If you’ve already been there, done that when it comes to Cancun but still want to experience the Mayan Riviera and all it has to offer without feeling hemmed in by a sea of sprawling resorts, Playa Del Carmen is a great choice. It’s less than an hour by bus from the Cancun airport and boasts a bustling, energetic downtown area with a sea of shops and restaurants as well as putting you within convenient access to area highlights. Plan a winter getaway to Playa Del Carmen with our guide to where to stay, eat and play.
Where to stay
The Mayan Riviera is known for its beautiful beaches so we recommend staying somewhere you’ll have easy access to a stretch of white sand. Sandos Caracol Eco Resort has a prime beachfront location and is just 45 minutes from Cancun International Airport and only 15 minutes from downtown Playa del Carmen, making it a convenient option that allows for a balance between beach time and other more active pursuits.
What we loved most about this property is the fact it’s surrounded by jungle, natural lagoons and mangrove forests. In addition there are several cenotes (natural swimming holes) right on property. Taking a cold plunge in the stunningly clear water is a must while you’re there and it’s a bonus that you don’t have to leave the property on a day trip to do it. There are both family and adults-only areas of the resort depending on the type of vacation you’re on. We stayed in a bright, airy room in the Select Club Adults Only section that sits in a private area of the resort tucked just off a large freeform pool. The rooms are surrounded by jungle so you’re likely to spot spider monkeys on your way to breakfast.
Where to shop
Playa Del Carmen, in particular the pedestrian-only Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), is a shopper’s paradise. Running nearly five kilometres through the centre of town here you’ll find an array of bars, restaurants, cafes and shops. Once you sift through the generic souvenir stores and stands selling knickknacks there are some gems to be found if you’re shopping for clothes, accessories or jewellery. Some highlights to add to your must-shop list include La Troupe, specializing in clothing and accessories handmade right in Playa Del Carmen. We feel in love with almost everything on offer at Jula Luma where items are sourced from both local and international designers. Each colourful top, bag or dress you find at Silvia Suarez is handmade and hand embroidered locally and it’s hard to choose between the vibrant items on offer. Narcisa and La Bikineria are great for flowing beach-ready dresses and on-trend accessories.
Where to eat
No matter what you’re in the mood for, from Italian and Mexican to Teppanyaki and Mediterranean you can find it among the wide array of options at Sandos Caracol. Choose from three buffet restaurants, six a la carte and several snack bars. There’s even a vegan restaurant on property serving creative meat-free dishes. If you find yourself on Fifth Avenue and need to refuel amidst all the shopping there are a few good spots to stop for a quick pick-me-up. Chez Celine, a charming French patisserie serves an array of fresh made salads, sandwiches, croissants, sweet and savoury crepes and sweet treats. We were partial to the lemon tarts, but if you’re in the mood for something heartier, order one of their sandwiches served on house made bread. The Little Teapot is an adorable spot for an iced tea, coffee or a snack.
What to see and do
Playa Del Carmen is well-situated to many of the area’s attractions, including cenotes, the Mayan sites of Tulum and Cobé¡ and you’re also within an easy day trip to Cozumel for diving or snorkelling and Isla Mujeres, all worthy excursions depending on where your interests lie. If you’re right in town to shop or bar-hop you’re also right next to the beach, which runs parallel to Fifth Avenue.
If you prefer not to leave the comfort of the resort but get bored with the beach and pool (hey, it happens) you can enjoy a lot of what makes the Mayan Riviera so appealing without actually leaving the Sandos Caracol property. We loved the Jade River Adventure, which had us donning a snorkel mask and swimming through mangroves in crystal clear water, spotting turtles along the way. Another on-property highlight and definitely something well worth adding to your itinerary is a visit to the Temazcal, which can be booked as a spa treatment. This unique Mayan therapy is said to purify the body, mind and soul and we definitely left feeling recharged and rejuvenated. This ancient tradition takes place in a dome shaped sweat lodge and uses steam generated by volcanic rocks and medicinal herbs to cleanse, detoxify and rebalance mind and body. Afterwards, the treatment is capped off with a dip in a cenote.