watery horizon.

beach playa del carmen White sandy shores stretch for miles alongside clear waters.

Find a colourful holiday memento...

Mexico presents a rainbow of options when it comes time to choose a memento. An eye-catching range of folk art, traditional textiles and all kinds of weird and wonderful souvenirs play out in every colour under the sweet Mexican sun in street side stalls, shops and in the arms of roving hawkers. Whether you prefer something traditional and authentic, kitsch or useful, from handmade hammocks and carved puppets to Mexican sombreros, art and delicious cacao chocolates, it’s all here.

mexico stall There's no shortage of colourful creations to take home.

Soak up the ambiance of La Quinta...

La Quinta is where it all happens. It’s the pedestrian promenade oozing European chic that’s the place to see and be seen. Just beyond the beach, people stroll up and down this stretch until all hours of the night. By day, it’s bustling with people chatting, dining and laughing in the restaurants, cafes and shops. By night, it transforms into a hive of dining, partying and entertainment. The later it gets, the louder it gets. But whatever the hour, it’s always worth a wander to soak up the ambiance of the lively and vibrant heart of Playa.

AmsterdamCanals The main street is full of colour, bustle and entertainment.

Looking for more great holiday ideas for the Americas? Check out The Best Places to Spot a Celeb in Los Angeles, the Top 5 Tourist Attractions in San Francisco and 5 Incredible Shows to Catch in Las Vegas.