Playa del Carmen


By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
April 13, 2003

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico–Lying 41 miles south of Cancun, Playa del Carmen is a dream for Americans who don’t want to be surrounded by their countrymen (and women).

Popular with Europeans, who account for 80 percent of the tourists who visit the lush locale, Playa del Carmen boasts pristine beaches, clear blue water and, yes, topless sunbathers. The crowd is older than the spring breakers who flock to Cancun every year, so the aura is relaxing, rather than frenetic.

Though it may be tempting to eat at one of the many restaurants at the beach, head into town at least once to sample some of the international cuisine Mexico has to offer.

Along 5th Avenue–Playa del Carmen’s main tourist strip–half a mile is closed off to automobile traffic. Before you get to the restaurants, you’ll meet the vendors urging potential shoppers to peek inside their stores. Hairstylists will offer to braid hair into tiny locks. Don’t worry about finding them. They’ll find you. (Hint: They usually have life-size plastic heads on sticks showing off the style they’re offering.)

The bus terminal is conveniently located at the town’s center. And it’s also very close to the public pier, which ferries passengers back and forth to Cozumel.

Gourmands will be happy to learn that 5th Avenue also is lined with just about any kind of food they might be craving.

Just a few feet away from a British pub lies an Italian eatery called Idea Pasta. Take a few more steps and you’ll hit Capitan Bob’s seafood restaurant. Look down the street and you’ll see Cabalova, a sushi restaurant sporting both Japanese and American flags. Decorated in modern steel, the Japanese eatery touts its trump card at the entryway: the promise of soccer matches (Mexico vs. Colombia on the day my friend and I were there) on a number of streamlined TVs.

And if you’re with one of those people who isn’t interested in trying something new, you may placate them by taking them to T.G.I. Friday’s–though we can’t understand why they’d want to travel to Mexico for chain food.

The cozy Zoo cafe and Internet bar was the perfect place to get a delicious glass of lemonade and check e-mails from home, especially since the Internet kiosk at our hotel rarely worked. The connections are fast, and the Spanish directions on the computers aren’t difficult to figure out.

And if you’re looking for some nightlife, there’re plenty of bars to check out, including a gay club called Play@69 that’s within the Buenos Aires restaurant.

You may have noticed that I didn’t include any addresses for these places. That’s because none of them had any numbers posted. But don’t worry–they’re all very close to each other, and the locals are more than happy to point you in the right direction.

After lunch or dinner, take a walk along some of the side streets and get a good look at the gorgeous fences surrounding many of the homes. The tops of the walls are dotted with broken glass, which they put in before the cement dried, to hinder break-ins.

Though it costs less than $5 to take a cab ride back to many of the hotels, it’s not a bad idea to take a leisurely walk on the beach back. Besides working off some of that day’s calories, the white sand also gives your feet a natural pedicure.

Never mind that my calves were sore from the trek. The bottoms of my feet never felt so good.

Comments (2)

  1. Mr lee says:

    Hi Jae-Ha! Though it has been 10 years since your review. I don’t see any of these shops you mentioned. And I wish taxi rides are still $5. My wife and I just got back from there. I believe it is a good one time experience and I don’t think well ever go back there. Lots of hagglers which makes you not want to go in their stores. But overall it is a good experience besides staying in the hotel with artificial environmetmnt, We get a better glimpse if Mexico.

  2. Jae-Ha Kim says:

    We just got back from the Riviera Maya area of Mexico and had a great time. It was our son’s first trip, so that made it more fun for us as a family. But, yes, businesses change owenership over a decade and things get more expensive. This trip cost us a lot more than the one we took in 2003. 😉 Thanks for writing!

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