QUINTANA ROO, MEXICO.
Geography: Playa del Carmen is in the heart of the Mayan Riviera on the east side of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Forty miles to the north is Cancun. The island of Cozumel lies 12 miles offshore to the east. Puerto Morelos is roughly midway between Playa del Carmen and Cancun.
Population: Playa del Carmen has a population of more than 200,000, including a sizable expatriate community, and is growing rapidly. The center of Playa del Carmen’s tourism activity is Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), a pedestrian walkway located just one block from the beach and lined with boutique hotels, shops, bars and restaurants.
Getting to Playa del Carmen: Most visitors reach Playa del Carmen either by flying into the international airport at Cancun and then driving south for about an hour or by taking the twelve-mile ferry ride from Cozumel, which takes a little more than half an hour.
Getting around in Playa del Carmen: The downtown area of Playa del Carmen is compact, convenient, and safe. The streets are laid out in a grid pattern and several have been closed to vehicle traffic. The ferry from Cozumel drops passengers off at the south end of Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), which has emerged as the center of the tourist district. Taxis are also plentiful in Playa, and cabbies are accustomed to providing short trips for a few dollars. An even bette cheaper alternative is offered by passenger vans that serve as communal taxis. The vans, which are generally air-conditioned and well-maintained, are popular option for day trips to Cancun, Tulum, and other desinations in the Yucatan.
Visa Requirements: Cruise ship passengers do not need to be concerned about visa requirements. Other vacationers, however, will be issued a Mexican visa when they arrive. A valid passport is the quickest means of securing a visa. Another option is available to U.S. citizens. They can bring a birth certificate (with a raised seal) and a driver’s license. Due to recent changes in U.S. regulations, Americans traveling by airplane are required to present their passport at U.S. airports in order to re-enter the United States.
Money Matters: U.S. dollars are accepted in Playa del Carmen and other areas in the Mayan Riviera. (In fact, most businesses prefer payment in U.S. dollars.) It’s often wise to carry a few U.S. dollars in small denominations for tips and quick snacks. Be aware, though, that U.S. coins are not accepted. ATM machines are available in Playa del Carmen for withdrawing Mexican pesos. Credit cards (especially Visa and Mastercard) and travelers checks are generally accepted by larger businesses. However, smaller operations often require purchases in cash.
Food and Drink: If your stomach hasn’t been exposed to a full range of bacteria, you would be wise to take precautions about what you eat and drink in the Riviera Maya. Having said that, don’t let a few microbes stand in the way of enjoying the increasingly varied and creative cuisine of Playa del Carmen. The water supply is chlorinated, but tap water should be avoided, especially since bottled water (and beer) is widely available. Almost all of the area’s restaurants that cater to tourists use bottled water in their food preparation and for serving their customers (including for ice). They also are required to observe strict hygiene standards. The same high standards apply to the snacks and drinks you’ll be served on the Paso Doble and Pacific Breeze.
Electricity: 110 volts AC (the same as the United States and Canada) is the standard in Playa del Carmen, as well as other parts of Mexico.
Time Zone: The state of Quintana Roo, home to Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Puerto Morelos, is in the Eastern time zone (like Miami, New York, and Montreal) and does not observe daylight saving time.
Sunscreen: Many of the major brands of sunscreen, such as Coppertone, Banana Boat, Panama Jack, No-Ad, etc., contain chemicals that harm the flora and fauna of coral reefs. PABA, octinoxate, and oxybenzone are among the common ingredients that have been linked to damage of the coral reef ecosystem. Only biodegradable sunscreens are permitted on the Mayan Riviera. Also, please look for sunscreens that are “waterproof” so that your application doesn’t dissolve in the water. Biodegradable reef-safe sunscreens are widely sold on the Mayan Riviera. If you have any questions about availability, please ask your resort or hotel.
Climate: Playa del Carmen enjoys a balmy tropical climate throughout the year. For those visiting from so-called “temperate” climes, almost every day in Playa will feel like paradise. Nonetheless, there are distinct “seasons” that you should take into account as you plan your vacation.
February – May: The skies are generally sunny, humidity is relatively low, and rain is infrequent. Conditions make for calm, flat seas, with water temperatures averaging 79-81 (F).
July – August: Summer brings higher temperatures and deep blue skies to Playa del Carmen. Rain is more frequent, but falls mostly in the form of downpours in the afternoon or evening. Water temperatures are especially warm, averaging 80-84 (F).
September – October: Playa del Carmen’s rainy season brings cloudier skies and higher humidity. Storms roll over the region throughout the day, alternating with brilliant sunshine. Water temperatures remain very warm, averaging 80-84 (F). Since the rainy season also brings a lull in the tourism industry, you can expect smaller crowds both on land and in the water.
November – January: Although the locals call this time of the year “winter”, the weather is in fact beautiful by almost any standard. Rain is less frequent but conditions are often breezy, making for slightly choppy seas. Skies are mostly sunny, with water temperatures averaging 78-84 (F). An occasional “norte” will blow in and force tour operators to keep their boats in harbor for a day or two.