Imagine this scene: you’ve been backpacking all over, you’ve gone to pittoresque little towns, signed up for 3-day hiking tours to see indigenous people and unique rock formations, you took a million photos of mountains and waterfalls and nature and you’ve had all the street food one can possibly try. And now imagine that after all these adventures you arrive in a place where you rest your head on the soft 6 to 8 pillows of a fancy hotel bed, switch on the air-con, take a shower with water that is actually hot, then stroll over to the beach promenade where you grab a frozen yogurt, take a tour along the water and ultimately settle down at a beach restaurant ordering a Margharita and a Ceviche. You enjoy the seaview, joke around with the waiter and listen to the live band playing vintage classics. Then you look at the bill and realise that it’s higher than your last 3 nights of accomodation combined.

This is pretty much Playa del Carmen. Like any self-respecting prime holiday spot, it’s got everything the average tourist desires, all the comforts of home, combined with bits of traditional culture here and there. The package at a price that is not hiding behind other popular resorts in Spain or Italy. But frankly, it’s hard to be mad at Playa del Carmen, it’s just too beautiful. The turquoise waters, the beach bars, the pedestrian zones with the cute shops and fancy outdoor restaurants. The massages by the beach, the nightlife with free drinks for girls and the tasty cappuccino you’ve been sorely missing in all the other, more proper backpacking locations.

Playa del Carmen was to be my birthday gift to me. I headed over there from Mexico City with a plan to go diving, hang lose and drink cocktails by the beach.

I got on a flight and landed in Cancun from where I took a bus to Playa del Carmen. After a traumatic night at a bed-bug-ridden, noisy, dirty (yet, strangely, widely recommended) hotel, I found a great deal on for a 4-star hotel called Hacienda Real del Caribe, with my room overlooking this:

I was joined by my friend Yvonne from LA who wasn’t going to let me celebrate my 29th birthday on my own. Between the 2 of us, many pina coladas were drunk and many dances danced. Nightlife in Playa doesn’t sleep and neither did we.

But before the night, there was the day and I would spend most of my days in Playa del Carmen taking photos.

Mostly of the beach…

and the people at the beach…

If you don’t feel like hanging out by the pool or the sea all day working on your tan, you can definately spend time (and money) on the many shops along the promenade where you can buy anything from new bathing suits to clothes, sunglasses, sombreros, bags, hammocks, blankets, jewellery, pottery and a ton of other stuff.

If you have a few days in Playa, you might consider doing a day trip to Cozumel, although this is only really recommended if you’re interested in snorkelling there or have the whole day to rent a bike and explore the island. We made the mistake of taking the ferry to Cozumel pretty late in the day which left us with only a few options on hat to do there. The city itself is far from exciting and with the sun setting as early as 6pm, I didnt follow through with my plan to cycle around the island and just got a manicure instead.

Better than Cozumel, however, is nearby Tulum. I’ve posted about it here. I would even recommend staying here for a couple of nights. The town itself is pretty unspectacular, but the beach here is one of a kind and tourists seemed to be more of a backpacker crowd than in pricy Playa del Carmen.

Playa del Carmen offers an arrey of restaurants, so when night falls and it’s time to head to dinner we’ve been spoiled for choice. Our favorite spot out of the bunch was the Bodeguita del medio, a place we were recommended by locals as being both fun and delicious. Bodeguita is a chain of Cuban restaurants existing in various Mexican cities (there is one in Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara and Mexico City). We loved our food and the free salsa class preceding it. The later the night, the hotter the dancing.

Mexico has a lot of great resorts and holiday destinations and I will be sure to introduce the ones I’ve been getting to know such as Ixtapa, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos. Out of the bunch, Playa del Carmen was my favorite and a great taste of what the Caribbean Sea has to offer. I’m sure that little town has not seen the last of me.

Happy travels,