Port of Playa del Carmen (Calica)
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Despite its sudden popularity, though, Playa del Carmen clings firmly to a laid-back, pastoral atmosphere that's missing from Cancun, its glamorous neighbor up the coast. 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 the rustic yet exotic charm found in cities like New Orleans and Miami. 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 bright pastel houses with wrought-iron doors, immaculate gardens and explosions of multi-colored 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 so many important historical and ecological landmarks, including several stunning collections of Mayan ruins, two eco-archeological 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.
Where You're Docked
The small port at Calica, roughly five miles south of Playa del Carmen, is basically nothing more than a pier with a few forgettable souvenir stands nearby. Most passengers will be arriving by ferry from the busy port in Cozumel, just 12 miles across the water. Two different companies, Barcos Mexico and Ultramar, both offer ferry service for roughly $15 roundtrip. The crossing normally takes between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on the weather.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The Mexican peso is the official currency, but U.S. dollars are accepted almost everywhere. Your change will be given in pesos no matter which currency you pay with.
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. - 5 p.m., but 24-hour ATM machines 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.
Spanish, although basic English is widely spoken in shops, hotels and restaurants.
If you love silver jewelry, you'll swoon when you see the selection available in Playa del Carmen. Be prepared to haggle, though, and never pay more than half the vendor's opening price. If you just can't come to terms after a healthy round of bartering, simply walk a few steps to the next shop and start all over again.