Playa del Carmen is just one part of the Mexican expanse known as the Riviera Maya. The bubbling stretch sits right by the water and offers quick access to stunning historical sites, plenty of shopping and lots of tequila- and salsa-fueled nightlife — all of which can be at least sampled in a day, if you follow our lead.
Before the tourists start tromping around and the sun gets too hot, start the day with a good stretch and a little Zen by practicing on a spacious roof overlooking the city. Yoga by the Way offers morning vinyasa flow classes every day on top of the studio, but they also will come to you for a private class. This means, if you are waking up at Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa, the newly opened, 27-room Beach House by Thompson Hotel (just a short walk from downtown’s Thompson Playa del Carmen) or any other high-end address nearby, you can move your asana right on the sand.
As a bonus, when opting for seaside yoga at Beach House, you will be conveniently located right next to C-Grill, a restaurant where you will find homemade pastries, fresh avocado toast and intense juice blends such as the Playa Cao (papaya, banana, amaranth, fresh orange juice, chocolate bitters and cinnamon).
Once 11 a.m. hits, the playa starts to heat up — and not just at the multitude of tequila bars along Calle Quinta Avenida. This bustling strip features lively bars and cute cafés like The Little Teapot, a quaint tea shop with 150 blends and chairs set out on an artificial lawn.
You can also find unique stores such as Tierra Huichol, a gallery carrying hand-beaded sculptures decorated with Mayan symbols, and Biuriful, which features chic accessories for men and women. Of course, there are plenty of souvenir shops as well, hawking everything from “authentic” Mexican clothing to woven textiles and inexpensive lucha libre masks.
Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s fun to watch the crowds drift by, preferably while rejuvenating with a plate of tacos and a cold margarita at Yo Amo Tacos or one of the other outdoor spots.
As you might expect in this part of Mexico, Playa del Carmen is alive well into the night. A good starter to any evening is a superb meal at Catch, the rooftop restaurant above the inland-based Thompson Playa del Carmen. Not only does this spot offer the best views of the city (it’s the tallest building thus far), but chef Pedro Abascal knows a thing or three about preparing fish.
Once you finish eating and step onto Quinta Avenida, you’ll find yourself right by the colorful Salon Salsanera Raices, a dance hall where free salsa lessons are offered and a live Cuban band strums into the wee hours. And, if you want to keep going after dancing, head to the 1950s-styled Diablito Cha Cha for late-night sushi and tropical cocktails. Then, slink back to the sleek Thompson for quick dip in the infinity pool and a cozy night’s sleep.
If you have more time
One of the best things to do when visiting Playa del Carmen is to take advantage of its proximity to so many stunning Mayan historical sites, including the Sian Ka’an Canal, Xel-Há, Nohoch Mul Pyramid and El Castillo. All of these places are between 45 minutes and two hours from town, making them perfect for a day or half-day trip.
While you can do the treks alone, it’s a good idea to book a car and guide for the venture. Mexico Tropical proves a good place to start. The company travels to all of these spots, hosts scuba diving and feeds you tasty local bites like lobster tacos, ceviche and Mayan chocolate.