First Stop: Playa Del Carmen, Quintana Roo

Coming from the cold in New York as a person who cannot stand when the temperature drops below 60 degrees, I knew my first stop in Mexico was going to be a beach town. I was in Tulum when I visited Mexico back in my teens (the trip that inspired this journey, many years later) and remembered the pure blue oceans and the softest sands, and knew I had to return. I originally planned to land in Cancun and take the bus 1.5 hours south to Tulum. I found an Airbnb which got amazing reviews but was only available for the second week after I arrived, so I booked it. Indecisive about what hostel to spend the first week at, I decided to spend it in Playa, as the bus from the airport required a change in Playa before heading to Tulum anyway. So I found a place to stay and booked my first week on the road.

Playa is a beach town that has been one of the fastest growing places in Mexico for the last few years. I knew very little about it before I got here and so I did not really know what to expect. I anticipated from the limited reading I did in preparation that I would be in a relatively touristy area, but what that would look like, I was not sure. Playa’s central street, Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), is in the center of downtown near the beach. It is a mainly pedestrian street full of restaurants, bars, and shops. And they are primarily aimed at tourists. There is a large shopping area full of high street and high end shops such as Zara, Old Navy, a Sephora-type beauty store, and other such places. Go off 5th to 10th Avenue and things become slightly more local. There are hole in the wall Mexican eateries next to touristy Italian restaurants and vegan juice shops. The farther you get from the beach, the more local it gets, although there are local spots scattered throughout the center of the city. I should add the disclaimer that I am here during American spring break, so there is a higher percentage of American tourists than typical, as it usually tends to be more Europeans and Canadians. There also seems to be a lot of Spanish-speaking vacationers, but I tell if they are Mexican or from elsewhere. The Airbnb I am staying at, which is the host’s apartment, is in an area called Playacar, located just south of the center of town. It is a large area with apartments and fancy hotels. There are many locals living here as well as Americans fast-walking in neon tracksuits. It is a vivid display of the constantly increasing exclusivity of Playa, as the hotels being built appear fancier than the last.

My first official day I of course spent at the beach. I woke up hungry (as usual) and as I did not yet have groceries, made my way to town to try one of the vegan places and not have to deal with the guesswork of whether there is pork fat hidden in my meal. I chose a place called “The Pitted Date” based on reviews online, and because they had real hearty food, not just celery meals. The place was on the other side of town from where I am staying. It was small and the staff were extremely nice, they spoke moderate English but once I displayed my proficiency in Spanish they communicated with me in Spanish for the rest of my meal. I ordered a vegan breakfast burrito and latte with coconut milk which saved my life. Happy and full I made my way to the beach, entering through one of the main roads in the center of town. This turned out to be a mistake. I had to walk for about 20 minutes down the beach past countless hotels and beach bars with chairs on the sand full of loud and tipsy vacationers. Eventually I found a decent patch of sand and laid out in comfort. For my second day, my host Agustin gave me the helpful tip of a better stretch of beach to go to whose entrance is closer to Playacar. This area was free of the hotels and bars, although there were some expensive homes with entrances onto the beach. But the beach was relaxed and filled with some tourists but plenty of locals and travelers. Everyone was relaxing and tanning (like really tanning, I seemed to be the only person applying sunscreen), swimming in the ocean or playing soccer with friends.

After my third day I now have more pink skin than I would like, there is only so much sunscreen reapplying one can do while the skin adjusts from New York winter to Mexican summer. This calls for a new adventure. Until next time….

The path to the beach.

Tanning is serious business.


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