Playa del Carmen: beach
Quintana Roo, Riviera Maya, Mexico
Come walk with me! Let's walk the city beach of Playa del Carmen.
Get ready, it will take us about 2 hours. And it's hot!
The 10km city beach is continuous but here and there are a group of rocks or a hotel or a beach bar and even two ferry piers that break it down into smaller stretches of sand. Not easy to meet a friend here without a reference point on such a long beach. Well, the central part is easily recognisable by the iconic sculpture 'Portal Maya 2012'. The arch, formed by the bodies of a man and a woman, create the gateway to the city beach. This is a Mayan town. So fittingly, it celebrates the Mayan calendar and the date of 21 December 2012 (the predicted end of the fifth Sun Era that most people wrongly branded as the end of the world).
So let's start our walk. Follow me! We start a bit further south, at the ferry pier to Cozumel and walk south from there. I will point out the bars and restaurants along the way but will not provide the links to them as there are far too many along the beach.
To get from the ferry to that south beach I use a shortcut; I just walk through the restaurant Señor Frog's. They never stop me. OK, down a few steps and here were are. The beach!
Can you feel the soft sand? It never gets hot, even in the hottest summer months. And it is SO white. However, there are no public showers or bathrooms anywhere in Playa so one needs to either rent a beach chair or order something in one of the restaurants to use their facilities. We can put our towel down in front of any hotel here in Playa. In Cancún you have to travel a long way to find a rare public beach.
If the weather is stormy tonight, it can bring masses of seaweed. And not all beach clubs clean them but here in Playacar they do their best.
Ah, look, the hotel Playacar Palace and the condo Xaman Ha are behind us now (we can still see the volleyball game going on). If you look closer, on the left of the condo there are ancient ruins. Xaman Ha was the Mayan name of today's city of Playa, meaning 'Waters to the North'. It was a fishing community on the extensive Mayan trade route. The Playacar ruins were a pilgrimage embarcation point for Maya women to honour the Goddess Ixchel on Cozumel Island.
See that photographer? That's my son Rhodri. The photographers like to come to a scenic spot here, a small rock formation. Models pose here often. We will go south as far as the Reef Hotel and rest there for a moment. From that hotel onwards, there are all-inclusive hotels along the Playacar 2 hotel zone beach and they keep to themselves. OK, rested? We need to move on. We are walking back 10 minutes to the ferry and we'll walk all the way north from there. Shall we do a shortcut to the ferry again, OK? Through Señor Frog's. But no drinks here; their parties are pretty wild and we want to remain focused.
Now we just walk around the ferry to the main beach. Welcome to Playa!
The main beach sits on Parque Fundadores, from the Ferry Pier up to Street 4. There is handicap access, the only one in Playa. Here you can watch the Mayan dances every day around 5pm under that statue. The feathered headdresses are just marvellous. And just behind them are the flying Voladores. Can you hear their flute? They are suspending themselves from that tall pole. It is not a local dance, though. This ancient ceremony originated in central Mexico but they perform it in many places across the country now. Around Christmas they also have a sand sculpture competition just under the arch.
When I arrived with my husband and son in Playa back in 2013, I was taken by the pristine turquoise waters. Sadly, recently the town has not cleaned the seaweed from this beach. Pity! This is my local beach, only a few minutes on foot from my house. I fear that this beach is now lost, as the infrastructure is lagging; they keep building new hotels and bars and it is too much for a small beach. Unless the city does something drastic, it may not recover.
I still love coming here, when the seaweed levels get down, because this is as local as it gets. There are a handful of small restaurants and beach bars. Wah Wah (what a large palapa!) has live music and a beach buffet on Sundays. Sadly, there is a gap nearby where there used to be a popular rustic expat beach club called Bad Boys, with live rock-and-roll music. We used to dance like crazy there, in the sand. All oldies! In the photo my friends Alma, Orsolya and Elena are just fooling around under the Bad Boys' iconic flag. These are fun memories. But in 2016 it was sold and we are now expecting yet another hotel here. There is nowhere like that in Playa now.
They will want 150 pesos for two beds and an umbrella on this stretch. You can play volleyball or soccer and water sports are on offer. The crowds are mixed, locals and tourists. We have reached La Tarraya seafood restaurant, popular with the locals. Being the oldest beach restaurant in Playa (since 1968), it is simple and cheap and it preserved the Mexican charm (and furniture). We come here sometimes just for the meal; forget the beach. We even celebrated our birthdays here recently with my friend Eva. The stretch to the right of Street 4 has also a few beach clubs (photos below), all reasonably priced.
Zenzi is not the official name of the beach. I am referring to a stretch between streets 4 and 12, with a cluster of small bars and restaurants. Rocky bits here and there on entering the sea. Look for little pools in the porous rock with little fish swimming around in there but do watch the sharp edges! Do you like the Lighthouse? The stairway spirals up the exterior of the tower, quite unusual. It was built privately but is still active. It sends three white flashes every 12 seconds. The region's lighthouses still play an important role in coastal navigation.
Right next to it is Zenzi bar, with live music on some nights. That is the Street 10 marker. Zenzi is open for night dining (this is very rare); it is so cool with the lit candles and your feet are in the sea! I had a memorable night here with my friends Orsolya and Elena (and their husbands). Just a bit further is the Lido Bar, also popular. And then Indigo Club, a really nice spot for lunch, with a view of the boats moored just outside. The Blue Parrot has been closed after a recent tragic cartel shooting during the BPM music festival (2017). Rumour has it that we will see yet another a new hotel here instead.
I don't think many people refer to this beach by its formal name. It is between 12th Street and ends at Constituyentes Avenue. Local fisherman have their boats here so we won't swim. The access to the water is rocky in places. Just before we get to Constituyentes Avenue pier, there is the Gran Porto Resort. This hotel has a lot of sandbags on the beach against erosion. We don't want to put our towel here. The beach is too eroded; the hotel's effort is not working well (it needs a different solution).
Royal Hotel beach
We just cross the second ferry pier and we are in front of the Royal Hotel. Look, there is a beach wedding! And a volleyball game again. The first part of the beach has a rocky access (and seaweed gets trapped here) but there is enough sand too. Look at the the colours of the sea and the sky, they just keep changing!
You must be tired and thirsty, after all, we did walk 20 minutes from the ferry so it is to be expected. And it's hot! We have 360 sunny days a year in Playa. But we have to walk a few minutes further north to reach a public beach bar for a drink.
Just a couple of metres from the Royal Hotel and we are now on the Coralina beach. It gets its name from the Coralina club at the Grand Hyatt hotel. You can hire water scooters, parasailing and jet skiing here but we can get those also at Kool club and Mamita's. If you are young and want to be seen, this is the place for you. The club's beach umbrellas are bright red; you can't miss them. They even have a pole dance in the pool on the upstairs terrace and all that stuff. I prefer to walk further for that drink, though.
Kool Beach Club is at Calle 25. There is a restaurant, a pool, music and you can rent jet skis, catamarans, banana boats and parasailing.
In my experience the highest prices in town for beach chair rentals. I find the waiters here a bit pushy. If they ask more than 200 pesos for the chairs and umbrella, do bargain, push back! A lot of club hotel guests, so it's pretty crowded here.
So, drinks at last! Here at Calle 28. The beach club (and hotel) Mamita's has it all – music with DJs, a pool (very small), restaurant and bar (two different menus), trendy water sports. I even came here once to try paddle-boarding, with a gang from my work (first photo below, left). At sunrise the beach was so tranquil. I have not attempted windsurfing, kite-surfing or fly-boarding but many people do. The beach is packed for the rest of the day, but fun and always clean. If you get a beach chair (200 pesos for two), you will get a proper shower and the cleanest toilets along the whole of the Playa beach. Last time I came here with my friend Eva just for chicken fajitas at the restaurant (photos in the bottom row).
Shangri-La Beach (Beach 34)
We have now done about half of our walk. We keep going north along the upscale cabañas of Mahekal Beach Resort towards Shangrila, the beach between streets 34 and 40. Suddenly no loud music and fewer people, have you noticed? The beaches generally get more remote as you travel north along the coastline. This beach is always clean. I access it from street 34, just before Mahekal (I actually call this beach '34'). There is an Oxxo shop right at the entrance to the beach, otherwise no other services. Locals also bring on their shoulders some refreshments, such as fruit, pizzas, and drinks. If you come early, the lifeguards will rent you a table with chairs and an umbrella (their 'private business'). We enjoyed the less formal vibe here recently when Chris and John visited us from England. This beach had a bit of erosion since, but it is restored now.
A small laid-back beach stretches between Shangrila and Canibal Royal (between streets 40 and 46). The condo El Cielo is in the background. Very similar to beach '34' in all aspects. Food stalls appear here at times but no toilet facilities. It is best to bring your own refreshments. Popular with the locals, like our family friend Polo (photo on the left).
This beach stretches from 46th Street around the Canibal Royal Club, up to street 50. It's cool if you want to go with your friends for a drink or a meal. In fact, this is the last public bar on the Playa city beach. We came here with our friend Claudia just for a chat and lunch the other day. You don't come here for swimming as there are boats moored on a small pier but you can get the best snorkelling in Playa here, near the tip where Canibal Royal is. There is a small pool on the rooftop (I wouldn't bother, really small).
We keep going, just a bit north from the Canibal, past the Reef Coco Beach Resort. To my knowledge, this beach has no name, so I just call it 'Beyond'. It stretches between streets 50-100. What a dramatic change! A tranquil and laid back beach, long walks at hand. No services here. This beach is my son's favourite so I include his photos below. He used to live in Street 74. His apartment had a sea view and a bit of jungle stretching towards the ocean (the photo below on the right). He loved just walking down the jungle path to the beach with his friends to play beach tennis or just relax. NOBODY seems to have discovered it yet. I dare say this is the most romantic beach spot in Playa!
OK, the last city beach, almost at the end of the Colosio neighbourhood, by the Paradisus hotel at street 108. A bonus on this pretty and shallow beach is a little cenote; its waters flow directly into the sea. There are no beach chairs for rent. You can sit under the palm trees around the cenote.
It is unknown to tourists but locals do come here. Since its opening to the public in 2011, the hotel tried to stop public access but the beaches here are a federal zone so agreements are now in place for public access. Admittedly, the locals at times leave rubbish behind. There is a truck bar which sells decent Mexican food. Fancy a drink?
You can take a taxi to the resort and then walk along the path on the left of the hotel to the beach. You can also get a colectivo minibus up to street 98 by the Colosio sports complex and walk down from there.
This is as far as it gets in Playa and the end of our walk. We just walked for over two hours and we only had one stop on the way! The beaches continue, of course, but they are outside the city zone and around the hotel bays. I have already put up my umbrella for the rest of the day. I am not moving!