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Cruises to Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen (Calica) (Photo:posztos/Shutterstock)

About Playa del Carmen

Go back 20 years or so, and Playa del Carmen was little more than a fishing village on one of the most beautiful stretches of beach along this coast. Playa then grew into a haunt of backpackers, scuba divers and privacy-seeking Europeans put off by Cancun's high-rise resorts. And, although it does still attract those visitors, it has now blossomed into a full-fledged tourist destination complete with its own luxury resorts, dozens of restaurants and enough clubs and music venues to keep night owls occupied for weeks.

However, its central position between the tourist hotspots of Tulum to the south and Cancun to the north has led to rapid, unchecked development. Where once the village was contained, stretching just a few blocks from the main ferry terminal and the beach, today there are hotels and resorts completely surrounding the town for miles in both directions.

Despite its sudden popularity, though, Playa del Carmen clings firmly to a laid-back atmosphere that's missing from Cancun. You won't find any glass and concrete behemoths here; three-story buildings are the tallest the law allows, and many structures are still made of stucco or rough wood, some sporting a thatched roof and others sheltered beneath layers of red clay tiles.

Local Mayan culture and history are prevalent here as well, infusing some parts of town with a rustic yet exotic charm. Beach bars and T-shirt shops might dominate portions of the landscape, but walk a mere five minutes away from the main tourist area and you'll find yourself in a quiet neighborhood surrounded by brightly colored houses with wrought-iron doors, immaculate gardens and multicolored flowers cascading down from their balconies.

Venture a little further outside the city limits and you'll see that Playa del Carmen's modern amenities are really just a garnish. The main dish is the town's proximity to important historical and ecological landmarks, including several stunning collections of Mayan ruins, two eco-archaeological parks and thousands of cenotes, the systems of hidden caves and natural springs, which ancient Mayans regarded as doorways to the spiritual world. After spending an afternoon in the area, many visitors find it easy to believe that the entrance to heaven does indeed lie right here in Playa del Carmen.

  • Why go to Playa del Carmen?

  • Playa del Carmen Cruise Port Facilities?

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Why go to Playa del Carmen?

Pros:

Still retains a laidback, village-y feel, if you know where to find it

Cons:

Can feel like a bit of a tourist trap

Bottom Line:

Beautiful beaches stretch along this coast but unchecked development is eroding its charm

Playa del Carmen Cruise Port Facilities?

The small port at Calica, roughly 6 miles south of Playa del Carmen, is no longer used by cruise lines. Instead, you'll arrive by ferry from the busy port in Cozumel, just 12 miles across the water. Three different companies -- Barcos Caribe, Mexico Waterjets and Ultramar -- all offer ferry service for as little as $8 round trip. The crossing normally takes between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on the weather and the boat you take. (Catamarans are the fastest choice.)

Good to Know?

Strolling along Fifth Avenue can be exhausting -- the amount of times you'll be asked if you want a massage, or marijuana, to come into a restaurant, to change money or buy generic drugs -- is tiring. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is walk along the beach instead.

Getting Around?

On Foot: The ferry terminal is at the far south end of Playa del Carmen. Walk across the town square and you'll find yourself at the beginning of Avenida Quinta, the main thoroughfare.

By Taxi/Colectivo: You'll find taxis lined up beside the main bus station. An alternative and cheaper option is to jump in a colectivo, which is basically a shared taxi van. The driver waits until the van fills up, and then drops each passenger off at his or her desired stop.

By Bus: The main bus terminal is a two-minute walk diagonally across the town square from the ferry terminal. Here, you'll find buses to Tulum, Chichen Itza and further afield.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money?

The Mexican peso is the official currency. However, most taxis and vendors will accept U.S. dollars, and guides are happy to be tipped that way. That said, your change will be given in pesos regardless. Credit cards are not generally accepted in small family restaurants or tiny shops, so ask if you're not carrying cash before you sit down or start browsing.

Several large banks are located on Juarez Avenue, just a few yards away from the ferry dock. Hours of operation are typically 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but 24-hour ATMs are common. You'll also find plenty of currency exchange booths in the area, some of which stay open as late as 10 p.m. For current currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com.

Language?

Spanish is the official language in Mexico, though English is widely spoken in shops, hotels and restaurants.


Playa del Carmen Cruise Reviews
A great walk about visit with lots to see. A little church with an alter view you have to see. lots of souvenir shopping and the best tacos ever - visit the taco stand in the food hall rather than a bar!Read More
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steveroytay
We enjoyed this trip very much, our favorite Island (next to Puerto Rico!). We had very little interaction with the birds, but that's okay, they don't need people poking at them all day every day. We rode around theRead More
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brendacarr
Playa Del Carmen is a nice area. Very pretty water here. The main shopping area is like a giant flea market, except everyone is trying to get you in their stores. Even the restaurants have people posted outside to brRead More
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Drcartman
Calica is nothing but a gravel pit. We took a cab to Playa del Carmen and went shopping and to the beach. Read More
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PaulaTimothyCollazo

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