Downtown Playa Del Carmen
…a.k.a. “centro” to the locals…
The center of Playa Del Carmen has a lot to offer.
To be sure, adventure-seekers and those looking for the traditional beach vacation with white sand and palm trees aren’t disappointed.
But this beach town is not limited to those options by any means.
The best way to experience Playa Del Carmen is to come with at least a general idea of where you’ll be exploring.
Oh yeah, and make sure you know a few things that the locals know (like what to pay for a taxi).
This will spare you the frustration of either getting lost or wasting time looking for a place, or getting overcharged for things.
What exactly is “Downtown” in Playa Del Carmen?
Contrary to most first impressions, downtown Playa Del Carmen is not just Fifth Avenue, or La Quinta Avenida, as they call it here.
But for all intents and purposes, you might as well consider it the main downtown.
The original central area of the town is the main town square, known to the locals as Palacio Municipal (Municipal Palace).
Although this was intended to be the center of town life, the modern downtown has pretty much swallowed it up and expanded on it.
So, while the main square is the historic center of Playa Del Carmen, Fifth Avenue is its 20-block shopping and dining hub – and both make up what we might consider downtown Playa.
What To Do When You’re Here
In terms of what to do on Fifth Avenue itself, there is tons of stuff written about the blocks and blocks of restaurants, bars, variety of shopping, etc.
I know that I can sometimes get carried away with all there is to do around the main drag.
And of course there are all the water sports and beach activities that must be accomplished.
(Sitting on the beach with a drink in hand: check.)
But actually, some places combine several elements.
For example, I can go to a beach club, rent a chair and lounge in the sun while a lovely waitress makes sure my hand always has a drink in it – bar and beach in one.
And if I want, I can get in the water for some cooling off, with drink still in hand – there’s my water sport.
And I’ve managed to live the essence of Playa Del Carmen all in one spot.
What Else To Do: Go To Church (No, really!)
But in all seriousness, there’s more to do around here than just drinking and lounging and sporting.
Remembering that it’s Mexico first and foremost, there are also some cultural things worth checking out.
One that I recommend is the Nuestra Senora del Carmen Catholic church.
Even if you’re not religious, most people can appreciate the white exterior, stained glass windows and other traditional aspects of the church.
It’s smallness also gives the church a welcoming, personal feel
And it’s right there on Fifth Avenue.
Different Ways To Get Around
The best mode of transportation that you’ll find in Playa Del Carmen is located right at the end of your legs, several inches below the knee.
In all honesty, the town is not huge.
If you´re staying within Playa’s main square and Fifth Avenue area, your best bet is walking around where you want to go.
Of course an often popular means of transportation method is bikes, as well.
Unless you want to buy a bike, you’ll have to rent a bike.
This is especially true considering Fifth Avenue itself is closed to vehicle traffic.
But if your hotel is located a bit out of the way, or if your planned activities take you farther out, there are several alternatives.
Despite recent slight increases in taxi fares in and around Playa Del Carmen, taxis remain a convenient way to get around.
Compared to most places north of the border – at least the places I’ve visited – fares are delightfully cheaper.
They also seem to cover the city like ants, especially during peak travel times.
So you´re sure to hail one without any problem.
One tip about taking taxis –agree on the price before you get in the car.
It protects you as a passenger from any surprises later on.
And it´s also just how they do things here.
That being said, here is what some common taxi fares should look like.
If you´re not going too far, and stay in the same zone, expect to pay around 30 pesos.
Going to an adjacent zone goes up to about 35 pesos, and so on (unless it´s “Zona 5 / Playacar,” in which case it´s 70 pesos).
Using Public Transport
When it comes to public transportation, the colectivo is the quintessential mode of transportation in Mexico (along with these crazy three-wheeled bikes that you’ll find near the bus stop).
It takes different forms in different places, but it´s essentially a shared taxi kind of transport.
Here in Playa Del Carmen, that usually means a white van that will stop at several places along a predetermined route.
Many of these will even arrive and depart at the same times each day.
So if you inquire about one with a hotel concierge, they might be able to help.
For a colectivo, you can expect to pay less than a taxi but more than a public bus.
And there will be more stops than a private taxi and obviously fewer than a bus, since there are generally fewer passengers.
All in all, it´s a pretty good compromise and a good deal, in my opinion.
And lastly, if you´re really trying to minimize costs and don´t mind a little adventure (again, besides the mototaxi option – have I sparked your curiosity yet?) there are also public buses available.
As a word to the wise, there are three things to keep in mind if you plan to take the bus:
First, have enough Spanish skills to get around.
These drivers and cobradores (on-board ticket sellers) do not work for tourists or tour companies.
Second, make sure you know exactly where you are going, so that you can tell them, and then remember to get off when they forget to remind you.
And third, watch your pockets, backpacks, and purses.
Nothing is guaranteed, but I have seen some pretty creative maneuvers to get a cell phone out of a pocket, for example.
And it´s better to be safe than sorry.
While you’re at it, make sure that you have a fun time while you’re downtown!
I hope to see you here soon…
Lots of love,