Navigating Playa del Carmen: Advice from a Local
by Lisa Miranda
Saturday, April 22, 2017
Having lived almost three years in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, I get a lot of questions from tourists on how to navigate this little beach town. I love helping people who really want to get off the beaten path and experience a little of what Mexico has to offer. If you only have a week to explore, it’s important not to waste time trying to get from one place to the other. Depending on where you need to go, there are different ways to get you there. Here are some tips I’ve put together for any travelers wanting to explore this magical town.
Check out a Street Map of Playa
The streets of Playa del Carmen are mapped out in a very simple way. Everyone in town will direct you using street intersections as reference points so it’s best to first take a look at how the streets are mapped out.
The roads running parallel to the beach are avenues, or “avenidas,” while the roads running perpendicular to the beach are streets, or “calles.” Avenidas are numbered by fives, starting at the famous 5th Avenue and running west all the way past the highway, which is technically Avenida 50. Calles are even numbered starting at Calle 2 after Juarez Street and running north to Calle 20 near Constituyentes.
Getting from the Airport to Playa
The trip from Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen will probably be your longest but don’t worry, there is a charter bus that will take you right to the heart of Playa. The ride is fast, comfortable, and economic. You’ll see locals returning home on this route with you!
Locate the ADO Bus
Look for the red ADO kiosk after you pass through customs or ask any airport employee and they should be able to point you in the right direction. There is one ticket booth inside the airport and one located in the parking lot. (Tip: If you buy your tickets inside, be sure to count your change before exiting as you will not be allowed to re-enter the building!)
Get Your Ticket
Buying a ticket to Playa del Carmen should cost you about $180 pesos or $10 USD. Either currency is accepted as payment. There is only one stop in Playa and a bus leaves every 15-30 minutes. Now recline your seat, watch a movie, and enjoy the air conditioning and great view! The ride to downtown Playa del Carmen should be about an hour, more or less, depending on traffic.
ADO Terminal Playa del Carmen
You will get dropped off right at the intersection of the famous 5th Avenue and Avenida Juarez. If you have time, this is a great spot to stretch your legs. Grab a frozen drink at Fat Tuesday on 5th Avenue, check out the little white chapel across the street, try a churro filled with Nutella, or see the beach just a block away. If you’re ready to head to your hotel however, the taxi’s are conveniently lined up just outside the bus station and will take you anywhere you need to go.
Explore Playa on Bike
Spend your first day in town on bike! It’s the best way to browse the various markets and restaurants while getting a feel for the layout of the town. Playa del Carmen is extremely bike friendly with beautiful bike paths throughout town. Most locals own a bike and take it just about everywhere. To get from one end of town to the other only takes about 40 minutes so you can really see a lot in just one day.
Check if your hotel offers bikes to guests. If not, you can try Playarida Bike Rentals. This company advertises bike rentals for as little as $5 USD per day.
Avenida 10 Bike Path
To start out, I recommend hopping on the bike path on Avenida 10. This path runs parallel to the famous 5th Avenue which makes it centrally located but slightly less commercial. Stop for Mexican chocolate and a rich coffee drink at Ah Cacao, located on Avenida Constituyentes and 5th Avenue. Next, have lunch at Nuestra Señora del Carmen on Avenida 10 between Calle 8 and 10. They have a great mix of mini restaurants where you can try tortas, tacos, Mexican sweets and fresh coconut.
Juarez Bike Path
To see the more local side of Playa, try riding inland when you get to Avenida Juarez. The bike path across the highway is a fun ride and gets you far away from tourists. See what the local Mexican shops, taco stands and houses look like in this neighborhood.
Xcaret Trail and Playacar
If you’re feeling more adventurous, try turning onto the bike trail that runs south from Avenida Juarez, along the highway. This will take you down past both entrances to Playacar. If you turn into one of these entrances you’ll get to see the nice suburbs of Playa del Carmen, riding past parks, golf courses, markets and a beach access. You can also continue on the highway bike trail for a straight shot all the way to Xcaret and Xplor adventure parks.
- Bikes are NOT allowed on 5th Avenue.
- Always lock your bike.
- Be careful when crossing the street! Don’t assume that cars will give you the right of way. (This goes for pedestrians too.)
- For any pedestrians on the bike path, try saying “con permiso” to politely ask them to move.
Taxi around Town
No, Playa del Carmen does not have Uber. While it’s nice to walk around town, there will be times when the sun is strong and you’ll want a quick ride to the beach or restaurant across town. In this case, hailing a taxi is the best way to go.
Expect to pay between $30-70 pesos depending on distance when taking a taxi around Playa. The price is almost always negotiable and is never dependent on a meter. Ask the driver right away how much it will cost to get to your destination so there are no surprises when you arrive. I’ve made this mistake too many times and been overcharged because of it.
- Taxi drivers do NOT expect a tip in Mexico. The price they quote you is the amount they expect to be paid for their service.
- Keep in mind that you may be charged more if you call the taxi to your hotel or get dropped off at a hotel.
- While most divers are extremely friendly and honest, remember to be cautious. Sit in the back seat if you are alone and write down the taxi number from the side of the car in case you need to report any issues.
- Taking a taxi late at night can often be much safer than walking if your hotel is far from downtown. Splurge for a ride if you feel it’s safer instead of taking any risks.
Venture Away from Playa by Van
If you’re interested in venturing outside of Playa del Carmen to some of the surrounding towns and attractions, you’ll get a much better deal by taking a van or “colectivo.” These 15 passenger vans have routes that run either south to Tulum or north to Cancun and will get you to either end of the route for around $40 pesos. That’s quite a deal!
Travel North to Cancun
While you can catch these vans along the highway, the terminal to go north is located on Calle 2 between Avenida 20 and 25. The Playa Express is a few pesos more than the vans across the street but worth it for the comfortable seats, air conditioning and speed. Playa Express will take you past Puerto Morelos and Plaza las Americas all the way to the ADO bus terminal in downtown Cancun.
Travel South to Tulum
On the other hand, to head south, go to the terminal located on Calle 2 between Avenida 15 and 20. These vans say “Tulum-Playa” on the front and will take you down past several natural cenotes, Xpu-Ha Beach, three Xcaret theme parks, the Tulum ruins, and finally stop in downtown Tulum. The little city of Tulum is a great place to find seafood and hand crafted souvenirs.
- Make sure to keep your ticket as proof that you paid for the ride.
- Finding your way back is easy, just stop a van heading towards Playa del Carmen anywhere along the highway.
Have an Adventure
The most important thing to remember is to have fun with the experience. Try using Spanish to communicate and take suggestions from the locals on what to see. Some of my favorite travel stories came from getting lost in a foreign country. Hopefully this information will give you a little direction in your adventures and a little more confidence to explore everything Riviera Maya has to offer. Do your best and remember that most locals in Playa speak English and are more than willing to point you in the right direction if needed!
by Lisa MirandaSaturday, April 22, 2017
Lisa quite literally fell in love with Latin America and is now happily married to her Mexican Man and living in Puerto Vallarta, MX. She has previously lived in Sunchang South Korea, Playa del Carmen MX and Guadalajara MX. The couple enjoys making every weekend a vacation in Vallarta: Loading up their little red Chevy with their street dog Pepper and some cold beer to look for new experiences and friends to share them with. It doesn't always go according to plan but it's always an adventure!Read more at lifeonapassport.com